“I remember the very first time I went into the prison. You go through the front gate which is all barbed wire, which is weird. Then you go through these series of portals, of gates that make these gigantic clanging noises when they lock, it’s really just totally unsettling. By the time you finally get out into the population you’re completely unnerved already.
But then I got out into the main yard, a little nervous of course, and I start looking around. I’m looking at all these guys, looking them in the face, in the eyes. I realized, these are just a bunch of Mainers. These are the guys I grew up with. They’re just people who screwed up, and most of them should not be prison. The fear immediately disappeared.”
“This is the power of the state elevated to godhood.”
“We’re number one in prisoners.
By every measure the U.S. leads the world in prisoners, with 2.2 million people in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. No nation tops that – not China with 1.7 million, not Russia with 670,000. We not only have the highest number of prisoners, we have the highest percentage of people in prison or jail. In the U.S., 702 of every 100,000 people were in prison or jail in 2013. Cuba has 510 per 100,000 people in prison, Russia has 467, and Iran has 290.
Black and Latino Americans have been especially hard hit: they form over 39 percent of the prison population. One in every three black men is expected to serve time during their lives (at least under our current criminal justice system). Approximately half of all inmates are there for violating drug prohibition laws.
How is it that America, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, has more prisoners than any police state?”
“If you don’t want to reach out to somebody in prison, work on building the pagan community…. period.”
Thanks to Alban Artur, Kevin Emmons, and Janine Marie for their insights and experiences. Thanks to Dr. Bones for the rant. Thanks to the Order Of Maine Druidry for playing the community drum and holding space. Thanks to the weather gods for the rain transitioning into snow. Background music and rhythm programming by James Lindenschmidt.
“As far as practitioners of nature spiritualities are concerned, the Wild Hunt offers an initiation into the wild and an opening up of the senses; a sense of dissolution of self in confrontation with fear and death, an exposure to a ‘whirlwind pulse that runs through life’. In short, engagement with the Hunt is a bid to restore a reciprocity and harmony between humans and nature.”
— Anthropologist Susan Greenwood
The word has spread around the blogosphere; the Wild Hunt is riding.
It’s early. Really early. For me, they rode in to BC and the Pacific Northwest US on the night of the last full moon, riding with the great storm.
Some say they’re riding against Daesh for their desecration of ancient Pagan religious sites. Some say they’re riding for something else. I think there’s a lot of reasons for them to be out riding.
The leader of the hunt depends greatly on the pantheon, and has been named as Odin, Holda, Berchta, Gwydion, Gwynn ap Nudd, King Arthur, Nuada, King Herla, Woden, Freya, Frigg, the Devil, Krampus, the Faery King, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, the Morrigan, Fionn MacCumhaill, Arawn, Artemis, Diana, Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, and a variety of historical figures that have been slightly mythologized. The Steeds are nightmares or faery horses, winged horses, faery deer or skeletal beasts; the Hounds are hellhounds, Dandy Hounds, faery hounds, yeth hounds, greyhounds, wolves, winged wolves, ravens, raptors, transformed sparrows, Gabriel Ratchets, the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna. When I See visions of the Hunt, I see the Huntsman as Herne, because He’s the deity I follow and He and I have a “thing.” But Beth Wodanis Sees Odin, since she is a godspouse married to Him. Others will See the Hunt differently.
Some call them the Wild Army, the Furious Army or the Furious Ride. They are also called by the names of the Hounds; the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna of Fionn. In some myths they are the Unseelie Faery Ride, the Sidhe or the Faery Calvacade; in others they are the unquiet dead; in still others they are simply the Witches Sabbath. They might sweep along anyone in their path; or they might ride against the forces of darkness to take them up into the Ride. In his classic medieval book The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus wrote of how the King and Queen of Love rode out in the autumn to strike down all faithless lovers. In a manner of speaking, Robin Hood and his band of merry men could be seen as another manifestation of the Wild Hunt, riding to protect the land and its people from the depredations of the wealthy elite.
