Coco de Mer
The Human Role in Gaia's Dreaming
Revised December 2009
The icon for the Gaia Mythos is a coco de mer with cosmic detailing: sun and moon motifs with the emergent earth indicated by a "cross, " a groove where "X marks the spot." Where the treasure is found. The story that goes with this image explains what it means to be at once the most adaptive and disruptive species inhabiting this planet, Earth. The Gaia Mythos, a coevolutionary narrative, encodes some closely guarded secrets of the Pagan Mysteries. Yet this story is no elite affair, and the "secrets" it contains are open to anyone with the will and capacity to comprehend it.To love to know, and to love what you know, is the Gnostic way. For those who come to love it, the Sophianic Vision of the Mysteries is a touchstone of rapture and revelation.
The story of the Aeon Sophia, the "Fallen Goddess" is only found in its complete form in Gnostic materials, and paraphrased in some Christian polemics directed against the Gnostics, and even in these sources it only survives in fragments. Technically, this story is a cosmogony, the description of how a world system or cosmos originates; but it is more easily treated as a cosmology, the description of how a world system operates, based on how it originated. Fortunately, the slim evidence for Gnostic cosmology is supported by an array of classical lore, cross-cultural mythology, and indigenous wisdom. In Greco-Roman mythology, for instance, the theme of "the marriage of Ouranos and Gaia " asserts a special link between the celestial realm and Gaia, the living earth. Ouranos, the Greek word for "heaven," refers to the Pleroma, the realm of the gods, or, in astronomical terms, the galactic core. The mythic marriage of the Pleroma and Earth is consistent with the Gnostic scenario of the Aeon Sophia who plunges from the galactic core to be metamorphosed into the planet we inhabit. Sophia is exiled from the Pleroma and "grounded" in the terrestrial domain, but precisely because of the unique conditions under which earth was formed, our planet remains intimately linked to the cosmic center, the galactic core itself.
I have argued elsewhere in this site that a great deal of mythology can be read as astronomy. (This can be done without going as far as Santillana and von Dechend who propose in Hamlet's Mill that myth is nothing but encoded astronomy.) The transposition of myth into astronomy is, of course, a creative act that requires the use of imaginaton—a disciplined exercise in mythopoesis, myth-making. The Gnostic creation myth provides a unique set-up for such an exercise because it presents just enough clues to whet the imagination and entice us to picture what happened to the Pleromic Goddess, Sophia. What we know today about the large-scale structure of the galaxy, the birth of the sun, the formation of the planets, and the current position of the solar system in the galactic limbs, presents a background for the recovery of Gnostic cosmology. At best, we may develop the sacred narrative into a visionary model of our own making. Doing so, we come to participate empathically in the experience of the Earth Goddess, Gaia-Sophia.
As suggested in Sharing the Gaia Mythos, the purpose of humanity in Gaia's life-process resides in on our capacity to remember and retell Her Story. Metahistory ipresents a critique of history and the beliefs encoded in it, but it also proposes a recall of the mythic dimension of our own species story. Whatever assists to support that recall is welcome. The reason for converting the mythico-mystical language of Gnostic teachings into the concepts of modern astronomy is not to use science to legitimate Gnostic vision, but to link our current picture of the cosmos to an ancient seminal visionary experience whose slight traces can be discovered in Gnostic writings.
Even with scientific correlations, however, it is extremely difficult to construct a coherent version of the Fallen Goddess scenario. Considered strictly on the basis of surviving texts, there is no "Gnostic cosmology," or almost none. The textual material is in most instances corrupt and unreliable. The Nag Hammadi "library" is a pitiful heap of remnants, like a handful of glass shards from a shattered stained-glass dome. These documents were translated into Coptic from "Greek originals," scholars say, but there is no way to know if the supposed Greek texts were actually first-hand Gnostic writings. After countless readings, I am inclined to see these texts as study notes, in rough and incomplete form. The Coptic reads like a slapdash translation made by scribes who did not altogether understand what they were translating.
