Understanding Gnosticism and Its History

In the past years, people have become more familiar with the terms Gnostic or Gnosticism; however, most people don’t know much about them and their history. Today I would like to share with all of you a bit about Gnosticism.

It is often said Gnostics were a heretical minority sect which disappeared at the beginning of our era; religious sects like to say Gnostics disappeared because they were of little importance, but is that true? After all, the lengths which the Church took to get rid of them, does not point or allude towards a “sect” of little importance.

Over the course of history, Gnosticism has remerged a few times; however, it is in our current times where Gnosticism is reemerging with strength and true acceptance–this could be attributed to a more educated society, a society which is more open minded or a society tired of dogma and its results; seeking to reestablish the connection with the divine from the inside out.

At the beginning of this last era; after the death of Jesus; there were many various groups which follow Jesus’ teachings (according to their own interpretation)–there was no institutionalized religion nor hierarchy regarding his teachings nor was there a particular book to which Christians could refer to. Among all those groups, the ones who were the most predominant were Gnostics. Located mainly in the area of Egypt, they were mostly groups with Jewish roots who viewed with suspicion the God of Abraham; whom they considered the false God–a violent blood thirsty God and whom they felt Jesus warned us about on many occasions through parables “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” Luke 12:5 (Let me reiterate something I have explained in previous articles, parables have 3 meanings…“who hath ears to hear, let him hear”).

Gnostics sustained the theory or belief that although God is light and darkness, it is not one of malevolence, violent, egotistical (always seeking worship) nor blood thirsty (old testament: ordered the killing of many peoples, women and children).

Gnostics believed in a God who was above the God of the old testament, a divine spark which could be found inside each one of us, and which was trapped inside the material body and 3D existence by the “false God” who seems only benevolent when his subjects are being submissive and in perpetual mental self flagellation.

Gnostics believed the only way to transcend such prison was through Gnosis (knowledge, wisdom; a special state of consciousness) which would allows us to transcend past the Maya illusion; in other words, able to see/ feel past the immediate physical reality. It is important to point out, Gnosticism was there way before the birth of Jesus or the God of the old testament; it would not be accurate to describe them as “heretics” when such beliefs about God and the divine spark came before anything subsequently taught by the God of Abraham.

Gnostics considered Jesus one more of the chosen phrophets, teachers, sages, guide; who came to this world to teach about the divine spark; in other words, he came to teach what God really is. To clarify this a bit more, I will quote part of an article I wrote named “Astrotheology: Rediscovering Sacred Teachings”

“If I were to ask you the following questions, who would you say I am referring to?

  • Was born of a virgin
  •  Immaculate conception
  •  Born on the 25 of December
  •  When he was born the tyrant who ruled the land wanted to kill him
  •  Was praised as mankind’s savior/ light of the world
  •  Performed miracles
  •  Was crucified
  • Resurrected on the 3rd day

Would you be surprised if I told you there are more than 40 valid answers to the above questions?  Some included within those 40 are: Orus, Mithra, Dionysus, Tammuz, Zoroaster, Krishna, Attis, Indra, Jesus.  The great majority of valid answers are characters which predated Jesus”

Gnostics saw Jesus as a very special being, of a very special lineage; however, he was not to be seen as the only son of God. As a matter of fact Jesus himself never used the term “only” son of God. He talked about the father and him being one, which Gnostics agreed with because the divine spark lives within each one of us…no blasphemy there but a pure understanding of divinity: “On that day you will know that I am in my father, and you are in me, and you I am in you” Another great quote which refers to the divinity inside of us can be found in John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works”.

Gnostics saw Jesus as a messenger, who like those previous to him, came to teach us about the truth of our divinity and the “true” God; they believed these special messengers appeared every time humanity lost its way and became obsessed with dogma. To Gnostics, Jesus came to help liberate the spirit by teaching people about consciousness or Gnostic state. As you may be able to tell by now, Gnosticism is not a religion but a state of being. This means, regardless of religious or affiliations, a person is free to practice Gnosis.

