Texts 12 and 13
Reading Plan for
the Nag Hammadi Codices
Ritual and Revelation
Having learned that the Apocryphon of James is not a Gnostic text, and the Gospel of Thomas the Contender is more Buddhist than Gnostic, the reader who is following this plan may begin to wonder when we are going to get back into the genuine Gnostic material! Remember text 1, Allogenes, giving us a glimpse of the sublime revelations of the illumined master in the Mystery Cell/ How about text 5, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, with its scathing indictment of redemptive religion? Having had a strong dose of radical Gnostic teachings early in the reading plan, it is difficult to plow through horrifically edited and mangled texts and come up with nothing more than drivel or dogma. Or, at best, we find a clear example of ascetic doctrine germane to Mahayana Buddhism, but alien to the Gnostic sense of life.
But all that is about to change. With text 12 of the reading plan, we encounter one of the most potent and mystically profound of Gnostic texts.
Unlike some portions of the Nag Hammadi material, which are challenging but not particularly rewarding, the Gospel of Philip delivers magnificently for the effort it demands. This text is long, running from page 141 to 160 in the NHLE. A compilation of unrelated chunks of text jammed together chockablock, it can be frustrating, but it contains a treasure trove of genuine Gnostic material, some of it elaborated, some of it merely hinted.
Because it is a compilation rather than a composition, there is no point in reading Gos Phil sequentially: there is no sequence to follow. Instead, I propose to read it thematically. Six main themes occur, but they are not treated in continuity. We find paragraphs and even isolated sentences on each theme scattered at random through the entire document.
P 53-54 states that "names given to things in the world are deceptive, for they divert our thoughts from what is correct to what is incorrect." This theme is treated in the perspective of the Gnostic view of the Archons, mental parasites whose activity is indicated by the Greek terms plane, "going astray," and apaton, "deception," and by the Coptic sorem, "error." The Greek word antimimon, "imitation," and the Coptic hal, "simulation," also play a key role in the Gnostic theory of error. Although the Coptic language is weak in explicit concepts for noetic and psychological analysis, and although the Greek-Coptic overlay is a dubious palimpsest at best, there is still plenty of clear exposition on error and its relations to the extrahuman factor of the Archons.
Gnostics taught that the affect of the Archons can be detected in distortions of language, semantic glitches. The primary form of distortion is misattribution: the assigning of wrong meanings to words. P53 explicitly warns that the terms used in Judeo-Christian theology are misleading and do not really say what they seem to say. Mental syntax — the way we frame and develop ideas — becomes distorted when words are misattributed. For instance, if we define resurrection as physical revival of the body after death, we can only think about it in certain terms, in literal terms, and we cannot develop these ideas about it in such a way that they can be proven or disproven.
Initial misattribution of any term sets up a conceptual process that can only go astray (plane). This does not happen due to the Archons, but the Archons can intercede in the process and exaggerate our mental errors beyond correction. The problem is not that we have a wrong idea about resurrection (or anything else, for that matter), the problem is that we do not detect and correct the errors in our mental syntax because the initial misattribution (wrong naming) keeps our minds running in a rut. A blind, routinary manner of thinking typifies the human mind given over to Archontic deviation.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the process by which the mind mistakes itself and deviates from its true, enlightened nature is called ´khrul pa, "going astray," the exact equivalent to plane. P 53 observes that "unless we have come to know what is correct," — i.e., the enlightened nature of mind in Buddhist terms, or nous, the divine potential of mind in Gnostic terms — we cannot perceive what is incorrect. We must know how we are deviated in order to claim the full potential of enlightenment.
The Gospel of Philip says that those who entertain misattributed ideas about "God" and "light" and "the church" without the option of thinking otherwise — that is, without an alternative terminology that generates a different syntax — will never be able to correct their misconceptions. Those who have seen only plastic cannot know how it differs from pearl.
"Names that are heard in the world (i.e., routinely used) have the tendency to deceive." Here the text uses the key term, apaton. "If these terms were in the eternal realm (aion), they would at no time be used as words in this world." In other words, if the names we assign to things were seen in the perspective of heightened awareness, according to the timeless and eternal value of things, we would see that those terms are not appropriate and ought not to be fixed in our minds ("set among worldly things"), as they commonly are. Then we would realize that all definitions end (reach a strict limit) when we view things in heightened perception. This is a lesson on semantics and the limits of conceptual language.
P 54 continues this theme, but adds another point: "Truth brought names into existence... because it is not possible to learn truth without these names." Now we are told, even though definitions are surpassed in the absolute sense (in aionic, eternal knowing), they are necessary in the relative sense, otherwise we would not be able to learn what is true, here and now. P 67 reiterates this point: "Truth did not come into this world naked, but it came in types and images. The world will not receive truth in any other way." (Passages 54 and 67 ought to be sequential, but the editor of Gos Phil totally disregards continuity.) This again is a subtle insight on semantics, very close to the Buddhist teaching on absolute and conventional truth. One might compare these passages on misattribution with the Vimalakirti Sutra for remarkable parallels on how the act of naming affects our perception of both mundane and ultimate reality.