Fifty fragmentary documents whose content is largely incoherent and maddeningly inconsistent is all that remains of what once was countless thousands of parchments and codices, including many works on geology, astronomy, and mathematics, known to have been written by initiates of the Mystery Schools. To fill in what is missing or badly preserved in the Coptic treatises from Nag Hammadi, we must turn to paraphrases found in the polemics of the so-called Church Fathers who opposed the Gnostics. For certain episodes in the scenario of Sophia's fall and her embodiment as Gaia, for instance, we have to rely on Irenaeus, a Christian bishop who wrote Against Heresies around 180 CE.
A full-scale narrative describing how Sophia becomes Gaia cannot be developed without making inferences and extrapolations. The Fallen Goddess scenario relies at key points on such embellishments, yet the recovered version is not the invention of this author.
The thirteenth packet of the Nag Hammadi library consists of eight papyrus leaves, a mere sixteen pages. It is the only codex (book of bound leaves) found without a leather cover, and but for one other codex (II), its pages are not numbered. The texts are incomplete, and the first two leaves appear to have almost been burnt. They are not charred around the edges, but smoke-damaged. The Arab family whose sons found the codices in a cliffside cave in December, 1945 are known to have burned some leaves to heat water for tea. During the 4th century CE when the cache was buried, fanatic ideologues called the "Church Fathers" demanded that all Pagan and Gnostic writings be burned. The first pages of codex XIII seem to have quite literally been snatched from the flames.
The sole complete text in codex XIII is Trimorphic Protennoia, a title rather grandiosely rendered as "The Threefold Divine First Thought." The scribal hand that copied it resembles that of codex II, but is a more rapid, cursive version, as if it were written in a rush. The experts suggest that it may have been written by two hands, that of student and instructor. (CGL5V, V, B2, p. 362. For my system of references see Gnostic Materials.) This opinion accords with my own (non-expert) view that the Coptic treatises are student notes, or notes dictated by masters to novices. The materials found under the cliff of Jabal al Tarif may indeed be "Cliff Notes" (the trade name in England for study guides to classic works, such as those of Homer and Shakespeare).
The structure of Trim. Prot. is distinctive. It builds like a fugue in two voices, first-person and third-person. The longer, dominant passages are called "first-person aretologies." These declarations use"I" for a supernatural agency that declares its traits and actions:
The character of the aretologies is lofty and poetical. The content is visionary, so this kind of text is called a "revelation discourse." Alternating with the aretologies are passages in the third-person, apparently intended to indicate the student's comprehension of the discourse, or perhaps they are the master's notes interpolated to help the student comprehend. The subject of Trim. Prot. is the central theme of Gnostic cosmology: the descent of the Aeon Sophia into the chaotic realm beyond the bounding membrane of the Pleroma. Her plunge is described in three distinct stages or increments:
Protennoia means "primary mind intention," or First Thought, as the scholars have it. This word is packed with uniquely Gnostic nuances. "Proto" means both "first, primal or primary" and "generative." Protoplasm is the biological basis of all life-forms. A prototype generates all later and subsequent types. Ennoia is a compound of en-, "intent, will," and noia, a variant of nous, "intelligence, mind, capacity to know." The Greek word nous defines in all Gnostic teachings the endowment that Sophia and the Pleromic gods confer upon all sentient beings, but in a partular manner on the human species. Our wisdom endowment is nous, a dose of divine intelligence, the power to know what gods know.
Scholars working in teams over decades apply meticulous care in attempting to eke out the meaning of obscure texts such as Trimorphic Protennoia. They endlessly scrutinize the variations of grammar, spelling, handwriting. They write papers and sometimes entire books on a single treatise. They hold symposia to discuss the historical and philosophical background of the Gnostic materials, usually with the aim to learn more about the origins of Christianity, rather than to understand what the Gnostics had to say in their own terms.
The result of all this work on the literal meaning of Gnostic texts is that the message they contain is overlooked, if not entirely lost. No scholar today regards the original message of Gnosticism as worthy of interest. This is the strange impasse into which Gnostic studies have led over the last fifty years. About one third of the writing in Metahistory.org is devoted to recovery of the original Gnostic message.
