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Gnosticism, Thelema and Religion

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,talk.religion.misc,alt.religion.gnostic,alt.pagan.magick,alt.magick.tantra,talk.religion.newage,alt.christnet,alt.satanism,alt.magick.order
From: (nigris (333))
Subject: Gnosticism, Thelema and Religion
Date: 3 May 1997 02:40:55 -0700

[technical difficulties enforced delay -- apologies for outdatedness]

49970429 AA1  Hail Satan!  (compilation of responses to three individuals)


#> ...while Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism share quite a few points, 
#> Neo-Platonism is perhaps a better choice for the western traditions 
#> and also doesn't have such an emphasis on the idea that 
#> "matter is evil" or that the created universe is essentially 
#> corrupt and ruled by cruel and capricious archons.  

as others have said elsewhere, there are matter-evil correlates in
Neoplatonist ideologies, whether based on Gnostic precursors or on
emanationist cosmologies.

#> Neoplatonism offers quite a bit of theoretical framework without all 
#> that world-denying dogma, and besides also offers a great bit of 
#> crossover with kabbalistic doctrines.

I'm unsure that this is truly a boon.  there are a goodly number of
Neoplatonist dualists, and I've seen a fair share of QBLs who were
also stuck in that dualistic emanationist trap ("we're in Malkuth
and we've got to get to the Good Place, at Kether", etc.).

in some ways it would be nice to legitimate, revise and update the
"earth-centered" religious systems (Neopagan often) such that they
were based on something more than science fiction and fantasy as to
their terra-centrism, infusing them with a respectable intellectual
component, flushing out their ceremonial roots and honoring their
shamanic background.  there was an intent to at least reconcile them
within the Matthews' _The Western Way_ (I/II), and I'm sure others
have seen this possibility (Sam Webster once joined a group at Haus
Kaos to discuss just this type of thing as regards ritual and the
composition of ceremonial and shamanic elements -- he seems quite a
bit taken by the idea and has apparently experimented some, coming
from a more formal ceremonial background than I).

#> I am especially perplexed as to why Gnosticism is sometimes perceived as so
#> closely allied to Thelema.  

I have often been perplexed by the same thing.

#> As personal religious experience of divine "gnosis", 

are there no other routes/paths which integrate this idea?  the Chaotes
appear to have adapted it to their purposes as a general disorienting
energetic frenzy.

#> ...why choose the name of a philosophy which also generally partakes 
#> of an essentially negative view of the world (and matter & flesh)?

for one there isn't just 'one Gnosticism'.  there were several different
knowledge systems developed under this name, from a varied set of sources
such as Valentinus and Basilides.  I gather from a recent brief read of
_Morals and Dogma_ (unsure how reliable Pike is on this but his remarks
on the Demiurge and dualist religions were very interesting) that the
language changed over time, the cosmology changed and was re-expressed
via a variety of writers, and that there were varying levels of dualism
or emanationism present in any of the ancient "heresies".  I'm unsure
that *all* of the Gnostics accepted the matter-evil correlation.

#>Also, the Gnostic Mass doesn't really seem to have much historical Gnostic
#>influence.  Am I missing something? (John Everall):
# are some interesting parallels. 
# ...The antinomian doctrines developed by these groups assert a deliberate 
# and systematic flouting of all moral restraints, especially through 
# indulging in forbidden forms of sexuality. 

this has, in today's language, come to be identified as 'tantric', though
surely this is an oversimplification.  the important part of taboo-breaking
cults is that they do it with the liberation of the participant in mind --
subtle combinations are necessary to engage the liberative process, at times
requiring one who is a master in the disciplines of asceticism and indulgence
who can guide the aspirant (thus 'guru'-systems are at times valuable).  as I
understand it the objective is not a breakdown of the cultural mores so much
as a detachment from them, putting them in their 'proper place' in a manner
not too different than how some Muslim cultures allow all types of sexual and
indulgent pleasures when it is kept 'under appropriate cover', also making
possible a supreme spiritual transformation in the process.  cf previous
conversations on the OTO IXth Degree Secret and how documents by Crowley
and Achad appear to suggest the value of celibacy subtended by ecstatic
ritually-structured overindulgence sexuality.

