Category Archives: Gnostic Thoughts

Talk Gnosis Interview

Sophia

Last Wednesday, I had a great time speaking with with Bishops +Ken Canterbury and +Lainie Petersen of the Oriental Apostolic Church of Damcar, along with Fr. Tony Silvia+ of the Apostolic Johannite Church. If you don’t currently watch Talk Gnosis, I’d encourage you to subscribe to their YouTube channel — they do live YouTube episodes every Wednesday evening, followed up by their podcast Talk Gnosis After Dark. They touch on a wide variety of Gnostic topics from various different traditions, and I was honored to be able to speak with them about the Little Office and praying the hours, following their wonderful interview with my own bishop from the Ecclesia Gnostica, the Most Rev. +Stephan Hoeller.

My interview can be found here: Talk Gnosis After Dark

The Most Rev. +Stephan Hoeller’s interview is here: Talk Gnosis

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The Divine Office, Little Offices, and Devotion

Book of Hours

As some of you may know (and most probably don’t), for the last several months I’ve been working on a Little Office of the Blessed Sophia, which I hope to have published and available by the start of Advent — God willing. Now if you come from a Catholic background, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a “little office”. If not, you may be wondering, “What the heck is a little office?” Well I’m glad you asked! 😉

The most popular little office is The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which saw a rise in popularity amongst Christian laity in the Middle Ages, and still remains popular to this day. It’s modeled after the Divine Office, but is much shorter and contains less variation. It started off as simply the common office of the Blessed Virgin Mary — that is, the regular set of psalms, readings, and prayers appointed for Marian feast days. It gradually began to be prayed on a daily basis, in addition to the Divine Office, in monasteries to honor holy Mary. At certain points in history was even considered obligatory for clergy, and also because a popular form of Marian devotion for lay people because it was less complicated than the Divine Office.

Allow me to break for a moment and explain the Divine Office, for those who not familiar. The Divine Office has been called the official “prayer of the Church”, with roots in ancient Jewish daily prayers, and early monastic practices. The ancient Jews would pray at certain times of day, as recorded in scripture. This was a practice that the apostles and other early Jewish Christians continued. When the first monastics started retreating to the desert to live a life of solitude and prayer, it is said that they would pray the entire psalter (the 150 Psalms of David) in one day. By the time St. Benedict wrote his monastic rule of life, he offered a schema for praying the psalter in a week. In the Divine Office, the psalms are divided up by day, and into 8 canonical hours, or times of prayer throughout the day: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline. Since Matins (the midnight office) and Lauds (the sunrise office) are often counted as one, 7 canonical hours are often spoken of. In addition to the psalter, which forms the most important part of the hours, there are also lessons from scripture and Church Fathers, prayers, hymns, and antiphons. Though each time of prayer is called an hour, this refers more to the time of day the office is said, and not the length of time it takes to pray an office. As time went one, praying the Divine Office became binding upon the clergy, in addition the monastic orders according to their rules and constitutions.

The divine office and canonical hours have taken on different forms in the East and West, and many monastic orders have their own particular rite — but no matter the place or traditions, the focus has always been the same: to sanctify the day by turning to God in prayer. The Divine Office has been the Church’s way to fulfill the teaching of St. Paul: “pray without ceasing.”

To return to The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this form of devotion offered devout Christians a way of participating in the Church’s daily prayers without requiring a lot of effort to learn the breviary. Unlike the Divine Office, it doesn’t use the entire Book of Psalm, only a small selection which with regular use can be easily memorized. But this isn’t the only little office one can pray, it just happens to be the most popular. The Little Office of the Passion is attributed to St. Francis, who took various scriptures and organized them into unique psalms to be prayed throughout the day. The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception and The Little Office of the Guardian Angel are quite a bit shorter, and rather than utilizing the psalms, a short hymn is recited at each hour. I’ve even offered some little offices here on Gnostic Devotions, for both morning and evening prayers, and my own church has a few different vespers services for public use, as well as an Office of St. Michael for private devotion. Of course, another little office that is often forgotten is the Office of the Dead (the proper office for All Souls’ Day), which consists only of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds — and which inspired the Office we use in the Gnostic Confraternity of All Departed Souls.