To recover and reconstruct the story of Gaia-Sophia, we must consider what the Gnostics may actually have known about cosmic matters. The assumption that Pleroma, meaning "fullness, plenum," refers to the core of any galaxy, is the first step in allowing that Gnostics had real-world astronomical knowledge. In short, we infer that Pleroma means galactic core (but not only that), so that we can develop certain imaginative clues in the Coptic material. (It could be argued that Pleroma is purely a metaphysical locus outside time and space which ought not to be "reified," made into a concrete thing. For my response to this objection, see reality in the Lexicon.)
Scholars do not make such inferences because the limits of their discipline do not allow them to suppose that genuine astronomical knowledge could be encoded in mystical writings. Obliged to stick to the textual evidence, they never consider what kind of evidence might be provided by direct mystical experimentation, the practice of Gnosis, cognitive ecstasy. Yet if scholars today do not have experience comparable to that of the Gnostic seers, how can they discover what these visionary texts can tell us? Lacking the evidence of experience, the experts are constantly forced into omissions. For fear of making false inferences, they make none that cannot be textually supported.
No scholar would do what I am here attempting with the Gnostics materials. But for that matter, if I may say so, no conventional scholar could do what I am attempting. If there is a profound world-changing message in Gnosticism, as I believe there is, it has little chance of reaching the world at large through the filters of scholarly exegesis. Discerning the message Gnostics were trying to give is my overriding concern. Thus I extrapolate, as best I can. I extrapolate carefully but vastly, because the scope of Gnostic visionary wisdom was vast, as far as I can tell. My inferences are based on a lifetime of experimental mysticism, as well as thirty years' study of the materials and an equivalent period of involvement with mythic cosmologies, modern astronomy, astrophysics, and naked-eye skywatching.
I am not alone in attributing profound astronomical knowledge to the Gnostics. Jacques Lacarriere, a comparative mythologist and cultural historian, has written the single most accessible book on Gnosticism, demonstrating a complete departure from the usual dismissive treatment. Granted, his book The Gnostics is a poetic meditation, rather than a scholarly exegesis such as one finds in Pagels and King. Yet Lacarriere presents brilliant insights that enable us to appreciate the spirit of Gnosticism as such, on its own terms, rather than as a footnote to Christianity. He asserts that knowledge of the cosmos among the Gnostics was not a product of fantasy, or "metaphysical" speculation, but derived from observation of the sky, that is, from encountering the real, sensorial universe. For the Gnostics, the sky is “the first source of knowledge”; astronomical perspective was “implicit at the very starting-point of their thought” (p. 16). I couldn't agree more.
Lacarriere also extrapolates Gnostic material in ways conventional scholars would find unacceptable. He proposes that Gnostic seers could look into many worlds, and so were able to detect certain cosmic factors specific to the world-system we inhabit. As we shall see, Gnostics taught that our world is aberrant, anomalous. Fascinating remark there. But hang on a minute. How could they have known this to be so if they did not have something non-anomalous to compare it to? Did they have direct perception of multiple worlds? "One could say that these other worlds, presaged and divined by Gnostic speculation, in fact represent what modern astronomy calls nebulae, spirals, and extra-galactic clusters” (LaCarriere, p. 18). Some Gnostic texts assert that there are many Pleromas. We know today that there are billions of galaxies. The story of the Sophia Aeon concerns one Pleroma in particular, the core of the galaxy that harbors the solar system in its spiral arms. The mere suggestion that mystics who lived 2000 years ago could have had concrete knowledge of events specific to our galaxy is, of course, outrageous.
How all the more outrageous it will be, then, if what they knew turns out to be true.
As noted above, Trimorphic Protennoia touches on the central event of the Gnostic world-vision: the descent of the Goddess Sophia. The role of the human species in the life of Gaia is set up by the triple descent of Sophia from the Pleroma, especially in the third phase. To show how this occurs, we need to convert the mystical and theological shorthand of Trim. Prot., summarized in Turner's paraphrase (above), into cosmological terms. The general outlines of the Gnostic origin myth will then become clear. Then, by inference, we can begin to explore the role of humanity in Gaia's Dreaming of the world we inhabit:
One of the difficulties in recovering the Gnostic origin myth is that textual accounts of this critical phase of the story are lost. Descriptions of the conversion of Sophia's passions into the material earth, which certainly existed in written versions, have been almost entirely eradicated. The most complete version of this event is not found in the Coptic sources but in the polemical writings of the Church Fathers. To protest what they regarded as the ornate complication of Gnostic cosmology, the Fathers had to paraphrase the material they so detested. The most complete description of Sophia's devolution into a planetary body is found in Against Heresies by Irenaeus. Chapter IV of Book One of this immense tome is entitled "Account Given by the Heretics of the Formation of Achamoth, Origin of the Visible World from Her Disturbances." Achamoth, a corruption of the Hebrew Hochma, "cosmic wisdom," is a Jewish term applied by Gnostics to the Fallen Sophia. Ireneaus writes:
The collection of Achamoth's passions they [the Gnostics] declare
was the substance of the matter from which this world was formed.
