The Philosophical Foundation of Gnosticism     

by the Institute for Gnostic Studies

One of the major problems with comprehending the truth of the Gnosis is that it can be presented to the seeker in many different ways. On one level we may read the high-browed philosophical approach of the Greek Mysteries, and on the other we may see the bloody battle between ‘the forces of light and darkness’ or the literal expulsion of Satan from Heaven. At first these traditions may seem disparate and it may seem necessary to jettison one or the other depending on your own level of comprehension. However, if we examine these various traditions in more detail we may discern a common foundation and come to the realisation that the problem is one of religious or symbolism and language - not truth.


When we are teaching children about mathematics we may discuss apples and orange, trees and coins, however, as adults we enter into the world of algebra and equations. Nobody really considers these two different approaches to be in conflict, we simply realise that a different set of metaphors are being used to explain the same truth. In the Gnostic tradition the same is undoubtedly true, whether, for example, we speak of an error arising in the divine mind, an opposite appearing as a reflection of the Logos or of Satan being expelled from heaven, we are simply using different metaphors for the same cosmic event. It seems that within the twentieth-century, religious movements have become locked in semantics and argue about things which are in truth only different views of the one reality.


When we examine the gospels we find ample evidence for different appreciations of the divine mysteries, Jesus spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the importance of parables and seems to delight in using stories with multiple meanings. Even the structure of his teaching hierarchy has such  an application...there are 12 disciples, 70 outer disciples and then the multitudes. Here we have an obvious hierarchical structure...the twelve disciples - symbolic of 12 signs of the Zodiac, tribes of Israel etc. - the innermost  teachings, the esoteric mysteries. The seventy disciples - the seven rays, days of creation etc. - the Mesoteric or intermediate teachings. The multitudes - the Exoteric or outer teachings. In practise this simply means that a parable has a general symbolic or moral truth and then deeper meanings.


The danger with modern religious forms is that they have become locked in semantics, they have become bogged down with the symbols and forgotten the spirit. In Biblical terms they have accepted the body of the law, not the spirit.  When we discuss these levels of truth, we also need to appreciate that they relate to different levels of evolution and manifestation, in the gnostic tradition there are three basic levels of being and these can be related quite clearly to the various levels of truth. Every level is "right" in relation to the plane, world or level of consciousness it may be related to. Each also has a "core reality" which is then reflected in each plane in the imagery or symbolism related to that level. Hence we can see how a myth can use extremely anthropomorphic imagery on one level (exoteriuc)and at the same time also reveal a philosophical truth in another (esoteric)


Esoteric          Pnuematic      Higher world

Mesoteric       Psychic           Intermediate worlds

Exoteric          Hylic                Physical worlds


Using these levels as classifications, on the lower level we have the symbolism of Gods as tribal forms and totems. In the intermediate we have the spiritual concepts but these are still rooted in a strong use of religious forms, mysticism would be placed at his level. While on the highest level (Pneumatic) we have the Pleroma as the source of all things, the philosophical causeless cause. By utilising this spectrum of perspectives, we can reconcile the various Gnostic traditions as representing various stages of perception. We can clearly see the literalist traditions as representing the lower manifestation, mysticism and devotionalism as a further stage of perception and Gnosticism highest manifestation. By using such a system of attribution we can clearly see how divinity can be, and is, all things on all levels.   Only by achieving a complete view of each level in its rightful place as part of the cosmic scheme, can we appreciate the real totality of the Gnostic vision.


If we accept that there are multiple levels of Truth, is Truth “ more “ true on a higher level than a lower ?


The answer to this is clearly no. Truth is Truth. However, to appreciate the totality of that truth all levels of ‘that truth’ much be comprehended. If we allow ourselves to be locked into one level then we only see the facet of the tradition of that level. It is clear, for example, that Zoroastrianism, Essene Gnosticism, the Veda’s and the Runic tradition are all facets of our heritage, are all aspects of one universal Mystery Tradition. To neglect one in favour of the other means ignoring pieces of the puzzle and ending up with a incomplete picture. Christianity, in isolation from the rest of the tradition is powerless, as are the other traditions, only with a complete picture can liberation be achieved.


The Path of the Gnosis is the path of the Whole and offers the Mystery traditions in their totality, Gnosticism is the experience of our heritage within the context of the continuum of the tradition as it has been handed down through history. All things must be seen in the context of the greater picture and that picture holds an image of the destiny of man.

 Ó Institute for Gnostic Studies. PO Box 492 Armidale NSW 2350 Australia. (Web: Http://

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