A Gnostic Worldview – Part I

Delicious Collard Greens!

In the last post, we looked at the Gnostic Monomyth, a very basic overview of some of the common themes found primarily in Sethian thought. Keep in mind, if you read it, that it’s a stab at an overview, and your mileage may vary.

So, why the big deal? What’s the point behind this strange story, and why is it so interesting on so many levels, even though it’s full of really, really odd imagery and seems to turn the creation myth from Genesis on its head? The deal is, this story is an aspect of the Logos itself– it’s a manifestation of Divine Reason that is activated by its application in our lives. Done right, the application of the coded story causes the manifestation of Wisdom.  It’s a secret code with a hidden meaning that, once discerned, makes you go “oh, okay!”

I know, I know– I’m getting all flighty. Here’s the deal, though: for me, and for some people, this is a story that gives life meaning on an individual level.  From the Gnostic Monomyth, we can develop what we might call the Gnostic Worldview, an understanding based on the stories of what the hell is happening to us, and why it hurts when we stub our toe.  It allows us to develop an understanding of what it means to interact with that which we perceive, and gives us a Way to measure whether or not our philosophy is any good.

Question: Do I have to have a worldview, or a philosophy?

Answer: *I* don’t know, man! I’m not you! You probably already have one, even if you don’t think you do. But that’s totally up to you. *I* have one, and it helps me cope with stuff that’s annoying or ridiculous, so I’m a proponent of finding a way of interacting with the world.

Another Question: Why should I care about this Gnostic Worldview stuff anyhow? I’m perfectly happy with my own religion/philosophy.

Another Answer: Great! Then you probably don’t need to keep reading this, especially if you think it’s bunk, or if you’ve already made up your mind about “Gnosticism” or something.

Ooh, one more Question:  SCIENCE! Where is it? How do you “prove” this

Answer:  TOTALLY something different here. For the record, I LOVE Science. Big fan of hard scientific discovery. Love modern medicine and think 85% of the “alternative healing” scene is crazy talk. Think hardcore creationism is silliness and has no place in schools except in discussions of literature or social anomalies. However: this site is NOT doing Science. Before going any further, if you haven’t yet, you should REALLY read this amazing post on The Archdruid Report about Science v. Magic.  Although I wouldn’t describe what I’m doing over here as “Magic,” his post really hits on the difference between what we’re doing and Science.

Any more questions? Please do post them in the comments!

With this out of the way, let’s take a look at the implications of the Monomyth.  What does it teach us about the nature of reality and our place here?  Keep in mind, once again, that this is my own analysis based on my own gnosis.  You may agree or disagree, but my intent is that of those original Sethians who wrote the myths in the first place:  I’m giving you a map based on my explorations, and you’re encouraged to either discard the map and make your own way, or use the map to explore the features of your own existence.

Consider the discussion that follows a kind of Legend for the Map.

Let’s begin with the most basic assumption, starting at the top, and work our way down, and see what happens.

1. The Limitless Light is Infinite.  A big problem some individuals have with the idea of God is the question of whether God himself had a creator.  If so, did God’s creator have a creator?  This results in an infinite regression, a pile of turtles extending down into infinity.  As Gnostics, we solve this problem by stepping outside of the infinite regression and concluding that at a certain point, the regression has to stop.  The Monomyth starts at this beginning (a good place to start!), at the most irreducible level, that of the Limitless Light.

The Limitless Light can’t be described in toto, as to do so would limit it.  Instead, we have to try to imagine it based on the idea of infinity.  All points that ever existed, currently exist, and will exist in the future occur simultaneously within the Limitless Light.  Since the Limitless Light is infinite, nothing exists outside of it.  Think about it:  infinity is everything, so it doesn’t have any borders, because if you could step outside of a border, it would mean you weren’t really in infinity!

As infinite dimensions, the Limitless Light transcends space and time to such an extent that what we perceive as motion, change and time would by necessity appear as a single unit to the Limitless Light, as it would perceive every instant simultaneously.   Thus, we can define the Limitless Light as the absence of cause and effect.  As soon as cause and effect arise, the Limtless Light becomes limited.

“Light” is typically used to refer to the knowledge of the presence of the Limitless Light, both internally and externally. When we refer to the Limitless Light above all things, we sometimes refer to a presence that fills all things like light fills a darkened room. The “light within” is the presence of God within, manifested through the medium of the Logos, Word and Sophia, Wisdom. It isn’t solely the self or the soul, but a quality that self and soul can be said to possess when “enlightened,” and an essential line of “communication” between the Self and the Other, the Subjective and Objective, the Limited and the Divine. When we act in a Christ-like manner, we’re said to be expressing the Light Within just as the Christ refers to himself as “The Light.”

Nonetheless, we don’t place any kind of ‘elitist’ emphasis on the idea of the inner light. As Jesus says in the Secret Book of James, “Do not be proud because of the light that illumines, but be to yourselves as I myself am to you. For your sakes I have placed myself under the curse, that you may be saved.”