# Even if their ultimate intention was not the same as Crowley's there 
# are elements of isomorphism.

I'm inclined to agree, yet would ask of which elements you speak and what
was specific to the older systems.
Barrington Vincent Sherman :
# the helenistic cultural matrix, matter & universe dont mean the 
# same things as they can do in modern thought, for instance both 
# aforementioned trips believed that the sky was composed of  a varying 
# number of spheres sic layers.  These could be attributed to the 7 ancient 
# planets, the zodiac &c &c &c.  

not just the 'sky', the whole, earth-centered cosmos, with "God" on the
outside, if memory serves (we term this 'pre-Copernican', I think).

# Now althought this might have resonances with various in use QBLH models, 

this is one of the reasons I think that ancient or 'reconstructed' systems
of magick or religion which incorporate the pre-Copernican could be
dangerous, fracturing, if the individual resides in a Copernican mind.

# does anyone on this list believe that these beliefs are literally true?  

I'm unsure that everyone believed them to be literally true who used them
prior to the "scientific revolution" swept in a new dogma.  it may be,
however, that are importantly metaphorically true.

# ...According to a Heresiologist [major antagonist, slanderer &c of ... ] 
# St Epiphanius, some Gnostics used sexual fluids in their eucharistic 
# services.  

I don't think that this just a coincidence.  it appears that a great number
of neuvo-religious rites were intentional co-options of previous slanders.
the Gnostic Mass could be seen as a quasi-Black Mass or Gnostic Agape.  the
modern Wiccan rites are obvious fabrications combining Christian elements
and elements derived from the Inquisitory-time torture-ravings, if not the
actual practices of rebellious heathens.  I suspect that the religions of 
the day are attempting to deal with repressed fears in meaningful ways, 
simultaneously setting up a shield against the conservative in reaction 
to previous condemnation.
# There are legions of resonances between Thelema viz, OTO EGC AA &c, & the 
# ancient mystery religions of the helenistic culturual matrix.  

we know that much about them?  I was under the impression that the ancient
mystery traditions were in large lost on account of their being secret.

# Gnosticisms & it's intrinsically entwined Protochristianities were both 
# part of the mystery religion phenomena in their day....

the author I was recently reading had something to say about this:

	In Orphism the dualism of matter and spirit, body and soul,
	is first clearly enunciated: its influence upon Christian,
	Gnostic, and medieval thought was enormous, and it is one
	of the most important elements in the history of the Devil.
	To the extent that Dionysos was good and the Titans evil,
	which is assumed, to that extent is the soul good and the
	body evil.  This interpretation grew steadily throughout
	the Hellenistic period, when, influenced by Iranian dualism,
	matter and the body were assigned to the realm of the evil
	spirit, and soul to that of the good spirit.  At that point
	the two dualisms, Orphic and Iranian, were united, and the
	idea that the body and the flesh are the work of cosmic
	evil became implanted in Jewish and Christian minds.  The
	majority opinion in both Judaism and Christianity has always
	rejected this idea in its explicit form, but from Gnosticism
	onwards it has been the most persistent source of heresy.


	The ritual purity of Orphism was also associated with the
	cult of Dionysos, which was very different indeed.
	Festivals of Dionysos took place at night, symbol of darkness
	and the forbidden.  They were often held in a cave or grotto,
	locales connected with moisture, fertility, and the cthonic
	powers.  The worshipers were primarily women, the Maenads or
	Bacchantes, who were led by a male priest.  The procession
	bore torches, a phallic image, and figs and other sexually
	symbolic fruits, and led a dark goat or statue of a goat.
	The goat, symbol of fertility, represented Dionysos, who
	was sometimes called "he of the black goat" and portrayed
	as shaggy and horned.  The rite was characterized by wine-
	drinking, ecstatic dancing, feasting, and the tearing apart
	of animals.  Literature sometimes rendered the last as
	human sacrifice, and it is possible, though not established,
	that the stories echoed real practice.  As time went on,
	the rites became more orgiastic, and they may eventually
	have been characterized as sexual license.