Now comes a passage loaded with vivid bursts. It merits citing in full:
Here the problem of misattribution is directly associated with the Archons, the alien species that intrudes upon humanity. It is not just Archons who apply this devious technique, of course, but humans who are Archontically deviated, i.e., addicted to misattribution. Consider the use of the word "liberation" in the American aggression against Iraq. This is a clear example of taking a term that is good and attaching it to something that is not good, to disguise the true nature of an action. The same applies to the word "security" in current political cant, or to the term "the holy spirit" in Christian theology, as this text warns us (53.30). By accepting these misattributions, we play into the game of the Archons. We err, and we must err so that we can learn, so that is not fundamentally the problem here. But the Archons can affect us through our errors when the errors are denied and mindlessly allowed to play out beyond the point of correction. In life, it is sometimes simply too late to correct certain ingrained misconceptions.
In their acute awareness of mental syntax, Gnostics seem to have anticipated the Orwellian notion of doublespeak, the tactic of intentionally misattributing words so that they mean the opposite of what they say. Indeed, the above passage gives a cogent definition of doublespeak. But then, in a startling turn of phrase, the teaching says that we are fortunate to be deceived by the Archons in this manner: the risk of deception is a test to see if we are able to discern truth and dispel misattributions of truth. By facing the test of the Archons, we realize our true potential, the capacity to know as the gods know. (Which is not to say that we become gods.)
Gnostic teachings are keen to alert us to this test, especially in the context of religious belief and ideology. Let's recall the stunning passage in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, warning that it is enslavement to "die with Christ." "It is a shame to be enslaved by the idea of salvation when our minds are self-liberating." In fact, the theological term salvation is a misattribution: enslavement is meant, but it is called salvation. In Great Seth the Gnostic teacher explicitly exposes this misattribution or reversal of semantic value, pointing out that those who accept the doctrine of divine atonement actually achieve the opposite of what they believe: "For my death, which they think happened to me, actually happened to them in their error and blindness" (55.30).
Syntactical distortion is comparable to the game of Password in which an initial word, "humble" ends up being "trouble." In the game the players are eventually told what the the initial word was, but in real life we often cannot detect the original term that has been misattributed. There is so much misattribution attached to "God," for instance, that it is almost impossible to formulate a single, clear, viable idea of God.
There is more on misattribution elsewhere in Gos Phil.
Passage 56 presents an obscure discussion of the names "Jesus," "Christ," and "the
Nazarene." (This discussion is restated, somewhat differently,
in P 62 and 63.20). As usual, the first two terms are indicated
by code in Coptic. The assertion that "Jesus is not particular
to any language" is striking, because it hints at the apparent
ease with which the name Jesus is adopted throughout the world.
Is this due to a universal spiritual perception of the savior-figure,
Jesus? Gnostics would say no. Rather, it is due to the fact that something is
always called by that name, even when the people using the name
do not know what that something is. The universality of that
name indicates that people do not know what they are talking
about. They think they are addressing Jesus, but "Jesus
is a hidden name." This line alludes to the Gnostic teaching
on the Mesotes, the inner guide, also called "the living
Jesus." Most people today use the name Jesus for the allegedly
historical figure in the New Testament. To Gnostics it meant
something else entirely.
The passages on misattribution are highlighted by a burst that
hangs in the mind like a signal flare: "Truth, which existed
from the beginning of the world, is sown everywhere. And many
see it being sown, but few are they who see it being reaped" (55.20).
Among the misattributed terms commonly found in Judeo-Christian ideology is "resurrection." Gos Phil contains a number of remarkable passages (again, non-sequential) on this subject. This text is implicitly anti-Jewish and anti-Christian in the way it demolishes and reverses the literal conception of resurrection held in those religions. It must be noted that mainstream Judaism does not assert bodily resurrection, but the secret Zaddikim ideology of the Dead Sea cult did. It was against Zaddikim redemptive doctrines ("the Palestinian redeemer compex") that Gnostics protested most vehemently. Hence Gnostics, the "children of Seth," were regarded by the Dead Sea sectarians as their arch-enemies.
This theme peeks out in P 52 which states the paradox that only someone who has truly lived can die — but this notion is not developed clearly or thoroughly. P 53 seems to state the orthodox Christian theology of redemption, but with a twist. It asserts that "Christ laid down his life," but not by the one-time event of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Rather, the deed was done"before the foundation of the world." This language alludes to the Christos intercession described in the Sophia Mythos. Saint Paul uses this language, leading Elaine Pagels to assume that he had Gnostic knowledge. But the mere use of terms does not guarantee knowledge of what they mean. In Passage 55, the intercession is described in symbolic language: "Before the Aeon Christos came there was no nourishment for humanity... so humans fed like animals.. but when Christos came, the perfect man, he brought food that humanity might be nourished in the manner appropriate to it."
"The perfect man" is PITELIOS ROME in Coptic. I make it "the ultimate human," or "ultrahuman," a term used in deep ecology. It could also be rendered as "the potential human," to borrow a phrase from Jean Houston. In the Gnostic creation myth, the Aeon Christos is a divine being who focalizes the potential of humanity, Anthropos, the human singularity. The Anthropos is defined by its ultimate potential, the highest expression of singularity it can achieve: PITELIOS ROME. Considered dynamically, our potential is a set of instincts that define us as human, distinct from other animals with other sets of instincts. In the myth of the Fallen Sophia, the Aeon Christos intervenes early in the evolution of the biosphere because Sophia herself, when she is metamorphosed into Gaia, is unable to bring order to her progeny, including humanity. Christ regulates the operations of human instinct, and thus sets Sophia's biological experiment on track so that humanity may evolve "in the manner appropriate to it." This is the Christos intercession indicated in P 55.
The deed of Christos is not resurrection but intercession: raising humanity into the proper frame of its instincts. This is the Gnostic correction of the concept of resurrection. Obviously, we cannot follow the correction without knowing the mythological background.