2. The Binary.  When discussing infinity, only two possibilities arise:  completeness or differentiation.  At this point, this is it:  either nothing happens (completeness), or something happens (differentiation).  Had the Limitless Light maintained its infinite nature,  I wouldn’t be writing this, nor would you be reading it.  According to the Monomyth, however, the Limitless Light underwent the second possibility and in so doing became conscious.  In other words, the Limitless Light wanted to know itself.  Since it was infinite, it had no way to do so from without (since nothing exists outside of infinity), and therefore had to do so from within.

This was the first binary, the division of the Limitless Light into two different aspects, one of which was an observer, which we call God the Father, and one of which was being observed, which we call Barbelo the Mother.  With the creation of this either/or binary, the Limitless Light began the process of self-knowledge.

Now, since the Limitless Light is infinite and can’t step outside of itself, the only way for it to know itself is by experiencing all of its possibilities, which means it began manifesting these possibilities through the medium of God the Father and Barbelo.  Since these two aspects of the Limitless Light are, in reality, its initial “sense organs,” we consider God the Father and Barbelo both aspects of the single, monotheistic Unknown God—the Limitless Light itself.

You can find out more about Barbelo here.

3. The Aeons and the Pleroma.  So, the Limitless Light undergoes the process of differentiation, introducing cause and effect into the mix.  It does so in the only possible way—by extending itself through the process of iteration.  “Iteration means the act of repeating a process usually with the aim of approaching a desired goal or target or result. Each repetition of the process is also called an “iteration,” and the results of one iteration are used as the starting point for the next iteration” (source). The Limitless Light extends as God the Father and Barbelo.  Barbelo returns to the source (iterates), the Limitless Light, because no other option yet exists.  Nothing is beyond the realm of God the Father and Barbelo, so there’s only one direction to go.  After returning to the source, God the Father and Barbelo give birth to the Christos.

The Christos is the perfect androgynous reflection of the Limitless Light, and contains its mind, which we call Nous.  If it helps, we might consider the Christos the model of the  concious vehicle through which the Limitless Light explores itself.   It does so by creating the Aeons, different qualities of the Limitless Light which expand to fill its infinite space.  This “filling” is called the Pleroma, and it is the place in which the Aeons dwell, and also the process through which the Aeons expand and explore the Limitless Light.

You can find out more about the Aeons here.

4. Pistis Sophia and the Creation of the Universe.  Of course, at some point, there has to be a differentiation between that part of infinity which has been explored by the Aeons, and that part which has not.  The part which has not is the Realm of Ignorance, also called the Outer Darkness; no knowledge yet exists of this realm.  Because the process unfolding within the Pleroma must include all possibilities, the possibility that one of the Aeons will try to explore the realm of ignorance without returning to the source also arises.  Sophia, or Wisdom, a manifestation of Barbelo the Mother and the emanation farthest from the source of the Limitless Light, while hanging out at the border between the Pleroma and the Realm of Ignorance, has the desire to explore the Outer Darkness without returning to the Source (iterating). She does so in Good Faith (Pistis), but it’s not necessarily the best idea.

Her desire to expand into the Outer Darkness without returning to the source results in the birth of the Demiurge, the Creator God of the World of Forms.  Sophia’s action thrusts him into the Outer Darkness.  Within this Realm of Ignorance, the Demiurge and his assistants, the Archons, begin to ape the process of emanation which they can detect, imperfectly, within the realms above. They can’t do it with material that’s known to the Aeons, that has been “activated” through iteration; they have to do it with the dark, unknown gunk already in the Outer Darkness. This gunk is matter.

This all makes sense if you think about it. 

5. Chaos Theory and Gnostic Myth.  This mythology actually has parallels in mathematics.  If you can stomach not-too-difficult math, fractal geometry works really well as a metaphor for the Gnostic creation myth.  In chaos math, fractals are generated by way of iteration. As an example, suppose you have a system governed by the formula x2+1=y, and begin the iterative process by giving x a value of 1. To iterate, you’d solve for y, and then replace x with your result for the next number. So, if x’=1, then our first y will be 2 — (1) 2+1=2. We’d then take x=2, and our new y is (2) 2+1=5. Our next would be (5)2+1=26, etc. etc. Taking x and y as coordinates on a graph, you can map your iterations. In this case, it’d be a line that shoots to infinity to the upper right, no matter how many times the function is iterated. This is the way iterated systems are graphed. In this example, you have an ordered system, which wouldn’t really represent what we all think of when we think of fractals.

Now, a fractal occurs when a seemingly random element is introduced into the system– essentially, when an integer is no longer whole. For example, let us take our x2+1=y, but instead of starting at 1, we’ll start at 1.081.

x y
01.081 2.168561
2.168561 5.702656810721
5.702656810721 33.520294700862607220539841

Repeat this iteration about a million times and then restart with about a million different initial values, and you’ve got a fractal.  This is why fractals weren’t really discovered/developed until the modern era– you need a computer to repeat all of the millions of iterations needed to graph the fractal.

