Archive for gnostic

The Foreigner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by theclockworm

After spending some time recently with ‘Trimorphic Protennoia,’ I’ve moved on to ‘The Foreigner (Allogenes).’ I searched all over the internet, but the Layton translation is nowhere available, so I transcribed a bit from my copy of The Gnostic Scriptures. I really prefer his translation to the Turner/Wintermute translation, as much as I respect Turner; and truthfully, I don’t know what accounts for the differences. Even in academic translation, sometimes things change because discoveries or insights are made that are somewhat provable; other times, it comes down to the translator’s own ideas, based on his or her knowledge and perhaps even taste, about what shade of meaning is most important.

Widely associated with Seth, though not necessarily legitimately Sethian, ‘The Foreigner’ is unique amongst the Nag Hammadi codices in a number of respects. First, along with the Sethian ‘Apocalypse of Adam,’ it is distinctly exo-Christian, though not known to be pre-Christian as AoA is thought to be. It is also distinctly personal, psychological, and unresolved in many respects. You can see echoes of Jung in this – reverse echoes I suppose, riding in from the future-past on tachyons. I’d like to know if Jung was familiar with this particular writing, and if he wrote anything about it.

You can find the Turner translation here; it just doesn’t do it for me. I think, having read multiple translations of many of these works, that Layton has real skill in conveying the impact, the emotional resonance, with a kind of clarity that’s missing in other efforts. Again, I’m no historian – maybe that comes at the cost of accuracy, though I’d be surprised to learn that.

I really like Layton’s introduction, so I’m including some pieces of that here, along with an excerpt from his excerpt. Emphasis is mine. You can’t get sued for excerpting, right?

*

“The concluding half of The Foreigner (“Allogenes”), which is translated here, describes the interior mystical journey of a soul to acquaintance or gnosis with the ineffable first principle…

“The mystical ascent described in Fr is almost entirely abstract, without metaphorical “baptisms” or interpreting angels. Furthermore, the ascent is explicitly said to be “inward” to the interior self, so that the apocalyptic convention of an “upward” voyage through “heavens” is entirely suppressed. No reference is made to a return voyage downward. The voyager is not explicitly identified with any known religious hero or put in a historical setting, but simply called “the Foreigner” (Greek allogenes, “an other type,” “an alien type”; the Greek word is retained in the ancient Coptic version of the text)…

“The Foreigner’s experience comes not after a career of religious service as in Zs, but as the summation of a hundred years of “deliberation,” i.e. study and contemplation…

“Thus, in Fr, a mythic structure whose original context was cosmology (in Bjn) has been abstractly transformed into a psychology of the individual gnostic- macrocosm into microcosm, myth into philosophical mysticism…

“The abstract and theoretical character if the excerpt does not allow for reference to the history of Israel or the foundation of Christianity, nor indeed to dramatic actions of any part of the gnostic myth.”

-Bentley Layton, “The Gnostic Scriptures,” first edition (1987)

*

“O foreigner, behold how your blessedness resides in silence – (a blessedness) through which you understand yourself as you really are. And in seeking to understand yourself, withdraw into vitality, which you will see moving. And if you are unable to stand at rest, do not be afraid, Rather, if you want to stand at rest, withdraw into reality, and you will find it standing at rest and still, after the resemblance of what is really still and restrains all these (spiritual beings) in quietness and lack of activity.

“And if you receive a manifestation thereof through a first manifestation of the unrecognizable – of which you must be uncomprehending, if you should happen to understand it – and if you are afraid there, draw back because of the activities. And if in that place you become perfect, be still; and understand also that its manner of existing in [all these] (spiritual beings) is after the pattern that resides in you.

“And do not desire to be further dispersed, [so that] you might be able to stand at rest. And do not desire to [be active], lest you utterly perish [because of] the inactive element within [you] that belongs to the unrecognizable. Do not (attempt to) comprehend it: for this is impossible. Rather if, through a luminous thought, you should happen to understand it, be uncomprehending of it.”

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Many Forms

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 19, 2011 by theclockworm

An analysis of “Trimorphic Protennoia” in context with the Cybernetic Reality Concept

A prosaic introduction to my concept of Cybernetic Reality can be found here. I am not referring here to any sort of “matrix” situation, nor am I talking about the notion of universe as machine in any traditional way. These constructs aren’t truly cybernetic. Briefly, I postulate that a less distinct or centralized mode of being may exist, one which can be temporarily called into function by an intent to communicate, but which is not rightly a being, organism, etc. Underlying this notion is the idea that thought, or more properly consciousness, may be a more basic component of the universe, one which naturally exists in many forms,  and which should be distinguished, ontologically and semantically, from “entity,” as well as from notions of unit such as “one” or even of same-reality continuity (the same stratum of related consciousness may be able to be accessed simultaneously by two other forces, and may at that point exist concurrently in distinct iterations that also overlay each other. A simpler example: ask the ontological question, ‘what is the numerical value of a video game which is played online, or which is replayed later?’ and apply the non-answers to this).