I can think of a few “forces of darkness” I’d like to see swept along in the Ride; can’t you?
I, too, have been dreaming of the Hunt. Last night, I instead dreamed of the Round Table. King Arthur, who wore a Horned Crown, said, “All those who would take up arms against the foe; draw your swords and ride out with me!” And I reached out to draw one of the swords of the Round Table knights (or Kings, depending on your interpretation,) knowing I would not be able to draw it if I was not meant to, just as Excalibur can only be drawn by the true King. But it came away easily in my hand, with no resistance at all, and it felt as though it had been made for me.
Let us take a cue from Dion Fortune’s magickal experiment, and visualize the Wild Hunt riding against the true enemy we all know is out there, scouring the darkness from the land and taking them up into the Ride! Who will take up arms against the foe? Who will ride out with us?
The Magick: Tomorrow night is the full harvest supermoon in Aries, and a lunar eclipse. Visualize the Wild Hunt as you see it. Find the Leader of the Hunt and fly beside Hir for a while. Ask who the quarry is. Think about the “forces of darkness” as you understand them — the Kyriarchy, the Banksters, the CEOs of the large monopoly corporations, corrupt officials who do the bidding of their corporate masters, etc. — and ask the Hunter if E will help to scour them from the land. The Hunter may ask you to perform a task in return. Listen for guidance. If you are willing to agree to take on the task, do so. Visualize the Hunt riding against the quarry you’ve requested, riding them down or sweeping them up into the Hunt’s ranks, as appropriate. Return to your body and make an appropriate offering.
Footnote: I had not yet read Lee’s article The Hunt and the Hound, Part 1 (published Sept. 13) when I wrote this; however, I think this Working may work well in conjunction with his Working, and I will be creating my canine spirit house as part of this full moon rite. A canine skull mysteriously found its way into my compost pile; I have been cleaning it and wondering what to do with it. It seems I have an answer.
The most insidious aspects of the authoritarian regime depicted in George Orwell’s book, 1984, is not the shifting of language, nor the omnipresent surveillance, nor the visceral torture by rat-cage, nor even the permanent state of ahistoricity foisted upon the people of Oceania. Rather, the most terrifying—and most prescient for our current Late-Stage Capitalist empires– is the troublesome matter of the clandestine revolutionary, Emmanuel Goldstein.
In that novel, the protagonists attempt to escape the hegemonic oppression of Oceania by searching for the leader of the liberation movement hated so severely by Big Brother. But in the end, they learn that the scapegoat upon whom all the failures of the regime are placed, may not have existed at all.
The matter is left ambiguous—it is the Authority itself which claims to have created the Luciferian figure (which Orwell himself crafted from his own distaste for anarchist Emma Goldman), but how can such an Authority be trusted?
Emmanuel Goldstein, then, if the rulers of Oceania are to be believed, is what Lacanian psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek understood as a generated opposition. In his readings of St. Paul’s letter, the atheist Marxist expounds upon Paul’s attempts to describe the existence of sin through the founding of law.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7, KJV)
What Paul appears to argue is that the very existence of a Law (such as ‘thou shalt not covet’) defines the boundary between what is sin and what is not, and without such a law, sin can be unknown. What Zizek later extracts, important more for an understanding of modern Capitalism than for the Bible, is that a stricture generates its opposite specifically because there is now a law against the thing.
Consider so-called ‘radical Islam,’ which stands in opposition to the continued incursions of European and Anglo-American Capitalism in the Middle East. Radical Islam does not exist as a thing at all; there are those who follow Wahhabi teachings, or argue for strict understandings of Islamic Sharia law, or wish to establish new political orders modeled after the Moorish and Turkish Caliphates, or the particularly terrifying Daesh being resisted by the Anarcho-Marxist PKK. But “Radical Islam,” is a Liberal Capitalist short-hand for any Muslim-identified group which uses violence to resist or oppose the West.