This is an important issue that goes largely unrecognized because of our habit of estimation and rounding when it comes to mathematics (our Good Faith in mathematics). It illustrates that a teensy, tiny alteration of a function way back at the beginning of the iterative process can cause radical change in the function later down the road. Suppose you’re calculating air traffic control patterns based on records from the past ten years and you decide to round 1.00045 down to 1. Might make sense in the short term, but once that 1.00045 value kicks in down the road, you can be in serious trouble, as the results produced via the function deviate in the extreme from the predicted values.

So how does this fit in with Gnostic creation myth?  As I mentioned above, the process of creation is described in Gnostic texts is an iterative process. The Limitless Light emanates two aspects, which return to the Limitless Light and emanate four aspects, and so forth. There is an equation here, which is a mystical variation on y=x2, and every time a y variable is produced, it returns to the Limitless Light in order to continue the process.

Until, that is, we get to Sophia. Sophia emanates without returning to the Limitless Light– she runs the function without iterating– in essence, she estimates a value (in Good Faith) instead of getting the proper value from the source. It’s as though instead of iterating 15, she iterates 14.00036485. This produces a random element: the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth.

This random element added to the equation altered everything. Although the Demiurge and his initial creation were indeed slightly similar to the divine Aeons above, by the time it was iterated a gazillion times over, things got real freaky. When the Demiurge and the Archons created the Illusion that is the World of Forms, they were like the hapless air traffic controller who thought that rounding off numbers was a good idea. This produced an exceptionally “chaotic” universe, which may even be shaped and dictated by a chaotic function, which would explain everything from variations in red shift in astronomy to vibrational rates of movement in the Earth’s crust to patterns in bird migration.

The Big Bang makes us think of a giant explosion that starts in a “center” and throws energy outward in relatively spherical radii, but the inital “bang” resulted in something that would look more like a 4-dimensional Mandelbrot set:

6. As Above, So Below. All fractals are self-similar, which means that all parts of any given fractal resemble the whole thing;  because they’re all governed by those initial equations, certain patterns have to manifest. It’s like a coastline, which resembles itself on a map no matter the scale (a coastline from 1 mile up resembles a coastline from 100 feet) because it’s all governed by connected patterns. So the rotation of the universe resembles the rotations of galaxies which resemble the rotations of solar systems, all the way down to the quantum level. Now, they may seem to be different, but the underlying initial structures at the very beginning of the iterative process are pretty much the same. Thus, we really did come about in God’s image, as did the entire universe, though it doesn’t sometimes look that way.  It doesn’t sometimes look that way because the Demiurge and the Archons want to stay in control, so they created the World of Forms in order to fool us.

CONTINUE TO PART TWO: ELEPHANTS AND SUCH

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11 Comments

Filed under Gnostic Philosophy, This Way

11 responses to “A Gnostic Worldview – Part I

  1. Michael Gregory

    Really enjoying your posts Jeremy…one thing I’ve wondered about so I’ll ask you here…once you start to look at Yaldabaoth & Co…do they start to look back? Does this get personal?

  2. Jeremy Puma

    Heck yeah, my friend. Thankfully, it works in the other direction, too; start looking at Christ and the Aeons and they pay attention as well. 🙂

  3. Pingback: A Gnostic Worldview – Part II | This Way

  4. I think this does clarify what I asked you earlier about the concept of Barbelo and all the others before Sophia “returning” to the Light in order to further emanate new Aeons. I especially like the iterative process and chaos theory analogy, being a mathematics teacher!

    I also think that the idea that the Light needs to differentiate in order to know itself is solid. Often, in discussing the Trinity, I’ve argued that even though Jews, Muslims, and Unitarians have criticized it for being tritheism, it really must be true–or something like it–if we want to have an interactive God. If God were truly, purely, absolutely one and undifferentiated for all eternity, not only could He not have created the cosmos, but He wouldn’t even think to do so, and He wouldn’t even be aware of Himself! If God were completely simple, there’d be no knower or known, and He’d never change, never create anything, and never have anything (such as us) with which to have a relationship. If we want to assert that God can love us or interact with us or even be aware of us, that necessarily implies some sort of mulitiplicity within the unity of the Divine. The orthodox and Gnostic views would disagree about the exact nature of that multiplicity, but in a way it’s six of one, half-dozen the other.

    An interesting and (probably unintendedly) profound pop-cultural presentation of this was the Marvel Comics Secret Wars storyline back in the 80’s. I don’t know if you’re a comics buff, but the premise was that there is a parallel universe containing only one being, who is omnipotent and omniscient. He is totally unaware of anything else or even himself until some superheroic hoo-hah results in a doorway to his universe accidentally being opened. This being, now named the Beyonder, is puzzled, confused, and distressed at encountering the Other for the first time, and his trying to figure it all out drives the plotline. Hidden Gnosticism in the comics world…. 😉

  5. Pingback: A Gnostic Worldview – Part III | This Way

  6. dan o'shea

    nice blog jeremy. i too am taken with your differentiation (1&0), and use of the iterative function. It reminds me of a humorous t shirt i have seen computer programmers wear ” to understand recursion, one must first understand recursion.”. Recursive holographic fractal reality lends itself to the gnostic mythos or vice versa, well elucidated.

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