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The Gnostic philosophy and our understanding of it underwent an evolution over time.

As early Pagan beliefs tended to emphasize the interactions of MANY Gods, representing Natural Forces, the idea of the Material World being a battleground between two Gods (instead of many) had to wait for the rise of city states and empires in Babylon to develop. Only when there was a measure of extended, centralized control would the concept make sense. And in the time of Zarathustra, AKA Zoroaster (in Greek), 2nd millennium BCE or so, somewhere in Iran / Iraq / Afghanistan/ Persia. Zarathustra taught the visible world was a lie, created by a false God, who needed to be resisted by inward seeking meditation and prayer to piece the veil and receive "gnosis" or immediate, overwhelming experiences of the real God.* (See TEACHINGS OF ZOROASTER,AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE PARSI RELIGION by S.A. Kapadia, [1905]), Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall. Hermogenes the early Greek Gnostic taught matter was the source of all Evil, which had co-existence with God, and Christ now lived in the physical Sun. Very popular in the 2nd century, he started a sect of Gnostics called the Hermogenians.

Its descendants, including Christianity, Islam and Magick have all adapted aspects of this argument to the question of Free Will, and the apparent inconsistent results of both our own self control and prayers for external Wisdom and results.

After the introduction of Greek philosophy, Jews became more interested in what happened to the personality after death. Previously, all Jewish religious thought was focused on living a good life rather than any quest in the hereafter. The "World to Come" as it was known, was a shadow world the living could not comprehend. But in addition to the Country Rabbis (The Pharisees) and the urban Priests (the Kohans / Cohens/ Sadducees), heretical sects of Jews organized around Messianic and apocalyptic concepts. These included the Gnostics, Jews and later early Christians who withdrew from the world to await it's end and the beginning of a better one. Influenced perhaps by Plato's concept of the Material World being a mere reflection of the real, spiritual world of First Forms, the Gnostics practiced Asceticism, withdraw from Earthly pleasure to concentrate on the Spiritual world within. The Essene sect of Judeans withdrew to the desert waiting for the Roman's to bring on the Apocalypse (any day now, you just wait...). Jesus' initiator, John the Baptist is an Essene, and Jesus is much more an Essene than a Pharisee (rural Rabbi) or Sadducee (Urban Temple Priest).

This Apocalypse - oriented Gnosticism believed the True, Invisible, Unknowable God of Spirit never intended to Manifest, but one of HIS junior "aspects", born of Wisdom contemplating HERself, called Yaldabaoth was the Creator God of Genesis whom mistaken Jews and Christians were worshiping, a self-deluded Child of terrible temper and lacking Wisdom or Judgement while ruling the Material World capriciously while the True God slept (or didn't care, perhaps). This world, our bodies, are a prison for Spirit. Needless to say, this leads to retreating to the desert, mortifying the body, fasting, scourging, and a negative attitude towards sex AND child birth.

Along these lines, the idea that the Mortal Jesus survived the Cross to flee to France, then Scotland with Mary Magdalene and his child or children remains another aspect of Gnostic Christianity. A translation of the Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor in the British Museum, as well as the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife" fragment, the Templar legend that Joseph of Arimathea smuggled Mary and Jesus' child into France favored by Joséphin Péladan, Stanislas de Guaita, Emile Dantinne, Martinez de Pasqually, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay and perhaps reflected in the Knights Templar legends of the York Rite of Freemasonry. Modern authors, many writing fiction or... hypothesis, like Mark Stavish, John Michael Greer, James Wasserman, Christopher Hodapp, Stephen Dafoe; Dan Brown, S. Brent Morris, Laurence Gardner and especially Christopher Knight apply this idea to the beginnings of Freemasonry.