Elsewhere, Gos Phil treats resurrection in a different vein. P 56 presents an striking remark: "Some are afraid that (when they are resurrected) they will arise naked, without clothing. Because of this they do not wish to rise in the flesh, and they do not know that it is those who wear the flesh who are not naked" (my emphasis). The allusion to "rising in the flesh" has a sexual ring. This enigmatic passage links the theme of resurrection to another main theme of Gos Phil, the rites of sexual mysticism. The misattribution concerning resurrection has to do with presenting the reappearance in a new body as a promise, whereas the true wonder is how we are resurrected in this body, here and now. "Those who wear the flesh are not naked" because they understand that the flesh itself, this body in which we live, is a divine instrument, a sacred garment. Such is the Mystery teaching on resurrection to be read between the lines here and there in this strange, amazing document.
Perhaps the most remarkable statement about resurrection occurs in 73.5 — again, totally out of sequence. "Those who say they will die first and then rise are in error." This is a clear refutation of the literal and orthodox notion of resurrection. The sentence uses a form of the Greek plane: planasthe, "to be in error, led astray." After pointing to what is wrongly conceived — i.e., exposing the misattribution of resurrection — the text presents an alternative: "If they do not first receive the resurrection while they live, when they die they will receive nothing"(emphasis added). This is quite a burst. What Gnostics taught about resurrection came out of the experience of regeneration, palingenesis, in the Mysteries. Here and elsewhere, the Gospel of Philip asserts that we have a capacity for perpetual regeneration that must be discovered while we live, if we are to experience any kind of continued existence in the afterlife.
"It is necessary to rise in the flesh, since everything exists in it" (57.15). This is not the assertion of people who hated the physical body, as Gnostics are often accused of doing. P 57 invokes the sacrament of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus, but again, it corrects the attendent misattributions. However, the argument bogs down in obscure, waffling terms. There is a sense that the subject is tricky, or too delicate to handle. We detect reluctance to get to the essence of the matter, and the language straggles away... Why? Probably because the nature of the "mass" understood in Gnostic terms was taboo, a subject proper to Mystery experience. This aspect of the theme of resurrection is, however, resumed where the Gospel of Philip takes up two related themes, the Divine Light and mystical sexuality.
P 57.15 introduces the intriguing theme of "the light in the flesh," more explicitly stated in the following P 58: "You who have joined the perfect light, unite the angels with us also, as being the images" (58.10). The translation is barely intelligible. "The perfect light" is MPITELEIOS PIOYOEIN, once again using the root telos. If I protest the scholarly convention of translating teleios as "perfect," it is because I have found this translation consistently misleading. The "perfect light" is the "initiatory light," the medium of instruction in the Mysteries. Elsewhere I have suggested calling it Organic Light to distinguish it from the invisible light of the atmosphere.
There are two passing allusions to the Organic Light, and then P 67 opens with a more extensive and explicit description:
This is a rare and remarkable disclosure of a Mystery experience, known only to those who are initiated into the Greater Mysteries. In the ancient idiom, the term "fire" (Coptic KOHT) was used for the light of the atmosphere, i.e, sunlight which generates heat and can ignite fire. This kind of light arises when solar radiation penetrates the atmospheric envelop. As Wilhelm Reich pointed out, atmospheric light is a local phenomenon: it is not merely solar radiation released in the atmosphere, but a specific chemical transformation of the solar rays that only occurs locally, within the atmospheric sheath, subject to the conditions of the biosphere. Fire or solar fire is the basis of atmospheric light, but there is also another kind of light, here called the chrism, the anointing medium. The text says that this other light is white, bright and beautiful, and it bestows beauty. Organic Light is white and visible, i.e., it can be seen, in contrast to atmospheric or natural light which is invisible, and cannot be seen, although it renders things visible.
P 69.10 continues the disclosure of the Light seen in the Mysteries. It describes the secret rite of baptism "in the light and the water," and reiterates that "the light is the chrism." This assertion is meaningless unless we know what kind of light is meant. Scholars assume the language is merely metaphorical, but they are quite wrong about that. Initiation involves a real and tangible encounter with Organic Light. "The water" is not H-two-O but a predictible effect that accompanies Organic Light: the sense of being drenched or immersed in a life-giving medium. The language here is neither symbolic nor metaphorical but alludes to real, sensory experiences known in an altered state of non-ordinary perception, and consistently reproduced by the initiatory rite. Everyone who entered the Greater Mysteries saw the Organic Light, and some participants underwent that sublime experience over and over again, many times.
P 70.5 states that initiates who are clothed or ensheathed in the Mystery Light are not detected by "the powers," and so the powers "cannot detain them." This is a direct allusion to the intrusion of the Archons, the predatory alien species of such concern to Gnostics. "One will clothe himself in this light sacramentally in the union." This awkward phrase uses special language, PIMYSTERION HEM PIHOTER, "the Mystery of the Uniting," but this is slurred by the translation. It should say, "Whoever will be clothed in this light abides (or must abide) in the Mystery of the Uniting." Gos Phil here interfuses the theme of the Divine Light with two other themes: mystical sexuality, and the reconciliation of gender, or gender polarity, to be discussed ahead. The most important point to be taken from this remarkable passage is the assertion that the Mystery Light surrounds and protects the initiated from alien intrusion.