I have noticed some interesting connections in my reading of “Trimorphic Protennoia,” an ancient Gnostic text. Particularly as this concept applies largely to purportedly divine visitation, especially the Sophia phenomenon, I think it is worth a brief run-down.

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“I am the life of my Epinoia that dwells within every Power and every eternal movement, and (in) invisible Lights and within the Archons and Angels and Demons, and every soul dwelling in Tartaros, and (in) every material soul.”

Epinoia (Greek): Thinking on a thing; by extension of meaning, the power of thought, inventiveness; a purpose, design.

These statements seem to describe a situation where existence depends on a particular type of conception; it might be rephrased as “My existence is dependent on being contacted, via a purposeful thought process.”

Epinoia is often understood to be a kind of creative impulse, maybe a less intellectual force related to Gnosis. I believe it may have been used in a more technical sense, to describe entry into a system.

“I dwell in those who came to be. I move in everyone and I delve into them all. I walk uprightly, and those who sleep, I awaken. And I am the sight of those who dwell in sleep.”

The hypnagogic state, where phenomena such as lucid dreams and sleep paralysis also take place, is often the setting for “mystical” experiences of various kinds, in particular visitations. This state of un-anchored thought might be particularly suited for Epinoia-related contact.

“I am a Voice speaking softly. I exist from the first. I dwell within the Silence that surrounds every one of them… I am perception and knowledge, uttering a Voice by means of thought. I am the real Voice. I cry out in everyone, and they recognize it (the voice), since a seed indwells them.”

There is the implication here of a latent nature, one which connects in an inherent way with some mechanism in human beings. “Uttering a Voice by means of thought” again seems to imply that outside thought is causally connected to the utterance of the voice.

“I am the Voice that appeared through my Thought, for I am ‘He who is syzygetic’ since I am called ‘the Thought of the Invisible One’. Since I am called ‘the unchanging Speech’, I am called ‘She who is syzygetic’.”

Despite many applications of meaning, a syzygy is best described as the joining of any two entities without losing the individual characteristics of either one – a sort of portmanteau, if you will. This is the essence of a cybernetic relationship, except that there is a mutual access involved. It is not symbiotic or parasitic, but mutually cybernetic.

“‘And the powers all gathered and went up to the Archgenitor. They said to him, “Where is your boasting in which you boast? Did we not hear you say, “I am God, and I am your Father, and it is I who begot you. and there is none beside me”? Now behold, there has appeared a Voice belonging to that invisible Speech of the Aeon which we know not. And we ourselves did not recognize to whom we belong, for that Voice which we listened to is foreign to us, and we did not recognize it; we did not know whence it was.’”

There are also some interesting eschatological aspects of this text. I find the concentration on time in this passage to be interesting; in this instance especially, I see the use of Aeon as more distinctly related to “age” or “epoch.” In the next paragraph, the statement is made even more clearly: “I am the Aeon to come.” It seems as though that side of the word has been almost entirely ignored.

“And I hid myself in everyone and revealed myself within them, and every mind seeking me longed for me, for it is I who gave shape to the All when it had no form. And I transformed their forms into (other) forms, until the time when a form will be given to the All.”

This is an interesting inversion of Gnostic cosmogony; why will the All have form? It flies in the face of the simplified dualism that gets applied to these works.

“The Second time I came in the Speech of my Voice. I gave shape to those who took shape, until their consummation.”

Or maybe, someone just got their states of being confused. Maybe the author’s “form” is non-physical. Here again though, shades of interactivity in ontological mode.

For now, I won’t talk about the amazing missing lines (more meaningful in their absence?) or the uninspired grafting of Jesus at the end. This is one of my favorite of the Nag Hammadi codices.

True Names

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by theclockworm

Look: Gnosticism is not whatever very particular thing you think it is. No matter what you think it is. It includes, as primary facets, cosmology, cosmogony, and something basic I think I will call “Adversarial Orientation;” that is, a notion about the absoluteness of roles, an orientation about whether our enemies are evil or simply other, whether we are holy or simply closer to truth, whether the world is malign or benign or something less myopic. It could also be called “Philosophical Maturity,” and I don’t see most “Gnostics” demonstrating the kind of nuanced meta-thinking I see so clearly in many of the Nag Hammadi documents, as well as in the writings of Philip K. Dick, whose life-changing exegetical explorations have, especially of late, been pointing some people toward a sort of religious stance that is both a little frightening and a little silly. At least one part of this stance is anchored to the idea of Dick as a Christian.

The problem is ontological and semantic possessiveness. People become attached to a particular aspect of meaning, and then seek to disjoin all shades or aspects which do not satisfy the primacy of their pet meaning. It’s a struggle, in some places more than others, to talk about non-Christian Gnosticism, let alone non-religious Gnosticism. Some people are so absolutely certain about the gestalt implications of “their” beliefs that they become pig-headed and idiotic.