From her desire to return to the realm where Her life originated,
every soul belonging to this world derived its origin. All other
things owe their beginnings to her terror and sorrow. From her tears
all that is of liquid nature was formed. From her smile all that
is lucent in nature. From her grief and perplexity, all the corporeal
elements of the world. (Ch. V, 2-3)
Compare this account to the legend of the Thompson Indians, cited in the Commentary on the Prelude of the Gaia Mythos:
Time and time again, Gnostic visionary teaching is corroborated by indigenous lore. This makes sense if we regard Gnosticism as an advanced or highly formalized brand of shamanism, a visionary method of high sophistication that arises from the same ecstatic encounter with Sacred Nature as shamanic practices in native cultures around the world.
Such is my expanded paraphrase of Trim. Prot., transposed into astronomical terms. Where do we go from here? The third phase of Sophia's descent is still in progress, for the cosmic Aeon, departed from its normal sphere of activity, now persists as the living earth. Here we must extrapolate again in order to form some notion of humanity's role in Sophia's experience.
In the third stage, Sophia's long process of incarnation shifts toward a coevolving phase. With the emergence of the human species on earth, the Protennoia or germinal dream of the Aeon "assumes a human appearance." This does not mean that God, or more precisely, the Goddess, appears on Earth in human form, but that the appearance of humans on Earth is a particular expression of the dreaming of the Goddess, a display of her intelligence. Let's recall that Sophia in Greek means "wisdom." In humanity, a particular form of cosmic wisdom is germinating. In some way we are just now beginning to understand, Sophia evolves life on earth, not exclusively for human purposes, but to invite human participation in Her story. We participate through cultivating the wisdom endowment She has implanted in us. Part of this endowment is the luminous epinoia, the power of free-form creative imagination.
In other words, Gaia-Sophia endows human beings with the capacity for co-evolution by participation in Her story through the power of imagination. Other, non-human creatures participate more closely with her because their instinct-programs stay true to her purposes, but we have considerable latitude for play and variance, novelty and improvisation. However, such latitude also introduces the risk of deviance from Gaia's life plan. Initially, we begin to participate in a naive manner, lacking a clear and conscious conception of what co-evolution is and how we might pursue it. We lack a motive specific to our unique angle of involvement in Gaia's purposes. Of what particular use are we to the planet? The art and science of the Mysteries was to answer this question and teach the uniquely human motive, aim, telos. Like physics or athletics, telestics is a discipline: namely, the theory and practice of teleology, the study of purposes. The genius of the telestai, "those who are aimed," inhered in their capacity to intestigate and communicate the purpose of human participation in the Dreaming of the Aeon Sophia, the wisdom goddess embodied in this rare and beautiful planet we inhabit.
In all other species on earth, cosmic wisdom is also present, of course. In many ways it is more perfectly and harmoniously displayed by non-human creatures. As just noted, other creatures have far less latitude to stray from Gaia's instinct programs. Our capacity to experiment, innovate, and extrapolate efforts toward preconceived aims, comes with the risk of deviating from harmony with the order of terrestrial evolution, Gaia's Dreaming. Fortunately, we can rely on the support and instruction of animals and plants to correct our deviance. Wild animals are profound teachers. Domestic animals are wonderful healers and guides. Some species of plants have psychoactive chemicals identical to the neurotransmitters in the human brain. Such species are called teacher-plants and sacred medicine plants due to their ability to illuminate our minds and heal us in mind and body alike.