That is, the West generated its own opposition by naming all opposition to it in the Middle East as ‘Radical Islam,’ and also has variously funded warlords and ideologues in proxy-struggles who then, when they turn upon their backers in the United States, become part of the circumscribed opposition.
But this does not mean Liberal Capitalist nations are faking their opposition, only that they’ve channeled the narratives of their enemies into an easily-identified (yet eternally irrespressible) foe of their own naming. Like the ambiguous existence of Emmanuel Goldstein’s ‘Brotherhood,’ Radical Islam both does and does not exist.
Such opposition to Authoritarian order will always exist the moment Authority is established—like Paul’s understanding of sin and law, it is the very thou shalt not which creates the “I shall anyway.” But as in Orwell, the most affective Hegemonic Authorities then name and define the rebels who seek to de-throne them, a dualistic trap seen in George W. Bush’s ‘either with us or with the terrorists.’
Behind the Revolutionary, the Revolt
With that understanding and a familiarity with Critical Studies and Historiography, Peter Grey’s Lucifer: Princeps is an incredibly rewarding book. It is not an easy text, but no mystery is ever easy.
Those looking for the ‘historical’ Lucifer in these pages will be as disappointed at those thumbing through the hundreds of books purporting to unveil the ‘true Jesus.’For such things, one might as well also ask a historian for a true account of the life and times of Ceridwen, or archeological evidence for Ariadne’s birth and death.
Yet those looking for Lucifer will certainly find him, in a manner similar to Winston Smith finding Emmanuel Goldstein or soldiers of the United States finding the terrorists they were sent to kill– a truth both raw and incomprehensible until the very thing you are looking for is forgotten, replaced by the brutal reality of insurgency obliterating the body, overthrowing the Authority, and torching the cities.
Likewise, a reader hoping for an easy path to unraveling the mystery of Lucifer outside the Biblical texts or discourses on the political climate of early Mesopotamia will be precisely missing the real magic of Grey’s work. Like the fraught, climatic unveilings in 1984, Grey meticulously–and slowly–unravels the historical and religious processes which obscured ancient magical and spiritual forms, appearing each time to lead down a false path to a dead end. And yet each apparent non-answer gathers to form the question we didn’t know to ask.
The story repeats throughout the pages of this work, a story we already know because we live it. Ancient cults crushed by state-priests in distant Mesopotamian cities is nothing unfamiliar, for it is the everyday life of the urban poor, the displaced indigene, the low-waged worker, or the would-be re-wilder: always our attempts to become the meaning of the world are stolen and re-written into a narrative of The Enemy.
In searching for Lucifer, we learn just as much about those who re-made him as we do about the fallen kings and the demonized gods. Reading Bibical (and apocryphal) texts as a political history unveils the processes by which Authority crafts the Heretic from the screams and flesh of heretics, the Whore from the menstrual blood and dangling bangles of whores. From these pages could just as easily be crafted a grimoire of Authority as a narrative of the witch, but those seeking easily-grasped Power-Over will be as frustrated as those hoping to summon the Lucifer we were told opposed the True God.
The creation of Yahweh as Hegemonic god and state founding-myth becomes as interesting as the composite figure of Lucifer, and integral to finding the path out of the relentless false-stops. Particularly the opening to Grey’s dissection of Deuteronomy is worth quoting:
Deuteronomy is delivered in the form of the purported sermons of Moses. Though ostensibly a book of law, at heart it is an attempt to explain away the consistent and crushing failures of Yahweh….
…Deuteronomy appeals to the state origin myth of Moses and the promise of a land to be ruled by their god, recounting the bloody conquest of an already occupied territory of Canaan. Here is a god who brooks no rivals. This rousing account of entitlement and slaughter, or inflexible law and order, would have been sustenance for the exiles who returned, radicalised, to build the state of Israel.
