The Gnosis of Remembering

A Homily for the Day of All Souls

by Bishop Steven Marshall

All Souls’ Day is traditionally a time to remember the blessed dead. In Latin cultures they call it the Day of the Dead. They decorate the graves of the dead and remember the relatives and loved ones that have passed beyond those graves. They recall a spiritual connection with some spiritual and immortal part of those deceased whom they have loved or admired while in earthly life.

As we remember those loved ones and revered ones who have passed on, we must remember our own eventual death and contemplate why the dead are called “blessed.” Why is an intimate understanding of death so important to the Gnostic paradigm? One that comes readily to mind is that those who have died have passed over into another realm of consciousness, another world, another reality. Connection with such an alternative reality is very much a part of the Gnostic journey to wholeness. Through connection with an alternative reality we might achieve consciousness of the original Light from which we come and to which, with divine aid, we have the potential to eventually return.

As we remember those who have passed over before us, we can begin to understand some of the cryptic sayings of the early Gnostics concerning death and gain insight into our own end. In The Gospel of Thomas the disciples ask Jesus, “Tell us how our end will be.” He answers with a question. “Have you then discovered the beginning that you inquire about the end? For where the beginning is, there shall be the end. Blessed is he that shall stand at the beginning, and he shall know the end and he shall not taste death.”

This logion is not the first place in the Gospel of Thomas where the phrase “shall not taste death” occurs, as it comes at the very beginning in the first logion where Jesus’ first utterance is, “Whoever finds the understanding of these words shall not taste death.” So from the very beginning the gospel the Savior points us to the mystery of death, of the birth which is a spiritual death, and the spiritual rebirth which transcends death. Dr. Jung in his commentaries on the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes this mystery in more contemporary terms:

“The supreme vision comes not at the end of the Bardo, but right at the beginning, at the moment of death; what happens afterward is an ever-deepening descent into illusion and obscuration, down to the ultimate degradation of new physical birth. The spiritual climax is reached at the moment when life ends.”

This logion from the Gospel of Thomas also suggests that our origin and our end are the same, but that we must first stand at the beginning before this is true. We must know our beginning in the Light before we leave this flesh if we are to enter the light beyond shadow after death. This also intimates that the immortality of the soul, so that we “shall not taste death,” also depends on this same salvific Gnosis of our origin in the Light. This is an act of remembering in truth, not an intellectualized affirmation, a stated belief, or an imagined reality. The injunction, “Memento morte,” remember death, might lead us to this same necessity of remembering the truth of our origin and recognizing the unfortunate condition into which we have been cast. This remembering might bring us sorrow in the recognition of the wretched condition into which we have been thrown, as the Mandaeans express it, “cast into a stump,” yet also the certainty and hope for transcending it. The logion quoted above also intimates that we have the potential to pass over and at least catch a tiny glimpse of that light while still in the flesh. Just one real taste is all it takes. Then you know, with a certainty beyond all doubt, that we have come from the Light, and to that place of repose we shall return when we lay aside the flesh. One of the few statements revealed about the Eleusinian mysteries is that they gave to the initiate a certainty regarding the immortality of one’s soul after death and a liberation from the fear of death throughout the remainder of one’s life. The aim of the Gnostic mysteries is very much the same.

The Repose mentioned in the Gnostic writings relates closely to this original end, and also to the peace which comes to the Gnostic through this experience. The initials on many tombstones, R.I.P., stand for “Rest in Peace.” The early Gnostics often referred to the repose of the Blessed Dead as the Rest as well. One of the major obstacles to serenity and peace in our lives that we all come in with is fear, the fear of death, the fear of how our end will be. This fear is the root of all other fears and anxieties in our lives, it is hardwired into our bodies. It inspires the first question asked of Jesus in this logion from the Gospel of Thomas. “Tell us how our end will be.”

One of the psychological complexes that blocks us from transcending and finding release from our fear of death is guilt. This is why so much of the sacred mysteries depend upon a granting of absolution and an inner purification to receive the Gnosis of the Light. In the Book of the Pistis Sophia it is written:

“Every man who is to receive the mysteries, if they knew the time wherein they would leave the body, they would be mindful and commit no acts of darkness, so that they might ever inherit the Kingdom of the Light.”