Picking up the blood-flesh-water-light-baptism motif, P 75.20 states that the sacramental drink of the Gnostics "is full of the holy spirit, and belongs to the initiated ones." The Greek word for spirit, pneuma, is coded PNA with a line across the top. Then comes a burst: "The living water is the body." Quite a sensible statement, for we know that the human body consists of 75% water. The "living water," PIMOOY ETONEH in Coptic, recalls the secret term "the living Jesus" which also uses the word ETONEH. "It is necessary that we put on the living man, MPIROME ETONEH." This sentence uses the Coptic word for human, ROME (romee, or romay — no one really knows how Coptic was pronounced). Read: "To realize that the living water is the body, is to live in the human sense." Baptism in water means nothing, it is an empty ritual. We are living in water. This is the biological reality of the human condition. The brain of a living person is like sopping kleenex. Only the extracted brain appears to be solid and dense, like a heavy sponge.
A further passage, 77.5 uses ROME and OUAAB, "holy." Scholars translate this as "holy man, priest," but this is misleading. It would be better rendered as "the human who is consecrated, who senses the Sacred." Thus:
Scholars tell us that the Gospel of Philip demonstrates more about Gnostic sacramentalism than any other NHC text. Surely this passage alone is enough to refute the intentional misattribution, directed by the Church Fathers against Gnostics, accusing them of hating the body and rejecting the material world. On the contrary, Gnostics practiced a sacramental science of the senses, as I have called it. The method of the Mysteries was psychosomatic illumination.
In Gos Phil all allusions to the "perfect man," PITELEIOS ROME, occur in close association with the Light motif. Gnostics believed that in witnessing the Organic Light, they not only became as the Light is, but they knew through encountering that Light the true nature of humanity and the end of personality. With this experience comes immunity against the error of the Archons.
It is surely worth noting that the Gospel of Philip concludes
with a powerful assertion about the Divine Light:
The sacramentalism of Gos Phil is overtly sexual, but it is also distinctly mystical. "Spiritual love is all fragrance and wine" (77.30).
Sacramental sex ("Tantric sex") was known to have been practiced by certain Gnostic groups such as the "snake-worshipping" Ophites or Naasenes, who were spied upon by the Christian convert, Epiphanius. "Snake worship" refers to yogic practice with Kundalini, the Serpent Power. Kundalini can be activated by difficult yogic exercises, combining asana and meditation, but also, more powerfully and spontaneously, by sexual rapture. Sexual mysticism is the method of allowing the intensities of sexual foreplay and intercourse to build to mystical levels of heightened perception. The first allusion to sacramental sex in Gos Phil comes in P 59.5 which describes the "Tantric kiss" ceremonially used as a greeting by initiates in the Mysteries. Initiates apparently hugged and kissed socially, as Americans were known to do late in the 20th century. Gnostics associated the mouth kiss with nourishment and sharing the gift of life:
Mouth-kissing was thus both a social ceremony and a spiritual ritual among Gnostics. The most famous — some would say, infamous — incident of this greeting occurs in Gos Phil 63.30 - 64.10, where the Gnostic master (not named as Jesus here — the text is damaged) kisses his companion, Mary Magdalene, on the mouth in the presence of the "disciples" (matheses: read "students"). With its usual jumpy editing, Gos Phil juxtaposes a line about the goddess Sophia with the name of Mary Magdalene, assuming some kind of parallel but with no editorial attempt to explain it: "As for Wisdom (Sophia), she is called 'the barren' even though she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of... Mary Magdalene..." (63.30). Magdalene was regarded by Gnostics as the good-enough human reflection of Sophia, but not the only such human reflection, and not a direct incarnation of the Goddess, either.
After the kissing cameo, we have to go to the end of P 63 for the first explicit mention of sacramental sexuality: "Great is the mystery of marriage (gamos)." This could as well read: "Great are the mysteries of mating," for the plural mysterios is used, rather than the singular mysterion. The mysteries of mating involve all gender blends, but Gos Phil concentrates on male-female gender polarity, consistent with the theme of gender balance, or reconciliation. P 63.30 - 64 warns of misattribution concerning this crucial issue: "Now the existence of the cosmos and the existence of mating are related. Reflect on this relationship, for it possesses power. But the image of mating is contaminated (consists of a defilement)." The following passage (from the bottom of page 148 to one third of the way through p 149 in the NHLE) may be interpolated, because it contains blatant anti-sexual judgements incompatible with the overall tone of this text. The wanton women and lecherous men condemned here are likely to have been participants in the Mysteries whose physical allure and sexual confidence aroused envy and revulsion among body-hating Christians. In Epiphanius' secret report on the Naasenes, he portrayed them as shameless seducers who indulge in sexual orgies.
From passage 65 Gos Phil is largely unintelligible
until 67.5 where we once again stumble upon the chrism of Organic
Light. The text now introduces a unique term: nymphion,
translated "bridal chamber." At this point the themes
of Divine Light and sexual mysticism merge, for nymphion is
the name in Mystery language for the aura or cell of Divine Light
that encases the partners in sacramental intercourse. With the
arousal of Kundalini in the sexual embrace, the partners become
aware of an aura around them, like a luminous opaque veil. Shifted
into a state of heightened awareness, they perceive their own
bodies as partially composed of light. In fact, they do not see
their normal, solid physical bodies at all, rather they see an
image of themselves:
There is rebirth and an image (ikon) of rebirth. Which one? Resurrection (anastasis). The image must rise again through the image. The bridal chamber and the image must enter through the image into the truth: this is the resurrection.
