Newsgroups: alt.religion.gnostic,alt.consciousness,sci.psychology,,soc.history,alt.sufi,alt.religion.islam,sci.answers,soc.answers,alt.answers,news.answers
From: (Dean Edwards)
Subject: Gnosis-Overview
Followup-To: poster
Summary: This document contains a general overview of gnosis.
  It should be read by anyone interested in understanding the
  what gnosis is and what differentiates it from other forms
  of mystic experience.
Keywords: gnosis,mysticism,spirit,consciousness,logos,sufi,marifat
Reply-To: (Dean Edwards)
Organization: La Casa del Paese Lontano
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 1996 17:41:55 GMT
Approved: news-answers-request@MIT.Edu
Expires: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 23:59:59 GMT
Lines: 127
Xref: alt.religion.gnostic:5322 alt.consciousness:34685 soc.history:77601 alt.sufi:1546 alt.religion.islam:42394 sci.answers:5586 soc.answers:6719 alt.answers:22494 news.answers:89331

Archive-name: gnosis/overview
Last-modified: 9 June 1995

Gnosis Overview
This document is posted monthly to soc.religion.gnosis and to other
relevant newsgroups. It is maintained by (Dean

The following general overview of gnosis is not intended to be
the last word or the definitive work on this subject. Rather it
is, as its title implies, intended to provide the participant or
reader with a set of guidelines that will familiarize them with
the general use of the terms for gnosis. Beyond that it will seek
to review the historical and contemporary trends, techniques,
practices and developments of gnosis, Gnosticism,  ma'rifat, irfan,jnana, 
mystical ecstasy and other related terms.

The Gnosis-Overview is intended to serve as a general on-line
reference about gnosis in the soc.religion., talk.religion., sci.
and alt. hierarchies (among others). It may not be sold or resold
without permission of the author. It is also used to support the
discussions in soc.religion.gnosis.  Please send comments to (Dean Edwards).

c 1994 Dean Edwards

Gnosis comes from a Greek word meaning 'to know' in the sense of 'to
be acquainted'. Gnosis in a more specific religious sense refers to
the knowledge of God and the fullness of the true spiritual realms
through direct personal experience. Similar terms are jnana
(Sanskrit) and ma'rifat (Arabic). A gnostic is someone who has had
such an experience or who has been initiated into a tradition which
provides access to such personal revelations. (Please note that as a
term 'jnana' should not be confused with jnana yoga, which as a system
of yoga is also concerned with the study of knowledge rather than the
topic of gnosis as in 'direct acquaintance or experience. The true
or 'sat' jnana, while it can be discussed or written about, has its
real value in direct experience.)

Gnosis is not simply a synonym for mysticism, paranormal, occult,
metaphysics, esoteric or knowledge. It is a distinct category of
mystical experience beyond the physical or psychic levels of being.
(Psychic experiences, such as speaking in tongues, are not considered
to be an experience of gnosis.)

A gnostic religious-philosophical movement flourished during the
first several centuries of the current era. During the Second
Century C.E., a series of systems of gnosis emerged in Alexandria
and the ancient Mediterranean world. These systems, most of which
were associated with early Christianity are usually referred to by
historians of religion by the term "Gnosticism". When Gnosticism is
used in this document, it is with that meaning in mind. 'Gnosis'
and 'gnostic' retain their broader meanings.

Gnostic practices and ideas have long been present within many, if
not most, religious and spiritual traditions. What occurred in
the Second Century C.E. was the emergence of gnostic systems which
focused on gnosis itself as the goal around which these early 
(classical) Gnostics formed their own approaches to spirituality.

There would seem to have always been traditions of secret knowledge
within various religious systems. What is referred to here was the
emergence of systems in which gnosis itself was the principal goal
and experience. In these systems it was not just another thread in
a larger tradition.

The effects of the presence of Gnosticism as a systematized religious
and spiritual practice were felt throughout  Europe, Asia and North
Africa. These effects continue to be felt today. While much of the
focus in gnostic studies has been with the early Christian forms of
gnosis, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Taoist, Buddhist, pagan and other
forms are also present in the historical and contemporary record. An
active academic debate about the origins of Gnosticism and gnosis is
a major focus for many scholars. The discussion and study of gnosis
as an approach to spirituality cannot be easily tied to any single

Gnosis involves direct "knowledge" and experience of the sacred,
rather than relying exclusively on faith, belief or study of sacred
texts. The gnostic (Arabic: 'arif) draws upon this inner experience
and knowledge to describe the origin and true nature of all things.

The world is often seen as a training ground or prison for Soul as
it seeks spiritual liberation, a return to its true home in the
Pleroma or realms of pure spirit beyond the physical and psychic
regions of matter, emotion and the mind. The true nature of Soul is
as a divine spark which originally issued forth from the fountain-
head of God. Gnostic traditions often teach that only through the
intercession of a messenger from the pure spiritual realms can the
Soul become acquainted with God. The original Greek word 'gnosis', 
as noted above, meant knowledge in terms of being 'acquainted with'.
The gnostic in any form is a 'friend of God'.

Please note that Soul in the above paragraph refers to the spark of
individualized spiritual essence that dwells within the consciousness
or mind. In some systems the word 'spirit' itself is used instead of
Soul. Soul then becomes interchangeable with mind. In Greek, for
instance, the word 'psyche' means both mind and soul. 'Pneuma' on
the other hand means spirit, wind, breath, air. The ancient Egyptians
used the word Ba for mind/soul and used Sa for the spiritual essence
which dwelt within the Ba. In some traditions the terms for soul and
spirit often have the same meaning and are used interchangeably. 

Today, new schools of gnosis such as the Ecclesia Gnostica have
emerged in the West. The ancient movement still thrives in several
Sufi orders of Islam, which continue to attract many new adherents.
There are also strong gnostic influences in Jewish wisdom tradition,
Kabbalah, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Similar patterns are found
in India in the teachings of the Fifteenth Century poet Kabir and in
the Sikhism.

As a field of academic study Gnosticism has risen to prominence as a
result of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library materials in Egypt
in 1945 and earlier discoveries of Manichaean writings. This document
is intended to serve as a foundation for a continuing serious exchange
of information, questions and views about historical and contemporary
gnosis, gnostics and Gnosticism.

Additional information is also available by looking up Gnosticism,
Sufism and related subjects at most libraries in the subject