Dark Practises within the Gnostic Continuum

by the Institute for Gnostic Studies

The aim of the Gnostic life is liberation, not petty morality. Our focus is on returning home to the Kingdom of Light (Pleroma), not on sustaining moral standards. While the Gnostic may not totally accept the maxim that the end justifies the means, he comes awfully close.  While morality and ethics serve their purpose for the Hylic class, for those who wish to go beyond the mass of humanity, whether they be Psychic or Pneumatic, the morality and laws of the material world have little value.


In the hierarchy used within the Institute both the paths of the Dove and Serpent offer techniques and methods which go beyond traditional religious standards and ethics. While there are certainly some basic structures and principles (such as non-reproduction, self discipline and so forth), beyond these the student is offered maximum latitude. The emphasis is on the aim, not on the methodology and hence what defines acceptable and non-acceptable spiritual practice is not what the student does, but the intent and meaning of that practice. The definition of good and bad magick in this context is hence that which leads towards the Pleroma and that which does not, there is no room within this definition for bourgeois morality, likes and dislikes and qualms about behavior and social norms.


The Dove and the Serpent


While the paths of the Dove and the Serpent have different intensities of spiritual practice, both offer what could be defined as right and left hand path technologies. At the outset we need to define what the term Right hand Path and Left hand Path mean, they are not moral or ethical descriptions and have little to do with concepts of good or evil. In the traditional Tantrick schools of India, the terms Right hand Path and Left hand Path were developed to refer to two different types of ritual working. In the Right hand Path the working was symbolic, sex for example, was only via symbols and representations. Right hand Path workings generally involve abstinence, celibacy (or monogamy) and asceticism. Right hand Path workings are based on slow, painstaking symbol based ritualism. Left hand Path workings took their name because the partner of the ritualist sat on the left side to symbolize the use of “real” means, in this tradition sex, indulgence and forbidden behaviors were used to achieve liberation. Within the definitions of the Gnostic tradition the Right hand Path tradition tends to be aligned with the path of the Dove and the Left hand Path with that of the Serpent. This is not always so, there are some high level brothers and sisters who have followed the Right hand Path all along the way, but these are the exception rather than the rule. In the Kali Yuga, it is usual to move from the Right hand Path to the Left hand Path as one accelerates along the spiritual trek.


Ascetism and Indulgence


The immediate reaction from most people is to see the Right hand Path as more “morally” acceptable than the Left hand Path, this is an error. The intrusion of morality into Gnostic practice is an irritant and nuisance, since our goal is the Pleroma, both paths are equally of value as long as they are followed to their goal. Asceticism and indulgence are really two phases of one process, in some sense they can be seen as the negative and plus poles of the sense continuum, neither is innately morally acceptable or unacceptable. While reproduction and family values are rejected wholeheartedly by the Gnosis, beyond this requirement, the use of sexuality via asceticism or indulgence is a choice the student makes along the way. While the Gnostic certainly sees the physical organism as a vehicle that is locked between light and darkness, it is nevertheless one that can be trained into offering something of value. Certainly, its basic genetic program must be forced into submission and hence the practices of both the Right hand Path and Left hand Path are confronting and controversial, however, in either system, the body proves a good slave, but an evil and malefic master.