…The combined texts were designed to provide the only explanation for failure, that is was not Yahweh who had broken his covenant, but the people who had not submitted to the justice of his yoke.” (p. 57)
Similar to Zizek’s notion of the generated opposition, we begin to find, also, that just as the state priests further craft political myths to defend Yahweh from the rebel, the rebel begins to become an inextricable shadow of Yahweh. As the authoritarian state in 1984 relied on the ‘2 Minutes Hate’ and their crafting of Emmanual Goldstein to keep the populace subservient, Lucifer becomes, for Yahweh, an enemy whose power increases from that reliance.
And here then, at the end of the chapter aptly named The Key, is revealed the deep magic of Lucifer: Princeps. Grey deftly weaves not only biblical narratives but confluent narratives such as Atrahasis into a revelatory tapestry displaying precisely who it was the priests were so afraid of:
After the deluge, the gods regulate the population by means of sterility, stillbirth, infant mortality and the office of the chaste priestess. Whilst this appears to give credence to the over-population thesis, we cannot cleave this from the blood song of rebellion. Silvia Federici’s reading of the early modern witch hunts shows that social and sexual control are intrinsically linked. I suggest there is a similar authoritarian dynamic at work here. Like Genesis, Atrahasais is a discourse on the limits of human powers and the establishment of a covenant. Yet for oath breakers, it provides a vista of our divine inheritance, should we wish to opposed the tyranny of kings. It falls upon some generations to renew the war, and thus the pact. (p. 105)
Lest the occultist suspect Peter Grey’s work is merely political, there’s significant enough reference and threads of ritual (the second volume, Lucifer: Praxis, is slated to “transform into ritual actions” the knowledge of the first) to whet such appetites. But the book is hardly only for them, and those seeking feasts of the sort of power Authority wields will likely finish more ravenous than they began.
Although an esoteric work, Lucifer:Princeps is possibly even more brilliant as an initiatory guide to an uprising, assuming the reader, upon hearing Authority’s claim to be the creators of the Revolutionary, has the courage to become the revolt they’re seeking.
We women know a hard truth of our culture; our bodies are not our own.
We are told how our bodies are supposed to behave. How they are supposed to look (age/weight/height/hair/skin colour/breast size/genitals; the last of particular interest to women not visibly born “female”). What we should feed them. How we should decorate them. Whether or not we should use them as incubators and what we are allowed to do with them once a zygote starts growing. We are told to hide, and suppress, our body’s needs and natural functions. We are told that the functions that formulate the incubator are supposed to be hidden from polite company, from menstruation to breast feeding. We are told how we should wrap them, under what conditions it’s okay to unwrap them, and whom we should (or should not) unwrap them for.
After I overcame my childhood conditioning to suppress my sexuality, I wondered why. This is something that has puzzled me for many years. Why in the world does anyone else care about what I do with my body, whom I choose to have sex with, or how? I mean, think about it. How does it affect anyone else that I’m not sleeping with (or someone who’s sleeping with someone I’m sleeping with?) I don’t give two figs what kind of car my neighbour drives because its effect on my life is exactly zero.
I read all the Dianic literature and found it empowering: The Wise Wound, Goddesses in Everywoman, The Chalice and the Blade. Their theory was that because, until recently, your mother was a certainty but your father was an opinion, controlling women’s sexuality assured paternity and therefore, men would not find themselves in a situation in which they were struggling to feed someone else’s offspring. I believed it because it was the only thing that sounded plausible to me.
The men in my life were angered by this theory. They are feminists, and they are stepfathers. They chose to raise someone else’s offspring, knowing full well it was someone else’s offspring, and give their love even when that love has not always been returned. I didn’t give their anger much heed. I figured it was a case in which they did not recognize their privilege. I figured they would come around.
But there’s another theory, one that I’ve recently stumbled upon that makes much more sense. Like anything else it’s not new; I was excited when I discovered, as I was reading it for the first time, that Starhawk had touched on it in the Appendices of her classic book on magick and activism, Dreaming the Dark.
