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.

The Knights of Holy Wisdom

A Homily for the Day of the Martyrdom of the Holy Templars

by Bishop Steven Marshall

In commemorating the Martyrdom of Jaques de Molay and the Holy Templars, we do not so much commemorate their martyrdom but their legacy of the Gnosis to us, their heirs. The Gnosis of which they were the custodians might be symbolized in the image of an underground stream traveling through time and geography to surface and appear at various times in history. The Templars then are one such upwellings or surfacings of the Gnosis within the various and superficially dissimilar trappings of time and culture.

Like many potent symbols of the Gnosis, the legacy of the Templars must be approached as a mystery rather than a collection of historical facts or various opinions about who they were. They bear both a historical dimension and a mythical dimension. Historically, the Templars were a military monastic order of knights charged with defending pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. They were called the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. The historical and worldly facts concerning the Templars are not that impressive or inspiring. Their military campaigns in the middle east were mostly failures, as measured by the ambitions of the Roman Catholic Church. Their greatest claim to fame, according to historians, was that of serving as the first bankers. Yet, in a mythic dimension, they have served as a potent symbol of the guardianship of an esoteric and secret Gnosis. They are immortalized in the Grail story of Wolfram von Eschenbach as the custodians of the Holy Grail. Their rule was written by St. Bernard of Clairveaux, who himself was a mystic and devotee of Sophia in the Wisdom tradition. The mythic image of the Templar adept who is a keeper of the ancient wisdom of the East still lives in the hearts of the people of France. In the Templars’ travels to the holy land it is quite possible that they came into contact with a number of Gnostic-oriented groups, such as the Johannite Order of Oriental Christians, the Nazoreans, the Mandaeans and other esoteric traditions of the Middle East, and thereby came across such an ancient stream of Gnosis. From this may have developed a small enclave within the order who sought secretly to preserve these esoteric teachings and practices.

As a monastic order of traveling knights, they not only left their families but also their homelands to defend the passage to the Holy land. The standard which they wore was a red cross on a white tabard. In this way they left their families and took up their crosses to follow the road to the Holy City, Jerusalem. It is within this light that we might interpret the following saying from the Gospel of Thomas.

“Jesus said: Whoever does not hate his father and mother will not be able to be a disciple to me, and whoever does not hate his brethren and sisters and does not take up his cross will not be worthy of me.”

In the time of the Templars, to become a part of a monastic order was to leave the ties of family and to join a fraternity of similarly oriented people in an intentional and consciously chosen community. Those of the monastic community became one’s mother and father and sister and brother. As stated slightly differently in the Gospel of Matthew:

“And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

For the Gnostic one of the important meanings of monastic life is the leaving of one’s biological and earthly family to join a spiritual fellowship. As St. Francis prays to God, “Wean my heart from all that is under heaven,” so the ties to our biological family are one of the things from which we must free ourselves, one of the things that is under heaven from which we must be weaned as well.

The Gnostic realizes that there is no guarantee that our family members are going to support us in our spiritual goals, but most often may even distract and obstruct us, particularly if we go against the worldly values of the culture into which we were born. As the Mandaean psalmist records, “In father or mother, I have no trust in the world. In brother or sister, I have no trust in the world.” Certainly the history of many gives more evidence for there being strife and enmity between the members of the family household. “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Gospel of Matthew) Of course, this does not mean that we should have malicious intent towards our family members, or that we should eschew the love and friendship that may be there. What it means to the Gnostic is that the unconscious ties to the world represented by our biological parents are a limitation and must be broken before we can go on with our spiritual task. We even have idioms that describe this in our culture, when we talk about “untying mother’s apron strings.” Perhaps our living parents are not so much the problem, as are the interiorized parents, our Freudian super-egos which continually distract us with reminders of our worldly duties and obligations, and criticize us when we take an alternative direction in following the life of the spirit. It is these same voices of the herd mentality that prevent us from hearing the Call to our spiritual identity and purpose when we are called to take up our cross. We must break these unconscious ties to the world before we can take up our cross and become the errant knights of the Temple on the road to the Holy Land.

