Alan Moore’s Promethea: Countercultural Gnosis and the End of the World

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

Alan Moore’s Promethea (1999 to 2005) is among the most explicitly “gnostic,” “esoteric,” and “occultist” comics strips ever published. Hailed as a virtuoso performance in the art of comics writing, its intellectual content and the nature of its spiritual message have been neglected by scholars. While the attainment of gnosis is clearly central to Moore’s message, the underlying metaphysics is more congenial to the panentheist perspective of ancient Hermetism than to Gnosticism in its classic typological sense defined by dualism and anti-cosmic pessimism. Most importantly, Promethea is among the most explicit and intellectually sophisticated manifestoes of a significant new religious trend in contemporary popular culture. Its basic assumption is that there is ultimately no difference between imagination and reality, so that the question of whether gods, demons, or other spiritual entities are “real” or just “imaginary” becomes pointless. As a result, the factor of religious belief becomes largely irrelevant, and its place is taken by the factors of personal experience and meaningful practice.

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  • 1

    Kripal 2011.

  • 3

    Kripal 2011, 8–16.

  • 4

    Kripal 2011, 15–16; with reference to Moore and Babcock 2007, 131.

  • 5

    Cf. Green 2011.

  • 6

    Khoury 2008.

  • 7

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 125.

  • 8

    Pasi 2011, 143–160.

  • 9

    Robert 1981.

  • 10

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 126.

  • 11

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 126.

  • 12

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 127.

  • 13

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 128–129.

  • 14

    Hanegraaff 2013b. In this article I draw a distinction between Entheogenic Religion in a strict sense (defined by the use of psychoactive substances) and in a wider sense (referring to the use of other techniques for altering consciousness, such as specific breathing techniques, rhythmic drumming, ritual prayer and incantations, and so on). For a short systematic overview of these different types of trance induction and their relevance to religion, cf. Hanegraaff 2015. Entheogenic Religion becomes Entheogenic Esotericism if these entheogenic experiences are interpreted in terms of previous traditions currently classed under the “esotericism” rubric (for a short overview, see Hanegraaff 2013a, 18–44).

  • 16

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 127.

  • 17

    Moore and Babcock 2007, 128, with reference to Narby 1998. Ayahuasca is a famous entheogenic agent from the Amazon region (see e.g. Shanon 2002; Labate and Cavnar 2014).

  • 19

    Asprem 2014.

  • 20

    Di Liddo 2009, 99.

  • 21

    Davidsen 2014.

  • 22

    Possamai 2012.

  • 23

    Cusack 2010.

  • 24

    Cf. Hanegraaff 2007.

  • 26

    Baudrillard 1994, 1.

  • 31

    Martin 2014; Moore 2011, 189.

  • 34

    E.g. Fischer 2004, 124, with reference to Linda Santiman.

  • 35

    Hanegraaff 2011.

  • 36

    Cf. Locke 2012, 391–394.

  • 38

    See Owen 2004, 198.

  • 44

    Myers 1903, xviii; and cf Promethea # 32 about the Promethea moth, Callosamia promethea.

  • 46

    Braden et al. 2007; cf Hanegraaff 2010.

  • 47

    Debord 2000.

  • 48

    Sellars 2010, 85.

  • 54

    Leadbeater 1896.

  • 56

    Fischer 2005, 126.

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