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From Not in His Image, pages 410-430

Gnosticism: Reading and Research

Part One: Source Texts and Para-Gnostic Literature, the Mysteries, New Testament Apocrypha, Mary Magdalene

Part Two: Part Two: Dead Sea Scrolls, Goddess scholarship, Deep Ecology, Novels and Films, ET/UFO Theory, Entheogenic Theory of Religion

3. The Dead Sea Scrolls

Readers may observe that my book is the only one so far that links the Nag Hammadi Codices to the Dead Sea Scrolls, showing cross-references between these materials that no scholar (to my knowledge) has noted or investigated: for instance, the naming of the Children of Seth on top of the “hit list” in the War Scroll, and the location of the Archontic counterintelligence camp in the backyard of the Zaddikim. An early work by Millar Burrows, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955), contains a chapter entitled “Beliefs” where the author compares Gnostic “salvation by knowledge” with the views of the Qumran sect. This rare instance of cross-textual study is instructive, but it merely grazes the contrast between tzaddik, the supermundane and inhumane standard of perfection of the Qumranic covenant, and telos, the Gnostic ideal of human potential realized in the Mysteries.

The most-cited firsthand account of the emergence of the redeemer complex in ancient Palestine is The Jewish Wars by Josephus. There are various editions, including the Loeb Classical Library. The Dogma of Christ by Erich Fromm gives a trenchant analysis of the social unrest of the Herodian period, with Freudian psychological commentary. On the scrolls and their history, there are many good books, including The Hidden Scrolls by Neil Asher Silberman, The Dead Sea Scrolls by John Allegro, Deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jonathan Campbell, and The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Herschel Shanks. The last is especially helpful for its evaluation of the texts, but Shanks (a key figure in exposing the cover-up of the scrolls) remains ambivalent about the historical figure of Jesus as reflected in the Qumranic literature. On that thorny issue, I recommend The Passover Plot by Hugh Schonfield, a brilliant exploration of the Jesus persona. Also, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth by John Allegro is essential to deconstructing redemptive mythology. Apocalypticism and the Dead Sea Scrolls by John J. Collins is difficult but indispensable for understanding the odd permutations of the Jewish messiah complex.

For translations, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook is outstanding. Commentaries provided throughout the book make it possible to read the DSS coherently. Another good translation is The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered by Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise.

The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh is the best popular account of the Vatican’s cover-up and disinformation campaign, intended to prevent the world from seeing the true origins of Christianity. Although it verges in places on sensationalistic journalism, Deception is intellectually mature, factually accurate, and founded on close and thorough research. Apocalypse by D. H. Lawrence, which I have cited throughout this book, is a stunning indictment of the inane and inhumane beliefs encoded in Judeo-Christian redemptive theology. It stands in a class by itself, a masterpiece of Gnostic deconstruction.

4. Gnosis Seen Through Non-Gnostic Writings

For orientation of the modern revival of Gnosis and the Sophianic vision of the Mysteries, I would signal the reader to three key essays: “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” (1966) by Lynn White, Jr., “The Perceptual Implications of Gaia” (1985) by David Abram, and “The Meaning of Gaia” (1990) by David Spangler. These three short pieces profile the essential ethical and methodological issues discussed in this book. White’s article opened the debate over the anthropocentric and nature-dominating values of Christianity, leading directly to the ambiguous issue of “identification” that has stalled deep ecology in an impasse. I have critiqued the solution to this impasse proposed in Toward a Transpersonal Psychology by Warwick Fox, but there is still a lot to be clarified before deep ecology can acquire a genuine religious dimension free of dominator ideology and single-self narcissism.

The deep prehistorical background of the Sophianic vision lies in the Goddess religions recovered by Marija Gimbutas in her breakthrough writings, including The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe and The Living Goddesses. The Myth of the Goddess by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford and When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone are essential reading in this vein. The former contains an illuminating chapter on Sophia and the repression of the Divine Feminine in Judaism. (The Hebrew Goddess by Raphael Patai is the standard reference text on this subject.) Robert Graves’s The White Goddess is, of course, the unsurpassable, mystical-poetic celebration of Goddess lore. It glimmers with many reflections of the Divine Sophia. Ralph Metzner’s The Well of Remembrance relies on Gimbutas to present a neoshamanic path compatible in many respects with Gaian biomysticism.

