Gnosticism in modern times: Wikis


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This article is part of a series on Gnosticism
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Early Gnosticism
Syrian-Egyptic Gnosticism
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Simon Magus
Gnostic texts
Gnostic Gospels
Nag Hammadi library
Codex Tchacos
Askew Codex
Bruce Codex
Gnosticism and the New Testament
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Gnosticism includes a variety of religious movements, mostly Christian in nature, in the ancient Hellenistic society around the Mediterranean. Although origins are disputed, the period of activity for most of these movements flourished from approximately the time of the founding of Christianity until the fourth century when the writings and activities of groups deemed heretical or pagan were actively suppressed. The only information available on these movements for many centuries was the characterizations of those writing against them, and the few quotations preserved in such works.

The late 19th century saw the publication of popular sympathetic studies making use of recently rediscovered source materials. In this period there was also revival of the Gnostic religious movement in France. The emergence of the Nag Hammadi library in 1945, greatly increased the amount of source material available. Its translation into English and other modern languages in 1977, resulted in a wide dissemination, and has as a result had observable influence on several modern figures, and upon modern Western culture in general. This article attempts to summarize those modern figures and movements that have been influenced by Gnosticism, both prior and subsequent to the Nag Hammadi discovery.


Late Nineteenth Century

Source materials were discovered in the eighteenth century. In 1769 the Bruce Codex was brought to England from Upper Egypt by the famous Scottish traveller Bruce, and subsequently bequeathed to the care of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Sometime prior to 1785 The Askew Codex (aka Pistis Sophia) was bought by the British Museum from the heirs of Dr. Askew. Pistis Sophia text and Latin translation of the Askew Codex by M. G. Schwartze published in In 1851. Although discovered in 1896 the Coptic Berlin Codex (aka. the Akhmim Codex), is not 'rediscovered' until the twentieth century.


Charles William King

Charles William King was a British writer and collector of ancient gemstones with magical inscriptions. His collection was sold because of his failing eyesight, and was presented in 1881 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. King was recognized as one of the greatest authorities on gems.[1]

In the Gnostics and their Remains (1864, 1887 2nd ed.) King sets out to show that rather than being a Western heresy, the origins of Gnosticism are to be found in the East, specifically in Buddhism. This theory was embraced by Blavatsky, who argued that it was plausible, but rejected by GRS Mead. According to Mead King's work "lacks the thoroughness of the specialist."[2]

Madame Blavatsky

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, wrote extensively on Gnostic ideas. A complilation of her writings on Gnosticism is over 270 pages long.[3] The first edition of King's The Gnostics and Their Remains was repeatedly cited as a source and quoted in Isis Unveiled.

G. R. S. Mead

G. R. S. Mead became a member of Blavatsky's Theosophical Society in 1884. He left the teaching profession in 1889 to become Blavatsky's private secretary, which he was until her death in 1891. Mead's interest in Gnosticism was likely awakened by Blavatsky who discussed it at length in Isis Unveiled.[4]

In 1890-1 Mead published a serial article on Pistis Sophia in Lucifer magazine, the first English translation of that work. In an article in 1991, Mead argues for the recovery of the literature and thought of the West at a time when Theosophy was largely directed to the East. Saying that this recovery of Western antique traditions is a work of interpretation and "the rendering of tardy justice to pagans and heretics, the reviled and rejected pioneers of progress..."[5] This was the direction his own work was to take.

The first edition of his translation of Pistis Sophia appeared in 1896. From 1896-8 Mead published another serial article in the same periodical, "Among the Gnostics of the First Two Centuries," that laid the foundation for his monumental compendium Fragments of a Faith Forgotten in 1900. Mead serially published translations from the Corpus Hermeticum from 1900-05. The next year he published Thrice-Greatest Hermes a massive comprehensive three volume treatise. His series Echoes of the Gnosis was published in 12 booklets in 1908. By the time he left the the Theosophical Society in 1909, he had published many influential translations, commentaries, and studies of ancient Gnostic texts. "Mead made Gnosticism accessible to the intelligent public outside of academia..."[6] Mead's work has had and continues to have widespread influence.[7]

The Gnostic Church Revival in France

After a series of visions and archival finds of Cathar-related documents, a librarian named Jules-Benoît Stanislas Doinel du Val-Michel (aka Jules Doinel) establishes the Eglise Gnostique (French: Gnostic Church). Founded on extant Cathar documents with the Gospel of John and strong influence of Simonian and Valentinian cosmology, the church was officially established in the autumn of 1890 in Paris, France. Doinel declared it "the era of Gnosis restored." Liturgical services were based on Cathar rituals. Clergy was both male and female, having male bishops and female "sophias."[8][9]

Doinel resigned and converted to Roman Catholicism in 1895, one of many duped by Léo Taxil's anti-masonic hoax, writing Lucifer Unmasked a book attacking freemasonry. Taxil unveiled the hoax in 1897. Doinel was readmitted to the Gnostic church as a bishop in 1900.

