Monday, January 18, 2010

Gnosticism, eh?

So, what is it? What are Gnostics? Is there a difference between Gnostic and gnostic? What do or did they believe? How do find them? How do you know? These are good questions for often evasive answers. The only thing that I can tell you is to read. Read, read, read, and then read some more. When you think you just can't take in any more about this gnosticism stuff.. take a break! Then READ some more. What do I read? I'm glad you asked, but I can only point you in a few directions. The rest is up to you.

I will point out some resources on the web that have been helpful to me. You shouldn't need to buy anything to learn more about Gnosticism or about what it is and what it isn't. Certainly I recommend finding good books on the subject, but your local library should have at least a few on hand.

Nag Hammadi
First, and this is generally the most important part, are the Nag Hammadi Codices. The.. what? The Nag Hammadi Codices, also referred to as the Nag Hammadi Library, is a collection of texts, written in Coptic and discovered near the small town of Nag Hammadi in 1945 in Egypt. Certainly there were Gnostic texts known about prior to their discovery (the Pistis Sophia being one), but the NHL was what one might call the motherlode.

You can find and read the texts for free on the web, the most well-known probably being in the archives of the Gnostic Society. They have a dedicated section devoted to the NHL. (Note: I will add that the Gnostic Society is operated by a modern day gnostic church, Ecclesia Gnostica. I don't have a strong opinion about the EG either way, but it's not really something I am interested in. There are a few gnostic churches out there, and you don't have to belong to any particular one to learn about or practice Gnosticism, nor in fact do you need to be a member of any of them to do so.)

Philip K. Dick
I can't really say enough about Philip Kindred Dick, or PKD as he is affectionately known, so I will just say a little and hopefully convey how extraordinary he was. If there was ever a modern gnostic prophet, PKD would have been it. He first gained notoriety as arguably one of the best science fiction authors in American history. His novels are quirky and sometimes quite mind-bending but often they carry gnostic themes, sometimes subtly, but at times much more overtly. Towards his later life he had, what was for him, a life-changing experience which he would go on to write about. After that he began to expound much more upon Gnosticism and gnostic ideas.

There are a few key works of PKD's that I believe should be required reading for anyone interested in Gnosticism: a novel, Valis, and three essays/articles he wrote, The Ten Major Principles of the Gnostic Revelation, Cosmogony and Cosmology, and How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later. Other than that, explore his work and his ideas. He was very insightful and his novels are, on their own, generally quite good and engrossing.

The Logosphere
The Logosphere is the Gnostic blogosphere. Unfortunately it has lost some of its steam in the last year or so. I can't really guess why, perhaps it's the general ecomonic situation, perhaps it's other things. Regardless, there still remains a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to find if only you'll plumb the depths! I have quite a few links to gnostic and Gnostic blogs to the left, but I'll point out a few that I have found invaluable. These are also, in my opinion, required reading:
  • Ecclesia Gnostica in Nova Albion was a blog written by Fr. Jordan Stratford+ of the Apostolic Johannite Church (a gnostic church). It became large enough that he had to start a new blog as a continuation. Especially helpful are his posts entitled Gnosticism 101 and Gnosticism 102.
  • Summer Harvest by Jeremy Puma. Jeremy is independent of any ecclesiastical structure to my knowledge, save for the Order of Allogenes. He's written a lot of interesting stuff that's definitely worth checking out.
  • Forbidden Gospels is the blog of April DeConick, Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University. Whereas the two prior blogs mentioned deal with Gnosticsm as a modern practice, Dr. DeConick strictly deals with ancient G/gnosticsm from an academic perspective, and does so brilliantly. She also deals with other aspects of the early Christian narrative, including Christian and Jewish mysticism.
These are but three blogs in a whole host of resources, and I encourage anyone interested in Gnosticism, both ancient and modern, to check the links out to the left. I've put together an RSS feed that I call Window into the Logosphere. It contains the feeds of a number of gnostic blogs and you can subscribe to it with your favorite feed reader.

Gnostic Organizations
There's a short list of churches and organizations over on the left, but here's some of the important ones (in alphabetical order): Alexandrian Gnostic Church, Apostolic Johannite Church, Ecclesia Gnostica, Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum, North American College of Gnostic Bishops, and Thomasine Church. You should check these out and see what each has to say about itself. You may find something that interests you. There are other organizations out there that claim to be "gnostic", but have nothing at all to do with what I've been talking about, or what you'll find in the links and blogs listed here. So buyer beware, read, research, and understand what you're looking at.

This is just a jumping off point. There is a lot of information to look through linked above, but it's a good place to start in your exploration of Gnosticism.

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