There is not a saint who lived who did not commit some act of darkness sometime during earthly life. The mere fact of incarnation puts us into a condition of alienation, forgetfulness and ignorance against which we must ever struggle. We come into this world and find only spiritual emptiness in ourselves, because we are blind in our heart, as related in the Gospel of Thomas. Some harm we do merely to guard our life and property in this world, other acts of darkness we commit, if not with the evil intents of our wounded egos, then through the mere clumsiness of the flesh or sheer stupidity or ignorance of the consequences of our actions. These we must accept as the ever present weaknesses and limitations of earthly existence. Yet there is an admixture of darkness within us that comes from the archons, such evil inclinations as vacillation, deceit, lust, pride, anger, greed and envy. All of these have fear as their foundation, for, in the great Gnostic myth, it was the fear of the first Archon, the Demiurge, that generated them. Of those acts which stem from the limitations of earthly existence we must be absolved and forgiven; of those latter evils which the archons have wound about us as veil upon veil of fog and obscuration and night we must be purified. According to the Book of the Pistis Sophia we are purified of these by receiving the mysteries and going to the Light. We are purified by consciousness; we are purified when we stand at the beginning by the fiery spirit which we become through our own consciousness of our origin in the Light.

“Now then, let him who shall do what is worthy of the mysteries receive the mysteries and go to the Light. He who is to receive the mysteries becomes a great fire, very mighty and wise, and it burns up evils, and the flames secretly enter the soul and consume all the veils which the spirit of imitation has fastened on it, and the soul surrenders their destiny, saying to the rulers of destiny: ‘Take to yourselves your destiny; henceforth I come no more to your region; I have forever become alien to you, being about to go to the region of my inheritance.’ Thus the knower, the receiver of the mysteries is free in his body and out of it, whether born on earth or reborn in heaven.”

This saying from the Pistis Sophia describes the Gnostic Renunciation. This is in many ways an inner prelude to the Gnostic sacrament of Redemption. To accomplish this renunciation we must have those experiences of the Light that allow us to consciously affirm our essential alienness to the veils that the archons have wound about us and give them back to them, to let the mighty fire of our spirit enter the soul and burn away these veils. We achieve this by recognition of our origin in the Light, the region of our inheritance. The Apocalypse of Paul describes the confrontation and passage of these seven archons. His conversation with the last and seventh archon, the Chief Archon, exemplifies the essential nature and goal of the Renunciation:

“Then we went up to the seventh heaven and I saw an old man surrounded by a cloud of light and whose garment was white. His throne, which is in the seventh heaven, was brighter than the sun by seven times. The old man spoke, saying to me, ‘ where are you going Paul, O blessed one and the one who was set apart from his mother’s womb?’ But I looked at the spirit (that accompanied me), and he was nodding his head, saying to me, ‘Speak with him!’ And I replied, saying to the old man, ‘I am going to the place from which I came.’”

It is possible and, indeed, required of us as Gnostics to pass over these veils and experience the place of light from we came while still in the flesh. We know then that we have come from that place of Light and to it we shall return when we cast aside this flesh. “Shall not taste death” does not mean that we will not lay down this flesh when it is time to depart this world, but that our consciousness will not taste death; our consciousness of who we truly are beneath all the obfuscations with which the veils of the archons have surrounded us will not die. We are assured of the continuity of our consciousness because we have gained conscious recollection of our existence before this life, even before any lives in this world. With this we cast off our fear of death and all other fears which stem from it from which those veils of darkness were generated. We may not have the experience of fully crossing over to the place of Light and bringing the memory back to bodily consciousness, but we need only remember a small taste, the tiniest whiff of the divine fragrance of that experience to remember the authenticity of that Light when we come to it again. Most of us have at some time had experiences of feeling just a little closer to a place of love and light and the company of spirits from which we have come. These insights and experiences of Gnosis do not happen upon command or worldly desire. Through diligent struggle and a sincere heart-felt longing we gradually, veil by veil, come closer to these realities. One insight, one experience builds upon another but only if we remember and make spiritual use of the experiences with which we have been graced.

