GNOSIS vs. GNOSTICISM: MAKING A DISTINCTION

by Bryan Rice on October 31, 2009.

(Though my views have changed since 2009 and I am not identified with radical dualistic gnosticism anymore, I thought I would re-blog this to make some distinctions that I think are worth pondering).

What is meant by gnosis? What is meant by Gnosticism?

Gnosis has many connotations. It is a Greek word that means knowledge. But in the context of “Gnostic” belief, it can refer to multiple forms of knowledge. The type of knowledge for a Gnostic is not mere conceptual, informative, data, nor analytical ideas, as many heresiologists might contend. For a Gnostic, gnosis means a direct experience of the Transcendent God, unmediated by anyone else, imparted to an individual. Gnosis is understood to be “knowledge of the divine”, or “self-knowledge”. I have come to know it as being “Divine acquaintance”. According to Elaine Pagels, gnosis means “insight”. Gnosis and the idea of Enlightenment are interchangeable. It also can mean “self-realization” or “illumination”. It is “A Way”, A “Path” one treads in an unfolding awakening process, in discovering their divine nature. The awakening that takes place through gnosis, is waking from ignorance in a person, about their divine origin, that they came from God’s Light, as children of the Light. Gnosis leads one to be anointed with the Christos, and to become a light-bearer. Gnosis also helps free individuals from the prison of matter, rather the illusion of separateness from the Transcendent God, who I have come to know as the Holy Androgyne, of not only Father+, but Mother+ too, and (not achieve) but attain Christ or Messianic Consciousness.

Gnosticism then, is a movement and a worldview dedicated to liberation from ignorance about one’s origin and to reaching one’s full potential or awakening in Christ Consciousness. According to Wikipedia Gnosticism “refers to diverse, syncretistic religious movements in antiquity consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect god. This being is frequently identified with the Abrahamic god.” There are several sects in traditional Gnostic spirituality and practice such as Mandeans, Manicheans, Cathars, and Valentinians. Roots of Gnosticism come from Zorastrianism from Egypt, from Greece, and from Jewish mysticism related to what is known as the Kabbalah. Gnosticism as a worldview typically exists in dualistic consciousness, with the idea that the Transcendent God is “illimitable” and the eternal light, and a half-creator, or Demiurge, that came from an Emanation from God named Sophia, who decided to give birth to an offspring without blessings from God. Typically in Gnosticism, the world and creation and the cosmos are seen as the doing of the Demiurge, who considered himself a god. He became known as the lesser god who after creating a “corrupt and perishable universe”, (as antiquity teaches), created archontic powers, seen by many to be fallen angels.

So, matter and light are typically in Gnosticism to be distinct from one another, despite the belief that divine sparks of light are trapped in every incarnate human. To many, Gnosticism is a reality seen through the lens of poetic mythology, metaphors, the alternative view of creation, as mentioned, and traveling a unique path of salvation, “The Way” to gnosis. The eternal, imperishable realm of the Transcendent God exists as an outward Emanation from him/her. The real God exists in the Pleroma, or Fullness of God. Emanating outward from God are “divine principles” or “faces of God” called Aeons. They extend out and down towards matter, where separation from God seems to occur. Gnosticism supports the idea that “self-realization” can lead to a second birth and a human’s spirit can become a begotten son or daughter, an Aeon, in the Pleroma. For a Gnostic, knowledge in the forms talked about above, is what saves a person from having to reincarnate back into matter in a cyclic pattern. This belief is contrary to mainstream Christianity for instance, which says people are saved from their sins because Jesus died on the cross for them. They believed that the shedding of his blood atoned for their sins and that his resurrection from the dead opened the door for humanity to eternity.

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