This puzzling passage refers to an ineffable experience that
might be compared to perceiving your own after-image, and seeing
it come alive. The power of resurrection in mystical sexuality
produces a re-imaging of the body, and generates definite effects
at the cellular level. "The body-image must rise again through
the bodiless image." The afterimage glimpsed in an altered
state of high sexual delirium fuses new life into the physical
Closely related to mystical sexuality and anointing with the
Divine Light is the theme of gender balance. Some scholars consider
this to be the main message running through Gos Phil.
It crops up in many places and is extensively developed in two
This passage is problematic, due to lacunae and obscure allusions.
(Gnostic scholars use [ ] around missing words that are sometimes
restored.) The "barrenness" of Sophia is oddly
connected with salt. Gnostics refused to procreate children
of their own because they felt what they could best offer to
the earth was not biological offspring but "salt" — an
ingredient that enhances flavor and preserves nourishment. Metaphorically,
salt is the unique savor of human intelligence. Gnostics set
a high standard for themselves. To them no act or offering was
acceptable if not seasoned with genuine human sapience,
the signature of our species.
In this mangled passage, the lacunae may suggest that Sophia is "[pregnant] of salt," and "wherever they, [the initiates,] will [procreate] in their own way, the holy spirit [the spirit of creativity, will be manifested, and] her children will be many."
Metahistory.org develops the Sophia
Mythos of the Mysteries in the context of deep ecology
and Gaia theory. Evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, co-author
of the Gaia hypothesis, has said that, strictly speaking, Gaia
may not be defined as an organism because she does not
reproduce. "Sophia is barren." But if she does
not produce biological progeny, may she not produce another
kind of progeny? Or, to rephrase the question, Might Gaia not
reproduce in a non-biological manner? In the phylogenetic continuity
of the human species, the intelligence of the living planet
attains continuity through an awareness that outlives the lives
of the individual creatures who carry it, yet it must be carried
by individuals. There is a trans-biological process operating
Passage 70 states that "Christos came to repair the separation" of
male and female, and asserts that the rite of reuniting occurs
in the nymphion, the bridal chamber. 71.15 makes the
striking statement that "Adam came into being from two virgins,
from the spirit (Greek pneuma) and from the virgin earth
(Coptic haz, derived from the Greek gea, gaia).
Christ, therefore, was born from a virgin to rectify the fall
which occurred at the beginning." Here is a good example
of a passage that seems indisputably to affirm orthodox Christian
doctrines, the Fall and the Virgin Birth, doctrines that were
vigorously refuted by Gnostics in other places in the NHC. However,
Gnostics understood by the fall the plunge of Sophia the event
that precipitated the division of the sexes, and they understood
by birth from a virgin (Greek parthenos) the generation
of the human race (Adamas) from the original or autochthonous
women who inhabited the earth, independent of the male gender.
This story, taught in the Mysteries, backgrounds all genuine
Gnostic teaching on the issue of the "gender rift," as
I propose to call it.
Passage 76 explicitly affirms the eternal nature of sacred union. It uses the intriguing expression, "the heart of flesh," but leaves us wondering what it can mean. There is more on intercourse in P 78, contrasting human and animal procreation, and passages 81-82 continue on this theme, but due to the jumpy and incoherent presentation of the materials, it is exhausting to try to make sense of them. A good exercise would be to extract all the passages relating to this theme, put them in a single document, and then meditate on it.
Error and Freedom
Last but not least, the theme of error, closely related to misattribution, plays through this text, wending and weaving through a number of passages. At one point an extraordinary burst flares out: "The world came about through a mistake" (75.1-5). This is one of the most outrageous statements in the entire Gnostic corpus. As explained in Coco de Mer, Part One, "High Strangeness," this does not mean that the world is flawed, or that material existence is evil, or that we are all trapped in an illusion. It means specifically that the world order we inhabit, the planetary system, is an anomaly resulting from the unilateral action of the Goddess Sophia. The mistake is not Sophia's plunge, but the unforseen impact it had on elementary matter, the chaos of quantum fields. Like so many other allusions in Gos Phil, this line makes no sense without the background of Gnostic mythology. Yet it stands totally isolated, a gem embedded in rubble.
There is also a second way to interpret this line, according to its noetic sense, rather than its cosmological sense. In the noetic sense, "The world appears other than it is, because our perception of it is mistaken." The mistake resides in how we perceive, how we behold what is before us. Other passages in Gos Phil develop the issue of perceptual error, plane, by contrast to mental error, apaton.We have seen how this issue is treated in the context of misattribution, the first theme to be considered. Other passages relevant to the problem of mental conditioning, and freedom from error through enlightenment, provide a number of memorable bursts:
This commentary is the longest so far in the plan, yet a great deal in this text has not been considered. In 14 pages of commentary for 19 pages of text, I have still overlooked a number of key passages that would yield treasure if they were explored in detail. The sheer richness of Gos Phil is exhausting, but well worth the effort. This text merits selective rereading, but the tempo of the plan requires that we move on. Not without noting a couple of stunning bursts, however:
After the exhausting exercise of sorting through the Gospel of Philip to tease out the prevailing themes, the Reality of the Archons presents us with a more or less straightforward discourse on Gnostic creation myth. This is the first text on cosmology to be encountered so far in the reading plan. There are only five such texts in the entire corpus, Hyp Arch being the briefest, most accessible of the five. Hence it is a good place to delve into the cosmological material. It directly follows Gos Phil in Codex II, and it is followed by On the Origin of the World, another cosmological treatise — a rare instance in the NHC where comparable texts are bound together.Introducing the translation by Bentley Layton, Roger A. Ballard writes:
This is typical of the assumptions scholars allow themselves when they regard Gnostic materials as out-takes of early Christian writings. It is true that the opening paragraph uses language found in the Pauline letters, Collosians and Ephesians, but who is to say that Paul himself did not originally derive that language from Gnostic circles? In any case, the language was in circulation, and the manner of citing Paul, the "great apostle," says more about the audience addressed than about the teaching addressed to them. "I have sent you this because you inquire about the reality of the authorities (Greek exousia)" could suggest that the Gnostic master has been asked to clarify or correct what Paul is believed to have said.