James Cameron's fim Avatar (2009) is the first masterpiece of genuine Gaian science fiction, Gi-fi. It depicts an indigenous race, the blue-skinned Ha'vi who live on an earth-like planet, Pandora. The Ha'vi live in deep immersion with the ecology of their habitat. They practice linking with plants, birds, and animals to stay in harmony with Eywa, the Gaia-like goddess embodied in Pandora. For us today, participation in the life-story of Gaia-Sophia also requires an act of linkage or bonding. To know and love the story is one thing, and absolutely essential, of course. But to enact the story with the Goddess of the home planet, is something else again. Avatar uses computer-generated images to depict a world of beuaty and wonderment, as this world of ours would look in the thrill of that enactment. This film speaks to the desire in so many human hearts, unstated but starting to stir, to be alive in Gaia's Dreaming with her, and to discover our true role in the symbiosis of the planetary weave.
Indigenous people assert that we humans are kin to all species and depend for our survival on non-human allies, such as sacred teaching plants and "power animals." These non-human forms of intelligence life can show us how to apply Sophianic intelligence because they are, in many ways, better at it than we are, more faithful to the overall plan. Native American teachings warn that "our humanity remains incomplete and unhinged' until we have received such empowerment from other-than-human beings." (Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology, p. 111) All too often we feel tragically alone with what we know, trapped in our particular way of apprehending the external world, imprisoned by our maps, models, symbols, and languages. We falsely believe human intelligence is a freak phenomenon, superior to all other forms, separated from all other forms. But in the Gnostic perspective, the status of the human species is not one of superiority but of uniqueness:
Trimorphic Protennoia informs us succinctly how Sophia, upon becoming the Earth, offers a special opportunity to humanity. She "introduces the illuminatory baptismal light of the Five Seals." This means that from the original Pleromic light which She was and still is—the torrential nougat-like current of the Organic Light that may be encountered directly in hyperception or trance awareness—Sophia makes available a kind of extract, consisting of five potentials or faculties. The Five Seals obviously refers to the five senses, with the implication of something sealed or secreted within the senses. The language here is deeply mystical, using a insider jargon from the Mystery Schools. The "seals" also refer to five powers inherent to nous, the divine intelligence. These powers are: extrapolation, self-correction, goal-orientation, communication, and transmutation. Each of these faculties is an extension or extrapolation of one of the five senses:
The initiation program of the Mysteries was set up to produce and test these powers in the neophytes. The Mystery Schools were universities for the practice of noetic sciences, cultivation of co-evolutionary mind. Today, this practice re-emerges in Planetary Tantra with its paradigm for telluric enhancement of the five senses represented by five Diamond Sky Dakinis in the vajra star of the Shakti Cluster.
If humans claim and cultivate their Sophianic endowment, the Goddess will be able to "restore her members into the light." In other words, what Sophia does through humanity is somehow crucial to re-evolving Her connection of her own capacities ("members") to the Pleroma. This is what Gnostics taught about human involvement in Her "redemptive" process. The Mystery School term for this process is "correction." The Apocryphon of John (NHC II, 1, 23: lines 20-22) says:
Elsewhere this process is called Sophia's "rectification." As
Sophia realigns Herself with the Pleroma, humanity is, somehow,
deeply implicated in the process. (For more on this tremendous
prospect, see correction in
the Lexicon.) In a nutshell, the theme of correction comprises the supreme teaching of the Sophianic
vision, the redemptive cosmology of Gnosis. The sacred narrative of the Mysteries offers the prototype for the current notion of planetary shift: the realignment of Sophia to the galactic center, the Pleroma.
Given all this background, what are we to make of the obscure proclamations in NHC XIII? Truth be told, there is almost no cosmological content in Trim. Prot.! The text consists of rough notes on a "revelation discourse" in which a Gnostic visionary recalls or recapitulates the descent of the Goddess, but not in a concrete way. Phases of Sophia's engagement in the extra-Pleromic realm are described, but not graphic cosmological stages as such. The discourse has to be transposed imaginatively to produce a vivid cosmological picture story.