Hallowing the hours of the day with periods of prayer is wonderful; but why do it? I could write an entire series of posts on the benefits of praying the psalms regularly, but I’ll save that for the future. We all know that taking small breaks from one’s daily obligations has tremendous benefits for us, mentally and physically. But as Gnostics, seekers of the Light, regular prayer turns us inward and upward toward the Divine, keeping us constantly conscious of the divine spark within, and stilling our minds from the stresses of our day-to-day lives. Through the discipline of regular prayer, we can free our minds to let the Gnosis flow, so to speak. And it is a discipline, it takes practice and effort to form a daily practice and keep oneself accountable enough to stick to it — but that effort also plays an important part in experiencing divine Gnosis. By striving to maintain our practice, even if we don’t necessarily feel like it that day, we exert our will over our bodies so that we can “win the victory over our lower selves!”

I’m a firm believer in the necessity of having a devotional practice, especially if you’re Gnostic. As Gnostics we are esotericists, and let’s face it: many Gnostics are also practicing magicians. Ritual magic is a powerful way of elevating one’s consciousness to higher levels, and allowing us to experience and unite with our Holy Twin Angel. But often we see magicians driven mad in their practices because they lack a devotional component. They can intone magic words and divine names, draw their circles and pentagrams, experience visions… But without a grounding devotional practice, they can risk not being prepared for their experiences, which can quite literally drive them mad.

Devotional practice keeps us grounded. It is the simple act of worshiping the Divine, without necessarily invoking, or asking for anything — but just communing. Remember that at the core of our being, we are divine. God dwells in us, and us in God. A good devotional practice keeps us mindful of that.

Devotions do not have to be set rituals, although a good ritual can be helpful in getting into a regular practice. Whether using one of the offices I’ve linked to in this post, or simply reciting the Our Father, the Jesus Prayer, Kyrie Eleison: establishing a regular practice to stick to is what is important. The practice can be changed and modified, additions can be made; and when one is comfortable, one can improvise. But the important thing is to do it with a humble and open heart, mind, and spirit. But whatever you do, as the saying goes: Just do it!

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The Faithful Heart of Sophia

Faithful Heart of Sophia

May the dove and serpent unite, and white lily with red rose we wed. Amen.

Last Friday, we celebrated the Assumption of Sophia, the return of Sophia to the Pleroma out of the chaos into which She had fallen, when all the aeons of Light came together to rescue Her. In the exoteric Church, this same feast day celebrates the Assumption or Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, based on the belief that Holy Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven by God at the end of her earthly life.

On August 22, 1944, the octave day of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII instituted a feast day in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary – a popular devotion to the Blessed Virgin which in many ways is analogous to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Gnostics, this special octave day may be an opportunity to contemplate a similar mystery in relation to Sophia’s Assumption, focusing on what I like to call the Faithful Heart of Sophia.

Now if you’ve followed my sporadically updated blog here at Gnostic Devotions, you may have noticed the Faithful Heart of Sophia mentioned already, particularly in a prayer from the Chaplet for the Dead: “Faithful Heart of Sophia, be my salvation.” As the Faithful Heart is more of an idea than an official devotion (yet!), let’s consider the fall of Sophia into the outer chaos, and Her triumphant yet compassionate return to the Pleroma.

In the Book, Pistis Sophia, Jesus tells His apostles of the fall of Sophia, and His own journey through the spheres to rescue Her from the rulers of the chaos: called, in Gnostic scripture, the archons. Sophia, whose name means “Wisdom”, is the youngest of the aeons – emmanations of God, not created by Him, but rather aspects of Himself poured forth, the whole of which make up the Pleroma (Fullness). In the story Jesus tells, Sophia longs to know God, Her Source, and be united with Him; and She sees a reflection of His light below. Thinking it was the Light Himself, She rushes toward it, and in so doing She finds that She has plunged into the chaos, outside of the Pleroma. She is unable to return to Her home, and in Her sorrow at Her predicament, an imperfect and monstrous emanation is brought forth from Her, called in various scriptures: Ialdabaoth, Saklas, Samael, the demiurge or half-creator.