Gnostics flourished in Egypt, Asia minor, within many Celtic traditions, etc. At the end of the second century is when the rise against Gnostics by Christian movements started to take place. It was the first church fathers who started to label and treat anyone who believed or practiced Gnosis as heretics.

We need to be objective enough to understand that during those first centuries, there was great proliferation of all kinds of writings of gospels, teachings, collections of thought, philosophies–all referring to the teachings of Jesus. Among all of them, two main groups were the ones whom were most accepted; the first was the Gnostic group, which found the teachings of Jesus to be in harmony with ancient teachings and esoteric teachings; working on self to reach a special level of consciousness in order to commune with the divine in us (esoteric looks within)–this group encouraged introspection, thinking for self, learning to discover what is divine in us. Knowing leads to a deep love for that which one has come to appreciate–there is a big difference between loving something one knows and wanting to believe–for real belief requires knowledge.

The second group was more exoteric (looking for divinity outside of self), they were more an organized hierarchy, whom taught the stories about Jesus in their literal form. They did not see men as divine but as sinners and Jesus as one who came to save us from our sins. As they fell more and more to the false ego; claiming they were the only path to liberation and salvation; they became more antagonistic towards anyone who would contradict them.

Up to the 4th century, both groups more or less coexisted. However, by then the second group had already organized themselves and was marrying itself with politics; it was on that century where the start of a very dark era for Gnosticism started.

It was at the beginning of the 4th century when the Emperor Constantine came to an agreement with the Church of Rome–this church took everything about Jesus’s teachings in a literal way, which only promoted the need for leaders to “teach”…not to guide. They believe their way was the only way to be followed.

In the year 325, the council of Nicaea took place, in which it was established officially that Jesus should be considered the only son of God; anyone who denied Jesus as the only savior and his “church” as the only means of salvation should be considered a heretic–officially religion and politics got married.

Such marriage between “faith” and politics, left Gnostics and others to be labeled as heretics; whom needed to be persecuted/eradicated. But why? Was it because their teachings were malevolent? No, it was because their teachings were bad for politics; in other words, bad for business. Their teachings taught people to be free, which meant they would not be easy to be controlled nor manipulated. Thankfully we are not as naïve now, so we understand anything that goes against government, money or control of the masses is a threat to those in power.

During all 4th century, we can see the allegiance between the Roman Church and Government grow and solidify. The Roman empire agreed to the Roman Churches ideologies out of pure greed, as such it was only that version of “faith” which was taught to the masses. As soon as the Roman Church was labeled as authentic by the government, they were free to persecute anyone who would contradict them; their biggest threat to control? Gnostics. They started burning their libraries, persecuting their mentors; in other words, they wanted to make sure their history was eradicated.

In the year 393 things took even a darker turn, it was when the Synod of Hippo took place and the bible was cemented; in other words, they chose which writings would be included within the Bible–which writings would be “legit” and which would be discarded. Any writing that took power away from the church or which promoted Gnosis of self and divinity was discarded. What most people fail to understand, is many of the writings within the bible are a copy earlier books of law, history, esotericism and exotericism by ancient cultures; such as the Sumerian, the Hammurabi code of laws, etc. Many people who are strict dogma believers, refuse to take a look at these older books; something very sad, for in the quest for the divine, it is the quest that should matter, not the label.

The Roman empire made sure to use propaganda against Gnostics as heretics, which led Gnostics to be persecuted, killed and others to ran away. A small number of Gnostics survived such relentless persecutions yet the worst was not over.

The persecutions continue with some of the worst atrocities committed on the 12 and 13th century south of France. Towards the end of the twelfth century, a movement emerged called the Cathar movement “Catharism from the Greek katharoi, “the pure ones” was Gnostic movement between the 12th and 14th centuries which thrived in Southern Europe, particularly in Northern Italy and Southern France. Followers were described as Cathars and endured a prolonged period of religious persecution by the Roman Church which did not recognize their unorthodox beliefs”.

Catharism was initially taught by mentors who set few guidelines; Catharist practices and beliefs varied by region and over time. The Roman Church denounced its practices (spiritual regeneration or what is modernly called self development but a deeper level), by which Cathar individuals believed a person could rise his or her state of consciousness and commune with the divine without mediators or limitations. They called themselves pure ones because of the spiritual work they did; able to recognize divinity and life’s duality of light and darkness, also because they were untouched by the God of the old testament.