Such revelations have been called "visionary recitals" by Henry Corbin, a scholar of Sufi mysticism whose most well-known work is Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi. Corbin coined the term "imaginal" to emphasize that what the genuine mystic sees is not imagined (i.e., falsely invented), nor is it merely imaginary (a product of psychic activity, detached from the real world). Rather, he or she see a visionary as opposed to a sensorial "reality."
Several texts in the NHC are visionary recitals that provide vital segments of the Gaia Mythos. These texts probably represent transcriptions of notes taken by students on lectures given by initiates who reported their experiences in altered states. The notes would have enabled classes of upcoming students (neophytes) to "review" what their teachers saw in visionary states, as a preparation for exploring those states in their turn. Literally, "review" means to re-view or re-see. If successful, the training of the neophytes led them to re-see what had already been witnessed and transmitted by their teachers. Each re-seeing was consistent with initiatic experience and, at the same time, enriched with new content, for the manifestation of the Divine to the human mind is an open and ongoing revelation. Hence the co-evolutionary project of Gnosis.
Opponents of the Gnostics accused them of writing too many books and inventing all manner of complications to explain the cosmos and the human condition. They rejected the possibility of rich, ever-evolving revelation. For the Church Fathers the revelation of the Father God through Jesus Christ was a one-time-only event, and the story was simple and stable. (Upon close analysis, it is anything but, but that is another issue.) Because Gnostic method left revelation open, its practitioners were involved in a continual process of rediscovery and re-imagination, encompassing the entire course of evolution. They accessed "cosmic memory" to review over and over again the descent of the Wisdom Goddess and refine their understanding of how humanity emerged in Her Dreaming, and how we are implicated in Her "correction."
To be Gnostically oriented today means that each human individual has something to contribute to this process of re-imagination.
The cosmic detailing of the coco de mer, the icon for the Gaia Mythos, pictures the original Dreaming of Sophia "in a nutshell," if you will! Episodes 5, 6 and 8 of the Gaia Mythos recount the conditions that prevailed before Sophia plunged beyond the Pleroma, taking Her Dreaming with Her into the lower world. To summarize briefly those Episodes:
Now we must try to imagine what Sophia dreams as She contemplates the template of the Anthropos, the human genome, before Her plunge. While She is still within the proper limits of the Pleroma, She produces the Dreaming of a world to come. Yet She does so in an anomalous manner, by Herself, without pairing off and sharing Her vision with another Aeon. This is, not a violation, but a departure from the usual operations of cosmic law. "For it is the will of the Originator not to allow anything to happen in the Pleroma apart from a syzygy." (NHLE 1996, p. 486. Syzygy, pronounced SIZZ-uh-GEE, means pairing, coupling.) The will of the Originator does not constrain the Generators, the Aeons who always remain free to act without a counterpart.
The Aeonic Goddess Sophia has no counterpart on earth or in the planetary realms, so sexual pairing assumes a particular role in her Dreaming. In the human species, conjugation of the sexes is not bound to a cosmic plan or restricted to reproductive purposes. By reason of being liberated from biological imperatives, sexual desire in human beings can to be creatively engaged in Gaia's designs. Her Dreaming is charged with massive erotic power.
Let's imagine that in the original moment of Her Dreaming, Sophia previews a world order that might arise for the Anthropos, the human species, but this is not in fact the world order that does arise from Her descent. Hence the odd Gnostic instruction, "The world system we inhabit came about by a mistake" i.e. as a fluke, an anomaly (cited again below). The material of Trim. Prot. and other texts, as well as the polemic paraphrases, all agree on one crucial point: when Sophia plunges from Pleroma, the effects that She produces in elementary matter are weird and unexpected. She has an initial vision of a world order, yes, and presumably She retains it on Her descent, but the world system in which She becomes enmeshed does not entirely and consistently reflect Her original moment of Dreaming. Sophia's trimorphic protennoia, the threefold primal intent of her Dreaming, was skewed by unforeseen conditions outside the Pleromic Core.
In Her solitary dreaming Sophia
imagined a threefold world order far out in the galactic
limbs - a planetary system consisting of one star, a planet
and a moon, but this was not the system that
arose due to Her fall. The Gospel of Philip (NHC II, 3, 75.1) contains
a famous one-liner that describes this bizarre development: "The
world came about through a mistake."