Patriarchy exists to preserve inheritance.
Patriarchy is all about class.
Expropriation and Estrangement
Starhawk believes that we can find the evidence in enclosure. In the sixteenth century a movement spread through England to enclose what was previously common land. All of a sudden, which family controlled the land and its use became of paramount importance. All of a sudden the people who lived on that common land became threats, because if land was held by common “squatters,” it could not be enclosed. Often, lone widows lived in such places and so they were favourite targets of the would-be landowners, since they couldn’t do much to fight back. Persecution increased against marginalized groups; that and widespread famines and possibly ergot poisoning led to revolutions and pogroms. Enclosure forced most of us out of the woods and fields and into places in which our livelihoods depended on wages, and since one could only farm what was now on one’s land, trade became vital, and not an enhancement to existing living conditions. We have seen the culmination of this trend in our current world economy, which depends on trading in raw resources and the forced labour of the developing world.
Knowledge became a marketable commodity in the new mercantile culture that was developing. Universities developed. Knowledge became something you could only have if you had the money to pay, and thus, graduates of those universities worked to preserve their monopoly on knowledge. This particularly affected medicine. Graduating university doctors spread the idea that anyone who did not have their certification was dangerous and stupid and might possibly cause real harm, even when the folk healing tradition was well ahead of the medicine of universities. Often this was also a women’s profession, so once again women became an incidental target. And “women’s medicine,” as a natural and unavoidable consequence of all of the medical practitioners being male, lagged behind and became a method of social control, culminating with the myth of the “hysterical woman” in Victorian times; an excuse to institutionalize women who did not behave according to the desired social mien. We are currently seeing the culmination of the ownership of knowledge, with every task requiring (expensive) papers to certify your capability, bizarre trademark and copyright laws that allow corporations to claim intellectual property over ideas created 700 years ago, and tuitions so high that only the moneyed class can generally afford to pay them.
In order to justify this culture of ownership and expropriation, the world had to be disenchanted. If the world has no life and no spirit other than what can be used as resources, there is no reason not to use it up. Once again, the bodies of (cisgender) women, who are bound visibly by biological needs and changes, and who hold the power of the womb, became incidental targets, as the needs of the body and the needs of the earth and its creatures were denigrated, and “spiritual perfection” came to mean transcending anything as filthy and low as biology and nature. We are seeing the culmination of this disenchantment now, in which faith is painted as a choice between the binary of absolute obedience to a patriarchal, distant god; or utter denial of the possibility of anything spiritual.
All of this is part of a culture of expropriation that derives from estrangement; estrangement from our nature, from our bodies, from the sense of the spiritual in the material, from people who are different from ourselves, even from one another. We are almost seeing the culmination of it now. We no longer know our neighbours. We no longer live in families any larger than the nuclear. Most of us these days are raised by single mothers. We don’t even talk to each other any more, except through phones and computers. As a result we are siloed in echo chambers of the ideas we support and our children sit across the table from each other and use their phones to converse. Almost by definition, Paganism and Polytheism, which see gods and spirits here within the earth, are natural enemies of this culture.
I was excited! Starhawk articulated it so much more effectively than I was able to.
Of course, it started long before that. While the theory of the ancient matriarchy has been essentially disproven at this point, it is likely that inheritance did not matter in the prehistoric world until there was something to inherit that did not belong to the clan as a whole. Chieftainships created a class of haves, and have-nots, which made tracking inheritance “necessary.”
How I Stumbled on This
I was writing a science fiction novel. In the process I created a society in which all the men were warriors, so of course, the women were required to do everything else. This society also had a noble caste who ruled over the other classes. And I found that the society quickly developed, through a natural process of cause and effect, into a patriarchy. Fascist societies, the ultimate in Corporatism, usually develop into patriarchies for this reason.