Writings on ecopsychology present helpful approaches to a contemporary Gaian Gnostic worldview, particularly The Voice of the Earth by Theodore Roszak, and the more difficult, insider-oriented Radical Ecopsychology by Andy Fisher. See also the anthology, Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by Roszak, and Green Psychology by Ralph Metzner, currently the leading advocate of Gaian biomysticism and entheogenic practices. The anthology Dharma Gaia, edited by Allan Hunt Badiner, presents a rare ecological perspective on Buddhism. The Way by Edward Goldsmith is a foundation text of ecological ethics that allows us to imagine how Europans would have regarded the environment. Likewise for The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder, who advises that acquaintance with classical Pagan learning is essential to a saner view of nature. I have relied on Nature and Madness by Paul Shepard in framing the Gnostic protest against patriarchal religion. No other book complements and parallels my case against Christianity more closely that Shepard’s.

Theodore Roszak’s Where the Wasteland Ends is a powerful argument for the revival of the “Old Gnosis,” taking William Blake and the Romantics for its exemplars. (The best single work on Romanticism is Natural Supernaturalism by M. H. Abrams.) Cultural ecologist Neil Evernden highlights the role of the Romantics as precursors of the ecological movement. In The Natural Alien, he emphasizes the uniqueness of humanity, not in terms of its superiority over other species, but in terms of its need to find or construct its proper niche in nature, contrasted to other species for whom nature provides a niche. This argument is compatible with Lynn Margulis’s call (see below) for the human species to find “a creative fit” with the natural world, or perish.

Finally, in the genre of ecofeminist theology that approaches, or wants to approximate, a Gaian-Gnostic worldview, Gaia and God by Rosemary Radford Reuther shows how problematic it is to reconcile Judeo-Christian theology with Sophianic deep ecologyimpossible, really. But the effort, though futile, is instructive. The best route for ecofeminism to take into Gaia theory would be via shamanism, if its true origins would be explored. Even though shamanism is the taproot of the Pagan Mysteries, I can recommend no book on shamanism that does not falsely emphasize its male monopoly. Perhaps with Barbara Tedlock’s testament to Goddess wisdom, The Woman in a Shaman’s Body, it may be possible to relocate contemporary shamanic theory and practice in a Gaian perspective.

5. Deep Ecology and Gaia Theory

Some of the above works merge into this category. The foundation text of deep ecology is Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, Rapture of the Deep, by Dolores LaChapelle. Future Primitive, LaChapelle’s critical biography of D. H. Lawrence, is a rich, resonant book that convincingly presents Lawrence as the primary forerunner of the deep ecological movement (see also category 6.) Listening to the Land, a collection of interviews conducted by Derrick Jensen, and A Language Older than Words by Jensen, are also essential deep ecological texts, as are the writings of Snyder and Goldsmith, cited in the previous category.

The best single work on the development of Gaia theory is Gaia: The Growth of an Idea by Lawrence D. Joseph. Lovelock & Gaia by Jon Turney is also helpful for an overview. Gaia’s Body by Tyler Volk is more technically oriented toward the details of biospheric science. On the cultural and scientific implications of the theory, see Gaia: A Way of Knowing and Gaia 2: Emergence—The New Science of Becoming, edited by William Irwin Thompson.

Gaia: A New Look of Life on Earth (1979) by James Lovelock needs to be read back to back with his later work, Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine (1991) for a full overview of where the theory began, and where it’s heading. The essential books by Lynn Margulis, written with her son Dorian Sagan, are Microcosmos, The Symbiotic Planet, and Slanted Truths, a collection of engaging essays on biology and evolution, including “Big Trouble in Biology” (a refutation of Darwinism), and “A Pox Called Man” (Margulis’s views on the role of the human species in Gaian biophysics). Metahistory.org contains extensive writing on the parallels between Sophianic myth and Gaia theory.