If we do this, if we truly take on the “noble striver’s struggles” to achieve this greater consciousness, then we will find that we are no longer empty in this world, that we have a great treasure within us, a treasure that has been with us from the beginning, but that we were too blind to see. That which we took for treasure in this world becomes empty and we see the poverty of worldly existence. “But I marvel at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.” (Gospel of Thomas) Again we come to that Gnostic conundrum that we must find this spiritual treasure within us before we can relinquish the imitations that we take for wealth, yet these very imitations are what obscure that inward treasure and blind us to it. This is why we cannot accomplish this by individual struggle alone. Divine aid has been dispensed to us; mysteries have been left for us as “an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” These mysteries can remind us of that treasure if we let them. In material form though they be, they can remind us of that spiritual treasure that cannot be taken away, that cannot be tarnished, that cannot rot, that moths cannot devour, nor worms destroy. Always the Gnostic task is to remember; as in the words of the Savior, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” In remembering the Blessed Dead, let us also remember the one who was sent for our deliverance and liberation, to awaken us from our forgetfulness and to remind us of our origin beyond this world. To remember death is to remember the beginning. On All Souls’ Day we are reminded of that beginning. We are reminded of our essential task of renouncing the world, of transcending death and of the communion with our fellow spirits. Let us remember. Let us stand at the beginning whereby we shall know the end and “shall not taste death.”

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Bread From Heaven: The Inner Transubstantiation

A Homily for the Day of Corpus Christi

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday as a solemn commemoration of the Holy Eucharist, is a fairly recent festival in the development of the liturgy of the Western Church. It was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311. It later became an especially important date in the recognition of various esoteric orders and mystical developments from within Christianity, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The date carries a central importance in the Fama Fraternitatis, the seminal document of the Rosicrucian orders throughout the world. During the late Middle Ages the festival was observed with a grand procession of the exposed host in a pageant joined by religious orders, prelates, sovereigns, princes, magistrates and members of various craft guilds. The procession was followed by miracle plays put on by Guild members. Some have hypothesised that such ritual dramas were the beginnings of the degrees in Freemasonry. One of the reasons for its adoption by more Gnostic and mystically oriented movements throughout its history could be similar to the reasons for the veneration of St. Paul the Apostle by the early Gnostics, that being that this feast day was originally inspired by a spiritual experience.

Robert de Torote, Bishop of Liège, ordered its first celebration in his diocese in 1246 AD through the inspired persuasion of the Blessed Juliana, a visionary and the prioress of the convent of Mont Cornillon. A devotee of the Most Blessed Sacrament ever since her youth, her feeling for the Eucharist increased even more after a vision in which she saw the Church under a full moon bearing one dark spot. She interpreted the dark spot as the failure of the Church to adequately revere the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the real presence of Christ in its elements of bread and wine.

Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread? Such would seem to be the height of bondage to materiality to a professor of Gnosticism. Yet a sacramental practice designed around something as common and simple as a wafer of bread can not be accused of materialism. Material things are two-edged swords. They can be the symbols of transubstantiation that provide windows to transcendence, or they can be the closed blinds upon that window that prevents us from seeing anything beyond the material. Gnostics do not deny the reality of matter. Nor is matter inherently evil to the Gnostic. The crux of the problem is that a reductionistic materialism or preoccupation with material things tends to swallow up or deny the experience of spiritual reality. Both the outer material reality and the inner spiritual reality are real to the Gnostic. One is not real to the exclusion of the other. A connection exists between the outer and the inner. When experiences of the outer life symbolise events of the inner spiritual life then these experiences can be called synchronicities in Jungian terms. When external events become metaphors of the experience of an inward and spiritual grace then these events can be called sacraments or mysteries.

St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the sacrament of the Eucharist:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till He come.”

“Ye show forth the Lord’s death till He come,” has particular significance from a Gnostic point of view, since the death recalls the release of the Christ from matter and the taking on of his light vesture which is his true and spiritual body. Yet death also bears for the Gnostic an almost reversed meaning as the descent of the Life of Christ into matter in the incarnation and also mystically in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ,” which expression has been misinterpreted in two different ways in mainstream Christianity. What most know as the Roman Catholic view that the consecrated host becomes factually human flesh—which view is not actually shared by most educated Catholics—is a misinterpretation of the Aristotelian philosophy regarding the terms substance and transubstantiation. The term substance in Aristotle’s philosophy actually refers to the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than its outward sensibility. So transubstantiation refers to a change in the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than how it is interpreted by the senses. A thing’s substance can be changed into something else while its outward sensibility remains the same. In this case the ontological essence of the bread becomes the “Body of Christ” through its consecration in the celebration of the Eucharist, while the host to all outward and ordinary senses remains a wafer of bread.

