Notes on recent talks to the Jung Society by Pam Bouma
Relating Jung’s Seven Sermons to the Dead to Gnostic Concepts Notes and Summary of the Talk on 5 November 2009 by Rev Mr Prenna Unsane & Dr Ralph Muhlberger
The Gnostic religion has a globalized approach to spirituality which focuses on direct experience of the divine. The essential difference between Gnostic and “mainstream” believers has always been that the latter - clung to the orthodoxy of the church, believing literally what they were told by the clergy and taking it on faith, whereas the Gnostics:- took the teachings more symbolically, basing their spirituality on “knowing or not knowing.” The “gnosis” (meaning knowledge) came to be considered one of the biggest threats to the Catholic Church. Jung apparently did not need to ask for faith. “I know,” he told broadcaster John Freeman (1959).
In the early centuries of Christian history the politically powerful Catholic Church tried to suppress these so called heretics, especially during their times of revival.
Much that was written in the Nag Hammadi texts resonated with Jung‟s Seven Sermons to the Dead. In the 2nd century A.D. during the time of the text‟s writing there was lively debate, some of it surrounding the teachings of a famous Egyptian sage called Basilides, who challenged the prevailing ideas of god. It was apparently the voice of Basilides that Jung channelled when he wrote Septem Sermones ad Mortuos, “the dead [coming] from Jerusalem” to hear his teachings in Alexandria.
The reader will find the seeds of many Jungian concepts in the following brief summary. They include, Transcendent Function (in 3 and 4), Shadow (5), Individuation (in 5 and 7)
SERMON ONE introduces us to the PLEROMA, the wholeness which encompasses everything and a key Gnostic term. It is both infinite and eternal and has no qualities because it has all qualities, being both nothingness and fullness. This same term was used in the Nag Hammadi texts (written in the 2nd C A.D.) to describe the original formlessness and nothingness from which everything was created in the book of Genesis.
The PLEROMA contains pairs of opposites which are united and balanced and therefore void of manifestation. It also contains pairs of opposites that are not balanced and therefore not void but manifesting differentiation. We, the CREATURA, are an example of the latter state, being victims of it. However, it is the ground of our being because we have to suffer the duality of unbalanced opposites in the name of distinctiveness. We are a result of the urge towards differentiation, the “natural striving … against perilous sameness.” This is the principle of Individuation.
SERMON TWO discusses ABRAXAS. “Is god dead?” Was Nietzsche right? No. There is a god above the ones we know on earth which we seem to have forgotten. He (sic) is less defined than they and stands as close to the PLEROMA as you can possibly get without losing the manifestation of its contained opposites which are god below god and devil. The relationship of these two is what holds it together, ABRAXAS being the name of the holding energy which consists of activity and change. The two opposites are not extinguished or made void by their union.
SERMON THREE lays out our relationship with ABRAXAS. If we ask god for something we acknowledge the lack of that for which we ask. In fact whatever good we receive from ABRAXAS may be balanced by the power of “lack” or the devil which is there at the same time. In becoming aware of this, we acknowledge the presence of both the lesser gods – god the sun (Helios) and the devil, which are dualistic opposites.