Zoroaster's influence in teaching the Material World was an illusion created by a False God to hide the True God may also have been known. Trade and conquest from Babylon had been a fact of life in the region forever, and copies of both Gilgamesh and the Creation story have been found in Northern Israel archaeological sites. If the world we see is a prison of the Flesh, then it's spiritual ruler must be equally Evil, and the True God (Ahura-Mazda, or Ormuzd) of the Spiritual is not the Lord of the Earth, who must be his opposite, the Devil (Ahriman). Mithras, Sun Bull God of Intelligence, stands as balance between the two. The influence on Christian thought should be obvious, if not, the ceremony involves the sacrifice of the mighty bull. (Really, blood EVERYWHERE, no neat changing wine into Blood here).

Plato's students, particularly those who developed Greek Neoplatonism, like Iamblichus, focused on his analogy of the Cave, and developed mental techniques to focus on the fire rather than the shadows it projected upon the walls. Basilides's Alexandrian Cult may have added the Wisdom of the Egyptians to his blend of Gnosticism. His student, Basil Valentine AKA Valentinus' school at Rome and early Christian opposition to it insured records (abet from the disapproving Catholic side) survived Christianity's suppression of Paganism. The Catholic Church, trying to bring the widely diverse Christian sects together into one organization, opposed the Gnostic Christians, led by Bishop, later Saint Irenaeus.

Porphyry, in his Cave of the Nymphs, mentions Zarathustra (Zoroaster)finding caves to be the "wombs of the Earth" for initiations and rebirth; These idea of traveling along tunnels and caves for initiation plays a role in the Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, as Thomas Taylor explains in his book thus titled.

Simon Magus's Syrian Cult developed a related Gnosticism, which took a decidedly Qabalistic view of Creation, based on The division/ balance of Mind /Nous/ Kether and Thought /Epionoia/ , creating Voice / Phone and Name / Onoma which form Reason / Logismos and Reflection / Enrthumesis. From these are created the Eternal Flame of Life, from which come forth the Angels, Spirits, Devils and Human Souls.

But the term Gnostic took on greater relevance with one of it's earliest translations into English, the Pistis Sophia (1896) by GRS Mead, an early member of Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society, it's Esoteric Section devoted to Western Mysteries and later the Quest Society. Pistis Sophia, read it here:, focused attention on an early Christianity, an elite but outcast Jesus, his elevated female disciple Mary Magdalene, Sophia, a fallen Angel identified with the Qabalist's Shekinah or Heavenly Bride, Greek Pagan beliefs, Astrology and folk magic. Interestingly, it contains very little of the Neoplatonisms' concern for the illusion of Matter and the return of the Spirit to reintegration with the Godhead.

That understanding of Gnosticism would have to wait for the archaeological finds of the Nag Hammadi scrolls in 1945 (read them here: in and the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran of from 1946 - 1956, thought to be the work of the Essene. (Read them here: Translations took quite a while, and great secrecy was preserved as the documents revealed a lot about Christian beliefs among these radical sects at the time of Christ's death. The Codex Tchacos was not made pubic until 2001.

The Nag Hammadi are relatively complete early Christian Egyptian documents about Jesus, his disciples, and including some Egyptian oriented and Greek texts, including a section of Plato. Rather than representing one single perspective, they were a collection of texts, from different sources, but all about 200-300 CE. Separated by hundreds of miles and years earlier, around 100 CE, the Dead Sea Scrolls are fragmentary Jewish documents from a pre-Christian apocalyptic cult who lived communal, simple lives awaiting the End. A mistranslated word {a fragment mentions The Messiah who will come and pierce or perhaps be pierced ie: sacrificed in the War Rule scroll fragment) made some feel this was a reference or prediction of Jesus as the messiah, but that would be out of character for the beliefs of the time. Messiahs were triumphant lions, not sacrificed lambs.

The Nag Hammadi's 41 new texts (out of 51 total) reveals a much less upbeat Jesus and Christianity than that represented in the Pistis Sophia. They make it clear that an Apocalypse is imminent, and giving up the attachment to the body is the only way to survive it. Although discovered separately, the Gospel of Judas shows The Material World and regular Christianity in perhaps the strongest negative light, with Judas fulfilling the Christ's mission by turning over his empty body to the Romans after the Spirit has already been "snatched up" back to Heaven. Thus the body of Christ that was killed was a liberation from this "prison of flesh", and it was JUDAS who was the sacrifice, giving up his reputation, life and actually a misunderstood hero. It matches the sentiment of the Apocalypse of John in the Nag Hammadi in apocryphal yearnings.

