Gnosticism and the Vine of Gods

Gnosticism has been around for a very long time. It is an esoteric religious philosophy that has taken many forms and appearances over the centuries. The gnostics often described the truth in abstract terms, part of their mystique and wisdom, but they claimed to have found many keys in order to find this truth: gnosis (through knowledge), gnosticism (followers of gnosis), and gnostic (knowledgeable).

The key concept in gnosticism is "gnosis", or direct experiential knowledge of reality/truth/god/etc, which was believed to be attainable by all humans. This idea can be traced back as far as Plato, who wrote that the truth could only be approached through personal reflection and gnosis, not through someone else's theories or teachings.

In gnosticism there is a central deity (who can also be called the All), who created many lesser deities and angels which make up the world we see and experience (the Gnostic text, The Apocryphon of John, refers to these as the "Archons"). There is another realm that gnostics referred to as "the Pleroma" (Fullness) which was perfect and where the gods originate from. This Fullness was never seen by humans — it is completely abstract, above space-time/matter/form/energy— but gnostics believed that in this place everything is pure light energy . It has been said that gnostics believed all beings originated from the gnostic version of a singularity, which "exploded" and created our universe.

The gnostics—and many mystics for that matter—believed that the world we experience is not real/true/etc (hence their belief in another unseen realm). The gnostics believed that the physical body is actually prison-like; it keeps us trapped here on earth where we can be deceived by Archons (who are symbolic of ignorance) into believing all kinds of things about reality. Some gnostics believed that humans themselves were originally spiritual beings trapped in this mundane existence (the gnostic term for these beings was "pneumatikoi", or spiritual people), but they lost touch with who they really were through soul-forging (deceiving themselves into believing the material world was real). One gnostic myth claims gnostics originally lived in a realm of light-energy far away, but they were lured to the physical realm by the goddess Sophia.

You might be thinking this gnostic god sounds like an abstract version of God/Yahweh/Allah/etc that you learned about growing up… gnostics did not worship any particular deity but rather tried to see beyond them all. They felt that holy books and scriptures could become very misleading, since all deities are just false creations used by Archons to deceive us—and according to gnostics, if we follow these religious teachings our souls will continue to reincarnate on earth where we can potentially get trapped for eternity.

In gnosticism there is a path to escape this cycle of reincarnation, which gnostics called the "Way" (or gnostic mystics sometimes referred to it as "the Vine"). There are many teachings about how to do this, but gnostics believed that you must find truth through yourself—no one else can give you the right knowledge. They felt that too often people would merely follow someone else's interpretation of truth and misunderstandings were rampant in gnostic texts. Truth for gnostics was very individualistic and experiential, so it required a lot of self-inquiry and reflection to fully understand all reality/truth/god/etc.

In gnosticism there is also an idea of being saved—not in the traditional Christian sense of "this is my truth and I'm going to heaven" but gnostics believed that after death we go through a period called "the harrowing of hell", where our souls are purged of all previous sins (symbolized by an Archon who gnostics believe represents ignorance/forgetfulness). Once we have been "saved" we return to the Pleroma. At this point gnostics believed we could be fully enlightened and once again become spiritual beings, free from worldly restrictions—we would be saved from ourselves and finally realize reality was not what it seemed.

Truth and knowledge were very important for gnosticism, but there were many different gnostic sects at their height between 200 AD-400 AD and all of them had slightly different beliefs. Some gnostics believed that gnosticism should be about following a set of rules, while others believed gnosticism was entirely about seeking your own truth through direct experience. The goal for many gnostics was to receive gnosis (knowledge) and once the truth is revealed they could be liberated from this world and live in the Pleroma forever—but gnostics did not claim to know all things, so gnostic teachings were dynamic and open-ended.

The term "gnostic" has been used so many times by so many people it's become difficult to define what true gnosticism even is—the original texts are still lost in history but the terms "gnostic" and "gnosticism" have been used by many different groups of people to describe their own beliefs. As gnostics like to say, "know your gnostic!"

Gnostic Origins and Origins of the Gnostics: The term 'Gnosis' is derived from the Greek word 'to know'. It was a spiritual movement found in various forms throughout the Mediterranean [area] [world]. What unites all gnostic movements is that they believed gnosis can be attained through knowledge or direct experience. This way of knowing transcends the notions of faith and reason and links humankind directly with God. There are two major schools of gnosticism: Syrian-Egyptian and Persian gnosticism. The Syrian-Egyptian school had connections with some Jewish and Christian groups, while the Persian gnostics were linked with indigenous Iranian religions.

The gnostic worldview is a radical departure from Jewish and Christian teachings of the time, which held that God had created humankind in his image and likeness. In gnosticism, only certain enlightened individuals can become god-like through knowledge or gnosis. According to gnostics the material world was actually created by an inferior 'pretended' deity called the demiurge (Greek: divine craftsman) who resembles a false idol. Gnostics considered Christ a stranger whose appearance on earth revealed its defects [as] this world [was] not worthy of being saved from itself [by him]. The gnostic savior figure liberates souls from matter so they can return to the realm of light where they properly belong.

Gnosis acquired through gnostic teachings, rituals or personal experience was never to be imposed on others. Gnostics believed gnosis ultimately equaled freedom. The gnostic emphasis on knowledge has led some scholars to suggest gnostic movements were more akin to philosophical schools than religions in the traditional sense—gnostics often times protested against what they saw as the church's misinterpretation of Jesus teachings. As gnostics believed gnosis should be experienced directly rather than by other people, there are no gnostic churches which have survived intact up to today. All gnostics sects have long since died out but it is clear from writings that many continued throughout Asia Minor and Europe until at least 400 AD.

The gnostic sect known as the Cathars, however, did survive in parts of Europe up until around 1300 AD. The gnostics claimed that there are many paths to gnosis and even though people have different beliefs they could all attain gnosis through their own path because gnosis is about knowing things for yourself—it was not a set of rules to be imposed by other people.

Gnostic Teachings: While gnostic teachings varied by group, there were some common themes found throughout gnosticism which formed the basis of nearly every gnostic belief. Many gnostics adopted the concept of reincarnation believing an individual had to live multiple lives before reaching perfection (which occurs after death). Other gnostics believed this world was created intentionally by an evil god that was inferior to the true God of light.

Gnostics also had their own savior figures— gnostic Christians followed Christ but they viewed him more as a revealer of gnosis rather than someone who conquers death for his followers. The gnostic savior remained in the realm of light, never taking physical form on earth. Another common gnostic belief is that there are different deities being worshipped which represent different things— gnostics believe many gods have been created by this creator deity ,the villain in gnostic cosmology.

Gnostic myths speak of Sophia (Greek: wisdom) descending into matter and becoming trapped within it until redeemed by her son, who descended into world to reveal gnosis so she could return home again.

I know what you're thinking: gnostics are a bunch of weirdos. But don't worry, they all died out a long time ago so you don't have to worry about them anymore....

...Or so we "think".



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