Hyp Arch begins in medias res. It jumps immediately to a decisive event in the Gnostic creation myth: the imposter god, who is blind, declares that he is the only god in the universe, but he is refuted by a divine voice that tells him he is mistaken. Here the text offers a burst: "His thoughts became blind" (87.5). That humans can think in a blind manner, ignorant of the nature of their thoughts, and oblivious to the self-obscuring effect of the thought process, is a standard teaching in Buddhism and noetic sciences, but Gnostics added to it a bizarre twist, associating it with an arrogant act of cosmic egotism. They taught that processes in the human psyche are enmeshed with events in the cosmos at large ("cosmo-noetic parallelism"). In our minds we are implicated in the folly and arrogance of the chief ruler.
For an extraordinary parallel to the egotism of the imposter god in Gnostic myth, see The Madness of the Ego.
In Hyp Arch, the authorities or rulers are initially called Exousia, the term found in the writings attributed to Paul, but the name Archontoi occurs later in the text. The chief of the Exousia is not called by his usual name, Yaldabaoth, as occurs elsewhere in the NHC. In Mystery teachings on the "planetary spheres" the Exousia are connected with jupiter and the force of envy (Greek phthonos).
Hyp Arch does not explain, as do other cosmological treatises, how the chief ruler was produced from "the abyss (Coptic NOUN)," here called "his mother (Coptic MAAY)." The word NOUN indicates that the chief authority and his legion arise from the realm of elementary matter, chaos, the abyss. This is what we call quantum fields, the (presumed) inorganic matrix of organic life.
Sophia — here called Pistis Sophia, "Confident Wisdom" — established a heavenly world for the authorities "in conformity with their power," forming that world "after the pattern (typos) of the worlds that are above, for by starting from the invisible world the visible world was invented" (87.10). The "worlds above" are in the Pleroma, source of all "archetypal" patterns of manifestation. The Archons cannot invent anything. Everything has to be done by Sophia, an Aeon from the Pleroma. Other texts say that the chief ruler does create his own heaven world, the planetary system, by imitating the patterns of the Pleroma, but if he is blind, how can he see those divine forms? This passage assumes that Sophia tricks the imposter god Yaldabaoth into thinking that he is doing what she, the genuine Divinity, does for him.
Now a sublime event: the figure of "incorruptibility" is reflected in the realm of chaos where the Exousia emerge. In the compound formations of Coptic, "incorruptibility" is constructed from TAKO, "to corrupt, perish," with the prefixes AT-, "not," and MNT-, which functions like the English suffixe -tion: hence, MNTATTEKO, "ability-not-to corrupt." (The A in TAKO changes to an E, one of the many baffling orthographic irregularities in Coptic.) It is also called "imperishability." This (to us) abstraction is presented as a living, witnessing awareness, even though it is not given a divine or angelic name, such as Elelath. Strangely, this abstract presence, presumed to be in the Pleroma, produces an image in elementary matter ( MOOY, "waters"), and the Exousia desire it, but are unable to attain it. We are told they can desire it because they have soul, but not spirit. This is the closest the NHC comes to asserting that the Archons have soul, an inner life of some kind. They can long for and pine for something, but they then fall into envy for what they cannot have.
Apparently the image of Imperishability resembles the human form, which the rulers, now called Archontoi, attempt to copy. The Archons "laid plans" and said, "Come, let us create a human (ROME) that will be from the soil of the earth (KAZ, variation of Greek ge, gaia)." It is unclear if they model a man, male, or the human form (perhaps androgyne?), because the Coptic ROME is used interchangeably for man and human. 87.30 says that they modelled the human form after the "image of God," or "divine apparition." Immediately we learn that the image is female, because the Archons now determine "to see its male counterpart." They first mold a female form or matrix and then produce from it a male form which they infuse with their breath, but the male form is unable to stand upright. This incident recalls indigenous creation myths that describe a botched attempt to produce the human form — for instance, in the Popol Vuh. The Archons blow furiously but are unable to animate their pseudo-human creation, for "they did not know the identity of its power" (88.10).
Now comes a remarkable passage. The spirit of the Pleroma, observing that "the soul-endowed (psychikos) human form" is unable to attain its true stature, sends a part of itself from the "Adamantine Land" into the struggling creature. And "man became a living soul," PSYCHE ETONE. The term ETONE also appears in the Mystery name, "the living Jesus," as we have noted. By "living" Gnostics meant something like "everlasting," rather than merely "alive." (This recalls the distinction between zoe, the immortal life force, and bios, the force of biological life-forms, eludicated by mythologist Karl Kerenyi in Dionysos.) Adamantine Land or Adamantine Earth is a striking term that recalls Buddhist teachings on the Adamantine or Diamond (Vajra) Awareness. Such awareness resides in the Pleroma, yet because Sophia is united with the Earth, the divine presence of the Pleroma pervades the Earth. With support from the Aeon Sophia, Adamas ("earth-creature") now rises upright and demonstrates spiritual power by naming the animals. The male and female types of humanity (ROME) live in an Edenic world, a natural paradise, the biosphere.
