ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
biology dating back to the emergence of life on this planet (and possibly others) some three and a half billion years ago. Here we are subject to the inexorable laws of birth and death and the process of biological evolution.
The Gnostics would add, however, that there is a spiritual evolution as well. Humanity, they would argue, is composed of flesh, soul, and spirit. Human origins are two-fold: not only the body, but the soul is the product of materialistic cosmic processes shaped in the image of the Primal Man (and Primal Woman). The archetypal human being is what we would call a psychological being today, what the Gnostics meant when they used the word “soul.”
In addition, however, there is psyche (ψυκή) or, in Gnostic, terms, the “astral person.” Thus, although the soul is of this world (the heimarme αιμάρμη), there is, enclosed in soul, the “spark” (pneuma) (πνέυμα), a portion of the divine substance from beyond space/time. It has fallen under the rule of the archons, and is therefore unconscious, in the sense meant by both Freud and Jung. It is benumbed, asleep in the prison of this world, therefore “ignorant.” It is awakened by “knowledge” (gnosis), which process is therefore “enlightenment.” It is also salvation, release of the “inner man” from the bonds of the world, and return to the realm of light from which humanity came. The transcendent God is known only through revelation.
The gnosis (γνόσισ) is from before the creation of the cosmos, since the fall of the divine into time/space preceded creation. The knowledge thus revealed is the whole content of the Gnostic myth, everything that the divine teaches about God and the world. In terms of praxis or the practice of religion, it is the “knowledge of the way,” namely, the soul’s way out of the world, comprising the sacramental and magical performances needed for its achievement. These consist of the magical formulae which facilitate the passage of the pneuma through each sphere.
In the Gnostic belief, the psyche soars upward, leaving behind the psychical vestments as it passes each sphere, ultimately to reach God beyond the cosmos and to be reunited with the divine substance. By this means, the original wholeness of the divine as it was in pre-cosmic times is realized. The ultimate conclusion of this process is the fulfillment of the divine purpose.
Those who experience gnosis, the πνευμάτικοι (pneumatics), are distinguished from the mass of humanity. They are illuminati, corresponding to the twice-born or elect in Christianity. Nineteenth-Century occultists like Blavatsky called them the “adepts” or “masters.” They are of a spiritual elite, the few to whom the esoteric knowledge has been given.
Gnostic morality is based on hostility to the world; contempt for the mundane. Two contrary ways of life arose in the Gnostic community. One was the ascetic, the other libertine. The first was what one might expect, world denial by a rigorous life, much like one encounters in India among strict adherents of Hinduism and Jainism, those who choose the life of utter poverty and self-immolation. The libertine mode is the very opposite, sensual self-indulgence in the extreme based on contempt for the body and its appetites. (One is reminded