Early to Mid-Twentieth Century

Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung evinced a special interest in Gnosticism from at least 1912, when he wrote enthusiastically about the topic in a letter to Freud. After what he called his own 'encounter with the unconscious,' Jung sought for external evidence of this kind of experience. He found such evidence in Gnosticism, and also in Alchemy, which he saw as a continuation of Gnostic thought, and of which more source material was available.[10] In his study of the Gnostics, Jung made extensive use of the work of GRS Mead. Jung visited Mead in London to thank him for the Pistis Sophia, the two corresponded, and Mead visited Jung in Zürich.[11]

Jung saw the Gnostics not as syncretic schools of mixed theological doctrines, but as genuine visionaries, and saw their imagery not as myths but as records of inner experience.[12] He wrote that "The explanation of Gnostic ideas 'in terms of themselves,' i.e., in terms of their historical foundations, is futile, for in that way they are reduced only to their less developed forestages but not understood in their actual significance."[13] Instead, he worked to understand and explain Gnosticism from a psychological standpoint. (See Jungian interpretation of religion.) While providing something of an ancient mirror of his work, Jung saw "his psychology not as a contemporary version of Gnosticism, but as a contemporary counterpart to it."[14]

Jung reported a series of experiences in the winter of 1916-17 that inspired him to write Septem Sermones ad Mortuos (Latin: Seven Sermons to the Dead).[15] [16]

The Jung Codex

Through the efforts of Gilles Quispel, the Jung Codex was the first codex brought to light from the Nag Hammadi Library. It was purchased by the Jung Institute and ceremonially presented to Jung in 1953 because of his great interest in the ancient Gnostics.[17] First publication of translations of Nag Hammadi texts in 1955 with the Jung Codex by H. Puech, Gilles Quispel, and W. Van Unnik.

French Gnostic Church Split, Reintegration, and Continuation

Jean Bricaud had been involved with the Eliate Church of Carmel of Eugene Vintras, the remnants of Fabré-Palaprat's l'Église Johannites des Chretiens Primitif (Johannite Church of the Primitive Christians), and the Martinist Order before being consecrated a bishop of l'Église Gnostique in 1901. In 1907 Bricaud established a church body that combined all of these, becoming patriarch under the name Tau Jean II. The impetus for this was to use the Western Rite. Briefly called the Eglise Catholique Gnostique (Gnostic Catholic Church), the name was changed to Eglise Gnostique Universelle (Universal Gnostic Church, EGU) in 1908. The close ties between the church and Martinism were formalized in 1911. Bricaud received consecration in the Villate line of Apostolic Succession in 1919.[18][19]

The original church body founded by Doinel continued under the name Eglise Gnostique du France (Gnostic Church of France) until it was disbanded in favor of the EGU in 1926. The EGU continued until 1960 when it was disbanded by Robert Amberlain (Tau Jean III) in favor of Eglise Gnostique Apostolique that he had founded in 1958.[20] It is active in France, the island country of Martinique, the Ivory Coast, and the Midwestern United States.

Modern Sex Magic Associated with Gnosticism

The use of the term 'Gnostic' by sexual magic groups is a modern phenomenon. Hugh Urban concludes that, "despite the very common use of sexual symbolism throughout Gnostic texts, there is little evidence (apart from the accusations of the early church) that the Gnostics engaged in any actual performance of sexual rituals, and certainly not anything resembling modern sexual magic."[21] Modern sexual magic began with Paschal Beverly Randolph.[22] The connection to Gnosticism came by way of the French Gnostic Church with its close ties to the strong esoteric current in France, being part of the same highly interconnected milieu of esoteric societies and orders from which the most influential of sexual magic orders arose, the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Oriental Templars, OTO).

Theodor Reuss founded the OTO as an umbrella organization with sexual magic at its core.[23] After Reuss came into contact with French Gnostic Church leaders at a Masonic and Spiritualist conference in 1908, he founded Die Gnostische Katholische Kirche (the Gnostic Catholic Church), under the auspices of the OTO.[24] Reuss subsequently dedicated the OTO to the promulgation of Crowley's philosophy of Thelema. It is for this church body, called in Latin the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC), that Aleister Crowley wrote the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica Canon Missa ("Canon Mass of the Gnostic Catholic Church"), the central ritual of the OTO that is now commonly called the Gnostic Mass.

The Gnostic Society

The Gnostic Society, was founded for the study of gnosticism in 1928 and incorporated in 1939 by Theosophists James Morgan Pryse and his brother John Pryse in Los Angeles.[25][26] Since 1963 it has been under the direction of Stephan Hoeller and operates in association with the Ecclesia Gnostica. Initially begun as an archive for a usenet newsgroup circa 1993, the Gnosis Archive quickly evolved beyond that purpose. It was the first web site to offer historic and source materials on Gnosticism, and continues to do so.

