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Terror and Intrigue
In Gnostic Countercultures, fourteen scholars investigate countercultural aspects associated with the gnostic which is broadly conceived with reference to the claim to have special knowledge of the divine, which either transcends or transgresses conventional religious knowledge. The papers explore the concept of the gnostic in Western culture from the ancient world to the modern New Age. Contributors trace the emergence, persistence, and disappearance of gnostic religious currents that are perceived to be countercultural, inverted, transgressive and/or subversive in their relationship to conventional religions and their claims to knowledge. The essays represent a selection of the papers delivered at the international congress Gnostic Countercultures: Terror and Intrigue convened at Rice University, March 26-28, 2015. The essays were originally published in Gnosis 1.1-2 (2016) and are available for the first time under separate cover.
Author: Matthew Dillon

Abstract

This article analyzes the reception of the ancient Gnostic archons, or rulers, in contemporary conspiracy theories. In the classical Gnostic myth these nefarious beings rule the cosmos, mold primordial matter into a prison for Adam and Eve, and blind the Elect to their divine nature. These archons send cataclysms to earth and serve as celestial gatekeepers that keep the divine light trapped in their creation. Contemporary conspiracy theorists such as John Lamb Lash, David Icke, and Carol Reimer read the archons not as allegories or metaphors, but as real beings at work in contemporary politics, media and religion. Utilizing Michael Barkun’s concept of “superconspiracies,” this article examines how conspiracists Lash, Icke, and Reimer weave disparate conspiratorial discourses together through the classical Gnostic myth. The article concludes that the vast gulf between the anticosmic and anthropic dualism of the classical myth and the generally pro-cosmic and humanist thrust of modern esoterica leads these authors into paradoxical understands of cosmos, mind and eschatology.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

Abstract

In The Rebel (1951) Albert Camus assigns ancient Gnosticism an important place in the history of human revolt. In his interpretation, Gnostics incarnate the spirit of proud rebellion and protest against a God deemed responsible for human suffering and death. For Camus these are the roots of metaphysical rebellion in Western history that, beginning in the eighteenth century, culminated in the fascist and socialist utopian experiments in the twentieth century. After assessing Camus’s view of Gnosticism, this article claims that modern cinema shows the impact of The Rebel on the way several recent films conceive of their rebellious protagonists. The controlled character of the revolts they promote shows that modern cinema follows Gnosticism in their analysis both the modern sentiments of alienation in contemporary society and the ways to break free in order to attain a life worthy of its name.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies

Abstract

Around 1970 in graduate school, I wrote a paper on the Gospel of Thomas, one of the documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. The debate over its gnosticizing elements was alive and well, and I weighed in with an argument that its thorough oblivion to history rendered it Gnostic—in the capital-“G” sense. I published a revised version of the paper in an academic journal in 1976. Then in 1986, I began to practice macrobiotics. As I studied the teachings of Michio Kushi, its foremost American teacher, I began to suspect religion. With longtime political interests in world government, Kushi elaborated on a cosmological spiral, with humans descending from a “unique principle” as it divided into yin and yang. Finding balance with yin and yang energies through diet and lifestyle would lead to alignment and peace, even as the earth itself wobbled on its axis through cycles that lasted thousands of years—the earth’s particular location influencing humans for good or ill. Even so, if macrobiotic principles were followed, what lay ahead was “one peaceful world.” Somewhere on the road to one peaceful world, Kushi discovered the Gospel of Thomas. He began to use it regularly in his popular “spiritual” seminars. This article leverages an account of the gnostic (here small-“g”) content of macrobiotics on Michio Kushi’s commentary on the Gospel of Thomas—The Gospel of Peace (1992)—and also on related works. The paper explores the gnosticism of macrobiotic foodways and a peaceful world in terms of American culture, looking for lines of connection and viewing them as encrypted signs—in the twenty-first century still—of the gnostic in us all.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Author: Erik Davis

Abstract

Today the clinical return of research into psychedelic medicine has been accompanied by a model of religious experience that stresses the healing effects of unitive, immanent experiences. This paper instead unearths a counter-narrative of psychedelic religiosity: a more suspicious and critical sense of spiritual encounter that I illuminate through the classic gnostic mythology of the archons. In a number of movement texts from the 1960s through the 2000s, I trace the appearance of archon-like figures—both explicitly linked to gnostic traditions and not—and how their appearance motivates social critique and a more engaged politics of consciousness.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
Author: Eric Wargo

Abstract

The “biomechanoids” of the Swiss painter H. R. Giger (1940–2014) depict the sadomasochistic bondage of humans and machines. Although Giger’s art has commonly been interpreted in psychoanalytic terms as representing some past trauma connected with origins and birth, I argue that it also encodes a distinctly gnostic warning about the trajectory of consciousness in relation to technology, a “fall of spirit into matter” that may lie ahead of our species rather than behind. With the help of the endosymbiosis theory of biologist Lynn Margulis, I decode the dark warning transmission in Giger’s work, especially the iconic “Space Jockey” Giger designed for Ridley Scott’s 1979 blockbuster Alien—a fossilized star pilot fused to its ship. As a vision of the more disturbing possibilities of cyborgs or human-machine symbionts, the Space Jockey contrasts sharply with optimistic dreams of Singularities and “spiritual machines.” It suggests a posthuman future in which distinctly nonspiritual machines find it useful to coopt or exploit spirit (human or otherwise) for their own ends.

In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies
In: Gnosis: Journal of Gnostic Studies