The Truth about Celibacy


There is a tendency today to uplift “white light” virtues and equate them with Gnosticism. We have this ethereal view, for example, of the Cathars as Celibate, Vegetarian peace loving Gnostics who rejected the world and couldn’t wait to die. This image is more a creation of modern new age Christian mysticism than of real historical fact and certainly has little in common with the Gnostic heritage that we have received from the Cathars. Celibacy in the Cathars and related Gnostic groups had a very specific meaning, it meant non-reproduction and avoiding sex with those who were outside the community. It did not mean never having sex at all. The tendency towards celibacy in modern Gnostic schools at times borders on neurosis and a fear of the body, rather than on real spiritual foundations. The Cathars advocated the use of contraception, abortion and anal sex (the term Bugger comes from the name Bogomil, the Bavarian predecessors to the Cathars) so that the general members (Credentes) could avoid having children, they were not moralists in any sense of the word. While they were probably vegetarian, this came from their understanding in regards to the liberation of light particles rather than in some misplaced cosmic pacifism. The Cathars saw themselves in a great cosmic battle and certainly fought hard when the need arose, on both physical and spiritual planes. The issue of the Cathars and Suicide is a complex one, certainly many of them reached a stage when their bodies and minds would no longer obey them and hence due to sickness and suffering they decided to ease themselves into the other world. As healers they knew the role of death and used Euthanasia in a religious role, this is very different from life hating self-destructiveness. While the world is certainly fallen, we must make the most of our opportunities for growth, the path of the Gnostic is one of action and Transfiguration, not withdrawal, neurosis, celibacy and moralism.


Sex, tantra and Gnostic Practise


When discussing sexuality and Gnosis we need to carefully consider the nature of “excess” from the angle of spirituality. Too often Tantra has been characterized as either some form of increased intimacy between partners or as a form of self abandon or orgiastic madness. While sexual practice within Gnosticism does allow great latitude, the approach is one of antinomianism, while the focus is on the True and higher self, not on the instincts or persona.


One of the commonest misapprehensions about antinomianism claims that it causes (or is synonymous with) libertinism – doing “whatever you want” regardless of other peoples values or lives. Luckily Nietzsche settled this point once and for all for everyone, no matter what their sect or belief: “beyond good and evil” means nothing without that “self governing” or “sublimation”: which utterly rules out the banality of a pointless and self defeating evil; The antinomian may commit crimes in the eyes of society or the law, but only out of a personal ethics which reaches unimaginably higher than any moral code.

Sacred Drift,

Peter Lamborn Wilson,

City Lights Books


At the same time we must not move too far in the other direction, the Hindu Tantricks declared that you couldn’t do Tantra with your wife and this is also certainly true, Tantra has little or nothing to do with increased intimacy or relationships. It is a science based on using the energies of the organism against themselves to create a higher self of will. It uses Eros to create agape. Tantra deliberately uses forms of sexuality alien to the “vanilla” sexual experience, it encourages the exploration of S & M, Bondage, pain and pleasure as well as a range of other practices aimed at stretching the boundaries and limits of the organism and mind. Accordingly, the use of sex within the secret core of the Gnosis is controversial, confronting and demanding. It is not for the faint of heart.


When we look for the actual sexual practices of the Gnostics, it is sometimes hard to find them in modern Gnostic literature, one may even suspect that the “pseudo” Christian Gnostics have edited these “unpopular” records right out of current thinking. The blatant fact is that the more traditional Gnostic myths all upheld the Serpent as a symbol of wisdom and liberation, and used this image as both an icon and a symbol, representing secret wisdom and the use of “sacred sexuality”. For example, within the Genesis myth, the serpent liberated both Adam and Eve by communicating to them the truth about the nature of the world, and he did so by seducing both of them through their respective orifices ! Many Gnostic groups hence used homosexual practice in the name of the serpent and used it as a secret means to open the eyes of wisdom. (This is especially interesting considering the link between the prostate gland and the base Chakra). Furthermore, the serpent biting its tail was revered through fellatio, obviously, the Gnostics encouraged and celebrated a wide range of sexual practices. Since the primary restriction was against reproduction, we also find many of the Gnostic groups offering herbals treatments to avoid or terminate unwanted pregnancies.


Probably one of the more explicit records we have of the use of sexual fluids in Gnostic practice is found in the report of Epiphanius. While it may be somewhat unreliable due to his hostility, it does give us some concept of the approach to sexuality that many Gnostics held. It certainly includes a suggestion of the Tantric use of sexual fluids and a ritual means to liberate the “light” locked within the sexual fluids similar to traditions found in Hindu and Buddhist sex mysticism.