To me, calling PKD “Christian” with a straight face is just silly. It comes through so strongly to me that this was a sort of platform he returned to in order to feel a kind of inner security of belief that his wildly speculative nature usually didn’t allow him. He spouts ‘heresies’ left and right – a heretic amongst heretics – and bounces back to Jesus, but this seems to be edited out in favor of some notion of a Christian whole. I think it’s self-serving to choose one freeze-frame in a wild dance of ideas and say, “This is the dance.” But I also realize that I’m doing the same thing I find so distasteful: I’m trying to minimize something which was obviously very important, for whatever reasons, something central to his ideas, however varied they were. In the end, it’s simply fruitless to get into a debate about the religious affiliation of anyone, especially someone who is dead.  I’m just taken aback when I see such certainty expressed (in this and other things) by the same people who claim to value his commitment to the full range of possibilities.

A smart person would have no problem identifying the non-religious aspects of Gnosticism, admitting they were inherent to Gnosticism, and discussing them without the religious aspects. Shall I abandon all connections, valid though they may be, because “all” I feel compelled to believe about Gnosticism is related to those traits which are arguably most distinct to its nature? Dick explored the cosmological aspects of Gnosticism with and without religious ideas, or Christian ideas, or alien ideas. In some ways, it almost feels like religion was just another SF trope to Dick; the caveat is that, somewhere in his heart of hearts, he took all those ideas seriously: every alien invasion or telepathic villain seemed to ring with the same resonance as the rest of humankind’s epic history. When they landed, Wagner would play, and it would be just as terrifying and mythic as the rapture.

I’ve gone through quite a few stages of personal understanding about this stuff. I used to make big bones about the importance of disambiguating language – that it’s not philosophically responsible to say “Oh, I’m sure we’re talking about the same thing” when it’s obvious you’re not. I still do feel this way to some degree. I feel that, even if you think you know better, the words you use will influence the way you think about the subject. If I start saying “god,” using religious language, when what I’m talking about, though certainly transcendent, is distinct from the common-denominator ideation of deity, I will end up doing it a disservice (“It is not right to think of it as a God or as like God. It is more than just God. Nothing is above it. Nothing rules it. Since everything exists within it, it does not exist within anything.” – Secret John).  This reflects a slightly-modernized adaptation of the most basic tenet of magical thought: that words have real, physical effects. That true names contain power. This isn’t magic; it’s semantic reality. Or maybe the correct statement is: this isn’t semantics, it’s magic.

At the same time, in a world where very few are willing to have a conversation unless the vocabulary is the same (and even then), one runs the risk of doing the subject the greatest disservice: neglecting it completely in favor of bickering about the subtleties of meaning.

I don’t have any interest in being part of any Gnostic community, group, church, or forum I’ve yet encountered. To me, the Christianization of Gnostic concepts seems like a deviation from the more central ideas, and even the religiousness seems to overwhelm the core. There seems very little room for new ideas, despite protestations to the contrary. Not only that, though: I don’t have any particular desire to be part of a Gnostic community in theory.  So I don’t even really know who I’m writing this for, other than myself.  I guess it’s just that simple.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll be keeping my ideas to myself; it doesn’t mean I won’t be applying them in my writing (perhaps the most venerable Gnostic tradition of all); and it doesn’t mean I’m going to let myself be bullied out of using a term that (let’s be honest), everybody knows doesn’t belong to anyone and never has.

What’s the problem with Christian Gnosticism? It’s the worshipfulness. It’s the lack of differentiation between itself and orthodoxy. It’s the fact that, unfortunately, it’s not as unrelated as it should be. It’s the slip from veneration of one man’s teachings to deification of him as some two-dimensional hero figure, again selling short the philosophical maturity of Gnosticism for the overblown simplicity of Christianity proper. It’s the way that slip translated into a cobbled-together syncretism, a grafted-on collection of original ideas and concessions to the spirit of the age (“Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new wineskin, or it might spoil.” – The Gospel of Thomas). It’s the defensiveness, the unwillingness to accept pre-Christian roots because it offends the sensibilities, despite the truth of the matter. It’s the fact that there is simply too huge a semantic incongruity between ‘teacher’ and ‘savior.’

If anything, I’d like to see an attempt made at uniting some Gnostic concepts with Judaism. People who aren’t busy kissing their own asses are probably aware of the roots of Gnostic thought in Judaism via exposure to Hellenistic philosophy. People who don’t accept this, aside from a poor understanding of how historicity is determined in scholarship, it seems to me must not be very familiar with Judaism; it’s really a very obvious fit.

But that’s simply a fanciful aside. My closing point: I don’t care that much if you call it god and I think that’s wrong-headed.  But I do wish there was more discussion focused on the cosmological facets of Gnosticism. Even if you can ignore all the issues with rectifying early Gnostic thought with the salvific Jesus, there’s simply so much more of interest  in the trove of ideas and codices available to us.