The other misinterpretation, widely known as the Protestant view, is that the whole expression, “Body of Christ,” is only a symbolic commemoration of an historical event and nothing else. The Gnostic view is not too dissimilar from the original Aristotelian meaning of ìtransubstantiationî with one difference. The Gnostic would emphasize the spiritual or pneumatic interpretation of the term. Rather than transubstantiation into material flesh, the Gnostic experiences the change as a transubstantiation into the spiritual “Body of Christ,” which is of the substance of a light vesture or body of light. The Gospel According to St. John calls the sacramental host “the living bread that came down from heaven.” So we are addressing a living or spiritual substance from a transcendent source, rather than an inanimate and physical one from the matter of earth.

“Amen, Amen, I say unto you: He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that Bread of Life. This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The transubstantiation of a wafer of bread into the Body of Christ is thus spiritual and subtle in nature, rather than wholly physical and sensible by our ordinary senses in our ordinary state of consciousness. What Jesus calls “my flesh” is then also of a spiritual nature and not physically human like ours as indicated in the Gospel of Philip.

“The Lord rose from the dead. He became as he used to be, but now his body was perfect. He did indeed possess flesh, but this flesh is true flesh. Our flesh is not true, but we possess only an image of the true.”

The Gospel of Philip, which can be considered a source document for Gnostic sacramental theology, further describes the coming of Christ as the descent of the “Bread of Heaven” and the sowing of the truth, like the seed of grain, everywhere throughout creation.

“Before Christ came there was no bread in the world, just as paradise, the place where Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain Man. Man used to feed like the animals but when Christ came, the Perfect One, he brought bread from heaven in order that Man might be nourished with the food of Man. The Archons thought that it was by their own power and will that they were doing what they did, but the Holy Spirit in secret was accomplishing everything through them as she wished. Truth, which existed since the beginning, is sown everywhere. And many see it as it is sown, but few are they who see it as it is reaped.”

In the last two sentences of this passage we receive a clue to the mystery of transubstantiation. The seeing of the truth as it is sown might be equated with the ordinary sensing of the ritual of the Eucharist, while the seeing of the truth as it is reaped might be equated with the non-ordinary sensing of the spiritual change, both inwardly and outwardly, as we partake of the light-power and spiritual sustenance offered to us in the Eucharistic meal. Likewise in the Egyptian Mysteries to which the Alexandrian Gnostics were heir, the risen Osiris is symbolised by a shock of wheat carried on a litter in procession. Thus bread and the wheat from which it is made becomes a symbol of resurrected Life and restoration to the Light. The sentence directly preceding in the latter passage from the Gospel of Philip describes the role of the Holy Spirit in providing these spiritual mysteries through material elements. The Holy Spirit, who is acknowledged by the Gnostics to be the spiritual mother of Christ, makes the change of substance, the transubstantiation, that sanctifies the bread to become the Body of Christ. Even so in the esoteric teachings of the Eleusinian mysteries, Kore, mythologically related to Sophia and Isis, weaves while she is in the Underworld the garment of light for the soul and cooks up the ambrosial food that nourishes it in its “flight into the sun.” The change of substance in the Eucharist, just as the transformation of the soul in the Eleusinian mysteries, is accomplished through a feminine power, the power of the Holy Spirit, our Celestial Mother and Consoler.

What is more important than diddling over sacramental theology is that something in the substance has changed and thus we can experience the same change by our participation in the mystery of this transformation of the oblations of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Christos.

One of the difficulties of seeing the miraculous in the plain is the materialism and reductionism of our contemporary culture. By this we do not proscribe having material things or maintaining a practice that includes physical symbols of a transcendent reality. The message intended is that through an overvaluing of the material world, we have forgotten how to use symbols and mysteries as windows to transcendence; we have lost the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

A profound difference exists between the symbols and ritual of a mystery and the signs and doctrines of mainstream religion. Most mainstream religion has forsaken the symbols and the mystery and have clung to signs and dogmatic beliefs in their place. Then all that remains of the rituals are but replicas without life, without the Spirit, without the capacity to induce Gnosis, the intimate acquaintance and intuitive knowing of an interior and spiritual reality.

