When I wrote my last post, my intention was to start a series of posts summarizing the heart of the Gnostic way of looking at the world. The idea at the heart of Gnosticism is the idea that each of us has a bit of divinity within us. But this idea alone took various schools in completely different directions, depending on their overall outlook. Gnosticism defies easy description or the inclination to get to the bottom line.
Another theme common to all of the Gnostic sects focus on the importance of the mind, of thought, and of rationality. We’ve already discussed metanoia at length – the process of raising up the mind – and many of the aions have names which are some form of the word Nous/Noia, the Greek word for ‘mind’ or ‘thought’. In the Gnostic creation myth, the first act of the Father is to contemplate. As described in the Secret Book of John:
His aeon is indestructible, being in a state of tranquility, at rest in silence. … (It is) the one who knows Itself alone in the light-water that surrounds It, which is the spring of living water, the light which is full of purity. In every way It perceived Its own image, seeing It in the pure light-water which surrounds It.
We might here imagine the mind of the Father, a sole Oneness in the cosmos, surrounded by reflective water in all directions, looking out in all directions and seeing only himself. It’s a bit reminiscent of the spirit of God reflecting in the waters at the beginning of Genesis 1.
And Its thinking become a thing. She appeared. She stood in Its presence in the brilliance of the light; she is the power which is before the All. It is she who appeared, she who is the perfect Pronoia of the All, the light, the likeness of the light, the image of the Invisible, she who is the perfect power, Barbelo, the perfect aeon of the glory.
Pronoia is a Greek word meaning “first thought.” These events are still occurring within a mind: the Father in perfect stillness and silence, contemplating his reflection in the luminescent water; the first thought being articulated and becoming distinguished from the Father’s prior state of contemplation.
The creation of Barbelo, the First Thought of the Father, parallels the creation of Sophia as depicted in Proverbs 8:21-32: “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.. … I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight.”
Pronoia acts as the Father’s mouth, speaking forth words as the Father contemplates them and then passes them into her mind. There is a hint perhaps of sexual parentage here, especially in the image of the Father’s offspring being birthed by Pronoia the Mother as she speaks his words aloud. The Father and Pronoia exist as a syzygy, a union of two beings into one.
The word given form by being spoken is Logos, from whom, the myth tells us, the rest of the cosmos was given order and form.
In the Valentinian version of the mythos, the prime syzygy is the union of Profundity with Silence; this pair precedes Mind and Truth. The idea is largely the same; at the root of it all, a mind at rest, in silence, engages in deep reflection. It is no accident that this also describes the experience of one who performs silent prayer or stillness meditation. The “little” mind (or microcosmos) of the individual aspiring to union with God is of the same essence as the “big” mind (or macrocosmos) of God, and it is this likeness that makes reunion possible. And, the Gnostics say, it is the state of silent contemplation in which our individual minds are most like the mind of God, so this is the best state in which to discern truth.
[W]henever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6
In my last post, I mentioned the Valentinian view that the struggle for error vs. truth takes place primarily in the mind. It was not their position that the mind is all there is, but merely that within is where the most profound change occurs.
A common concern expressed by those who mistrust the mysticism of “looking within” is that it is too easy to be led astray. If in the middle of a profoundly touching mystical experience one entertains a fanciful notion, it is too easy to find oneself set on a path away from truth. Indeed, the Gnostics themselves provide us with material enough to caution us in this regard – some of their writings are very bizarre indeed. But the answer to this is in the notion of logic. For example, Paul had this to say about the process:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
The word translated “spiritual” is logike, which can also mean discerning with rationality – literally with logic. It is almost certain he meant that as a reference to Logos, the principle which brings order to the cosmos and to the mind. “Logic” is of course a cognate of “Logos.” The discernment which we embark upon should produce results which are rational and which ring true when we consider them in light of the world around us. Thus we are warned against letting our mind lead us astray by grounding our insights in rationality and experience. They should lead us into, not away from, a state of proportion and balance.
The next indication that your mind is healing in the right direction is that your actions are more consistently ethical and compassionate. Both the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 12, which I quoted above, lead directly from instructions on “logical worship” and “praying in private” to guidelines on ethical behavior. We find this too in the Gospel of Truth:
Say then in your heart that you are this perfect day and that in you the light which does not fail dwells. Speak concerning the truth to those who seek it and of knowledge to those who, in their error, have committed sin. Make sure-footed those who stumble and stretch forth your hands to the sick. Nourish the hungry and set at ease those who are troubled. … [T]his one, because he is a righteous person, does his works among others. Do the will of the Father, then, for you are from him. For the Father is sweet and his will is good.