Sophia indwells the entire biosphere, but She is also present in it through the specific medium of the Adamantine or living white radiance, the Organic Light. The mythology of Hyp Arch thus explains the basis of the central experience of initiation in the Mysteries: instruction by the Light.
In the Gnostic version of Genesis, the rulers (Archons) forbid the primal parents to eat from the tree that would allow them to discern good and evil, and they impose the threat of death. The story carries an extraordinary spin, for we are now told that the Archons are allowed to make this interdiction so that the primal parents will disobey, eat the forbidden fruit, and consequently acquire powers of heightened perception. Enlightenment comes from eating the forbidden fruit, so that "Adamas might not regard them (the Archons) as would a creature limited to dense, materialistic perception" (89.5). When the Archons realize that the tabooed knowledge gives Adam power to detect them for what they truly are, they contrive to plunge him into a stupor, blocking his higher perception. To do so, they perform a grotesque operation: they open his side and "build up his side with some flesh in place of her (Eve)," so that he is reduced from being a spirit-creature (pneumatikos) to the more modest status of soul-creature (psychikos). Clearly, Adam is facing some bad moves from the Archons.
Note that the Gnostic Eden scenario is not merely a reversal of the Biblical scenario, presenting a false creator god who works against humanity. In the Gnostic version, Adam and Eve do not sin in human terms. They do not merely disobey the commandments of the creator god, but they access powers of cognition that expose the creator god. In short, they exhibit spirital superiority over the Archons, and it is for this that they are "punished" by the Archons intent to plunge them into a stupor. The spell put on Adam does not diminish his ordinary awareness, it blocks his capacity for heightened awareness. If this interpretation is correct, it shows that Gnostics were aware that the Archontic powers, and their human representatives, harbour the intention to derpive humanity of the experience of heightened awareness, that is, cognitive ecstasy typical of shamanic practice with entheogenic plants. In fact, the program of patriarchy, right down to our day, has always opposed experimental contact and communion with Sacred Nature in altered states.
The original forbidden fruit may well have been an entheogenic plant such as the sacred mushroom, amanita muscaria.
All this proceeds in Eden, the terrestrial paraside on Earth, but rather differently than the story goes in the Old Testament! And there is more Gnostic rewriting of the Judeo-Christian creation myth. Eve is not affected by the deep sleep imposed on Adam. She calls him out of his stupor. Seeing her, he recognizes that she is "the mother of the living," TIMAAY NNETONE, as well as the "physician" who protects life. The Archons are deeply upset because Eve has defeated their plan to stupefy Adam, so they turn their attention to her. Here The Reality of the Archons presents a version of the alien interbreeding myth from the Sumerian cunieform tablets:
And the Archons became attracted to Eve, the primal woman. They said to one another, "Come, let us sow our seed in her," and they pursued her. And she laughed at them for their witlessness, and their blindness; and within reach of their clutches, she turned into a tree, and left before them a shadowy reflection of herself.
Both themes, the defilement of woman and the forbidding of entheogenic rites, are central to the dominator agenda of patriarchy. Kenneth Rexroth, who traced the origins of Gnosticism back to "the Neolithic or even earlier," stated that devotion to the "redeemer goddess" in the Mysteries accounts for the strong and distinctive "anti-patriarchal emphasis of most Gnostic texts" ("A Primer of Gnosticism," in G.R.S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, p. xiii). And Gnostic scholar John D. Turner notes, "Gnostics realized the true source of the constriction of patriarchal structures to lie in the demiurge," the false creator god ("Response to 'Sophia and Christ' in the Apocryphon of John by Karen L. King," pp. 177-186, in Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, ed. Karen King). This is certainly evident in the mythological revisions of The Reality of the Archons.
It would be consistent with the design of the Archons to make woman inferior to man, whom they have duped and stupefied. Gnostics taught that the pseudo-gods do indeed attempt this, but fail because woman becomes "the instructor" of man. The instructor assumes the form of a snake. The text plays on an Aramaic pun between snake and instructor. The "female instructing principle" is Kundalini, the Serpent Power. This power is an internal faculty of blissful innate knowing, or cognitive ecstasy. The rulers acted from jealousy when they forbade access to the tree of knowledge, precisely because the fruit of the tree releases the Serpent Power. The myth (90.10) suggests that originally this power belonged to snakes, or was carried by reptiles, but was taken from them and transferred to humanity.
The "carnal woman," TISHIME NSARKIKE, also called the sarkic Eve, is biologically bound woman, contrasted to the spiritual or "pneumatic" woman who is the instructor of the human race. In Gnostic myth, Eve, the Spiritual or Pneumatic Woman, is not the tempter of Adam but his liberator. She is distinguished from the carnal woman, a creature bound to her biological nature rather than master of it:
(Anne McGuire, "Virginity and Subversion: Norea Against the Powers in The Hypostasis of the Archons," pp. 239-258, in Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, ed. Karen King)
Hyp Arch ascribes the expulsion from Eden to the Archons, whose chief is Yaldabaoth, identified with Jehovah. This is consistent with Old Testament narrative, but in the OT Yahweh-Jehovah is regarded as the stern creator god who justly punishes humanity for disobedience, while here the creator god is a demented alien who retaliates against the first parents for exercising their gnostic powers of higher perception. Jehovah's attitude is not benign, and can in no way be construed as a chastisement that leads to human betterment. "The Rulers threw humanity into great distraction, and into a life of toil, so that humans might be occupied by mundane affairs, and not have the opportunity to be devoted to the spiritual life" (91.5-10).