The Coptic word translated in the Gospel of Thomas as hate certainly did not have the connotations that the word “hate” has for us today. The word would have been originally spoken in Aramaic, a language noted for hyperbole and overstatement, then written down in Greek and Coptic, finally translated into English. In this process of crossing language barriers there are many opportunities to alter the intended meaning. As is the case in most religious literature, when a superficial interpretation of the text seems most obviously wrong, then another more symbolic and esoteric meaning is most likely intended. Ultimately we must dig to the source to find the meaning that a religious saying has for us as Gnostics; we must go to our connection to the root of truth, the Gnosis of the Heart. The insights that we receive may not be popular, and we may feel pressure to discount them so that we may keep peace with our friends, relatives and society at large, which we intuitively feel would be antatogonistic to an unpopular world-view. As stated in the Hermetic scriptures, “The gnostic pleases not the many, nor the many them.” Our first exposure to the many, our first source of the conventional world-view is through our association with our parents and siblings. And so the statement in the Gospel of Thomas, “Whoever does not hate his mother and father can not be a disciple to me.”

The message of liberation is not about keeping the peace in an oppressive world. An unjust peace is a false peace. It is simply the preservation of a status quo no matter how unjust and oppressive that status quo might be. The realization of the Knights Templar is that inaction or compromise to the darkness of this world was not a peace worth having. They did not join the crusade against their brother and sister custodians of the Gnosis, the Cathars; on the contrary, many of them fought to defend the Cathars against the armies of King Phillip of France. They did not blandly let them be destroyed to bring about an unjust peace.

To compromise with the world is ultimately to lose one’s “rest,” which can only be found in freedom from the shackles physical, psychological and social that prevent us taking an alternative direction away from the world and setting our destination on the Holy Land symbolic of our true rest in the Pleroma. “Jesus said: Men possibly think that I have come to throw peace upon the world, and they do not know that I have come to throw divisions upon theworld: earth, fire, sword, war.” (Gospel of Thomas) This is not a “namby pamby” Jesus who is going to come down from heaven and bring everyone peace and happiness on earth. The redeemer comes not to make a worldly peace but to overthrow the hold that the world has on us spiritually. Our part in this work is to strive to break away from our conventional status quo view of the world, we must undergo a fundamental alteration in our perception with insights into the existential realities of the world, insights that we must guard until we are wholly afire. The fire is a fire of transformation. “Jesus said: I have cast fire upon the world and lo I guard it until the world is afire.” The Redeemer both stirs and awakens that within us that calls forth conflict and resistance from the world, but also gives us that secret fire of Gnosis that we must guard and defend from that resistance. When we undertake the work of light, the darkness, the chaos of the world is not going to be nice to us. There is a divine darkness, a cloud of unknowing out of which the Light springs, but there is another darkness of this world that strives against the bearers of the Light. The many of the world may not like us; they may even persecutute us. This reaction of the world must be expected, and we must prepare to defend ourselves against it. “Therefore I say: if the lord of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will stay awake before he comes and will not let him dig through into the house of his kingdom to carry away his goods. You then must watch for the world, gird up your loins with great strength lest the brigands find a way to come to you, because they will find the advantage that you expect.” (Gospel of Thomas)

One essential insight of the Gnosis is that we live in a world of oppositions, that there is no transformation without conflict, no liberation without a corresponding resistance, no apotheosis of mortal to immortal without a struggle. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas; “Blessed are those who have been persecuted in their heart; these are they who have known the Father in truth.” Even as coal does not become a diamond without a great deal of heat and pressure, so we cannot come to perceive our own immortal and incorruptible light until we have burned away our attachments to that which is burnable and corruptible. As we break these worldly attachments and chains, the same cross which we take up in defense of the Gnosis, is the cross by which we crucify the world. “Blessed are they who have crucified the world and have not let the world crucify them.”

The Redeemer comes to liberate us from the Rulers and the Archons of this world. Yet the history of the world does not evidence that the transformation has been too successful thus far. This and the fact that most Messengers of the Light have had their missions cut short by persecution and death, shows that things can go wrong. There is not some great divine plan of redemption that does not require us to do anything in response to the darkness that we see around us. There are many plans and designs that are being worked out in this world, and not all of them are good, or in our best spiritual interests. Things can go wrong! The Gnosis can be lost, if when we receive it, we do not defend it. We must guard it, until the world is afire.