The effort of our Gnostic sacramental work is to reclaim and restore the symbols and the myth, the mystery and the magic of our spiritual and religious heritage. Transubstantiation is not a doctrinal belief or a dogma of faith to the Gnostic but an experience, leaving an indelible stamp upon our consciousness. Instead of dogmatic theology we receive a mystical strand of interior images, sounds and sensations, which become the poetic and archetypal “grist for the mill” that grinds out a meaning for our experience. The host enthroned in the monstrance or elevated in the Mass is to the physical eyes of one in the ordinary state of consciousness nothing but a wafer of wheaten bread. Yet a change has occurred in our participation in the mystery of the Eucharist. It is no longer the same as before our experience of the mystery. Something has changed both in the substance and in ourselves. The “eternal life” that we receive is the recognition of the immortal spark of light within us, and by its increase we bring more light into the world. As the Christos hath said, “the bread that I give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the whole world.” Our light and our consciousness is increased by our partaking of the divine light embodied in its changed substance. The transubstantiation is not so much out there but in us; in the deepest and truest core of our being the ontological substance of who we are is changed. By our consciously, and I emphasise “consciously”, connecting the recognition of our interior spark of the divine light with the real spiritual presence, the transcendental reality embodied in the sacramental Host, it truly becomes for us that Most Precious Gift, a gift from the Treasury of the Light, The Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world.

When we participate in such a mystery our spiritual eyes are opened; we see and feel the light in the Host, because we find the same light in ourselves. We see the “truth as it is reaped.” When we give reverence to the consecrated Host as the embodiment of the real presence of Christ, we reverence the spark of light that dwells in all of us. When we experience the divine mystery we become conscious of our true and royal Self; we apprehend that Self, which as in a mirror, is the image of the Christ within.

The Host becomes a body for the Divine Light that “lighteth every one that cometh into the world,” so that, as we partake of that light and participate in its increase of our own light and consciousness, it becomes the way-bread of the weary pilgrim on the spiritual journey back to the Light, the Light from which we and the Mystery have both originated. It becomes the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of the Angels, the partaking of which can not replace the journey but which is the necessary sustenance on that journey, without which we would not have the nourishment, the strength, the life or the consciousness to endure. It becomes both mystically and cosmically, for us and for all the worlds, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that came down from heaven, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ within.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Yearning for God

A Homily for The Second Sunday in Lent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The season of Lent bears an overall character of introspection and self-examination. When the attention of the psyche turns inward, one finds an initial sense of alienation and emptiness, a yearning for something only vaguely formulated that we intuitively know would bring true wholeness and fill the emptiness we feel. Such, for the Gnostic, is the yearning for God. It is the longing for the healing of a separation that is felt on both a personal and a collective level. The healing of this separation is symbolised in the image of the Bridal Chamber in the Valentinian writings and the union with the Light-Twin in the stories of Mani. The Gospel of Truth, the one gospel of the Nag Hammadi collection thought by scholars to be the authentic writings of Valentinus himself, describes the yearning and the healing thus:

“This is the manner of those who possess something from above of the immeasurable greatness, as they stretch out after the one alone and the perfect one, the one who is there for them. And they do not go down into Amente nor have they envy nor groaning nor death within them, but they rest in him who is at rest, not striving nor being involved in the search for the truth. But they are themselves the truth; and the Father is in them and they are in the Father, being perfect, being undivided in the truly good one, being no way deficient in anything, but they are set at rest, refreshed in the Spirit. And they will heed their root. They will be concerned with those things in which they will find their root and not suffer loss to their soul. This is the place of the blessed; this is their place.”

In the symbol system of the Gospel of Truth, Truth is described as a feminine emanation of that immeasurable greatness that contains and penetrates everything that exists. Truth is like the rim of the circle whose center is nowhere and whose circumference is everywhere as the Hermetic philosophers have described. In the Great Book of the Mandaeans that Truth is again described as that Divine Soul to which the yearning of the Gnostic heart becomes directed when it turns inward:

“From the day when I came to love the Life, from the day when my heart came to love the Truth, I no longer have trust in anything in the world. In father and mother, I have no trust in the world. In brothers and sisters I have no trust in the world. In what is made and created I have no trust in the world. After my soul alone I go searching about, which to me is worth generations and worlds. I went and found my soul – What are to me all the worlds? I went and found Truth, as she stands at the outer rim of the worlds.”