Because Cathars defied the Roman Church and saw the God of the old testament as the enemy of humanity, a liar pretending to be the real God, the Roman Church didn’t waste anytime in eradicating them. They did this through the Albigensian crusade… “The Albigensian Crusade or the Cathar Crusade (1209–1229) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in Southern France. The Albigensian Crusade had a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition. The Dominicans promulgated the message of the Church to combat alleged heresies by preaching the Church’s teachings in towns and villages, while the Inquisition investigated heresies. Because of these efforts, by the middle of the 14th century, any discernible traces of the Cathar movement had been eradicated. The Albigensian Crusade is considered by many historians to be an act of genocide against the Cathars”

This crusade was a war of 40 years or more; so much blood was spilled in the name of the true “God”. In the year 1209 the Massacre at Béziers took place (21–22 July 1209). This brutal massacre was the first major battle called by Pope Innocent III against the Cathars. The French city of Beziers, a Cathar stronghold, was burned down and 20,000 residents killed after a papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux declared, “Slaughter them all!”.

The war against Cathars pretty much finished by the year 1244, specifically March 16, 1244; a large massacre took place, in which over 200 Cathars were burnt in an enormous pyre at the prat dels cremats (“field of the burned”). After this, Catharism did not completely vanish but was practiced by its remaining adherents in secret. However, blood was to continue being spilled, this time burning anyone else they considered heretics; the biggest example is the persecution of women as witches. The Inquisition was created to eradicate the Cathars, yet for centuries later it kept committing massacres in the name of “God” against heretics and pagans.

During the Renaissance, there was a reemerging of true spirituality; although brief, it was enough to ignite the spark for the acceptance of the divine within. This was the result of Hermetic teachings resurfacing, which are considered by some as “Pagan Gnosticism”. Another reason was the spreading of Kabbalistic Knowledge which is also another way of Gnosticism. However, it was not until the 18th century when Gnosticism would start to rise up again; this was due to the fact that the power of the Roman Church, then called Catholic Church, was diminishing due to its compartmentalization–or what is now called Christianism or various Christian groups.

The rebirth of Gnosticism also took place during the 17th/18th century thanks to the finding of the Bruce Codex and Pistis Sofia Codex, which are very serious and elaborate ancient Gnostic texts. Up to that time, there were barely any writings left on Gnosticism and whatever little was left was interpreted by the church; as such the finding of these texts was extremely valuable to understanding Gnosticism and its history. In the 19th century another codex reappeared which is the Berlin Codex. I would recommend anyone who is serious about understanding Gnosticism to read these, at the very least to open up the mind to other views; for a narrow mind is an ignorant mind prompt to any dogma which often leads to hate and massacres.

People like Helena Blavatsky and Olcott are responsible for expanding Gnostic knowledge which she first encountered in Tibet. In the 20th century the first Gnostic Church of France was founded; in an attempt to examine these ancient teachings.

Personally, it matters not to me what creed you follow so long as it makes you a better human being; that’s as spiritual as it gets. If your religion or belief condones the abuse or massacre of others or if it fuels your passive aggressive behavior (people who act nicely but in reality see themselves as better than because of their religion) then to me, the problem lies in you more than in your religion. I am aware saying this comes across crudely; however, no one can force you to do or belief anything you don’t want to–the responsibility is an individual one. To blame a religion for one’s own actions is to avoid responsibility, which is sadly what many seek to do; they seek “grace” from “God” without any of the work but through a skewed sense of faith.

To me there is no bigger faith than to dare walk through your own darkness, have the strength to do the work it takes to actually heal and embrace both your shadow and your light. Only when you can see both clearly, one is capable of being more humane–for we come understand; not just at a cognitive level; what feeling for others means.

When we learn to value ourselves with all our “faults” we organically learn to appreciate others; that is the path of Alchemy— one very few choose, but one that requires real faith…faith that you will find the light once you’ve walked through your own hell. To be human; with all its facets; is to be divine!

**By Sofia Falcone