When we really know something, when we have an insight of Gnosis we must guard it. No one or no thing else is going to do it for us. The thrust of the world is to make us sleepy, make us forget that we ever had a transformative insight. Many social and psychological forces may encourage us to discount or deny it. However, in guarding our Gnosis, we must also guard against the tendency to get trapped by egotistical self-righteousness and an “I’m right and your wrong” mentality. The insights of Gnosis are a personal treasure and have nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong. The Templars guarded themselves aginst this ego-inflation by beginning each day with the following verse: “not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name be the glory.”

This guarding of the Treasure of the Gnosis takes place on both a personal and a collective level. The Templars banking activity grew out of the practice of guarding the wealth of those on pilgrimage to the Holy Land from thieves and brigands who lined the road to Jerusalem and delivering it safely to the pilgrims at the end of their journey. Even so, as a Church we have a role in guarding and enhancing the spiritual wealth of our Gnostic community, as we each make our pilgrimage back to the Light.

The historical role of the Templars was to guard the way of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. In their spiritual role they were the guardians of an esoteric stream of Gnosis, the knowledge of “the truth that sets free” that can show us the way to the Heavenly Jerusalem, that can guard us from the spiritual thieves and brigands, the archons of this world, that attempt to steel our treasure of Gnosis.

We are Knights of the Temple, the Knights of this Temple of the Gnosis. We have left the many of this world to stand alone and to stand with an invisible fellowship with which we have united ourselves in spirit, as we unite with a fellowship of Gnostics who exist everywhere, in every creed and race. We are guardians of a very sacred way, the holy road to the Heavenly Jerusalem. This is ours to guard and defend that the way of the Gnosis, that the road of the “truth that sets free” may remain open to the lost and exiled pilgrims of this world. In this way we take up our crosses as images of that Cross of Light which is the blazon of our way back to the Light that is the place of our true inheritance and our True Home.

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

The Beloved of the Logos

A Homily for the Day of Holy Mary of Magdala

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The figure of Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalen, is both complex and controversial. She has remained a mystery for a very long time and an object of difficulty for the Church from the very beginning of Christianity. One question we receive from those of mainstream backgrounds is why the importance of Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic scriptures and our contemporary practice of Gnosticism.

An attempt to answer this question and sort through the maze of material that has been proposed may come from the Gnostics themselves in the form of their insightful and very helpful threefold division of human understanding: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental), and the pneumatic (spiritual). The hyletic point of view, coming mainly from a reductionistic materialism, proposes that Mary’s importance is as the sexual partner, wife, and carrier of the bloodline of Jesus. The evidence for this line of reasoning is so full of surmise, supposition and conjecture that we hardly need consider it, but even if true, many great and benevolent rulers have given rise to progeny who were weak, decadent and cruel. The genes do not necessarily determine the person. So, even if the descendants of Jesus have been maintained in a bloodline throughout history, little of salvific meaning has come from that quarter.

The psychic perspective, assuming Mary Magdalen to be the Mary of Bethany who anoints and washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and the woman at the well who has five husbands, considers her to be the model of the repentant sinner. This again falls short of a really convincing answer. It devolves into an ethical reductionism that proposes that simply changing our behavior on a physical and psychological level will bring about the Gnosis or relationship with the Savior that is truly salvific.

Only the pneumatic perspective, that of the Gnostic seems to penetrate to the core of the issue of what makes the figure of Mary Magdalen so important to Christianity as a whole and to Gnostic Christianity in particular. The Gnostic recognizes Mary Magdalen as the one of the greatest, if not the greatest apostle of Christ.

In the Gnostic literature she is titled, the Apostle who excels the rest, the Disciple of the Lord, the One who knew the All, the One who reveals the Greatness of the Revealer, the Inheritor of the Light, the privileged Interlocutor, the One who is always with the Lord, the One whom they call His Consort, and the Chosen of Women.

To contrast this with the mainstream understanding and attitude, let me share with you a story that my friend Frodo, whom some of you may have met, passed on to me. In one of her theology classes at Mt. Angel Seminary, one of her Benedictine professors was asked about the definition of an apostle. He answered that the apostles were those who saw Jesus and were blessed by him after the resurrection. Frodo piped up, “Then Mary Magdalen must have been the first apostle.” The professor nodded, “Yes, but we don’t talk about that.” Yet even Pope John Paul II has called her “the Apostle of the apostles.” A Manichaean document, The Psalms of Heraclites, calls her the “Net-caster” who gathers together the remaining eleven disciples back to the Savior after the resurrection. This indicates that she was one of the principal apostles of Christ.