my kind of rite. :>  but wait, there's more:

	How could Orphic purity and Dionysiac frenzy exist together?
	This question has been raised repeatedly by historians, in
	regard not only to the Ophites, but to the Gnostics, 
	Catharists, witches, Frankists, and many other groups.  There
	are a number of answers.  First, Orphic purity was ritual
	rather than moral.  Second, the coexistence of ascetic
	restraint and frenzied worship is common in the history of
	religions and, psychologically, is a predictable manifestation
	of the shadow.  Third, frenzied ecstasy is frequently
	an accepted way of bringing the spirit "out of" the body.
	Fourth, and most important, it is a manifestation of the
	coincidence of opposites, of the ambivalence that underlies
	all human thought, particularly though about the gods.  For
	Dionysos, like the other gods, is ambivalent.  The son of
	Zeus and symbol of spirit against the body, he is also
	*Anthroporraistes*, "crusher of men," and *Omestes*, "eater
	of raw flesh," and he rides in a black ship.  Most of all
	he is *Lusios* or *Luaios*, the great looser or freer, who
	releases from all restraints and inhibitions.  Finally, he
	is both male and female, the perfect androgyne, as the great
	Hellenistic head in the British Museum shows him, and orgy
	may be perceived as an urge to integration through commingling
	of the sexes.  On the one hand the opposition of spirit and
	body eventually made the Devil "the lord of this world"; on
	the other hand the Dionysiac orgy became the model for the
	orgy imputed to Gnostics, Catharists, and witches.
	_The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive
		Christianity_, by Jeffrey Burton Russell, Cornell
		University Press, 1977; pp. 141-2.

thus it is possible that the asceticism we associate with Gnosticism
was thought, at least by some mystery tradition enthusiasts, to be
only one *part* of the transformative ritual experience, inclusive
of extremes in both ascetic and ecstatic directions.  this is how I
feel I have most often benefitted in my practices and I tend to enjoy 
extremes of both self-restriction and indulgence (better when chosen), 
especially in sequential combination.

David Greiner :
# ...Crowley did highly believe with Ignorance being sin and similiar
# Gnostic ideas, 

was that a Gnostic idea?  I thought Crowley associated it with Buddhism
at least, though nowhere near the 'sin' of Christianity (perhaps more
along the lines of the Jewish 'missing the mark'?).

# but the E.'.G.'.C.'. (Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica) is not
# really part of the Gnostic Movement, and split from it in the early
# 1900's. If you check out the EGC info page at the OTO's homepage:
#  there's a bit more complete story. 

[from ] 

$   While E.G.C. traces its historic origins to the French Gnostic revival
$   of the turn of the century, which was a movement within Christianity,
$   it has since accepted the Law of Thelema, has declared itself
$   independent from the Christian Universal Gnostic Church and its
$   successors, and is no longer to be considered a Christian Church.
$   E.G.C. does not administer Christian Sacraments, and its
$   ecclesiastical powers are founded on a spiritual succession from the
$   Master Therion and the constituent originating assemblies of O.T.O.,
$   rather than on the traditional Christian Apostolic Succession. The
$   theology, doctrines and sacramental theory of E.G.C. are based on the
$   principles of the Thelemic Religion. Its rites and ceremonies, while
$   eclectic in form (drawing upon the sacerdotal practices of a wide
$   variety of cultures and historical religious systems) are
$   fundamentally Thelemic in character. The traditional doctrines,
$   theology, canon law, and insignia of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and
$   Jacobite Churches do not operate within E.G.C.

thus the EGC is neither Christian nor Gnostic, but a "Gnostic" variant
(apparently self-proclaimed) of "Thelemic religion" (Crowleyan).  on
the other hand, it is possible to reinterpret 'Gnosticism' such that
the spheres through which the archons created the cosmos are *internal*,
that these correspond in some direct way with the spheres of the Tree of 
Life or chakras, and syncretically fuse into a Copernican, Gnostic and 
Thelemic cosmological system.  

the spirit of Hermeticism is the co-option and revisionism of the past,
springing even from its origins in Christian and Hellenistic confluence,
from what I can tell.

