This article was accepted for publication in Eye on the Web internet magazine before it ceased publication in 8/98. All rights are available.
By Kathy Fisher
If you ever have a feeling that there's something wrong with the human experience (why does bad stuff happen to good people?), you are sensing what Gnosticism believes. Far from the common belief that the world and mankind was created by a good and kind God, Gnosis contends that the world and everything in it was created by a blundering God at best, a downright evil one at worst. Further, Gnosis believes that it is our mission to liberate ourselves from the grip of the material world before we can return to heaven, the land of our origin.
Gnosis (small "g," silent) is a generic term with Greek origins meaning intuitive knowledge of spiritual mysteries, or more simply "to know." It's an internal spiritual certainty grounded in personal experience rather than faith.
Gnosticism is a religious or philosophical world view based on having achieved gnosis. The term "Gnosis" (capital "G") is often used for both internal individual experience as well as external religious community and shared perceptions of the world.
Gnosticism has many myths to explain the world and human existence. In general, Gnostics believe the world and everything in it are flawed because they were created in the image of an imperfect intermediate being between us and God. Gnosticism claims parts of the original true God, the source of good, thus became the opposite, evil. Hence the nature of human beings, like all the universe, is a duality (good & evil, light & dark, yin & yang). Recognizing this dual nature earned Gnosticism the label of "dualism."
Humans, say Gnosis, are born ignorant of the divine spark of the true God residing in them. This ignorance is caused by the false creator who wants to keep humans from knowing their true destiny. Attachment to material things and ego concerns on earth keeps us enslaved in a prison of ignorance. Death releases the divine spark. However, if there isn't substantial "gnosis" before death, the spark will return to the physical world to maintain the material attachment and slavery to worldly things.
Gnostics strive for salvation from ignorance. Gnosticism teaches that Messengers of Light, particularly Jesus Christ, are sent by the true God to teach us how to attain gnosis and salvation. Gnostics believe the potential for gnosis is present in everyone and must come while still on earth. In time, Gnosis teaches, every spiritual being will receive gnosis and be united with its higher self, the true God. How long it takes is up to us individually.
The origins of Gnosticism are said to be as old as the human soul. Some see it as a fusion between early Christianity, Greek philosophy, and early Oriental religions. It also contains bits and pieces of or contributed to Babylonian and Egyptian philosophies. It has been called the root of all mysticism, religion, art, science, and philosophy.
Although Gnosis appeared long before Christianity, it became well known by the fourth century AD. The early Roman Catholic Church dismissed all Gnosticism as "heresy," burning many Gnostic texts including several Gospels not contained in our modern Bible. Some say the early Church would not tolerate any religious group that encouraged its members to question the concept of faith or the authority of the Pope and other Church officials. This is ironic because most Gnostics consider Jesus Christ the greatest of Gnostic teachers.
One of the most famous early Gnostics was the bishop Valentinus (who later became known as "St. Valentine"). Church authority forbade his teachings and he was martyred in 270AD.
Because of persecution, Gnosticism became unpopular and survived for many decades as an underground movement.
In the 20th Century, Gnosticism again came to the surface. First, in 1945-46, a hidden collection of Gnostic texts, saved from the mass burnings, was unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Translated by the late 1970s, it contained The Gospel of Thomas, among other resources (entire library is online; see links below).
Then, in the 1950s, Gnostic psychologist Carl Jung called attention to Gnosticism and the Nag Hammadi Library. His writings showed the connections between Gnostic thought and psychological health or dysfunction.
Today, Gnosticism is enjoying a revival of interest. Gnostics say they offer a path of individual knowledge, wisdom, and intuition rather than the familiar religious paths of faith and belief in authorities. Some say it provides clear, frank, simple answers to the questions of human destiny and life on earth, things we are all searching for as we approach the second millennium.
The Mysteries of Gnosticism, Early Christian Afterlife Writings - Near-Death (http://near-death.com/)
Lovely opening page with links to many documents and books about Gnosticism, especially as it relates to life after death.
Gnostic Friends Network - guide to Gnosis & Gnosticism - christian x-files (http://www.enemies.com/)
Self-advertised as "speculative satire about Gnosticism," the website is packed with controversial, yet fascinating information. It includes an art and gift shop, book store, and links.
gnostic (http://www.ozemail.com.au/~pleroma/) The Institute for Gnostic Studies
Attractive informational site offering free books for downloading and "the first Gnostic and Esoteric CD-Rom" for Windows and Mac.
The Gnosis Archive (http://www.webcom.com/~gnosis/)
Great library of Gnostic information. Includes historical background as well as meditations, scripture readings, and lectures.
Gnosis Magazine (http://www.lumen.org/), Journal of the Western Inner Traditions.
On-line magazine with a variety of Gnostic articles, links, and even writers' guidelines.
Contact the Author Visit Kathy Fisher's excellent website
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