And yet we intuitively sense that there was something about Mary; she was not just one of the other disciples. She had a relationship with the Christ that was different than the others. Part of our understanding of the mystery of Mary Magdalen is to understand this relationship with the Logos. Whether it was sexual in the physical way or purely spiritual really makes no difference in the Gnostic perspective, some element of their relationship far transcended the mere physical nature of the flesh.

Even as the Gnostic resurrection takes place while we are in the flesh, so can such a transcendental relationship manifest while in the flesh, even as it manifested between Mary and Jesus. However, theirs was not an ordinary relationship in an erotic or conventional sense. There was something mysterious and transcendent between them that the other disciples could not understand.

“The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed her on her mouth often. The others said to him: Why do you love her more than all of us? The Savior answered and said to them: Why do I not love you like her?” (Gospel of Philip)

Jesus is both asking the other disciples about the difference between Mary Magdalen and them, and he is questioning them as to why they are not conscious of the same relationship of love. The kiss, according to the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, is initiatory in character.

“For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in each other.”

One of the more Gnostic lines in one of the songs in Jesus Christ Superstar is where Mary Magdalen sings, “I don’t know how to love him.” Admitting this question, she reveals that Jesus is not like other men, and their relationship must transcend the ordinary sexual relationship between man and woman. In her discovery that she cannot love him in the strictly physical way that she knew before, she apprehends the Mystery of the Christos. In an intuitive way she discovers the Mystery, like Thomas, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Say who I am like,” and Thomas replies, “My tongue can in no way tell whom thou art like.” It is this intuitive and pneumatic perception that makes Mary more beloved than the rest of the disciples.

In this regard, the Pistis Sophia gives one of the most declarative statements of Mary’s importance to the Gnostic tradition.

“It came to pass then, when Mary had heard the Savior say these words, that she gazed fixedly into the air for the space of an hour. She said: “My Lord, give commandment unto me to speak in openness.”

And Jesus, the compassionate, answered and said unto Mary: “Mary, thou blessed one, who I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren…for thou art blessed before all women on the earth, because thou shalt be the fullness of all fullnesses and the perfection of all perfections… thou who shalt be sung of as blessed in all generations…who shall inherit the whole kingdom of the Light.”

That she gazes fixedly into the air for the space of an hour suggests that she experiences a visionary trance or altered state of consciousness. The Gospel of Mary describes one of her visionary experiences in more detail:

Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember—which you know, but we do not know nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.” And she began to speak to them these words: “I,” she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’ He answered and said to me, ‘Blessed are you, that you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the nous is, there is the treasure.’ I said to him, ‘Lord, now does one who sees the vision see through the soul or through the spirit?’ The Savior answered and said, ‘One does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but through the nous which is between the two—that is what sees the vision…’”

The vision comes by way of a reorientation of the soul, a metanoia, a turning about which gives rise to the nous which is something that comes to birth between the soul and the spirit and which sees the vision. The nous is most often translated as “mind,” yet it means something more spiritual and subtle, more akin to “enlightened mind,” or “divine soul,” or “awakened consciousness.” It is this reorientation of the soul which turns the soul to the spirit and gives birth to the nous. The Exegesis on the Soul describes such a reorientation of the soul from external things to internal and spiritual realities.

“As long as the soul keeps running about everywhere copulating with whomever she meets and defiling herself, she exists in suffering. But when she perceives the straits she is in and weeps before the Father and repents, then the Father will have mercy on her and he will make her womb turn from the external domain and will turn it again inward, so that the soul will regain her proper character…. So when the womb of the soul by the will of the Father, turns itself inward, it is baptized and is immediately cleansed of the external pollution which was pressed upon it, just as garments when dirty, are put into water and turned about until their dirt is removed and they become clean. And so the cleansing of the soul is to regain the newness of her former nature and to turn herself back again.”

This reorientation of the soul towards the spirit, this new relationship between the soul and the spirit from which the nous comes into being, parallels the relationship between Mary Magdalen and the Savior. This perhaps illustrates the meaning of the enigmatic line in the Gospel of Philip, “The Sophia whom they call the barren is the mother of the angels, and the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen.” Even as the orientation of the soul inward to the spirit gives birth to the nous, so Mary’s orientation toward the Savior gives rise to her vision and understanding. The soul, like Sophia as the mother of the angels, bears spiritual children when she is oriented toward the spirit, as further described in The Exegesis of the Soul:

“Thus when the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty and enjoyed her beloved, and he also loved her. And when she had intercourse with him, she got from him the seed that is the life-giving Spirit, so that by him she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect marvel of birth.”