This much-quoted line has been used against the Gnostics who are accused of hating and rejecting the material world (nature, the earth) because they regard it as an inferior, flawed creation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I submit that it is just this, the mistaken character of our world, its deviance from the original Dreaming of Sophia, that engaged the Gnostics in empathy with the earth and the Goddess embodied in it. Seeing cosmic events in affectively charged vision, they realized that Sophia's fall subjected Her to gravitational forces that do not apply to the mass-free hyper-porosity of Aeonic currents in the Pleroma. Lacarriere writes: "What haunts them [the Gnostics] is the intolerable awareness that this inhibiting matter is the result of an error, a deviation in the cosmic order" (p. 22).
The line from Gos. Phil. could be called a proposition of "high strangeness." This term is often applied to ET/UFO lore, and it may prove relevant to Gnostic teachings as well. In the "Afterword" to the 1996 edition of the Nag Hammadi Library in English, Gnostic scholar Richard Smith compares the visions of Gnostic cosmology to science fiction, and relates the Sophia Mythos to numerous books and films in that genre. Among others he cites Philip K. Dick, whose Valis Trilogy is a retelling of the Fallen Goddess scenario. Dick himself attributed his involvement with the Sophia Mythos to a mystical experience he underwent in March 1974, at the age of 46, when a ray of light released a massive download of information into his mind. This experience is consistent with Gnostic illumination resulting in the "visionary recital." Dick's wrote down his in a 200,000 text (as yet unpublished) which he called "The Exegesis."
Throughout the Valis trilogy Dick explores the question of how the wisdom of Sophia can assert itself in the fallen world She has produced, thus liberating humans from their distorted perception of reality. Dick was convinced that gnosis is special knowledge of our delusional state, revealing how we are deviated. In Valis he attempts to show that only Gnosis can save us from being victims, if not accessories, to the evil and insane patterns of behavior that arise in and around us, not because we are sinful by nature, but because we are ignorant of our true nature.
Gnostic cosmology includes some outrageously strange propositions that work beautifully as science fiction plots. "High strangeness" may be just what we need to get to the ultimate truth about the human condition on this troubled planet.
Sophia's original Dreaming of a world outside the Pleroma persisted, even though the world system in which the earth was captured was not the one She initially imagined. In effect, She ended up living in two systems at once. And earthbound humanity, one strain of the embodiment of the Anthropos, is right in there with Her.
Philip K. Dick described the bizarre two-world scenario of the Gnostics in the brilliant metaphor of "a two-source hologram." (Valis, p. 178) Holograms (or holographs) are quasi-objects produced by an arrangement of laser beams and mirrors that project into three dimensions a flat image registered on a plate. Imagine the hologram of a house, projected from an image on one plate, superimposed on another hologram of a similar but structurally different house, projected from another plate. Both holograms merge to produce a setting whose inhabitants may feel disoriented without knowing why. They may sense, for instance, that they both belong and don't belong in the setting. In some ways they feel quite at home, but in other ways they do things to their habitat that are inconsistent with their survival in it. For the moment the analogy needs no further elaboration.
Before Her plunge Sophia imagined a world outside the Pleroma, the "Triple-Formed Original Thought." This is the world order She intended before She fell into chaos. It is a system composed of three components: a star (sun), a planet, and a moon, the satellite of the planet. This is the most simple example of a world system that can arise within the known laws of cosmic physics. The planet requires a satellite as an "out-rider" or armature so that it can develop conditions for life that will not be overwhelmed by the immense force of the solar body, the mother star. The world-order thus produced is gourd-like, with the sun and moon forming the "husk" of the system, and the planet (Earth) the juicy pulp - as the coco de mer icon shows by the tumidity of the slit. (The gourd analogy is a cosmological trope that plays an explanatory role in other contexts as well. In Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, Rapture of the Deep, Dolores LaChapelle has described how the gourd may be viewed as the first instrument of humanity's civilizing activities.)
The world order previewed by Sophia in the original moment when She gazed from the galactic core out to the spiraling limbs does not come to be, but Her vision does not falter from its original design. Despite the deviant world system brought about by Her fall, Sophia's undeviated vision persists and allows for correction of the world system we inhabit. The correction is achieved, in part, through human coevolution with Gaia's purposes. This is the essence of Gnostic teaching on redemptive cosmology.