Bardaisan aka Bardesanes , @154–222, led a sect of Gnostics in Syria, importing knowledge from India. His student, Mani of Manichaeism aka the Manichaeans , author of "The Book of Giants", @ 216-276 CE incorporated previous Prophets and Messiahs into his own philosophy, as Islam would later. He tried, like the Prophet Mohammad would years later, to synthesize all the existing "People of the Book" with Jesus, Moses, Buddah and other Religious figures "adopted" into myth as needed. His was a VERY dualistic system, with Evil and Good co-equal, rather than Good aka God being the originator of all, and Evil being HIS absence or willful disobedience to HIS Will. While it focuses on Christian Salvation, it's origin myths sound more like Zoroaster's influence.

But in the late 1800s, when only the Pistis Sophia was available, Gnostic took on a glamour, became a word used to describe the search for inner meaning in a materialistic world gone mad. It became a code word for Hidden Inner Wisdom and the Qabalstic and Neoplatonic Theory of The One. In a way, it became a term for the Inner Knowledge all Religions and Mystery Cults claim to possess, rather than a specific Philosophy which originated ion the Hebrew/Greek mix of the Roman occupation of Judea, leading to the Essene awaiting the Messiah out in the desert, Christianity in the Jewish population, then in the Pagan / Gentile world under Saint Paul and his assistant Barnabas. This apocalyptic Neoplatonism was carried to Alexandria, where the Egyptian influence crept in to Rabbi Philo's teachings, and from an unknown author came Hermes Trismegistus, then Valentinus (AKA Valentinius) (100 - 160 CE) and Iamblichus (245 – 325 CE), all opposed by the Christian Bishop, then Saint Irenaeus;

And like the Egyptian scroll titled The Coming Forth By Day, misnamed the Egyptian Book of the Dead by early scholar E. A. Wallis Budge and what we know of the Eleusinian Mysteries from Ovid, Virgil and others the magic in these early Gnostic texts is more concerned with passing the initiatory stations and guardians on the path of Death in the Underworld than making life on Earth better. They were ESOTERIC, inward philosophies in contrast to the Churches' concern with material, EXOTERIC concerns about behavior and governing.

Occultists such as Jules Doinel of the and later Jean Bricaud of the Eglise Gnostique Universelle would interpret it as they wished, while fiction and speculative researchers would weave interesting speculations about the Cult of Mary Magdalene the Virgin and a new son of Christ's bloodline coming to rule as a Sacred king (of France). This theory, by Michael Baigent, Laurence Gardner and Dan Brown would captivate the public, and some Freemasons imaginations, from the 1600s to today.

Aleister Crowley would incorporate it into his "borrowing" of the Roman Catholic Mass format as a vehicle for his own philosophy in the Gnostic Catholic Mass. Arnold Krumm-Heller would bring it to South America as the Iglesia Gnostica , and his Gnostic organization was much more successful than his OTO efforts, leading to a number of splinter churches and one major disciple, Samael Aun Weor's family's "Gnostic Christian Universal Movement".

By the 1970s, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, publisher of mostly astrology related material began his publishing house magazine GNOSIS (see, and got Ceremonial magician and Priestess Cris Monnastre as editor. The magazine's articles covered a variety of Pagan, Nature-oriented Western traditions with informative articles and occasionally modern research and suggestions. It was also a communication link between many magicians of the 1970s.

But Gnosis had become identified to the public not as Zoroastrian, not as early Plato or Neoplatonism, not as early, apocalyptic Christianity, but as an all around description of the knowledge hidden within. Some modern groups, both Masonic and Occult, have used the Essenes as their model, focusing on their rejection of Materialism and embrace of Spirituality. The Modern Order of the Essenes published the Masonic Ecce Orienti in 1928 as a Masonic ritual; while The Order of the Essenes of Grace Ann Brown; The Order of the Nazoreans Essenes, of Abba Yesai Nasrai (aka Davied Asia Israel), 1981; The Essene Spirit of Olivier Manitara; all use this movement and it's Gnostic approach as their guide.