This birth is by means of that mystic kiss described in the Gospel of Philip by which the perfect conceive and which the Savior shares often with Mary. This is the birth of the nous when the soul gives birth by the life-giving Spirit.

This metaphoric sexual imagery gives rise to another hotly debated question as to whether Mary Magdalen was actually a prostitute before her metanoia. Whether in history she was or not is really not important to the Gnostic perspective. The association of Mary with the story of the repentant prostitute who after a metanoia becomes united to Christ in a spiritual way becomes a story of the condition of the Gnostic soul in the world and the means for its redemption. The relationship between the existential condition of the human soul in the world and the figure of the prostitute is made most clear in a passage again from The Exegesis of the Soul.

“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.

“And in her body she prostituted herself and gave herself to one and all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband. When she had given herself to wanton, unfaithful adulterers, so that they might make use of her, then she sighed deeply and repented. But even when she turns her face from those adulterers, she runs to others and they compel her to live with them and render service to them upon their bed, as if they were her masters. Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them, whereas they deceive her for a long time, pretending to be true and faithful husbands, as if they greatly respected her. And after all this, they abandon her and go.”

This passage makes it clear that, as the psychic perspective would propose that repentance and change of behavior is all that is needed, the Gnostic knows that repentance alone is not enough for salvation and freedom, the mystical vision and union as well must take place. There must be a change of relationship between the soul and the spirit, between the nous and Christ. We ourselves, even as Mary Magdalen, must become the Beloved of the Logos.

The key to this relationship is told in the story of Jesus’ response to the kind, loving and knowing act of a weeping woman, who anoints the feet of her Lord, and washes them with her tears and her hair. Jesus responds to her when questioned about her status, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” We can see in this story the keynote of love and forgiveness. Mary Magdalen has been called in our liturgies, “the pattern of our love.” The feeling tone of such love is pure forgiveness. Someone in an exalted state of consciousness once said, “Such forgiveness, such forgiveness, such forgiveness in the very being of consciousness itself.” The response to such forgiveness is a gratitude that transcends the tongue’s speech. If each of us could know what Mary knew, that those from whom we have been sent love us with a gratitude that we can scarcely imagine; if we knew what Mary knew, we would have no fear of death, no fear of anything of this world, for we would know the Beloved of our Souls.

It is such a love that casts out all fear; it is the truth that sets free. It is a love that transcends all of our anxious attachments whether physical, emotional, intellectual or ideational. It is where the soul merges and rests, moves and merges and rests again with the spirit. It is a movement and a rest, a rhythm and a dance, inwardly at rest and outwardly moving in the world or outwardly at rest and inwardly in motion and dynamic union, like looking at your soul in a mirror in front of a mirror, the reflection being reflected upon and within itself for ever and ever. The Gospel of Thomas describes such an experience where Jesus says, “When they ask you what is the sign of the Father in you, tell them: It is a movement and a rest.”

Everything else that worldly life promises us is but a paltry substitute, a sham, a seducing lie distracting us from the real union. The true beauty, the true joy for which the soul, the bride of the spirit, longs is the true Bridegroom. This Beloved never uses or abuses us, never abandons us, as do the false and temporal promises of this world. When we have this Gnosis, we know the Beloved in eternity, we know who we are, from whence we have come, and whither we are going. This is the ecstasy of the union with the Beloved, out of time, out of the limitations of flesh. Sometimes this union is found in another in this world. Most often it is a relationship with something transcendent, which can nonetheless deepen, transform, and give greater meaning to our terrestrial relationships. If we have this love, it does not matter with whom, with what gender, or how this love manifests in our lives. However the silly dramas and romances of our lives play out, however we may have won or lost in love, what is important is that timeless and limitless love of the Savior, and that we recognize ourselves, like Mary, as the Beloved of the Logos. May we find that Bridechamber of the Light, as we take Mary Magdalen as “the pattern of our love.” Just as Jesus said to Mary, so let it be said of us that we “loved much.”

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