So I changed one condition; I made inheritance dependent on the female bloodline. Now clans were organized around the females of a particular family, and to become nobles of the clan, males had to marry into it. Technically the males inherited, but only through the females. Suddenly, it looked to outsiders like the males were in charge, but in reality, the females were controlling marriages and fertility, and through that, the process of inheritance. Over time, males began to develop traits that the females found desirable, and eventually it led to the breakdown of the class system and changing roles for males and females.
Why is it always the right wing who seems to support ideas that restrict the freedom of women? You would think that powerful women of the moneyed class would be in an ideal position to challenge the supremacy of the patriarch. But consider it. Keeping the classes divided is the only way in which to assure that there are haves and have-nots. In order to separate the classes, it is necessary to assure that the poor and the rich never mingle, and that requires controlling a woman’s fertility; and subsequently, her sexuality. This is why it’s so important to the moneyed Conservatives to prevent cisgender women (and trans-men) from controlling their own fertility and claiming their own sexuality outside of the imposed rules of the patriarchy. If women could do that, we wage-slaves wouldn’t continue to breed fodder for factories, would we? Especially not in the developing world. And what if a low-class male has sex with a high-class female and she has a child? That elevates him out of the have-nots, doesn’t it?
We women impose these unconscious limits on ourselves. Did you know that women do not call each other “sluts” based on their level of sexuality activity? According to a study conducted at university campuses by Dr. Elizabeth Armstrong, the key trigger to being called a slut by another woman is being from a different economic class. Why on earth would women perceive each other as being “trashy” for being more, or less, affluent than themselves? It seems to me that this is a subconscious method of social control, to prevent the classes from breeding together.
Also, we choose mates based on perceived status. It’s such a cliche that we make jokes about it; trophy-wives and sugar daddies. Men with money are considered sexy. Men buy expensive gifts and seek good jobs to impress women, and it’s considered the height of romanticism from him to buy us jewelry or that coveted diamond ring that proclaims our status as desired property.
We feminists think we’re above that. After all, we believe in making our own way in the world and not relying on other people for financial support. But consider this; assuming you are heterosexual, would you marry a man who made less money than you do? Most of us won’t. We think that “we can do better” and men who make less than we do are often perceived as freeloaders and “bums,” no matter how hard they work. Fortunately this is changing.
There’s one last point of note that supports this theory, and that is the Mosuo people of China. Often called “the last matrilineal society,” they have evolved a society in which all property rights pass through the female line. There is no permanent marriage and partners do not live together, even if they have a long-term relationship. Men live with their female relatives. And all the behaviours of control and sexual dominance are displayed by the women; all the behaviours of social manipulation and preoccupation with appearance is displayed by the men. In other words, property equals power.
It is in the interests of the Capitalists to maintain divisions of haves and have-nots. Kyriarchy is how they go about this in a (nominally) free, democratic society. They teach the rest of us to see one group as being superior to another, which leads to an interconnected system of privilege and disadvantage. Notice that the poor are the only identifiable group that it’s perfectly okay to discriminate against? Institutionalized discrimination limits the ability of the poor to get education, houses and jobs, and forces them to pay more for simple things due to interest payments, bank fees and “planned obsolescence.”
This is why it is necessary to consider all disadvantaged groups. The truth is that Kyriarchy cannot exist if we all stand together and refuse to see these artificial divisions.
In other words; sisters, men are not the enemy. Those who teach us that one group is better than another, are. And those who benefit from the status quo the most are usually the ones most invested in preserving it. The ones who benefit the most from this current status quo are white, white-collar, straight, wealthy, older men; in other words, the Corporatist 1%.
By extension, this means that anyone who challenges this status quo and demands change is our ally. It would help us all to march in Ferguson. It would help us all to defend women’s reproductive rights. It would help us all to support labour unions, advocate for anti-poverty groups, and march in the Pride Parade. Any one of these activities is a blow to Kyriarchy; which, in its death throes, will take the Patriarchy with it.