In this Mandaean hymn we find the repeated litany: “I have no trust in the world.” This phrase summarises one of the essential insights of the Gnosis. Such an insight comes with the force of a revelation, the meaning of which is that the redemption, the wholeness for which the Gnostic consciously longs for, cannot be gotten from this world-it comes from another place. All the things of the world: family, property, physical health, material wealth, and even the human relationships that we feel would bring us wholeness, fulfilment and rest turn out to be paltry substitutes, counterfeits, deceptions for this yearning for the Spirit and God. In the Biblical Gospels St John the Baptiser, the redeemer figure for the Mandaeans, shouts as a voice in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” In the Gnostic framework this is not a call to conversion to any particular religion, as it is popularly interpreted, but a call to preparing an interior way of entrance for the Spirit of Truth to enter the psyche.

One of the cries of the Gnostic in the world is a nostalgic sighing for something greater, often only vaguely and intuitively recognized. The Demiurge does not want us to sigh, or to long for anything outside of the worldly oriented ego and its socio-political system. The demiurge wants us to be happy and satisfied with the things of this world: the generation of family, material accumulations, mental and emotional pursuits. And after all these things are achieved we are still not relieved or free of the constant treadmill of wants, desires and anxious attachments-we are still empty, unhappy and unfulfilled.

In the Declaration of Independence the pursuit of happiness is a maxim for freedom. We cannot approach wholeness until we are free. The Buddhists describe the means for getting free as a detachment from the world, a way of getting out of the chains of our addictive attachments to the things of this world. If immersed in and identified with all of the extroverted stuff out there, whether material, mental or emotional, we are not free, and our soul suffers violation by the material powers, the archons of the world. This act of freeing oneself from the world is sometimes called fasting from the world. Now, this does not mean that we must ignore all of our responsibilities in the world, but that we can be “in the world” yet not “of the world.” Fasting from the world does not mean repression of our physical and emotional needs, for repression is not but a negative attachment to the object of one’s attachments. Fasting from the world is related to the Greek root for “ascetic.” It comes from the Greek word “askesis,” which means “skill.” So fasting from the world is the practice of a skill, learning the skill of overcoming and consciously utilising the powerful forces of desire in the psyche. Asceticism is a skill to be learned and practiced for a particular goal, not a way of life for the Gnostic. For an example, if we abstain from sex for a certain period of time, we can learn that there is more to love and our yearning for wholeness than sexual and emotional gratification. If we live a simple life of poverty for a certain period of time, then we may learn that there is more to our yearning for wholeness than the pursuit of material wants and desires. Fasting from the world is a step in a process, not a goal in itself. When we have gleaned the insights and increased consciousness that this practice of detachment can bring, then we can gain freedom and make our way to wholeness. We can find that for which we truly sigh.

The nostalgic yearning for God, the sigh of the Gnostic, is no more poignantly and timelessly expressed than in the Farewell of Galadriel from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:

“Ah. Like gold fall the leaves in the wind, long years numberless as the wings of trees! The long years have passed like swift draughts of sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West, beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars tremble in the song of Her voice, holy and queenly. Who now shall refill the cup for me? For now the Kindler, the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite hath uplifted her hands like clouds, and all paths are drowned deep in shadow: and out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us, and mist covers the jewels of Calacyria forever. Now lost, lost to those of the East is Valimar! Farewell! Maybe even thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!”

The yearning for God, is the yearning for the Beloved, the Redeemer, the Light-Twin with whom we are united in the Bridal Chamber of the Light, and it is the longing for our true estate in the Fullness. This yearning is not only personal but also collective, like the description of St. Paul of the whole earth groaning and travailing as in the throws of childbirth for the Redeemer to come. This is the Soul of the World, the Anima Mundi who cries out from the earth for redemption. When the collective of humanity is thus redeemed, then only shall the whole earth be redeemed.

The personal coming of the Redeemer has been metaphorically described as a union with a twin spirit or Light-Twin. This unification is described most poetically in a short story contained in the Book of the Pistis Sophia:

“And Mary, the mother of Jesus according to matter, said: When Thou my Master wert a child, before the Spirit had descended upon Thee, when Thou wert in the vineyard with Joseph, the Spirit came down from the height, and came unto me in the house, like unto Thee, and I knew him not, but thought that he was Thou. And he said unto me, ‘Where is Jesus, my brother, that I may go to meet him?’ And when he had said this unto me I was in doubt, and thought it was a phantom tempting me. I seized him and bound him to the foot of the bed which was in my house, until I had gone to ?nd you in the ?eld – Thee and Joseph. It came to pass, therefore, when Thou didst hear me saying this thing unto Joseph, that Thou didst understand, and Thou wert joyful and saidest, ‘Where is he, that I may see him? Nay I am expecting him in this place.’ And it came to pass, when Joseph heard Thee say these words, that he was disturbed. We went together, we entered into the house, we found the spirit bound on the bed, and we gazed upon Thee and him, and found that Thou wert like unto him. And he that was bound to the bed was unloosed; he embraced Thee and kissed thee, and Thou didst kiss him; and ye became one and the same being.”