The narrative continues with a straightfoward telling of the Cain and Abel story, then it adds a uniquely Gnostic element. Seth and Norea are born of the primal parents. Seth is the head of the lineage of Revealers. Norea is the type of spiritual woman who carries the undefiled power of Eve: "The primal mother became pregnant and she bore Norea. And she said, 'The spirit has beggoten on me a virgin (Gk parthenos) as an helpmate (Coptic NEBOETHEIA) for many generations of humanity" (91.30 - 92.4). Understood in its original, Pagan sense, a"virgin" is not a woman who has no sexual experience, but a woman who has not borne children due to sexual intercourse, and thus she retains an untapped, virginal power.
Seeking revenge, the Archons conspire to bring on the Flood and destroy the human race, but the "ruler of the forces," PIARCHON DE NNDYNAMIS, warns Noah. In Mystery code, the Dynamis are the planetary spirits of mars. Being planetary (extraterrestrial) entities, they would be classed among the Archons, but here, curiously, they are seemingly allies to humanity. Norea, the wife of Noah in the traditional narrative, recognizes that the Dynamis are alien powers, "rulers of the darkness," and she reminds them that they were unable to defile Eve, although they were able to stupefy her male counterpart, Adam. She exposes them and asserts her connection with the higher powers of the Pleroma.
The Repenting Sun
This confrontation now turns violent. The Archons, here called the "lords of unrighteousness," try to attack Norea, the female instructing principle. In response to Norea´s plight, the great angel Elelath, who is called sagacity (Coptic MNTSABE), descends to aid and instruct her. The great angel announces: "I have been sent to speak with you and save you from being captured by the lawless ones. And I shall teach you about your origins" (93.10).
At passage 93 Hyp Arch shifts into something like a revelation discourse. Almost certainly, a second and independent text has been spliced to the cosmological dissertation we have been following so far. This other text continues to the end of the document, Passage 97. The great angel makes an assertion common to Gnostic teachings in the NHC: humanity is superior to the authorities, the Archons:
The myth continues, told in staccato phrases: the arrogant creature declares itself to be the only god in the cosmos, but it is reproached by a voice calling it "Samael, the god of the blind." This is a reference to the blind Patriarch Samuel of the Old Testament. It was Samuel who introduced the institution of divine kingship to the Israelites, even though this notion was alien to their traditional beliefs. Gnostics were keen political observers who saw in Jewish theocracy a ruse of the Archons. Hence the Archontai, who are cosmic or extraterrestrial entities, are closely associated with human "authorities" who dominate the social order, using the theocratic pretence of divine mandate.
The text now rapidly concludes with a series of spectacular mythic events. The Aeon Sophia charges the inorganic realm of the Archons with animating power, and their ruler then proceeds to construct an Archontic heaven, consisting of seven realms (the Hebdomad). This is the planetary system exclusive of sun, moon, and earth. The chief ruler is again confronted, this time by Zoe, another daughter (i.e. aspect) of Sophia, who calls him Saklas (Aramaic, "fool") and Yaldabaoth. Zoe breathes a super-surge of her force, divine life-force, into the ruler's face, and casts him down into Tartaros, "below the abyss" (95.10). This event is witnessed by the Sun, Sabaoth, who undergoes a conversion. Although the sun is produced from inorganic matter (his mother) shaped by the Archontic forces (his father), this celestial body, acting as a conscious cosmic entity, now decides to forsake the Archons and unite with Sophia.
The conversion of Sabaoth is one of the grand events in the Sophia mythos. Elsewhere I have suggested that the symbiosis of earth and sun recognized in the Gaia hypothesis may be reflected here in ancient mythopoesis. Hyp Arch says that "Sophia and Zoe set Sabaoth free and gave him charge of the seventh heaven, below the veil between above and below.... He is set up above the forces of chaos (i.e., the planatery realm of celestial mechanics)" (95.20-25). On his right is Zoe, on his left, "an angel of wrath." This arrangement indicates that the solar force is symbiotic with life, but also capable of annihilating it by wrath, excessive force, as seen in solar eruptions. In the repentant sun who serves Her, Gaia (the earthbound Sophia) reserves a lethal power.
Elelath says enigmatically that Yaldaboth envied the sun, Sabaoth, "and the envy became an androgynous product... and engendered Death, and Death engendered its own offspring" (96.5-10). This allusion requires an interpretation that would unduly prolong this commentary. We will return to the element of death in later cosmological treatises.
Finally, Norea asks is she is of the same matter as the Archons. Elelath answers clearly that her origin is in "the imperishable Light" of the Pleroma, but the Archons were generated outside the Pleroma and do not possess the "spirit of truth" (96.20). Those who know the difference "exist deathlessly in the midst of mortal humankind" (96.25). The great angel concludes with a prophecy and a promise, asserting the triumph of humanity over error and the deceitful power of the Archons. The "sown element" (sperma) is the radiant template of humanity that was emanated from the Pleroma and seeded on earth (i.e., via panspermia). The true identity of the human species is cosmic, divine, preterrestrial. Those who know themselves in the perspective of this identity are "Children of the Light" (97.10)
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Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.