Although not normally included in discussions of deep ecology or Gaia theory, Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957) was the one twentieth-century scientist whose work can contribute most crucially and centrally to experiential advances in both these fields. Thinking like a Gnostic, Reich investigated “the large outlines that shaped the errors of the human animal,” and analyzed enslavement to ideological beliefs. Denial and suppression of the life force was his greatest concern, expressed in The Murder of Christ. The Mass Psychology of Fascism is a brilliant analysis of the “mystico-military” insanity common to the Nazis and the Zaddikite sect, and a bold condemnation of Christian doctrines that elevate spirit over nature. In his later works, Ether, God and Devil, and Cosmic Superimposition, which he discussed with Albert Einstein, Reich proposed Gnostic criteria for science. He asserted that “sensation is the greatest mystery of natural science,” and warned that the scientist “errs in proportion to the neglect of his own system of sensory perception and awareness.” Reich’s notion that genuine knowledge of nature must be grounded in sensory contact with nature is purely telestic, recalling the cognitive revelation at Eleusis.

Finally, I suggest that Goethean techniques of observation come close to Gnostic method, and may in some respects reproduce it. Goethe on Science by Jeremy Naydler presents an inventory of helpful citations. Goethe the Scientist by Rudolf Steiner is also useful. The Wholeness of Nature by Henri Bortoft is a brilliant and thorough treatment of Goethe’s theory of intensive perception. Quite simply, this theory asserts that the impressions of the world given to us by the senses are incomplete unless we look more carefully and intensively into what the senses actually present to us. Thus, nature has far more to reveal to us through our senses than we normally assume. Goethe insisted that intensive perception can go so deep into the dynamics of natural phenomena that it excels any theorization we might make apart from the phenomena. Bortoft’s book is a primer of Gnostic natural science.

6. Contemporary Literature and Culture

Recent editions of the NHLE contain an afterword by Richard Smith describing the how Gnostic ideas have come to permeate many aspects of Western culture and literature. Smith cites Blake, Melville, Hesse, Doris Lessing, Lawrence Durrell, and the Beat Generation as literary heirs to Gnosticism. The list could easily be expanded threefold, especially if we include science fiction writers such as Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny. In psychology, Smith cites C. G. Jung, the primary Gnostic revivalist, and in philosophy, Martin Heidegger, who is highly regarded by Dolores LaChapelle. Oddly, he does not cite D. H. Lawrence. Readers who want to get the feel of genuine Gnostic sensibility can look into Lawrence’s last poems, which include many beautiful evocations of nature and animal life. In his polemic poems, Lawrence ruthlessly attacks single-self identity and narcissistic self-concern. His two-line “Retort to Jesus” says “And whoever forces himself to love anybody / begets a murderer in his own body.” Which is pretty much what I tried to say in chapter 19.

Smith also discusses American cultural maven Harold Bloom, who wrote both fiction and nonfiction works of Gnostic derivation. In Omens of Millennium (1996), Bloom uncritically adopted the God-self equation, defining Gnosis as “direct acquaintance of God within the self,” but in other respects he pleaded rather well for Gnostic values. Surprise, surprise, the book includes a brief, sober, nondiscounting passage on shamanism and entheogenic practices. It is difficult to say if Bloom’s rather narcissistic style of armchair illuminism has had, or will have, any significant impact in religious or academic circles. I doubt it.
Films that come to mind in this category are The Man Who Fell to Earth by Nicholas Roeg (cited by Richard Smith), and the Matrix trilogy (reviewed on metahistory.org). In Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer who hijacks the mission is named HAL, Coptic for “simulation,” “artificial intelligence.” Clarke’s book, Childhood’s End, is one of many that explores the Gnostic theme of takeover by the Archons. Other sci-fi classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers also play on the threat of Archontic substitution. On Gnostic elements in the classic horror film, Children of the Damned, see www. Metahistory.org/damned.php.

7. Sophianic Cosmology, including the ET/UFO Problem

In continuation of the preceding category, the science fiction writings of Philip K. Dick present a reworking of certain aspects of Sophianic cosmology. Dick’s grasp of Gnostic–Mystery School instruction was selective, exhibiting some serious blindspots, but profound on those aspects that he did understand. His definition of Gnosis as “disinhibiting instructions” is superb, and his metaphor of the two-source hologram, likewise. Much of the pathos of his work lies in his staunch human resistance to HAL, Archontic simulation. Dick foresaw a world whose inhabitants would be unable to detect simulations, unable to tell a real cat from an electronic duplicate, or pearl from plastic. Much of what appears as futuristic in his novels has now become commonplace.

