Tuesday, June 28, 2005

gnosis 3: the dark side

In his book Gnosis, Geddes MacGregor begins with a clear acceptance of the dark side of gnosis as expressed in Christian Gnosticism.
Everyone who knows anything at all about the history of Christian thought has heard of the Gnostics who flourished in the second century of the Christian era and claimed to possess a special kind fo knowledge (gnosis) of the spiritual chemistry of the universe and an esoteric insight into the workings of the divine nature. These sectaries expounded wildly speculative views and indulged in fanciful and sometimes grotesque interpretations of Scripture. Some even mingled magical formulas with their teaching.
[p1, my emphasis]

Prominent among the opponents of these sects was Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200), who conducted a bitter campaign against them. Historians of Western thought, including both Christians and Jews, have generally followed second-century opinion and denigrated them accordingly. Perhaps more can be said in their favour than has generally been said; yet it is difficult to see how the Church could have done otherwise than her instinct dictated, for these sectaries would have eventually destroyed Christianity, swallowing it up in the infinite ideological chaos of their own vagaries.
[p2, my emphasis]

It will be the work of the larger part of the book for MacGregor to sort out what is of value and what can be dangerous in gnosis. Because of this mixture of dark and light, this potential both for madness and for illumination, it is not surprising that mainstream Christians can be fearful and yet fascinated by the several expressions of gnosis in magic, the occult, and the paranormal. Gnosis inevitably calls the seeker out of the usual comfort zones and into the wild woods where ghosts and ghouls lurk at every step of the way.

In a Baptist article rejecting new Bible Versions, the author has this to say of MacGregor:
"The Bible in the Making" was written during the 1950's. During my research for version 3.0 of this paper, I stumbled across a much newer work (1979) by Geddes MacGreggor. Curiously it was titled "Gnosis" and was about Gnostics. In the inner leaf, the publisher's name was given as The Theosophical Society of America - an occult book publisher! MacGreggor is now pushing gnostic thought, and accusing the early church, particularly Iraneaus, of error in stopping the movement. He is enthralled by the Alexandrian cults and believes that Jesus can only be understood within His gnostic setting. He calls for a twentieth century reformation of the church along Alexandrian lines. This is not surprising. In majority, the texts used to "correct" the Recieved Text are Alexandrian in origin. If we accept their perverted versions of the Word, why not emulate them further?
[my emphasis]


For this author, the signposts to the wild woods include theosophy, the occult, perversion and the Alexandrian school. It's also pretty clear that he did not bother to read past the inner leaf and as far as page 2, quoted above, where MacGregor is clearly supportive of Irenaeus' position. It's simply a case of pointing to the dirty bathwater while avoiding throwing the baby out with it.

The issue, at bottom, is madness. Both madness itself and the fear of it. It could be said that madness is actually no more than the uncontrolled fear of the wild woods and what lurks there. The woods can nurture much that is good so long as the wanderer therein can avoid going completely berserk, panicking mightily, and irretrievably losing his or her head. Short of that extreme, there is much adventure, much enlightenment, and much romance to be had there.

The creative loosening up elicited by the sojourn in the woods needs, however, to be balanced from time to time with new structures, the symbolic equivalent of building crude wood huts as shelter from the elements and the predators. In the current burgeoning of interest in gnosis, it is good to see huts like these:

Some huts will stand, some fall, and some will be dismantled with the elements re-used for building larger huts. It's good to see the gnostic building industry thus thriving.
 

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