Review: Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing

I was so thrilled to read Stephan A. Hoeller’s work, “Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing.”  My background covers a variety of religious and spiritual practices.  Recently I had been drawn into the use of mysticism related to Gnosticism.  However, I wanted to gain some depth on the subject of Gnosticism from a well respected source.
Stephen Hoeller’s work here was amazing. I finished the book in less than a week and I would like to share some of my favorite highlights of various chapters.  Beyond the highlights below the author also offers the reader further reading lists to better understand Gnosticism.
Hoeller doesn’t cover all aspects of Gnosticism, but this work brilliantly offers the reader a starting point in which to further grow their understanding of what Gnosticism sought:  Gnosis (Wisdom) through Experience.  Like all mystics (Kabbalaists, Sufi’s, Hindu’s and perhaps the Buddhist), experience was more valued then faith.  These paths attempted to find a way out of the cycle of suffering and ignorance.
In the end, I highly recommend this book “Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing.”  It is an inspirational work, as well as providing historic reference and documentation upon the spiritual path known as Gnosticism.

Chapter 1 Light from beyond the Veil

The Greek language distinguishes between theoretical knowledge and knowledge gained through direct experience. The latter is gnosis, and a person possessing or aspiring to this knowledge is a Gnostic.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 203-204). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in their mainstream manifestations have placed much emphasis on faith. “I believe” (credo) is the central affirmation of much of the conventional religious mind. In contradistinction, the Gnostic mind aspires to, and eventually attains, not faith but a certain interior knowing that liberates one from unconsciousness and eventually transports one beyond the bounds of manifest existence itself.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 247-250). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Gnostic visions frequently included heavenly ascensions, but other kinds of visions, such as ecstatic deaths, were in evidence also. One died to the created world and ascended through the aeonial regions, engaging in discourses with the denizens of these realms.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 282-284). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
While conventional religions apparently are satisfied with the accounts of their founding experiences recorded in sacred scripture, Gnostics have always sought further expansions and amplifications of the initial experiences of gnosis.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 314-315). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
An early normative Gnostic statement defines the content and implications of gnosis:

  • What makes us free is the gnosis
  • of who we were of what we have become of where we were
  • of wherein we have been cast of whereto we are hastening
  • of what we are being freed of what birth really is
  • of what rebirth really is.

Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 319-322). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 2. The Gnostic Worldview

In this context, the term myth does not mean stories that are not true, but rather, stories that embody truths of a different order than the dogmas of theology or the theories of philosophy.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 356-357). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
As long as a person will not raise his or her consciousness beyond the physical world to higher, spiritual realities, the soul’s enslavement in darkness—whether darkness in the outer, physical world or in the world of the mind—continues.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 380-382). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The created world, including a major portion of the human mind, is seen as evil by the Gnostic primarily because it distracts consciousness away from knowledge of the Divine.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 391-392). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Yet it is this inner self (“spirit,” Greek pneuma) that is the point of transcendence within the human field of experience, for it alone has a direct link with ultimate Divinity. Through the experience of transcendence, what Gnostics regard as the true “original sin,” namely, alienation and separation of the human from the Divine, can be undone.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 393-396). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Since to the soul without gnosis the cosmos appears to be the only reality, it is an obstacle to the Gnostic’s true objective, which is the raising of consciousness above all physical and mental substitute realities to the true reality, beyond matter and mind.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 398-400). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The architect was known in ancient Gnosticism as the Demiurge—from the Greek demiurgos, “half-maker,” since he made only the form but not the inner life of the world. The workmen and future managers were called archons, using the Greek word for “petty rulers.” It goes without saying that the majority of the deeds and words of the Old Testament God accord with the character of the Demiurge. Gnosticism’s disdain for Yahveh must be ascribed precisely to this circumstance.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 416-418). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
A human being consists of physical and psychic components, which are perishable, as well as a spiritual component, which is a fragment of the divine essence, sometimes called the divine spark. Because the Gnostic tradition recognizes this dual nature—of the world as well as the human being—it has earned the epithet dualistic. People are generally ignorant of the divine spark residing within them. This ignorance serves the interests of the archons, who act as cosmic slave masters, keeping the light sparks in bondage.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 425-429). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Gnostics look to salvation not from sin (original or other), but from the ignorance of which sin is the consequence. Those who know the Divine through gnosis shed all sin, while those without gnosis cannot help but persist in transgressions.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 442-444). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
People do not act in a vacuum; a person’s conduct rises out of his state of consciousness. Murder is the result of a murderous state of mind, lying is the manifestation of a lack of integrity and authenticity in the mind and soul. Buddha, the great Gnostic of Asia, stated that right thinking must be present for right action to occur. Gnosticism is a system of thought based on interior, psychospiritual experience. This being the case, it is not surprising that Gnosticism emphasizes states of mind and regards actions as secondary in nature and importance. Gnostics have always held that consciousness, rather than external action, is the true indicator of moral worth.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 490-495). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 3. A Creative View of Creation…