Why the Patriarchy is Doomed
Don’t worry; it can’t last forever. It was doomed from the invention of the Pill. When you can’t control a woman’s fertility, you can’t control her sexuality.
But social sanctions will try. And as long as we allow groups which are invested in the idea of patriarchy — such as religions or corporations — to dictate morality to us, then it will continue. We must stop calling each other sluts. We must stop trying to dictate to each other when it’s okay to sleep with someone and when it isn’t. We should feel free to make our own sexual choices and respect the right of others to do likewise. We should support the rights of all genders, especially because challenging the binary breaks up the division that is based in haves (men) and have-nots (women). The Kyriarchs know this and that’s why they find it so threatening and fight it so hard.
A great victory was recently won when the United States finally caught up to the idea that marriage should be a right for everyone. I am pleased to see another nail being hammered into the coffin as the worldwide movement for the rights of sex workers grows and we stop looking down on women who get more action than others.
When our social customs catch up to our physical and scientific realities, patriarchy’s inevitable end will crumble the support pillar that sustains the Kyriarchy; and it will collapse like a house of cards. We will see the dawn of a new age which is not dependent on human beings dividing themselves into superior and inferior classes. That day is coming. I believe it’s not far away.
Sept. 2 Update: edits made in response to suggestions from Keen on how to be more gender-inclusive (see commentary below).
Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.
– Philip K. Dick, How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later
In 1945, three months after the end of the Second World War, twelve leather-bound papyrus codices where found by a local farmer in the upper Egyptian city of Nag Hammadi. What was unearthed comprised fifty two treatises possibly buried by monks of the nearby Pachomian monastery after Athanasius’ condemnation of non-canonical books in 367 C.E. Like the mythical genie in a bottle, what these texts would reveal would be nothing less than a miracle accounting for the largest cache of literature which would not only shake the foundations of academia, but also reveal the sacred literature of orthodox Christianity’s greatest threat which was long thought extinguished.
Writing in the second century, Iraneus of Lyons composed a text describing a number of Christian sects called On the Detection and Overthrow of Knowledge Falsely So Called, commonly referred to as by its Latin title, Adversus Haereses. In it he describes multiple groups that believed in salvation and transcendence by way of interior, intuitive means. These groups expressed themselves not through the language of theology or philosophy – though many were preeminent theologians – but through the medium of myth. These groups would come to be known as Gnostics.
As expressed by Philip K. Dick, the Gnostics recognized that we live in a spurious reality. This reality is flawed precisely because it was created in a flawed and absurd manner. This, naturally, would catch the ire of early Christians who interpreted the Genesis myths declaring that the world is flawed by human transgression. To them, the Gnostic position was nothing short of a blasphemy. For the Gnostics, the Creator of the world was not an omniscient and benign Godhead, but rather a lesser divine figure which they called the Demiurge (literally and perhaps ironically, “a worker for the people”). It’s from this seemingly absurd premise that we can start analyzing the structure of Gnostic as a mythic poetry of resistance.
By its basic common usage, myth refers to an imaginative and seductive lie. This derogatory qualification traces itself back to Plato was frequently employed by ancient anti-gnostic polemicists. In his attempt to discredit the reality experienced by the Gnostics, Iranaeus of Lyons:
“By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.” (Ad Haer I:1)1
The poetry of resistance in Gnosticism is dangerous precisely because it presents the gods as developing human beings and the reality they create as a sequence of cognitive dispositions and qualities. With the Demiurge at the top of this sequence, he Gnostics turned the rational mental faculties such as reason, intelligence and wisdom into independent entities responsible for the negative aspects of an imperfect world. These independent entities in turn create pseudo-realities which affect rational beings are the archons.