When the Redeemer may come for us personally cannot be determined by the concrete conceptions of the mind nor can it be predicted by external signs. The Redeemer may come in this instant for some or not at all in this lifetime. No one can say when for any particular individual redemption will come, but like the wise virgins of parable (Matthew: Ch. 25) we must keep our lamps full of oil and lit for that coming.

These wise virgins represent the faithfulness of Pistis Sophia whose name means Faithful Wisdom. In her story she languishes in the bitter chaos of material existence, yet throughout her suffering she remains faithful to the Light and cries out her repentances in the form of praises to the Light. This story contains three keys to fulfilling this yearning for God: the first is faithfulness, a trust in that light and presence which transcends this world of suffering; the second is repentance, which means to turn back, to turn back to our origin in the Light; and the third is the thankfulness expressed in praise, thankfulness for the light that we have received, no matter how small, leading us to the feeling state where we can receive yet more light. The Gnostic parable described in the Exegesis of the Soul aptly fits this story of the redemption of Sophia and our own human souls.

“Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has a womb.

As long she was alone, a single one, with the Father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers. And the wanton creatures passed her from one to another and made use of her. Some made use of her by force, while others did so by seducing her with a gift. In short they defiled her and she lost her virginity.

Now it is fitting that the soul regenerate herself and become again as she formerly was. The soul then moves of her own accord. And she received the divine nature from the Father for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to the place where originally she had been. This is the resurrection that is from the dead. This is the ransom from captivity. This is the upward journey of ascent to heaven. This is the way of the ascent to the Father.”

In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia planned for the coming of the Redeemer from the very beginning, when she was yet hid in God, and she embodies the Holy Spirit that would come and remain here on earth to spiritually nurture and guide her children back unto the Light. The masculine principle of redemption seems in and out from an historical perspective, but the feminine principle remains. The Holy Spirit, our celestial Mother and Consoler, yet carries us in her womb, gives us the spiritual rebirth and suckles us at her breast, until we are strong and mature enough to make the long journey-the flight of the alone to the alone, which in the Eleusinian mysteries was called the “flight into the sun.”

The phrase “the alone to the alone” reminds me that it is not just we who are incomplete and yearning for the Beloved, but that our Light-Twin and our fellow spirits long for our return as well. Though the Fullness in itself lacks nothing, those spirits that dwell in the Fullness are in some way also incomplete or “alone” without us. The Holy Spirit who “remains here on earth to guide and care for us” makes it possible for us to change the direction of our hearts and to turn back unto the Fullness. So, also, Sophia is the mother of the faithfulness that sustains our trust in the Light, so that we might remain as the wise virgins and be ready for the Bridegroom when he comes for us. In the 8th Ode to Solomon, the Holy Spirit calls to her own, “My own breasts I prepared for them that they might drink my holy milk and live by it.” She is the Sustainer who has tended and nourished the Children of the Light, the seeds of the Light sown throughout creation, since our beginning. As St. Paul exclaims, “I know that my redeemer liveth,” so might we Gnostics exclaim, when the milk of the Holy Spirit has weaned us from the food of forgetfulness. And so might we also whisper in our hearts that our Sustainer is even nearer than before. As in the Vespers of Sophia, “She is nearer to us than we are to ourselves; she is waiting at the door. Our opening and her entry are but one moment. Come, for our door is open, come!” As related in the Song of Songs, her hand trembles upon the latch of the door. This is the latch upon the door of our hearts, which unlocks the nostalgic yearning for God that we have forgotten, forgotten among all the distracting robbers of the soul in the world. So may we open that door to the true Bridegroom of our souls and not the brigands of this world, so that the Twin-Angel of the Light who is there alone for us might fulfil the timeless yearning and longing of the Gnostic for the Light of the Fullness, where we shall find our cup refilled with the sweet milk of the Holy Spirit, the Milk of the Stars, and share that cup in the spiritual wedding in which we shall no more be separated and which joining is forever and ever. Amen.

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.