Nag Hammadi library, read Genesis not as history with a moral but as a myth with a meaning. They regarded Adam and Eve not as historical figures but as representatives of two intrapsychic principles present within every human being. Adam was the dramatic embodiment of psyche, or “soul”: the mind-emotion complex where thinking and feeling originate. Eve stood forpneuma, or “spirit,” representing the higher, transcendental consciousness.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 550-553). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Another scripture from the same collection, The Hypostasis of the Archons, informs us that not only Eve but also the serpent was inspired and guided by the divine Sophia. Sophia allowed her wisdom to enter the serpent, who thereby became a teacher and then taught Adam and Eve about their true source. They came to understand that they were not lowly beings created by the Demiurge (in this case, the Creator in the Genesis story), but rather, that their spiritual selves had originated beyond this world, in the fullness of the ultimate Godhead.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 582-586). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 4. Sophia: Gnostic Archetype…

Deportations, ethnic cleansings, refugee camps, and enclaves of exiles desperately trying to preserve vestiges of their ancient cultures are familiar and ever-reappearing realities at the outset of the twenty-first century.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 687-688). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The Gnostics recognized the condition of exile as more than an event of history. They saw it as having a profound cosmic and even transcosmic dimension. The human spirit, they held, is quite literally a stranger in a strange land.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 689-690). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Long before there were men and women, long before there was a cosmos as we know it, a great drama of exile and return was played out in the story of the divine feminine being named Sophia. Having resided in the lofty height of the eternal Fullness (Pleroma) in the embrace of her aeonial spouse, she leaves her original habitat and descends into realms of chaos and desperate alienation.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 701-704). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
In virtually all Gnostic myths, an intimate relationship exists between the nature and condition of the human soul or spirit, on the one hand, and the transcosmic archetype, on the other. Thus we understand that our own consciousness has emerged from a primordial wholeness and proceeded into alienation and chaos. Yet even in our confused state, we still sense a connection, no matter how tenuous, with a higher, transcendental self. Thus, like Sophia, we are split in two: our human personality abides in confusion and alienation, while our eternal self partakes of wholeness and wisdom.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 709-713). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The lower Sophia, Achamoth (an anagram of Chokmah, the Hebrew name for Wisdom), struggles in her alienated condition. She grieves and rages; she sorrows and longs for her original estate. In her distress she manifests, or emanates, powers that eventually condense into the building blocks of the material universe—envisioned in antiquity as earth, water, fire, and air. She also produces a hybrid form of consciousness, a lion-headed, monstrous being who becomes the Demiurge (also known as IALDABAOTH, Sacks, and Samael), the “Artificer” of the created world.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 717-722). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
A number of the high Aeons of the Fullness, including the Holy Spirit, the Christos, and Jesus (destined to become the outer manifestation of the Christos), join forces in a mission of rescue. The powers of the Fullness also pool their strengths and fill the rescuers with invincible light and perspicacity.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 749-751). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 5: The Gnostic Christ…

If death was brought into the world by human sin, how is it that so many life forms perished long before human life appeared on earth?
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1021-1022). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The Gnostic followers of Christ, quite early in the history of the Christian faith, refused to go along with the atonement theology. Even without the evidence of biology and paleontology, they did not accept the notion that a good world had been corrupted by evil humans and then had to be reconciled to a wrathful God by the torment and death of Jesus. Does this mean that Gnostics did not regard Jesus as their redeemer? Far from it.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1024-1027). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The redeemer came not to pacify his angry Father by dying in ignominy, but rather to “take captivity captive” (as a Gnostic phrase expressed it) and liberate the forlorn strangers from the prison cell where they found themselves.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1030-1031). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
To sum up, salvation to the Gnostic means not reconciliation with an angry God by way of the death of his son, but rather liberation from the stupor induced by earthly existence and an awakening by way of gnosis.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1049-1050). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
In the moment of full gnosis the indwelling divine spark is effectively released and one rises up from the double sepulchre of body and mind, united with the timeless spirit. Forgetfulness falls away; remembrance of the realities of the spirit returns.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1096-1097). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 6. The Mystery of Iniquity…

The origin of evil is, in the words of St. Paul, “spiritual wickedness in high places”; therefore material means will not avail against it. This does not mean, of course, that evil material conditions should not be combated through whatever means are available, including material ones. To think, however, that any physical means will ever completely eliminate all evils and suffering is folly.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1256-1259). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 7. Liberating Mysteries…

