Msg#: 525                                          Date: 10-01-96  09:04
  From: Don Allen                                    Read: Yes    Replied: No 
    To: All                                          Mark:                     
  Subj: Gnoticism
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 12:29:29 -0700
X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.4 (32)
To: way-list@webcom.com
From: John Lewis 
Subject: Gnoticism

Another little mention of Gnoticism.


Pythogoras, who was born in Samos (an island of the coast of Asia Minor) and
lived in the sixth century BCE, is the fountainhead of most later Greek
philosophy, both esoteric and exoteric. Although it is difficult to separate
fact from legend, we may say that he believed in metempsychosis
(reincarnation) and that numbers are the foundation of the universe.
Further, he founded in Kroton (mod. Crotone, Italy) a religious society
(open to women as well as men), which taught a way of life devoted to escape
from the wheel of reincarnation through knowledge. Their practice included
self-examination, vegetarianism, purity and silence, as well as the study of
esoteric mathematics and music. He is thought to have written nothing down,
but his followers did, and they  attributed their works to him. (OCD s.v.

According to ancient biographies (Diogenes Laertius 8.1-15) - which might
not be entirely factual - Pythagoras, when a young man, became an initiate
of all mysteries in Greece; he studied with the Phoenicians, learned
Egyptian and studied with the priests there, and then went to be initiated
into the mysteries on Crete. He claimed that in a previous life he was a son
of Hermes, and that his divine
father had granted him the gift of keeping his memory from one incarnation
to the next. Pythagorean doctrine was kept secret until Philolaus (born
c.470 BCE) published three books of it. It has many connections with
Orphism, although their exact relation is not clear. (For a scholarly study
see Walter Burkert's Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism.)

It is apparent that Socrates (who also wrote nothing) and Plato (c.429-347
BCE) were both Pythagoreans, and, according to Diogenes, Plato bought copies
of Philolaus' books for 100 minas (about 100 pounds of silver) as soon as
they were available. Certainly some of Plato's dialogues, such as the
Timaeus, are filled with Pythagorean esoterica.

A Neopythagorean revival began in the first century BCE and continued until
it developed into Neoplatonism in the third century CE. It remained the
dominant Pagan philosophy until the emperor Justinian ordered the Pagan
schools closed in 529 CE. Among its more famous proponents were Numenius,
Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Proclus and Hypatia. It is from these
philosophers that most of the
numerology of the Pythagorean Tarot is drawn. (For a comprehensive
collection of Pythagorean writings, see Kenneth Guthrie's Pythagorean
Sourcebook and Library. Two excellent sources for Neopythagorean numerology
are Robin Waterfield's translation of The Theology of Arithmetic (attributed
to Iamblichus) and Thomas Taylor's Theoretic Arithmetic, which is drawn from
many sources.) (OCD s.v. Neoplatonism, Neopythagoreanism)

The Neopythagoreanism of second century CE Alexandria was also one of the
principal sources of Gnosticism, the group of esoteric religions that
flourished in that society, which also gave us the Hermetica (the writings
attributed to Hermes Trismegistus), the Chaldean Oracles and a number of
other esoteric texts. This was also the cultural breeding ground for
Plutarch's theosophical writings, Zosimos' alchemical work, and Numenius'
Neopythagoreanism (which was, in turn, influenced by Gnosticism). (OCD s.v.

Later, in the fifteenth century, when Plato and the Hermetica were first
translated into Latin, a new efflorescence of Neopythagoreanism nourished
the Renaissance at the Platonic Academy of Lorenzo de'Medici. Indeed,
Renaissance art is saturated with Pythagorean and Hermetic symbols, and this
is the cultural context in which the Tarot was born. A later, seventeenth
century, efflorescence merged with the alchemical tradition, influencing
philosophers such as Isaac Newton, Thomas Taylor and John Dee, and artists
such as Shakespeare, Spenser and Blake, for Hermetic and alchemical themes
are apparent in many of their works. (See Edgar Wind's Pagan Mysteries in
the Renaissance for the influence of Neopythagoreanism and Hermeticism on
the Renaissance. The works of Dame Francis Yates, such as Giordano Bruno and
the Hermetic Tradition and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, are
a good introduction to seventeenth-century Hermeticism.)

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  Msg#: 526                                          Date: 10-01-96  09:05
  From: Don Allen                                    Read: Yes    Replied: No 
    To: All                                          Mark:                     
  Subj: Untitled
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 11:45:34 -0700
X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.4 (32)
To: way-list@webcom.com
From: John Lewis 


by Alan G. Hefner

When writing about Gnosticism it is very difficult to present an objective
view of this system of belief or its participants. The reason for this is
that there are very few exhibits of first hand copies of their writings.
These writings were burned by the orthodox Christians from the first century
onward. Gnosticism was considered heretical and Gnostics heretics. So, until
the find of Nag Hammadi in 1945 little was known of Gnosticism and the
Gnostics except from the writings of their adversaries.

One of the main things which separated the Gnostics from orthodox Christians
was the mysticism of their beliefs. It began with their views of God and
creation. They viewed the One which they called the true God as having a
feminine part which was the Spirit. In accord, they also held that Jesus
came from God and the Spirit to form the Trinity.

In the Gnostic version of creation of the world the Spirit of God is
referred to as the Wisdom of God or Sophia who is also a feminine creative
force. It seems she wished to give birth to a creature like herself. She did
so without the permission of her partner. She was able to do this by the
power within her. The fruit of her desire was something imperfect and
different from her in appearance. She was ashamed of it, threw it outside of
the heavenly realm and hid it in a cloud so none of the Immortals would see
it. According to the Gnostics this horrible child became the one they called
the Demiurge. Unbeknown to him his mother gave him some of her power which
contained the Spirit. The Demiurge thought the power which his mother gave
him was his own, and with it he started creating the physical world. In
doing this the Gnostics believed the Demiurge entrapped the Spirit in
matter. They viewed the Demiurge as being the Christian God, the creator,
basing their belief on the statement, "I am God, and there is no one besides

Also, the Gnostic differed with the orthodox Christians on two other major
issues: the salvation of man and the person of Jesus. They disagreed with
the theory that man was sinful by nature, but believed man erred through
ignorance; by knowledge man could correct his ways and gain salvation. The
special knowledge which the Gnostics subscribed to was known as "gnois."
Gnois was not a logical type of knowledge as one might gain in the study of
mathematics or chemistry, but it was an intuitive or reflexive type of
knowledge which comes from the study of man's inner self or soul. Any other
knowledge did not concern the Gnostics. They called this gnois illuminated
Logos because they believed it led to man's salvation.

For them the principle teacher of gnois was Jesus; a special person who did
not come from the Demiurge but had come directly from God and the Holy
Spirit. The Gnostics claimed Jesus taught them secret knowledge which he did
not share with the general congregation of the Church. This sort of claim
did not set too well with the Church at a time when it was striving to gain
strength and power. Another point concerning Jesus which caused discord was
that the Gnostics did not accept that Jesus was born of a virgin. Holding
that Jesus specially came from God and the Spirit, they said he entered a
body brought about by sexual intercourse between Mary and Joseph. Many
Gnostics scoffed at the idea of an Immaculate Conception which other
Christians held.

Within this gnois, or secret teaching, were beliefs for escaping the
clutches of the Demiurge. Since it was held that the Demiurge had entrapped
the Spirit in matter, especially in man, through creation, it was therefore
believed that not to prolong or propagate life was the best way to
ultimately free the Spirit. Such a belief led to a schism among the Gnostic
community. The majority formed sects practicing almost total monasticism,
while a minority had sects which practiced libertinism. Where marriage was
permitted within the monastic sects, sexual intercourse was absolutely
forbidden. Many types of sexual acts and perversions were permitted in the
libertine sects. One, the Ophites -- a name which honored the snake or
serpent -- was known for its love feasts. The purpose of all the sects on
both sides of the schism was the same, to liberate the Spirit by stopping
the propagation of life. The Gnostics took Jesus' answer to his disciple
Solame's question, "How long will death reign?" literally when he responded,
"As long as you women bear children." Also to disobey the laws of the
Demiurge, who was evil himself, was justified to the Gnostics. Therefore, to
them the Demiurge not only represented the Christian God, he represented the
Devil as well.

But these nihilism beliefs embodied within Gnosticism tended to be
overshadowed by other teaching of the Gnostic Jesus, and these teachings
still permeate modern Gnostic teachings. These teachings concern the inner
self. According to Gnosticism Jesus showed much concern for the knowledge of
inner truth, or "know thyself." He wanted his disciples to be seekers and
seers. In the work "Pistis Sophia" he instructed them, "Do not leave off
searching day and night." He warned that inner truth would bring turmoil,
but with the turmoil would come astonishment." He explained further, "Let
him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become
troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will become astonished, and he will
rule over all things."

From "Dialogue of the Savior" there is another quote attributed to Jesus:
Silvanus, the teacher, says, "...Bring in your guide and your teacher. The
mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher...Live according to the
mind...Acquire strength, for the mind is strong...Enlighten the mind...Light
the lamp within you."