Ialdabaoth declares, “I am God, and there is no other god but me!” And he begins creating beings to serve him, the archons, and together they create and rule the physical universe and everything in it. When Sophia sees what Her error has resulted in, She cries out to the Light to save Her. In the Pistis Sophia (meaning, approximately, “Faithful Wisdom”), She utters a series of repentences, followed by odes of praise to the Light – and the Light hears Her, and takes pity on Her. As Fr. Sam+ mentioned in his homily on Sunday, She experienced more pain and sorrow in Her fall from the Pleroma than we can ever imagine or experience here on earth. Just try to imagine a divine being losing Her place in a realm of timeless perfection, and being trapped in matter by a monster who fancies himself to be God.

But She never loses faith! Even in the midst of Her despair, She cries out in Her first repentance, “O Light of lights, in whom I have had faith from the beginning, hearken now then, O Light, unto my repentance. Save me, O Light…” Through Her songs of sorrow and praise, the Light hears Her, and sends a Savior in whom the entire Fullness of God dwells: the Christos. But even as She is rescued, She takes pity on creatures whom the demiurge Ialdabaoth had made, left stranded in the darkness. So She separates Herself, so that a part of Her can remain in the world, to assist and comfort Her children still trapped in the world that resulted from Her mistake.

Last week we celebrated Sophia’s return to the Pleroma – mirroring our own eventual return. And in a few weeks we will, sadly, commemorate Her fall into the chaos, and by extension, our own fall into matter. But on tomorrow’s octave, in between Sophia’s Assumption and Descent, let’s particularly remember Her faith. Let’s keep our hearts faithful, as Hers is; remembering, of course, that “faith” is not a synonym for “belief”. Belief won’t save us, but trust and confidence is the foundation of the Path of Gnosis. As the Gospel of Philip says, “Faith is the earth, in which we take root.” Sophia’s story is our story, therefore may our hearts be ever enflamed with Pistis: faith in the Light, who is rescuing us out of the darkness of this world, and will restore us to our rightful home amongst the aeons.

Antiphon. My heart hath rejoiced in the Lord, and my voice praiseth my God, because I have joyed in His salvation.

℣. Hidden beneath the surface of all appearances, alleluia, alleluia.

℟. She liveth as the eternal Heart of the Living Sun, alleluia, alleluia.

Let us pray. O Father of the Light, in whom Pistis Sophia had faith from the beginning, singing praises unto Thee even from the depths of chaos: grant in Thy loving-kindness, that we who with devout minds recall Her Faithful Heart, may always live our lives with our hearts aflame by that same faith which She kept while in Her deepest sorrow. Through our Lord the Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(From The Little Office of the Blessed Sophia)

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Don’t Do What You Hate: Conduct, Ethics & Morals

MosesIt is a common belief among mainstream Christian communities to focus heavily on right conduct, and they define rules which the “true Christian” must follow to lead a Godly life.  Some go so far as to say that Christ Himself implies morals (which may very well be true).  But morals are subjective, as the inconsistency of various Christian churches’ teachings on the matter attest.  Even within the same church there’s not always a consensus amongst the members – e.g. what some Catholics consider a mortal sin, others consider venial, even with such a complete guide to follow as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Recognizing that it is human nature to “miss the mark” (sin), Christians emphasize that we can be forgiven of our transgressions because, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  However, there are some churches that, even though they recognize that God is merciful and forgiving, will still give a member of their church the boot for committing a sin that “cries to heaven” so badly that the person is no longer welcome in the community.  Clearly, God may be forgiving, but people aren’t.