Although deeply concerned with Archontic substitution, or countermimicry, Philip K. Dick did not portray the Archons themselves. Rather, his best works depict people (usually children) who are living instruments of Sophia. His Valis trilogy merges Nag Hammadi material with concepts drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls, producing a weird mix of Gnostic and Qumranic elements. In The Divine Invasion, second in the trilogy, two children are the incarnations of divine wisdom whose play is the universe. In The Reincarnation of Timothy Archer, third in the trilogy, Dick adopts the heretical thesis of John Allegro that the sacrament of the Qumranic cult was Amanita muscaria, a psychoactive mushroom traditionally used by shamans. Dick’s unpublished masterpiece, called “The Exegesis,” contains long passages on Gnostic philosophy, Sophia, and the Demiurge. Valis is required reading for anyone interested in how Gnostic ideas can fertilize the literary imagination. See philipkdick.com.

Verging on science fiction, the multivolume writings of Zecharia Sitchin on the Annunki scenario in Sumerian mythology nevertheless pass for serious work in the minds of many people. It is difficult to fault Sitchin on his scholarship—he reads ancient Hebrew, cuneiform, and half a dozen other ancient languages—but it is easy to see where he fabulates, or makes unfounded inferences. His “Earth Chronicles” take the Sumerian tablets on their word and accepts that the Annunaki-Archons are really our cosmic overlords. In The Cosmic Code (book 6), he asserts that the ancients had knowledge of molecular chemistry and the genetic code because the Annunaki brought it to them, not because they could have acquired it through faculties inherent to human potential (as I argue).

Sitchin is smart enough, and quite entertaining to read. He remains atop the rapidly growing heap of books on the Annunaki-Archon scenario, not to mention massive chatter on the Net. Since January, 2005, when my article “The Gnostic Theory of Alien Intrusion” appeared on metahistory.org, my ET/Archon theory seems to have entered the discourse. Nevertheless, there is still an almost total absence of metacritical analysis of the ET/UFO phenomena. So far, the Gnostic view that the Archons are cosmic pretenders, dupes trying to make us into their dupes, remains largely unknown.

Apart from myself, only two cultic writers, Nigel Kerner (The Song of the Greys) and William Henry (Oracle of the Illuminati), have directly equated the Archons with the Annunaki. Flying Serpents and Dragons by R. A. Boulay (Escondido, CA: The Book Tree) presents carefully researched material on ancient religion that suggests how the “reptilian agenda” of the Annunki might have been insinuated into the Jehovistic cults of Palestine. Boulay is a notch or two above Sitchin. The best critique of the ET/UFO phenomena comes from Jacques Vallee in Messengers of Deception and his trilogy, Dimensions, Confrontations, Revelations. Vallee’s analysis of the ET/UFO phenomenon as “a spiritual control system” is highly compatible with Gnostic teachings. UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse by John Keel is also excellent, lucid, and sobering. Humanity’s Extraterrestrial Origins by A. D. Horn and The Genius of the Few by Christian O’Brien present convincing profiles of Jehovah as a vicious, tyrannical, reptilian Archon, the ultimate bad parent. See also the entry of “Biblical UFOlogy” in the Lexicon for metahistory.org.
Sophianic cosmology requires not only an imaginative approach to the Archons, those denizens of the planetary system exclusive of the earth, but also a direct encounter with the wonders of the natural world. It is, one could say, a homegrown cosmology. In nonfiction, the best approaches to Sophianic cosmology can be found in recent writings on emergence (Biology Revisioned by Willis Harman and Elisabet Sahtouris), fractals (Fractals: The Patterns of Chaos by John Briggs, and Turbulent Mirror by John Briggs and F. David Peat), and plasma cosmology (The Big Bang Never Happened by Eric J. Lerner). All this is cutting-edge stuff, radical and controversial, but largely theoretical.