The preceding passages are samples which show the differences between
Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity. Gnosticism is more of an introspective
teaching or philosophy to live by. It is quite different to say Jesus talked
of the mind as being a light which serves as a personal guide than to quote
him as saying, "Do not hide your light under a basket." In the latter quote
he seems to be directing the disciples to use their spirituality and
influence to persuade and direct others which the Church has done for many

To follow this further, one thinks that Jesus is saying one finds happiness
within oneself. Within the Gnostic Gospels there are passages leading to
such a conclusion. When his disciples asked when the new world or kingdom
would come Jesus is to have said in the Gospel of Thomas: "...Rather the
Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know
yourselves, then you will be known, and you will realize that you are the
sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, then you
will dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty."

In another passage when describing the kingdom Jesus said, "What you look
forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it...the Kingdom of
the Father is spread out on the earth, but men do not see it."

Within the teachings of Gnosticism the Kingdom of God seemed to represent an
alternation of consciousness rather than a physical coming future event.
"...Say, then, from the heart that you are the perfect day, and dwell in the
light that does not fail...For you are the understanding that is drawn

Again when Jesus saw infants being nursed by their mothers he said, "These
infants being suckled are like those entering the Kingdom." And the
disciples asked, "Shall we, then, as little children, enter the Kingdom?" He
answered them, "When you make two one, and when you make the inside the
outside and the outside the inside, and the above like the below, and when
you make the male and female one and the same...then you will enter (the

When reading of Gnosticism and its various teachings, except for its
nihilism aspect, one might get the impression that one was reading Greek
philosophy. The concept of "Know Thyself" is definitely Platonic. It is not
surprising that Gnosticism contains much Platonism because many of the
Gnostics were Hellenistic by birth and nature. Just as it is not surprising
that Gnosticism incorporated its believers' ancient teachings, it is no more
surprising that the spirit of Gnosticism is still present. In an age when
the attitudes of self-awakening and self-knowledge are very much in the
consciousnesses of people it is no wonder Gnostic teachings are being
reexamined. Large groups of people feel alienated from the Christian God.
They feel even more alienated from the Christian Church. Many have turned to
the pre-Christian dieties and nature for sources of their spiritual and
religious experiences. Gnosticism can be one of these sources because is
makes man feel worthy of himself and his Diety.

So there you have it.


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  Msg#: 527                                          Date: 10-01-96  09:07
  From: Don Allen                                    Read: Yes    Replied: No 
    To: All                                          Mark:                     
  Subj: Gnosis
Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 08:51:25 -0700
X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.4 (32)
To: way-list@webcom.com
From: samantha  (by way of John Lewis
Subject: Gnosis

This is from Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary:

gnosis [Gk gnosis, lit., knowledge.fr. gignoskein to know] 1: immediate
knowledge of spiritual truth; esp: such knowledge as professed by the
ancient Gnostics and held to be attainable through faith alone 2: the
act or process of cognition or knowing.

1gnostic :an adherent of gnosticism or of a philosophy influenced by
gnosticism; esp: an adherent of any of several Gnostic sects of the 2d
to 6th centuries adjudged heretical by the early Christian church.

2gnostic :of, relating to or characterized by knowledge or cognition:
INTELLECTUAL, KNOWING 2 of or relating to gnosticism or the Gnostics 3:

gnosticism: the thought and practice of any of various cults of late
pre-Christian and early Christian centuries declared heretical by the
church and distinguished chiefly by pretension to mystic and esoteric
religious insights, by emphasis on knowledge rather than faith, and by
the conviction that matter is evil.

   When I looked up the words (something I LOVE to do...:), I was struck
by what seemed to be a contradiction - in the definition of "gnosis,"
spiritual knowledge is attainable through faith alone, while in
"gnosticism" the emphasis is on knowledge RATHER than faith. Not quite
sur what to do with the apparent difference in focus, there.

   Something I found really fascinating is the apparent view that matter
- the world, the body, physically manifest reality - is evil. This would
imply, it seems to me, that what is done to the body and to the world is
philosophically ok, since it is just all evil anyway. I have to wonder
whether the Christian church got at least part of its antipathy to life
and to the lifebearers from the Gnostic tradition. I have a hard time
imagining that a philosophy that sees the living body as evil can have
much good effect on people and all other creatures.

    Actually, I am kind of curious about where that idea may have come
from in the first place. Why would anyone formulate the idea that life
itself is evil? Can anyone help me to understand this?

    On the other hand, the emphasis on knowledge rather than faith can
produce wonderful things. Blind faith has caused many of the world's
problems. Faith based on actually KNOWING, actually experiencing and
knowing first-hand.....well...that is a horse of QUITE a different
color. As in all things, there seems to be quite of mix of intelligent
and sane philosophy thrown together with some silly ideas (the evil

    Wil Sha,

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