What can be said of the Gnostic view of morality, ethics, and right conduct?  As the Most Rev. Stephan Hoeller has said, if morality is taken to be a system of rules then Gnostics are opposed to them, because such a system originates with the demiurge to serve his purpose.  But, if morality consists of an inner integrity arising from the illumination of the indwelling divine spark (the Christ in you, as St. Paul put it), then we can embrace them.

Commandments and rules are not salvific.  They may serve a purpose, by maintaining peaceful relations within social groups – but they aren’t relevant to salvation.  Morality is ever changing in accordance with spiritual and secular development.

When the apostles asked Jesus what they should do, He responded by saying what they should not do:  “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate” (Gospel of Thomas 6).  This isn’t very specific, but it does place the responsibility upon the individual to listen to the Christ within, not to worldly “authorities” whose rules of morality are largely based on their own personal opinion.  It’s hard enough living up to our own personal standards of living, never mind someone else’s!

The Law of Moses is one set of rules that most Christians recognize as authoritative.  It provides us with a crude measure of good and evil.  But the Gnostic teacher Ptolemy says, in his letter to Flora:  “[T]he Law was not ordained by the perfect God the Father, for it is secondary, being imperfect and in need of completion by another, containing commandments alien to the nature and intentions of such a God.”

Christ was that completion – the fulfillment of the Law.  Some of his teachings were outright contrary to the law, as can be seen in His Antitheses of the Law in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5.

Ptolemy divides the Law of Moses into three parts:

“…the entire Law contained in the Pentateuch of Moses was not ordained by one legislator – I mean, not by God alone: some commandments are Moses’, and some were given by other men … The first part must be attributed to God alone, and his legislation; the second to Moses – not in the sense that God legislates through him, but in the sense that Moses gave some legislation under the influence of his own ideas; and the third to the elders of the people, who seem to have ordained some commandments of their own at the beginning.”

He further says:

“[T]his division of the law (that is, god’s own law) was established neither by the perfect god, as we have taught, nor surely by the devil – which it would be wrong to say – then the establisher of this division is distinct from them. And he is the craftsman and maker of this universe or world and the things within it.”

With a divided law established by the demiurge, how can we discern what is moral and immoral.  Ptolemy says, “We shall draw proofs of what we say from the words of the Savior, which alone can lead us without error to the comprehension of reality.”  Jesus said, in the quote from Thomas given above, that it’s your responsibility.  You already know right from wrong, because of the indwelling spark of light that is the core of your being.  Listen to it, and it will guide you far better than any list of rules given by man.

The exoteric Church may cling to the letter of the law, but the Gnostic knows that those are merely words – regulations based on the fancies of imperfect people, and a tool of the demiurge.  Jesus was quite critical of those who focus on the letter of the law, while ignoring the spirit behind it – yet man still feels the need for a formal set of rules, and then beats himself up when he is unable to live up to the expectations placed upon him.

You cannot go wrong if you follow the Great Commandment given by Christ Himself:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39).  To violate that is the only true sin.

For additional reading material, see:

On Righteousness, by Epiphanes
Teachings of Silvanus
The Gnostic Catechism, particularly the Examen in the Evening Prayer

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Christ is our Foundation, and our Chief Cornerstone

Bridal ChamberThis blog is primarily focused on devotional practices, but since it’s been practically dead for several months, I thought it would also be beneficial to use it as a way of collecting my thoughts on various Gnostic topics.  With that in mind, I hope to spend more of my time focused on essay writing.  At present, I’d like to address an issue I’ve found on Facebook more and more lately.  I see so many memes and posts criticizing Christian beliefs, and often they’re difficult for me to respond to because on the one hand, I’m not terribly comfortable with Christianity; but on the other hand, I identify as one.

I see people criticize the Christian God, laughing that an all-knowing god would create the world, create human beings, place a Tree of Knowledge in the garden where they live and tell them not to eat from it – knowing full well that that’s exactly what they’ll do.  And then what does he do?  He punishes them for it!  And thousands of years later, he sends his only son (who happens to be God Himself) to be killed, so that He (God) can finally forgive people of their sins.

I also have friends who tease me about believing in a “magical sky fairy.”