For a practical, firsthand approach to Sophianic cosmology, there is no better guide (next to Reich) than Goethe. As just noted, Goethean morphology, including the colloidal theory of light, is the scientific approach most compatible with the method of the Mysteries. Intensive observation, by which we enter more deeply into the self-evident contents of sense perception, is the best modern approach to initiatory knowledge of Gaia-Sophia.

 8. Entheogenic Theory of Religion

Sacred Mushrooms of Vision by Ralph Metzner is the best single work on current entheogenic practice. It contains Metzner’s long essay, “Visionary Mushrooms of the Americas,” covers the entheogenic movement from its origins with Huxley and Wasson down to Terence McKenna. The Sacred Mushroom Seeker, edited by Thomas J. Riedlinger, also presents an overview and evaluation of the movement that was born when R. Gordon Wasson met the mushroom shaman Maria Sabina (1894–1985) in Mexico in 1955. Wasson’s book, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, is a literary treasure that can stand shoulder to shoulder with groundbreaking works such as The Golden Bough and Black Athena. Persephone’s Quest, cowritten by Wasson with G. S. Kramrisch and Carl Ruck, is the definitive statement of the entheogenic theory, with extensive reference to Eleusis.

There are hundreds of text-heavy sites and heady forums dedicated to entheogenics on the Internet, but, unfortunately, they are all oriented toward recreational use of drugs and sacred plants, rather than sacramental use. The most sophisticated psychedelic site is deoxy.org. For research and guidelines on entheogenic practice, I recommend The Council for Spiritual Practices at csp.org.

9. Asian Mysticism (Tantra, Mahayana, Dzogchen)
Expositions of Asian mysticism and emanation theory that are helpful to understanding Gnosticism begin with the works of Sir John Woodruffe, all published by Ganesh & Co, Madras. The Serpent Power, Shakti and Shakta, and The Garland of Letters are indispensable. Here and there Woodruffe freely develops Gnostic-Tantric parallels. His work on Kundalini, the Serpent Power, is essential to understanding, and undergoing, the psychosomatic illuminism of the Pagan Mysteries. Woodruffe cites Tantric texts that describe in explicit language the epiphany of the Organic Light.

Among Buddhist scholars, John Myrdhin Reynolds (The Golden Letters, Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness) makes the most pertinent Gnostic-Buddhist parallels. The writings of Herbert V. Guenther are also instructive, especially The Life and Teachings of Naropa, Yuganaddha (Vanarasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series), and Kindly Bent to Ease Us, his trilogy of writings on Long Chen Pa, the preeminent Nyingma master. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism (1960) by Lama Govinda is still the single most accessible text on Tibetan Buddhism. The Science of Yoga by I. K. Taimni (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, The Theosophical Publishing House), a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, reads like a Nag Hammadi tractate would today, if the Coptic material had come down to us intact and uncorrupted. In While the Gods Play and Shiva and Dionysos, comparative mythologist Alain Daniélou relates Gnosis to the ancient shamanic methodologies of southern Asia.

Finally, I might point the reader to my other books as they relate to the subject matter and argument of this one. The Seeker’s Handbook (Harmony/Random House, 1991) has a brief essay on Gnosticism and many references to Gnostic and Sophianic themes. Twins and the Double (London: Thames & Hudson, 1993) proposes that ancient shamanic techniques gave access to molecular and genetic processes, explains the scapegoating mechanism, and considers some occult phenomena that would have been routinely explored and studied in the Mysteries. The Hero (London: Thames & Hudson, 1995) describes the intimate connection between shamanism and Goddess religion, a connection inherent to the long prehistorical background of Gnosis and the Mysteries. This book also treats the Cult of Amor, a cultural phenomenon central to the medieval resurgence of the Pagan sense of life.

Finally, Quest for the Zodiac (Starhenge Books, 1999) explains the important distinction between the stellar or real-sky zodiac of thirteen constellations and the tropical zodiac of twelve signs. It also proposes a theory of phylogenetic transfer of the knowledge and skills acquired in peak experience. I suggest that this theory can point the way to the telestic method for high-end enhancement of human potential, formerly applied in the Mysteries.

JLL May 2006 Flanders


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.