Eric Voegelin's Anti-Modernist 'gnostic thesis'

Eric Voegelin made use of the terms "gnostic" and "gnosticism" in a way unrelated to, and inconsistent with, scholarly work on the subject. In the 1950's Voegelin entered into an academic debate concerning the classification of modernity following Karl Löwith's 1949 Meaning in History: the Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History; and Jacob Taubes's 1947 Abendländishe Eschatologie. In this context, Voegelin put forward his "gnosticism thesis": criticizing modernity by identifying an "immanentist eschatology" as the "gnostic nature" of modernity. Differing with Löwith, he did not criticize eschatology as such, but rather the immanentization which he described as a "pneumopathological" deformation. Voegelin did not respond to criticisms of his gnosticism thesis, having left this debate about historical categorization to pursue an "anamnetic" approach to history. However, he remained identified with his gnosticism thesis, which subsequently became popular in neo-conservative and cold war political thought.[27]

Ecclesia Gnostica

Established in 1953 by the Most Rev. Richard Duc de Palatine in England under the name the Pre-nicene Gnostic Catholic Church, the Ecclesia Gnostica (Latin: "Church of Gnosis" or "Gnostic Church") is said to represent 'the English Gnostic tradition,' although it has ties to, and has been influenced by, the French Gnostic church tradition. It is affiliated with the Gnostic Society an organization dedicated to the study of Gnosticism. The presiding bishop is the Rt. Rev. Stephan A. Hoeller, who has written extensively on Gnosticism.[28][29]

Centered in Los Angeles, the Ecclesia Gnostica has parishes and educational programs of the Gnostic Society spanning the Western US and also in the Kingdom of Norway.[30][31] The lectionary and liturgical calendar of the Ecclesia Gnostica have been widely adopted by subsequent Gnostic churches, as have the liturgical services in use by the church, though in somewhat modified forms.

Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum

The Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum (EGM), also known as the Church of Gnosis has moved from Palo Alto to its new location in Mountain View, California, and is lead by bishop Rosamonde Miller. Originally a part of the Ecclesia Gnostica, it has been an independent ecclesiastical body for decades and its practices and liturgy have continually evolved over that time.[32][33] The EGM also claims a distinct lineage of Mary Magdalene from a surviving tradition in France.[34]

Hans Jonas

The philosopher Hans Jonas wrote extensively on Gnosticism, interpreting it from an existentialist viewpoint. For some time, his study The Gnostic Religion: The message of the alien God and the beginnings of Christianity published in 1958, was widely held to be a pivotal work, and it is as a result of his efforts that the Syrian-Egyptian/Persian division of Gnosticism came to be widely used within the field. The second edition, published in 1963, included the essay “Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Nihilism.”

The Nag Hammadi Library

Gnosticism in popular culture

Gnosticism has seen something of a resurgence in popular culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This may be related, certainly, to the sudden availability of Gnostic texts to the reading public, following the emergence of the Nag Hammadi library.

See also



  • Dawson, Andrew (2007). New era, new religions: religious transformation in contemporary Brazil. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 9780754654339.  
  • Goodrick-Clarke, Clare (2005). G. R. S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 155643572x.  
  • Greer, John Micheal (2003). The New Encyclopedia of the Occult. St. Paul: Llewellyn. ISBN 1567183360.  
  • Hoeller, Stephan (1989). The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead. Quest Books. ISBN 083560568X.  
  • Hoeller, Stephan. Gnosticism: New light on the ancient tradition of inner knowing. Quest Books.  
  • Jung, Carl Gustav (1977). The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen (Princeton University). ISBN 0710082916.  
  • Mead, GRS (1906 (2nd ed.)). Fragments of a Faith Forgotten. Theosophical Society.  
  • Pearson, Birger (2007). Ancient Gnosticism: Traditions and Literature. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 9780800632588.  
  • Pearson, Joanne (2007). Wicca and the Christian Heritage. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415254140.  
  • Segal, Robert (1995). "Jung's Fascination with Gnosticism". in Segal, Robert. The Allure of Gnosticism: the Gnostic experience in Jungian psychology and contemporary culture. Open Court. pp. 26–38. ISBN 0812692780.  
  • Smith, Richard (1995). "The revival of ancient Gnosis". in Segal, Robert. The Allure of Gnosticism: the Gnostic experience in Jungian psychology and contemporary culture. Open Court. pp. 206. ISBN 0812692780.  
  • Urban, Hugh B. (2006). Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in modern Western esotericism. University of California. ISBN 0520247760.  
  • Weiss, Gilbert (2000). "Between gnosis and anamnesis--European perspectives on Eric Voegelin". The Review of Politics 62 (4): 753–776. 65964268.  
  • Wasserstrom, Steven M. (1999). Religion after religion: Gershom Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. ISBN 0691005400.  

External links


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