In ancient Gnosticism the archons were often linked to the celestial spheres through which descending and ascending souls must pass in generation. Differing from the Platonic perspective that “[deliverance] from fate can be achieved by mastering bodily passions and by nurturing the divine portion of the ‘self’, viz. intellect (nous), not bound up with stellar influences. ‘Gnostics’, on the other hand, tend to relate salvation to the unsolicited event of divine revelation.” 2 In short, the Gnostics planned a jail-break through attaining true knowledge about the nature of reality and the controllers.
By its basic common usage, myth refers to an imaginative and seductive lie. This derogatory qualification traces itself back to Plato was frequently employed by ancient anti-gnostic polemicists. In his attempt to discredit the reality experienced by the Gnostics, Iranaeus of Lyons:
“By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.” (Ad Haer I:1)
The chiefest ‘lie’ to Iranaeus and other heresy hunters was that the world and God could be anything but good – to the Gnostic, this god and the entire system he created was counterfeit.
In the twilight of Belle Époque France, Gnosticism returned to the world as an organized religion and public church. Jules-Benoit Doinel, a scholarly esotericist and spiritualist who had been a devoted researcher of Albigensianism, had a mystical experience in which he received spiritual empowerment to reconstitute the Gnostic church declaring the “Era of the Gnosis Restored” and assuming the title of Patriarch of the Gnostic Church under the mystic name of Valentin II, in homage to Valentinus, the 5th century founder of the Valentinian school of Gnosticism. Until this point, Gnosticism – or, more correctly gnosis – was only discussed primarily within the confines of academia or amongst esoteric Freemasons and Theosophists in Romantic terms. 3
The new Gnostic Church, Église Gnostique, quickly gained a number of followers with Doinel consecrating a number of bishops – both men and women – to assist in the Restauration de la Gnose. The Gnostic Restoration quickly captivated the Bohemian scene of Paris with well-known figures of the burgeoning occult scene such as Gerard Encausse, Jean Bricaud and Theodor Reuss as well as artists and literati such as Joséphin Péladan, Claude Debussy amongst others.
Central to Péladan’s vision was his idea of the artist as an explorer of themysteries; select individuals who could bring forth the divine light trapped in matter and alchemically transform it. In his manifesto, L’Art Idealiste et Mystique, he writes:
“Artist, you are a priest: Art is the great mystery and, if your effort results in a masterpiece, a ray of the divine will descend as on an altar. Artist, you are a king: Art is the true empire, if your hand draws a perfect line, the Cherubim themselves will descend to revel in their reflection. Spiritual design, a line of the soul, form of understanding, you make our dreams incarnate. Artist, you are a mage: Art is the great mystery, it only proves our immortality.”4
Mirroring the ancient Gnostics, modern Gnostic of the Restoration seeks to create beauty in a world that has become demystified and whose edifices are decaying. It challenges the nihilism of modernism and the lies of progression, seeking to new heights and experiential knowledge of the divine (γνῶσις). It is in this that the Gnostic shows their path against the archons which keep the majority of humanity trapped through the mechanisms of societal conditioning and systems of oppression. To be Gnostic is to organize the supreme jail-break and reconcile themselves with the oppression of humanity.
1 Irenaeus: Against Heresies – Book 1 (Irenaeus: Against Heresies – Book 1)
3 Hoeller, S. A. (2002). Gnosticism: New light on the ancient tradition of inner knowing. Wheaton, Ill: Quest Books.
4 L’art idéaliste et mystique : doctrine de l’Ordre et du salon annuel des Roses-croix / Sar Peladan (Gallica)http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k81589t
Michael Strojan serves as Deacon to Holy Paraclete Community of the Apostolic Johannite Church in Seattle, Washington. A native Washingtonian and resident of Seattle, Michael studied psychology and social anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He has been described as the John Yarker of the Twenty-First Century, is a member of a number of esoteric orders and has the audacity to “learn all the things”. He has a strong passion for social justice issues and its intersection with modern Gnosticism as a path of personal and social liberation.