They own their own women communally and, in case a stranger should arrive they have a sign of recognition which is exchanged between the sexes: on shaking hands, each tickles the others palm, a sign that the newcomer belongs to their religion. As soon as they have thus acknowledged one another, they fall to feasting. Exotic dishes are served to everyone, even the poor, partakes of meat and drinks wine. When they are completely sated and, if I may express it, have filled their veins with a superabundance of energy, they fall to debauchery. The man leaves his place beside his wife, saying to her: ‘Get up and perform the agape (love-union) with our brother’. Then the wretches set to fornicating, all together and although I blush at the very idea of describing their unclean practices, I will not hesitate to disclose them, for they themselves have no shame in their performance. Once they are coupled together, and if this crime of prostitution were not bad enough for them, they offer their infamy to the heavens: the man and the women gather the mans sperm in their hands, raise their eyes to heaven, and with their hands full of their uncleanness, offer it to the father saying: ‘we offer you this gift, the body of Christ’. Then they eat of it and take communion with their own sperm, saying: ‘Here is the body of Christ, here is the Paschal Lamb for which they confess the passion of Christ’. They do the same with the women’s menstruation (or women’s vaginal fluids ?). They collect the blood of her impurity and take communion with it in the same manner.

But, whilst they practice these obscenities, they preach one must not beget children…




If you do not make the two become one, the male like the female, the inside like the outside, the left as the right, what is before like what is behind, and the things above as those that are below, you shall not see the kingdom.

Gospel of Thomas


When you put off the garment of shame, when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female

Gospel of the Egyptians.


One of the major aims of Gnostic Tantra is to break the hold of the genetic code. All humans are locked into certain pre-disposed sexual roles, these include reproductive and behavioral programs. Through the use of Tantra and confronting our own conditioning, habits and programs we are able to destroy the hold the body and mind have on us and truly experience the power of the inner self. This process involves dismantling programs that the body has implanted in the mind – especially those liked to reproduction, sex roles, preferences and tastes. This is the essence of the Gnostic tradition of coincidentia oppositorum or union of opposites, male and female elements are worked against each other until a state of androgyny is reached. This union of oppositions is also used with differing aspects of the psyche and personality, so that higher forms of unity can be achieved. The highest expression of this process is in the secret rite of the Bridal Chamber where the divine union of the Aeons (Szygy) is expressed within the framework of initiation. Part of this secret rite is a series of meditations based on blurring the sexes and achieving a state beyond gender.





Within the sexual practices of the Gnosis extremes play an important role. While there are as many adaptations of the process as there are individual Gnostics, some key elements can be discussed. The use of pain and pleasure in the form of sado-masochism, bondage, discipline, flagellation and so forth has a extremely long heritage. The consensual blurring of boundaries and pushing of limits has always been a very successful part of the Gnostic and Tantric canon. When these are coupled with death meditations, they can achieve an experience beyond the grave. Iconography varies greatly depending on sect, some traditions see the angel of death as Azrael and relate to him/her in an erotic and passionate manner, achieving union with death and hence transcendence. Other traditions have a more ambivalent attitude towards the process of leaving the body and spend time working towards successfully passing the tests and traps, which lie beyond the grave so that they can reach the Pleroma, unhindered. There are many variations, al involve using extremes and demand the utmost from the seeker of wisdom.





It is always important that we do not allow mediocrity and banality to encroach on the Gnostic tradition. It seems today that anti-intellectualism, moralism and syncretism have compromised both Gnosticism and Magick. We need to make it abundantly clear that Gnosticism is not Christianity, all forms of Christianity are twisted, demented apostate corruptions of the original teachings. The essence of the Gnosis is to return to the Pleroma at all costs and hence involves practices and techniques which will always make it a system only for the elite, we have no time for the bulk of humanity, nor them for us. Gnosticism is a truly revolutionary occult system, it offers more than you can imagine but demands just as much.

Institute for Gnostic Studies, June 2000.


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