The coco de mer icon both triggers and anchors the memory of this teaching. Knowing this to be so, and experiencing it empathically and imaginally, engages us in Sophia's correction. Our responsibility to the earth depends on our involvement in a supra-earthly vision - our total, experiential, even visceral involvement. As Dick's protagonist says, regarding the bizarre notion of the two-source hologram: "But intellectually thinking it is one thing, and finding out it's true is another!" (Valis, p. 179)
Gnostics taught that the cosmos we inhabit came about by an error, an anomaly, and we are involved in how it is being corrected. The coco de mer recenters us in Sophia's Dreaming so that we can grow into an understanding of our role in Gaia's cosmic realignment, Her way home to Her source.
The Three-Body WorldBy visualizing the three-body world, we orient ourselves imaginally to Gaia's Dreaming. This image reminds us to distinguish Earth from the rest of the planetary system. Gnostic texts always refer to the cosmos (kosmos in Greek) as distinct from the earth itself (ge in Greek) . (In both cases the Coptic words, which I cannot reproduce here because they do not convert in html, are direct transcriptions of the Greek words.) The kosmos produced by Sophia's initial impact in the realm of elementary matter is not the home planet we inhabit, not the planet Earth, for the Earth was formed differently from the rest of the planetary system. This concept is fundamental to Gnostic cosmology. It is of course complete nonsense in scientific terms. It is "high strangeness" all dressed up in a mystic veil of fantasy. Let's consider this weird notion for a moment, just to see where it takes us.
The "mistake" cited in the Gospel of Philip was not the act of solitary Dreaming by the Aeon Sophia, but the unforeseen impact of Her plunge from the Pleroma. Her tumultuous descent into the galactic limbs produced conditions that resulted in the emergence of a planetary system distinct from Earth. This is the kosmos we inhabit, the realm of the Archons who arose first, before Earth did. In the language of materialistic science, the cosmos outside Earth is the realm of inorganic chemistry. One of the great mysteries of science is how the organic, the living, arises from the inorganic, the non-living. (Theodore Roszak quotes an anonymous version of modern cosmology: "Hydrogen is a light, odorless gas which, given enough time, turns into people.") The question of how life arose from the lifeless can be answered quite directly in Gnostic terms, but it also needs to be reframed, because it is not quite the right question. Inorganic matter is also alive, albeit in its own way. The real question is, How do the living structures of inorganic chemistry relate to the structures of organic life? This is tantamount to asking, How do the Archons, who are inorganic beings, relate to humans, who are organic beings?
Much of Gnostic writing was concerned with this question of the two orders of life, organic and inorganic, terrestrial and Archontic, yet the issue of the Archons is entirely disregarded by scholars. It is not even dismissed as superstitious nonsense, but is merely passed over in silence, deemed unworthy of comment.
By distinguishing rigorously between the earth and the extra-terrestrial planetary system, Gnostics were proposing a conceptual model of organic and inorganic worlds. The planetary system as such, the cosmos, does not provide a realm where humanity can live, only the home planet does. All this is true to the facts of astronomy and biology as we understand them today. So far the outrageous theory stated in the one-liner from the Gospel of Philip carries reasonable information. It makes perfect sense in terms of what we know about the physics of the solar system. The catch is, modern astronomy does not allow that Earth's genesis was different from that of the other planets.
The Gaia Hypothesis, now more commonly known as Gaia Theory, first emerged in 1976 with James Lovelock's reflections on the contrast between the lifeless atmosphere of mars and the life-filled atmosphere of Earth. Gaia Theory cannot replace the vision-story of Sophia. It is, however, a reliable homologue to the Sophianic mythos that distinguishes between the lifeless solar system and the life-bearing trinity of Earth-Sun-Moon. Gnostic cosmology is visionary and mythic, not scientific in the modern sense of the term, but some impressive features of Gaia-compatible science can be extracted from it, as we shall see.
jll: Flanders, September 2004
Continued in Part Two: The Shock of the Beautiful
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.