As early Gnosticism identified the Bible's Nephilim/ giants/ Gibor-him with the Children of Seth, Adam's 3rd son, in Genesis 6:1-4, it hosted an Angel mythology as elaborate as any later Grimiore. These Spirits could be compelled, like those in the mysteries of the Egyptians, to grant safe passage as the Initiated lived through Death. Abrasax gems, engraved with signs, sigils, NAMES of Power and Gnostic slogans were collected by Paolo Alessandro Maffei and Charles William King, many now in the British Museum.

The Cast of Characters in these books include Jesus (the Self-Originator aka Autogenes) and the Apostles, the emanations of the Secret God called Rulers, like Forethought aka the Barbelo, Yaldabaoth the False Creator God; Sophia / Chockmah /Wisdom, his Mother aka After Thought , Prior Acquaintance, Incorruptibility, Eternal Life , Truth, servants like Eleleth, Daueithal, Oroajael, Harmozel, whose EL ending NAMEs mark them as Angels, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, his sister (not in the Bible) named Norea, Noah, Lot, Job and an much more powerful Shaitan / Satan /Accuser/ Snake , the Nephlihem / Giant half breed Gods,

The Original Gnostic texts are:

The Apocryphon of John aka Secret Book According to John -very important;

The Apocalypse of Adam aka Revelation of Adam

The Reality of the Rulers aka the Archons aka The Eons aka the Aeons

The Thunder aka Perfect Mind aka The Gospel of Eve

The Three-fold First Thought aka Trimorphic Protennoia

The Tripartite Tractate

The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit aka the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians


Allogenes aka The Foreigner aka the Book of the Stranger

The Three Steles of Seth (These Gnostics considered themselves the Seed/ Children of Seth)

The Gospel of Judas - very important, the Divine Jesus left his body, and the Betrayer was actually the sacrifice, who freed him by turning over his body/ prison for Crucifixion; from the Codex Tchacos, not Nag Hammadi, different but similar community;


The Coptic Apocalypse of Paul

The Thought of Norea (Seth's sister.... it's complicated)

The Second Treatise of the Great Seth

The Hymn of the Pearl aka the Hymn of Jude Thomas the Apostle in the Country of Indians

The Gospel of Thomas

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas

The Acts of Thomas

Book of Thomas the Contender akaThe Book of Thomas the Contender Writing to the Perfect

The Psalms of Thomas

The Apocalypse of Thomas

the Treatise on Resurrection

Gospel According to Philip

Letter of Peter to Philip, on "The deficiency of the aeons and their pleroma."

Gospel of Truth

Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth (on Hermes Trismegistus)

Prayer of Thanksgiving

The Perfect Discourse, excerpt only aka Asclepius aka Aesculapius

Gospel of Mary has later Gnostic elements, more Valentinus than the Nag Hammadi or Zoroasterian in flavor

First Apocalypse of James - Jesus and his brother James

Second Apocalypse of James - James’ martyrdom

Apocalypse of Peter

Prayer of the Apostle Paul aka Supplication to Saint Paul

The Psalm of Christ

The Teachings of Silvanus

Acts of Thomas

The Dialogue of the Savior

The Odes of Solomon

Proclamation of Peter

Apocalypse of Mesos

Apocalypse of Nicotheus

Apocalypse of Zoroaster

Resources:; Secrete Teachings of all Ages by Manly P. Hall;; ; Jesus' race... ;; ; see, Mani's interpretation of the Book of Enoch; ;; The Gnostics by Tobias Churton, 1987 ; "Gnosticism," Ancient and Modern by Arthur Versluis, essay; Gnosticism: From Nag Hammadi to the Gospel of Judas lecture series by Professor David Brakke, The Teaching Co/ Great Courses, 2015; ;  ; read - ; ; ; ; ;