# ...what is Gnosticism, does it have a defining set aside system of
# ideas. 

I like what Russell says about religions and their identities, histories,
in the same work.  too often Gnosticism has fallen prey to being 
identified with its archaic roots:

	I propose that a concept is *not* best understood in light
	of its origins, but rather in light of the direction in
	which it the tradition is moving.  To take Christianity as
	a notorious example: I do not believe that the truth of
	Christianity will best be elucidated by a search for its
	*origins*, but rather by an observation of its development
	in tradition.  This approach is a reversal of the assumption
	that has dominated Christian and much other religious
	scholarship for a very long time, an assumption characterized
	by the genetic fallacy: that the true meaning of a word --
	or of an idea -- lies in its pristine state.    To quote
	Louis Dupre':

		The great popularity of the evolutionary idea
		in the biology, sociology, and philosophy of
		the nineteenth centuryhas had a strange side
		effect in the study of religion.  For several
		decades it was assumed without question that
		the truth of a religion is to be found
		exclusively in its origin.  Thus the search
		for a definition took the form of a quest for
		the beginning, e.g. the 'quest for the
		historical Jesus.'

	 {NOTE: Louis K. Dupre, _The Other Dimension_, 
	        (New York, 1972), p. 72.}

	Rather, Christianity, or the Constitution, or the Devil
	[or, I would argue, Gnosticism -- 333], is understood
	best in terms of the direction it takes through time,
	that is to say, its historical development.
	Ibid., p. 50.

as regards Gnosticism I think that some excellent historians have
examined the ROOTS of this tradition as it can be so given the
meager remnants remaining to us.  there *are*, however, vibrant
religious traditions which identify as "Gnostic" or "Gnosticism"
extant, and these may or may not have anything to do with those
of the past.

the Thelemic variant on this just as legitimate as any other (I
have a Gnostic Church near to where I live and their focus on Mary 
Magdelene has given me great inspiration), and its elements should 
be considered 'Gnostic' as they can be confirmed in some manner to 
have formal or ideological associations such that the label is 
warranted.  it was in part in question of this analysis that I 
posted the review of Gnosticism previously. :>

the diversity and historical knowledge of religious behaviors is
increasing.  this makes syncretism more and more likely and shields
the development of unique reaction-movements within particular
traditions (since the reactions may well incorporate historical
precursors more readily as they become known).  

in association with this, it will become more and more difficult to 
"properly label" religious strands, or identify their 'major 
contributing elements' outside extended studies or internal 
expositions. this is already the case within Hermetic social circles, 
where the 'Thelemic' intersects with Voudoun, Gnosticism (so-called), 
Christianity, Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, American Utopianism, and
possibly varieties of Satanism.

# From what I've seen anyone who wanted their word to sound like
# scholarship would and could label themselves as Gnostics. They 
# seemed to be like the original Rosicrucians. Just a way to get 
# someone through the door, so to speak :>

that is quite possible.  I know of at least one Gnostic org which
does not appear to have many requirements for consecration of its
clergy, even while they have definite interests in African diaspora,
the restoration of Medieval grimoires, and science-fiction-based 
confections.  these are perhaps the more controversial, yet they
are probably not unique in their attitude toward syncretism.

nigris (333) -- --
 caution: I don't read all posts, filtering out those of < 60 lines.  I select 
	  text by key authors.  cc me if you absolutely need a response.

see  and  call: 408/2-666-SLUG!!!
 ----  (emailed replies may be posted)  ----  CC public replies to author ---- 
 * * * Asphalta Cementia Metallica Polymera Coyote La Cucaracha Humana * * * 

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