Both of these things trouble me, because I don’t believe in them.  “Magical sky fairy” doesn’t really work for a Christian Gnostic, because God is not just out there, like He is for mainstream Christians.  He didn’t create the world ex nihilo, and He’s not just sitting up in the sky looking down on us, waiting for judgment day.

Gnosticism, while Christian, diverged from its brethren in the early centuries of the common era.  So while mainstream Christians have had 2,000 years to develop their dogma(s), Gnosticism died out.  True, Gnostic thought was carried like a lamp through the centuries, often in secret.  But we haven’t had the luxury of an unbroken chain of succession (and I don’t mean Apostolic Succession), as the exoteric Church has.  Our teachings and mythos seem foreign, because we haven’t had centuries to perpetuate these things to the point that they became “mainstream.”

When I speak of God, I mean something quite different from what a Catholic or an Evangelical would mean.  When I speak of God, I mean the ineffable, invisible God, who is the Source of All – and we are but emanations of that Source.  The Great Invisible God dwells within us, and without us.  Unlike pantheists, who say that the Divine exists within the whole Universe; we, Gnostics, would say that the Universe exists within the Divine.

In the beginning was the Source:  the One:  the All:  Spirit:  Life:  Light.  He contained within Himself all potentialities – including light and darkness, good and evil.  He wished to understand Himself; and this, His first thought, poured forth from Him and became manifest as the Aeon Barbelo:  Forethought.

At this point, there finally existed an observer and an observee.  God could look upon Himself, through His First Thought.

By the cooperation of Forethought, he brought forth other emanations (aeons) – pouring forth aspects of Himself, through the mediation of His Consort, the Divine Mother.  He brought forth Foreknowledge, Indestructibility, Eternal Life, Truth.  Together with Barbelo, He brought forth the Alone-Begotton Son, the Christos:  a perfect reflection of His Divine Light.  He brought forth Luminaries to rule over their regions, containing within themselves three aeons.  And the last emanation He brought forth was Wisdom (Sophia).

Up until now, I’ve been writing in the past tense – but this is due to the limitations of language.  We have no eternal tense in English, and these things are Eternal Truths that have no beginning or end.  But it’s at this point that we begin to enter upon the creation of time.  Sophia, in Her longing to know Her Source, brought forth a child on her own: Ialdabaoth.  He is the moment time began.

Ialdabaoth, the demiurge, created archons to serve him, modeled on the divine realm above.  He had no knowledge of the aeons that preceded him, but his is creation is a reflection of the Divine Fullness from whence he sprang.  And then he created a physical world, and a man who was a reflection of the Divine Man, the Son of the Invisible God.

It was Ialdabaoth who created a tree of knowledge, telling the man (Adam) and his wife (Eve) not to eat from it.  He said, “I am god, and there is none other beside me!”

Sophia, whose power was trapped in the demiurge’s creation, begged the light to have mercy on these people, and save them from the control of the demiurge.  And then the Feminine Spiritual Principal entered a serpent, who instructed the man and woman to eat of the tree of knowledge, that they might know their divine origins in the True God.  Eating of this tree was not the first sin, but the first act of redemption!

As far as Christ is concerned, there was never a need for anyone to die in order for God to save us.  God could have easily corrected the situation from the very beginning, rescuing us from the demiurge.  But we’re all sparks of His Divine Light, and this world we live in is but another emanation in the eternal process of God knowing Himself.  Every experience we have here on earth is His experience, for He is All.

The aeons of God poured their power upon the Christos and sent Him to earth to save us – no, to wake us up!  To help us remember!  It was the fear of the demiurge and his archons, manifest in all the human institutions we create for ourselves, that caused the Christ to die.  Truth frightens them, as it often frightens us.  The sacrifice of Christ was not death on a cross, but the Divine entering the limitations of matter for our sakes – so that we too can remember that we are Divine.

God does not exist “out there.”  He is at the core of our being, if we only remember.

Christ is our salvation, and our chief cornerstone!

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