For the Gnostic, especially the Valentinian Gnostic, the hallmark of gnosis was the capacity to experience the sacraments with one’s pneumatic (spiritual) nature, while the non-Gnostic Christian could do so only with his psychic (soul-related) nature.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1353-1355). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Thus, the sacrament of the Bridal Chamber is in fact an initiation signifying individuation; the grand symbol of the restoration of the Pleroma, or wholeness; the hieros gamos, or “sacred marriage,” of the opposites within; and thus the attainment to the true and ultimate gnosis. The archetypal symbolism of the savior as the bridegroom; Sophia, the wandering soul, as the bride; and the state of wholeness, the Pleroma, as the bridal chamber, in their personal analogues are thus the process of individuation.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1381-1384). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Many sayings in the Gospel of Philip support a psychological understanding of the sacrament of the Bridal Chamber. The author of this gospel presents us with a long series of mystical and mythological allusions to the Bridal Chamber, all indicating that the consequence of the primal separation of the opposites (as portrayed in the extraction of Adam’s rib in Genesis) was the beginning of death, and that immortality can be attained by a reunion that could be likened to Adam reabsorbing Eve.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1385-1389). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The Books of Jeu, or The Gnosis of the Invisible God, Jesus is described as bestowing on his disciples three baptisms (water, fire, and air, or the Holy Spirit), after which follows the mystery of the removal of the wickedness of the rulers of the lower world, which in turn is followed by the mystery of the spiritual unction. After the administration of these sacraments comes the ascent of the souls through the twenty-four emanations of the invisible God and through the aeons of the transcendental world to the great invisible God himself. The names, numbers, and pictorially represented sigils, as well as the passwords and formulas of the various aeonic spheres and their guardians, are given, many in the form of elaborate mandalalike designs. Once again, five sacraments are explicitly mentioned, and these are to be accompanied by an intricate step-by-step process of transformation.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1409-1415). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 9. Visionaries and Prophets…

Valentinus’s premise is that both the world and humanity are sick. The sickness of both has a common root: ignorance. That is, we ignore the authentic values of life and substitute inauthentic ones for them. We believe that we need physical things (such as money, symbols of power and prestige, physical pleasures) in order to be happy or whole. Similarly, we fall in love with the ideas and abstractions of our minds. (Our rigidities are always due to excessive attachment to abstract concepts and precepts.) The sickness of materialism was called “hyleticism” (worship of matter) by the Gnostics, while the sickness of abstract intellectualism and moralizing was known as “psychism” (worship of the mind and the emotional soul). The true role of the facilitators of wholeness in this world, among whom Jesus occupies the place of honor, is to exorcise these sicknesses by bringing knowledge of the pneuma or spirit to the soul and mind.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1791-1798). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
The following formula accompanies the Valentinian “Redemption”: I am established, I am redeemed and I redeem my soul from this aeon and from all that comes from it, in the name of IAO, who redeemed his soul unto the redemption in Christ, the living one. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.21.5)
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1806-1809). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Even as Buddha is said to have refused the offers of Mara, the deceiver, prior to his enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, so the Gnostic severs every connection with unconsciousness and compulsion, and lives and dies as a sovereign being of light and power.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 1810-1812). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Chapter 11. The Heritage of Gnosticism…

With the triumph of orthodox Christianity after Constantine, the Gnostic tradition went underground. The final blow to early Gnostic Christianity came in the late fourth century, when the wave of fierce persecution burst upon the followers of the Spanish bishop Priscillian of Avila, despite the pleadings of charitable orthodox Christians, including St. Martin of Tours. From this time on, the ceaseless hunt for Gnostics, usually falsely called Manichaeans, made it difficult for the Gnosis to survive. Not until the rise of the Cathars in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries did Gnosticism in western Europe emerge again from hiding.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 2299-2303). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
Sufi master Shurawardi, in Philosophy of Illumination (1186), freely acknowledged the Platonic and Gnostic sources of his illumination. To this day, the Gnostic element in Sufism is there for all to see.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 2308-2309). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

Further in the chapter, the author speaks to the words of the famous theosophist Madam Blavatsky.  He describes her view of the nature of the Old Testament God.

The Gnostic notion that the Old Testament God is the Demiurge is affirmed by Blavatsky. In some of her statements she “out-gnostics” the Gnostics, for instance, when she boldly states that Yehovah is Satan!
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 2494-2496). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

For some it may sound harsh, especially if we were raised on cherry-picked passages from the Old Testament. However there are many passages in the Old Testament that are quite eye-opening.  In this day and age, we often hear how “evil” one religion from the Middle East is.  They tell us their book is so violent, and yet the very same people seem unaware that the Old Testament demanded rape, murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, child murder and beheadings. For example: Numbers 31:17-20.
When Jesus steps onto the scene, He not only speaks a different doctrine (one of love, compassion and long suffering) but He even gets involved enough to fight the law of the Old Testament (preventing a woman from being stoned to death, working on the sabbath to heal a man, etc.)
 

Chapter 13. Gnostic Literature: Myth, Truth…

And he [Jesus] said: Let him who seeks keep seeking until he finds. And when he finds he will be troubled; when he becomes troubled he will marvel, and when he has marveled he will rule over the all. (prologue and saying 1) Note that there is no exhortation to belief, no statement that if people believe they will be saved. Instead, the reader is enjoined to interpret, understand, seek, and become a master over the all.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 2934-2937). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.
For this reason, the Jesus of these gospels will never be a suitable figure for the liberation theologians; the liberation he brings is not political or economic but spiritual. But—and this should certainly not be forgotten—because it is a liberation that liberates from the world rather than in the world, it is also a liberation that is final. And that is certainly worth a great deal.
Hoeller, Stephan A (2012-12-13). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing (Kindle Locations 2964-2967). Quest Books. Kindle Edition.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *