Meaning of gnosis – The Mind thus deluded hastens to unite itself with the evil essence. But thereupon the Christ is fully revealed as the perfect Great Mind, burns down the false tree utterly and unites the Mind with the Tree of Life. Then apparently and not till then does the Mind become identical with the Christ.
MEANING OF GNOSIS
Gnosis is the life of the heart through God , and the turning away of one ‘ s inmost thoughts from all that is not God .
We find that in the first treatise of the Corpus Hernteticum, in the famous Poinzatares or Shepherd of Men document, the demand of the initiand is : ” I would learn about existent things and understand their nature (i.e. the origin and develop-ment of the world], and know God “.
And after the showing of the vision of the world-order and world-process, the Initiator, the Divine Mind, informs the contemplator: ” Thou halt been taught the nature of the universe, yea the grandest vision”.
The world-vision, however, is, as we have already seen, not the end, but the beginning of the path of perfection ; and naturally enough, for it has to do with beginnings and not with ends. This is seen most clearly in the so-called Mithra-liturgy, where the’ perfect body’ has first to be enformed ‘ out of the pure elements before the mystics can ascend to the vision.
But if we talk of beginnings with regard to the universal process, we must not forget that they are only beginnings for us, and not of reality itself, which has no beginning or end. This is admirably brought out in the Trismegistic tradition as follows:
“For to the Good there is no other shore ; it has no bounds ; it is without an end ; and for itself it is without beginning, too, though unto us it seemeth to have one—the gnosis. ” Therefore to it gnosis is no beginning; rather is it that gnosis doth afford to us the first begin-ning of its being known”.
And all things whatsoe’er attend on God, these hath God promised to bestow on thee ; for thou hast been made god, thou haat been born immortal. This is the Know Thyself ‘—knowing the One who bath made god of thee.” As to this immortal or spiritual body, the general belief of all the mystics was that in the human body there was so to say the potentiality of a cosmic body, a body of wholeness.
Thus in one of the Trismegistic mystery-prayers we find the petition : “The all in us-0 Life, make thou it whole ; O Light, enlighten it ; 0 God, inspirit it “). This all ‘ is the new immortal body, the body of the resurrection; Life, Light and the Good are the Divine Soul, Mind and Spirit which are to complete it in gnosis.
The outpouring of the gnosis is to operate a change of being—enlivenment, illumination, inspiration. God, as Spirit, transmutes us into spirit ; as Light, He glorifies us, irradiates us so that we become glorious ; and, as Life, bestows upon us immortality. The con-summation is to be a fulness or teonian being of spiritual immortal lustre.
Though it is true there is something of an absolute nature about this ‘ light of the gnosis,’ for it is essentially spiritual and immediate, the gnosis is also frequently spoken of as a ‘ path,’ a gradual ‘ ascent.’ In the loftiest conceptions of it, however, this path is not a psychic ‘ heaven-journey’ ; it is rather a spiritual immediate way that opens out in every walk of life.
There is no need to ‘ leave the world’ to find it, except in the sense of casting out of ourselves the ‘ supreme vice’ or ‘ chiefest evil,’ which, as set over against the supreme virtue of gnosis, is called ignorance of God, in the sense of a positive force of wilful disregard of the divine. It is a question of ‘ repentance,’ but in the spiritual sense of a turning back of the whole nature, that is of the whole will being set towards the Good.
That the gnosis was essentially religious or spiritual and not intellectual, is already fully established, but it may be authoritatively confirmed by the following categorical statement with reference to the vision of the Beautiful and Good: “There is one way alone that teacloth unto it —devotion joined with gnosis”.
The entrance on the pathway of the gnosis is called a’ going home ‘; it is, as we have seen, a return, a turning back from the world, a repentance of the whole nature : “We must turn ourselves back into the old old way “.
Entering into gnosis is a waking from drunkenness and sleep, and nescience of God, from world-drunkenness to righteous soberness. ” For the evil [deluge] of unknowing is flooding all the land and bringing utter ruin on the soul boxed up within the body, preventing it from sailing for the harbours of salvation “.
The only salvation is gnosis—gnosis of God,for: “God is not ignorant of man ; nay rather is it that He knows him through and through, and that His will is that He (in His turn] should be well-known (by him]. This is the only means of safety for a man—his gnosis of his God. This is the Way up to the Mount (lit. Olympus). By this (ascent] alone is it that man’s soul is made good”. The climbing of the mount is the ascent (anodos, anabasis) of the soul to the height of contemplation, or its plunging into its spiritual nature ; it is the way above, as well as the return.
Looked at from the human standpoint, gnosis is the contest of devotion ‘ (C.H. x. 19), the 6 virtue of the soul’ and also the end of science ‘; he who knows himself ‘ is said to be ” good and pious and still while on the earth divine “. Regarded, however, from the soteriological standpoint, or in regard to the theory of salvation, the path is not self-made, but made by the descent of the Saviour, in pre-Christian as well as in the Christianised forms of the gnosis.
The ascent of the mount is repeatedly men-tioned, as it is throughout nearly the whole of mysticism, and must not be referred to the Moses-legend; it is purely Pagan.
In the Magic Papyri (Pap. Lug. v.) we read : ” I am he whom thou didst meet beneath the sacred mount,” and in the Trismegistic treatise called The Secret Sermon on the Mount, the probationary path is called the wending up the mount ‘, on the top of which the transfiguration and vision take place. In the same initiatory sermons elsewhere the neophyte is exhorted : ” Seek for a guide to lead thee to the gnosis) gates, where shines clear light, pure of all darkness, where not a single soul is drunk, but all are sober, waked from their drunken sleep, with heart’s eyes fixed on Him who willeth to be seen “.
This is brought out still more finely in the passage: ” But on the pious soul the Mind doth mount and guide it to the gnosis’ light. And such a soul cloth never tire in songs of praise to God and pour-ing blessings on all men, and doing good in word and deed to all, in imitation of its sire “. The knowing of God is thus a knowing or seeing ‘ with the eyes of the heart ‘ ; such eyes are called ‘spiritual,’ blessed,” immortal.’ The eyes of the body are not the organs of true vision, as the souls lament when first shut in body: ” Windows are these—not eyes !” The body is the veil of nesoitince,’ the surround of darkness,’ the carapace of selfhood ‘ ; for : ” No ear can hear Him, nor can eye see Him, but only mind and heart “.
Gnostic knowing is the intuition of the true or spiritual mind, immediate apprehension or apperception of the living reality. Though generally referred to metaphorically as seeing, vision or contemplation, because sight is the keenest of the differentiated senses, it is rather immediate insight; indeed it is called the one sense, the simple sense, the unitary sense, the sense of the intelligence.’
“The spiritual man, the man who knows himself, should not make anything succeed through magic, not even if he think the thing is good ; nor should he compel fate, but suffer it to take its natural course. He should move onward by the quest of his true self alone, and thus attaining unto gnosis of divinity, should gain the three ‘ that has no name on earth, and let fate carry out its will on its own clay—that is upon the body.
And if he understand it thus and order thus his life, he shall have vision of the Son of God becom-ing all things for the sake of saintly souls, in order that he may draw every soul out of the region of the fate into the realm where it is free of body.”
The three ‘ or triad ‘ are, presumably, Light, Life and the Good, as we have seen above. The Son of God is the Mind, the Shepherd of Men, the Divine Guide unto the Light, who illuminates the mind of every soul and so bears it aloft, or makes it free of fate.
As the attainment of gnosis con-notes the idea of freedom and salvation, so also it suggests the notion of power, conquest and control. The possession of gnosis thus bestows authority,’ a term interchangeable with ‘ power ‘ in a gnostic sense.
A wealth of additional evidence could be brought forward, but enough has already been given to show that the ground-idea of gnosis is transmutation into spiritual being, and this is fundamentally an Oriental religious idea, the anti-podes of philosophy in its general modern mean-ing of the fabrication of an intellectual system.
Gnosis is thus accompanied with vision and revelation in the sense that the above quotations should have by this time made clear. It would further. be easy to show that these also are the general characteristics of the gnosis in the Christianised systems as well, but that would require a paper in itself. It is enough here to quote a single pro-nouncement from a little known fragment of a Valentinian apocalypse preserved by Epiphanius.
“Greeting from Mind that never weary grows to minds that nothing can make weary Now will I wake in you again the memory of the mysteries above the heavens themselves, the mysteries to which no name can anyhow be given, of which no tongue can tell—the mysteries no rulership and no authority, no subject or mixed nature, have power to comprehend, but which have been made plain unto the understanding of the consciousness that stands above all change.”
THE ‘ BOOK OF THE HIDDEN MYSTERIES’
They who desire to ascend must first purify their garments—both soul and body. For the mind to ascend, the body must be as if dead, and the purified soul absorbed in the mind ; the ascending mind being guided by that good-nature by means of which alone it can attain to union with the Divine.
Such a spiritual struggle arouses the fiercest antagonism of the opposing essences that lie in wait for the soul on the first stages of the ascent, the purgatorial realms of unseen nature, corresponding with the external sub-lunary spaces, where are the demons of the ways of the midst, as they are elsewhere called.
But by the grace of the Divine goodness all these are vanquished and the mind is raised to the firmament, while the angelic hosts above it cry aloud: ” Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates, and the king of glory shall enter.” For they recognise that the victor in this fight is potentially or spiritually higher than themselves; the doctrine being that not even to the intelligence of angels are the wonderful mysteries of pure and holy minds, that is of spiritual men, revealed.
The first stage of the ascent, then, is marked by that degree of purification of the lower nature which enables the aspirant while still alive in an earthly body to win his way through the purgatonal realms of Hades, and their opposing and at the same time chastening hosts.
The next stage is that of spiritual rebirth, which occurs when the mind is made worthy to ascend beyond the firmament, regarded as a wall of separation’ between the purified and the un-purified, between Hades and Heaven ; the mind is become “as a new-born child that passes from darkness into light.” This child has now to grow in stature. It enters the heavenly realms, the celestial states, of which there is a multitude.
Through these, as it grows in stature and in purity, it continues to ascend. As it rises it becomes the purifier and sanctifier of the essences below it. The mode of its communion in these states is that of the mystical sacrament of the eucharist; it eats and is eaten, to use the graphic symbolism of the most primitive and elemental act of all; it is benefited and benefits in turn. It has communicated to it the mysteries of the orders of the essences through which it passes and communicates to them the perfection of its intelligence.
This may seem, at first sight, a strange doctrine. It explains, however, the first greeting of the celestial essences; the idea is apparently that the purified ascending mind, precisely because it has been incarnated in the lower realms and has fought its way again above, is possessed of a treasure which is lacking to the celestial essences who have not descended. They recognise in it the sign manual of the supreme nature of the Good and assemble to adore it. But Heaven is by no means the end.
As in the doctrine of so many other great schools of the mystic) way, the joys of Heaven are an even greater hindrance to the attainment of perfection than the mingled joys and sorrows of earth-life. The re-generate or spiritual child or youth is allowed to taste the celestial joys; but as the mind grows in stature and reaches spiritual manhood, it has to approve itself by a mighty trial of suffering willingly borne.
When then the ascending mind has passed through the heaven-stages, it draws nigh to the Great Boundary which separates Heaven from the mysteries beyond, that limit apparently which divides the finite from the infinite, or at any rate from the supercelestial spaces. Here for a time it rests from its labours to gain strength for the great trial, in that state which is called Distinction. Beyond this lies the mystery of the Cross.
If It would go further the mind must endure the great passion and suffer crucifixion ; for unless the mind undergoes all that Christ suffered, it cannot be perfected. The purification of the superficial human nature is the preliminary to the stages of perfection which transcend the purely human stage, and connote the perfection of the very depths of that nature.
But how is the mind to be crucified when it has already reached the height of celestial bliss ? When the deep motion to union with Christ arises in the regenerate nature as though it were the sign of true spiritual manhood, then a mighty revolution or transformation occurs in the depths of the lover’s being. They who crucify the mind are those very same celestial essences or angels who previously adored it.
These now, it would appear, desire to keep it with them, and because it would ascend still higher, hate it and oppress it. The crucifixion, however, is not of the mind only, it is of the whole human nature ; for the mind is crucified in the midst and the soul and body cruoi-fled on the right and on the left.
Thus only can the amazing subtlety of sin be vanquished and destroyed. After the great passion, the mind is laid in the ‘ sepulchre ‘ to rest for three days; what state the ‘ sepulchre ‘ symbolises we are not told. But on the third day it rises from the dead, and unites to itself its now perfectly purified soul and body, which in the new life of the perfected human stage are now subjected entirely to it, and are no longer the causes of its subjection. The mind now becomes conscious of its being made like unto Christ—’ our union.’
But though the evil of soul and body has been purged, there are still elemental depths of the nature within that have not yet been vanquished, and which cannot possibly be van-quished till some degree of identification with Christ is reached.
The very root of evil has now to be eradicated. The temptations of normal man are overcome, even the subtle temptations of the celestial joys have been transcended; but there are temptations that assail those greater than men, and roots of evil from which these superhuman deceptions arise. From this root of ignorance there grows up again and again an immense tree, whose branches oast darkness over divine souls and hide them from the perfect light.
These branches are out down time and again, but like the heads of the hydra of fable they spring up ever anew in the depth of man’s nature, until they are finally destroyed by fire—the Baptism of the Spirit.
This is the stage of the dark night of the soul indeed. It is now that the mind sees by the grace of Divine illumination that it must descend again to the very lowest regions to tear up the tree by its roots.
The sorrowful return is begun ; the newly awakened or illuminated mind descends into the depths of Sheol, to combat the subtlest and fiercest essences of evil and opposition in its own nature. It fights and fights on, but finally is slain, for of itself it cannot win the victory ; the debt of death even of the mind itself must be paid, for as yet it is not one with the Divine Mind, the Christ.
The mind then is slain ; it is the final mystic death. But as it was crucified above and raised above ; so now it is slain below and raised in the depth by Christ Himself, the Divine Mind, and so peace-fully and swiftly makes its second ascent through all the regions and states. Then and not till then is it deemed worthy of the divine Baptism of the Spirit.
For now it becomes not only like to, but enters on the first stages of identification with Christ. It now receives the adoration of the heavenly hosts, apparently the supercelestial choir, and has the power of the divine High Priest bestowed upon it.
No longer is it mind, it has entered the sonship consciously, though as yet it is not the Son who doeth all according to his will. One would have imagined that hero the seer would have ceased and not dared to go further.
By no means ; he still continues with ultimate visions of the divine drawn°, now set forth as the mind conceives them as experiences of its own, while still short of identity with Christ, and then again as the triumphant deeds of Christ Himself.
There are still further combats for the sonship itself ; for beyond all personal salvation, there is universal salvation, and a mystery of utter sim-plicity in which all oppositions are finally to be resolved.
After consciously entering or being born into the Christ-state by the Baptism of the Spirit, the Mind, as High Priest, now communicates to the supercelestial host in the holy of holies the supreme eucharist, the spiritual type of every eucharistic feast.
After this farewell banquet as it were, the Mind passes into that state where there is no longer vision, to enter on the stages of mystery of union with the Universal Essence itself. Though there is now no longer any ‘vision; for the conflict is really with principalities and powers and essences, the writer is still constrained to use symbols and personifications.
The Universal Essence is first figured as the Tree of Life. The Mind first becomes a divine catechumen, as it were, and is instructed by the High Priest of the Universal Essence in three mysterious doctrines —namely, the distinction of minds, the coming of the mind into the body, and the final end of the nature of all things. But instruction must be followed by realisation, the hearing of the doctrine is to be followed by the doing of the will.
Though the Mind is now in the supernal Paradise, it is not content but would be one even with the Tree of Life itself, a union which is said to be “the consummation of visions and the perfection of mysteries.”
But this desire, sublime as it is, necessitates still further combat. There now comes on the scene the Aroh-Enemy himself, the adversary of the Christ, and transforms himself into the semblance of the Tree of Life, at the same time proclaiming: ” I am the bread which came down from heaven ; whoso eateth of me shall live for ever.”
The Mind thus deluded hastens to unite itself with the evil essence. But thereupon the Christ is fully revealed as the perfect Great Mind, burns down the false tree utterly and unites the Mind with the Tree of Life. Then apparently and not till then does the Mind become identical with the Christ.
But beyond the Tree of Life of the supernal Paradise is the Arch-Good. Even the unutterable rest and peace of union with the Tree of Life is not the end. Before the universal consummation can be reached the Mind must execute judgment on the adversaries of the Good. That which was effected for it above, it must now effect for itself below. It then receives a mystic sword and takes its downward way once more, but now with joy in full consciousness that none can any longer oppose it.
The Divine Mind enters Sheol, apparently the purgatorial realms, or Hades, overthrows the essences of the demons of those regions, who gather together to oppose it, and the minds imprisoned therein are delivered, enlightened and forgiven; these regions moreover are illuminated and purified and made like to the celestial realms.
The Mind has now cast out of itself the whole adversative nature. But below the purgatorial realms lie the depths of perdition.
The Mind accordingly descends into Hell, and thereon the minds there who’are the slaves of perdition, amaied at its beauty, desire to be united with it and be saved. Just as previously Purgatory was transformed into Heaven, so now Hell is changed into Purgatory ; perdition is transformed into purgatorial chastise-ment of an essential nature. For when it is said previously that the Mind destroys the purgatorial demons, it means that it destroys them as demons, and not in their essence.
When the Mind has executed judgment in Gehenna, it descends still further to the lowest Abyss, the seat of the Prince of Darkness, to destroy the very root of demonic evil, the that which had had the power to appear to it above as the Tree of Life itself. Here is the limit of the sensible universe depth-wards.
When it is said that the Mind destroys these roots, we are told it signifies that it has reached a stage of universal purification, when its sole will is to be united with the Aroh-Good alone. But between it and this supreme consumma-tion lies a mystery called the Insensible Essence. It has long reached a state where there is no vision or symbol of any kind.
There is the simple sense of the Insensible—utter negation. This Essence possesses no name that is named on earth or under the earth ; it possesses nothing of nature. It is immaterial, unconscious, lifeless and insensible.
Although the Mind would vanquish it, it will not submit, for it is the final essence of contumacious-ness. Before this mystery of non-being’ can be revealed, the final resurrection must take place ; that is to say, apparently, the Mind whose purified nature first included as far as the purgatorial realms only, must now extend itself to the whole sensible universe below as well as above.
It therefore once more begins its ascent from the very ground of what it has thought to be non-being. Thereon begins the final ascension and resurrection. As it mounts it sees all those that it had slain lying dead before it.
Together with its supreme yearning to become the Father, there arises in it an overwhelming love to have mercy on the slain and raise them from the dead. It would now extend its goodness to all, including the evil and ‘ make them all like unto itself.’ Thereon a wondrous voice is heard : “Come from the four winds, O Breath, and breathe upon those slain that they may live!”
The resurrection is consummated ; the slain are raised and draw nigh the Divine Mind, who greets them with the words : “Ye are my brethren : for truly are ye bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” They are thus united with Him that they may ascend with Him.
Then are all His limbs gathered together and He has united to Himself all minds in the universe. Thus made whole He contemplates the Essence Above, the Light of the Divine. Nay more, He descends again below all essences, and there now sees that what He had before resurrection ‘ sensed’ as the Insensible, is the very same one Essence of the Divine He had seen above, and so he cries aloud : ” If I ascend up into heaven Thou art there, and if I descend to hell there also art Thou.
And if I raise the wings of my understanding like those of the eagle, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” With this Universal Essence then at last is the Divine Mind united and embraces all in itself. It now no longer ascends or descends, for it is all-containing.
Time has also now ceased for it. The Mind has even left the name of Christ, for it has transcended distinction, name and word. It can no longer be said : ” Father, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee,” for all distinction of glorifier and glorified has passed away. Nay, more, Love the Spirit even, in any sense of dis-tinction between lover and beloved, is transcended by perfect Minds.”
For whom should they glorify, as the Good is in them and they in it ? granting it correct to use the expressions in it and in them, for one is the nature and one the person of them and of it; granting it correct to use the terms of them and of it.
Neither will they any longer be named heirs, for distinction is blotted out from them, and when there is no distinction, who can inherit from another? Come now therefore, and let us glorify with unutterable glory the Mind which no longer glorifies but is glorified.” This consummation, however, is by no means a monotonous sameness of sheer unity.
It is the prelude to the creation of a new and better universe. For now is the Mind united to the creative power of Divinity. ” It will thus begin, by a new and holy brood-ing, to create a new world, and will create a new man in its image, imageless, and according to its likeness likenessless. It will mete out heaven with its span, and will measure the dust of the earth with its measure ; it will number the drops of the sea, and weigh the mountains in a scale.
And who will speak of it, that cannot be spoken ? or name it, that cannot be named ? Let us, with the apostle, marvel at a mystery and say : Oh the depth and the riches, the wisdom and understanding, above the name of Divinity, of the Perfect Mind when perfected. For man cannot comprehend its judgments, and its ways are inscrutable. For who hath known its mind? or who hath been its counsellor? “
Gnosis is the life of the heart through God , and the turning away of one ‘ s inmost thoughts from all that is not God .