Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Gnosis and Gnosticism

I wrote something … recently that corresponds to and elaborates on the dichotomy between individual initiative, which I refer to as initiative derived from caprice, and non-individual or supra-individual form, which I refer to as religion derived from Revelation. I wrote as follows:

"... the adherents of gnosticism pursued divinity outside of the confines of religion itself. Although bearing a likeness to Christianity and borrowing some of its symbolism, these movements were syncretistic and therefore ran contrary to religious orthodoxy both doctrinally and methodically. The basic idea may be explained as follows. All legitimate spirituality ultimately comes from God through Revelation. This is to say that God enters into manifestation or otherwise reveals himself more clearly within it in such a manner that he is able to communicate to humanity the nature and purpose of existence. This revelation may take many forms including the book as in Islam and Judaism and a man as in Christianity and Buddhism but in every instance it serves as the foundation of and animating principle of a religious tradition which may then continue to unfold over time. When you move outside of this and decide to create your own religion or ’movement’ either through syncretism or wholesale fabrication, your work is not based upon what God has given, but rather on what you feel is correct or believe that you need. Such spirituality (if we may even call it this) has its origins, therefore, within the limitations and prejudices of the human being and is based upon Egotism or Caprice rather than upon a Revelation that possesses an origin within the Divine."

Although these comments were directed toward gnosticism specifically, they also apply to occult movements in general, as well as any system, movement, or new age guru who claims to possess authority on spiritual matters and to teach a method that is not rooted in a Revelation originating from God.

* * *

It is quite obvious that you are a partisan and practitioner of a movement that you refer to as gnosticism and which you believe to be legitimate. I have no personal desire to convince you otherwise, nor do I wish to offend anyone, but I believe that for the sake of others who may happen upon this discussion that a clear distinction must be made between the phenomenon of gnosis and the movement of Gnosticism. This distinction is very clearly brought out in a passage from Frithjof Schuon’s Understanding Islam … Frithjof Schuon wrote,

"But one further ambiguity still remains to be cleared up once and for all. The word "gnosis, " which appears in this book and in our previous works, refers to supra-rational, and thus purely intellective, knowledge of metacosmic realities. Now this knowledge cannot be reduced to the Gnosticism of history; it would then be necessary to say that Ibn Arabi or Shankara were Alexandrine gnostics; in short, gnosis cannot be held responsible for every association of ideas or every abuse of terminology. It is humanly admissible not to believe in gnosis; what is quite inadmissible in anyone claiming to understand the subject is to include under this heading things having no relation — whether of kind or of level — with the reality in question, whatever the value attributed to that reality. In place of "gnosis, " the Arabic term ma‘rifah or the Sanskrit term jnana could just as well be used, but a Western term seems more normal in a book written in a Western language; there is also the term "theosophy, " but this has even more unfortunate associations, while the term "knowledge" is too general, unless its meaning is made specific by an epithet or by the context. What must be emphasized and made clear is that the term "gnosis" is used by us exclusively in its etymological and universal sense and therefore cannot be reduced to meaning merely the Graeco-Oriental syncretism of later classical times; still less can it be applied to some pseudo religious or pseudo yogic or even merely literary fantasy. If for example, Catholics can call Islam, in which they do not believe, a religion and not a pseudo-religion, there seems no reason why a distinction should also not be made between a genuine gnosis having certain precise or approximate characteristics and a pseudo-gnosis devoid of them."

Now, although the word occult has been with us since at least the 16th century, where it originally meant hidden and was also applied to occult philosophy and science, that is, the philosophy and science of hidden things, the term occultism was brought into use only recently by Madame Blavatsky. She used it in a manner synonymous with mysticism, or we might say that she attempted to wrest mysticism from its rightful place within the context of religious traditions and usurp it under the banner of occultism which she held to be synonymous with her system of theosophy. (This is part of the origination of the false association of mysticism with occultism that I wrote about in the original post of this discussion). Discounting the term thaumaturgy which is aimed at phenomena, theurgy was a legitimate invocatory practice with its doctrinal foundation in Neoplatonic Philosophy and has absolutely no association with the modern practices referred to as "magic[k]" … These rely upon a psuedo-Kabbalistic and theosophical doctrine and improvised methods having little or no basis in any authentic tradition. Frithjof Schuon said regarding gnosis that it "cannot be held responsible for every association of ideas or every abuse of terminology." We can say the same thing about theurgy and its association with the contemporary practice of "magick."

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