FAQ - Gnosticism


Q  What does "Tau" mean? Is that part of your name?
A  "Tau" is a traditional title given to Gnostic bishops.

Q  What do the crosses before some of the names mean?()
A  A cross before a name means the person is a bishop. A cross after a name means the person is a priest.

Q  I have read your website and I find some different Gnostic groups have differed from one another in the early centuries. Can you tell me in a few words how Gnosticism is practiced in your Sanctuary?
A  In our Sanctuary there is no doctrine, no dogma, and no belief system. Ours is a mystical approach that has existed for centuries at the core of most major religions, even though that core is usually considered heretical. It is also found outside the confines of religion. Words fail to grasp the meaning of gnosis, so we use myth, stories, poetry, meditation and other resources as means to connect with the Ultimate Reality within us. When we bring that touch of the eternal back into ordinary consciousness, it usually translates (at least for a time) into serenity, love, tolerance, compassion, and joy to name a few outcomes of the experience.

Q  Are you affiliated with any other Gnostic church or group?
A  No, we are not affiliated with any other Gnostic or non-Gnostic church or group; however, we maintain friendly, warm hearted relationships with a number of other churches.

Q  I have read that early Gnostics rejected the God of the Old Testament and said that He was a false God.
A  In my view, it is clear that it was not God as Supreme Being that the Gnostics rejected, but the statements and stories that people wrote about God. They also rejected as false the worship and obedience of a portrayal created by human beings. Human beings, being flawed, projected a mixture of all their self-hatred as well as their loftiest aspirations even to a being they called God.

Q  Explain Gnostic Dualism.
A  I will answer this question with the following portions of a comment from Jordan Stratford, quoted by permission.

Dualists? One of the great challenges of being a contemporary Gnostic is that we are still pursued by the ghosts of orthodox heresiologists. Modern Christian theological students are invariably taught—incorrectly—that the hallmark of Gnostic thought and literature is Dualism (because we make a distinction between the ideal world of the Pleroma and the cosmos of the Demiurge). This binary approach permeates Christian culture: God vs. The Devil, orthodoxy vs. heresy, etc. The Gnostic view is vastly more subtle, and therefore easily misinterpreted. To use a pop-culture reference, "The Matrix cannot tell you who you are." The world is not, in and of itself, evil. Flawed, yes—red in tooth and claw and all that. Disease. Hunger. Age. Disaster. But not by its nature evil. Rather than a rejection of the Earth, Gnosticism involves a challenge to and negotiation with the System, or cosmos. A subtle yet critical distinction. Natural allegories, such as storms, the planting of crops, fish, newborn babies and flowers are recurring positive themes in Gnostic literature. Would world-haters employ such symbolism, and so lovingly?

Q  Do you believe that the Bible is the word of God? How about the Gnostic Gospels?
A  No and No. They were written by men.

Q  Who is the "Unknown God"?
A  It is impossible to know Divinity by description, Divinity is Unknown until Divinity is experienced. The experience and the description are two distinct and separate things. Even in a genuine experience, the description can never match the experience. Furthermore, we explain our experience through the religious framework with which we are familiar.

Q  What is your position on gays and lesbians being ordained?
A  What is your position on human beings being ordained? What I mean is that sexual orientation is irrelevant to us.

Q  I'm interested in the dogmas and theologies of the religions of the "God of Abraham" (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) some aspects of Gnosticism are left missing in my mind. First of all, all of the religions of the God of Abraham have a Devil: whether it be Satan or Iblis, and concern his fall from Grace and their role as tempters of humankind. Nowhere have I found mention of such an entity of good and evil in Gnosticism. I see no analogy in Gnosticism that follows these lines quite as much as Orthodox Christianity (by Orthodox I mean Christianities like Catholic and Protestants and Eastern Orthodox).
A  You write that all the Abrahamic religions have a devil and that you find no mention of such an entity in Gnosticism. You are correct. Depending on what you mean by dualism, many Gnostics—such as ourselves—are not dualistic, contrary to the insidious label that continues to stick to them like gum on the sole of a shoe. For the Gnostic everything is interrelated and part of a whole that eventually will be restored to the totality or Fullness. This is very similar to the great Kabbalist Isaac Luria's story of the sparks of Divinity lost in outer darkness that must one day return to their source. Another Jewish luminary, the Baal-Shem-Tov, who founded the Hasidic movement circa 1750, further pursued this story. You can find resonance to the above with the vow of the Bodhisattva, the most important pledge in Zen Buddhism, "Living creatures are countless. I promise to redeem them all." For the Gnostic, there is no eternal damnation, but all will eventually be redeemed. This is the Great Work of the Gnostics.

Q  What does it mean that the world is evil?
A  This phrase, rather than referring to the natural disasters, physical pain and death we find in the natural world, more aptly describes the view of the world and the concepts we humans have created by our ignorant desire to oppress and control. Thus we create heartless mechanistic philosophies that treat sentient beings as if they were inanimate objects; commit acts and create laws that restrict and objectify other sentient beings, all in search of an illusory idea of safety and survival. We find ways to justify our ends of obtaining greater dominion and control by maintaining our psyches in fear and convincing ourselves that our actions are righteous and that they justify the means we use. We deceive ourselves and indulge in revenge by calling it justice. The Gnostics called these tendencies in the personal and the larger arena of the community and the world "Archons." For the evil deeds in the world the Gnostics do not use the word sin. We see a great tragedy unfolding, with ignorant humanity inflicting this tragedy upon each other and upon all of nature.

Q  Can you give me an example from another system?
A  "God saw that Babel was, for Hirsch and for Naftali Yehuda Tzvi Berlin, the first totalitarianism the first imperialism, the first attempt at fundamentalism. How am I defining fundamentalism here? I would say it is an attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world." This is a statement from a different system of metaphors, made by Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, R. Jonathan Sacks, speaking of Babel, in an address to the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in May 2003, in conjunction with his newly published book, "The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations" (Continuum, London-New York, ISBN 0826468500).

Q  Where did all the conclusions that make up Gnosticism come from? I have noticed that they do not follow the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of them having a dogma. Though I find Gnosticism to have much merit in its philosophies, it seems so deviant in its "mythology" from regular Christianity, I just wonder at what point did these ideas form and split?
A  There is indeed a lack of dogma in Gnosticism and that is because Gnosis is mystical or experiential rather than the product of a linear sequence of thought. Such mystical experience is not derivative of any other philosophy, although on occasion Gnostics may have used the frame of reference of already existing myths and stories.

You are also correct when you say that Gnosticism "seems deviant in its mythology from regular Christianity." The Gnostics had a unique system of names and myths, as well sometimes using a combination of the different pagan and Jewish myths of the time. Each ancient religion today was modern at one time, when they first came up with their own names and stories. In popular myths today, we can see a reworking of one or more early stories, such as UFOs, Harry Potter, The Terminator, or the Matrix, among others.

What the Gnostics wrote were metaphorical ways of expressing the universal mystical experience which, when genuine, crosses the boundaries of tradition and dogma. Their search came from being confronted with sorrow, injustice, and the brutality of the world in which they lived. Much like the experience of the young prince that discovered old age, disease, death, and sorrow and went searching for understanding and became Buddha, the enlightened one.

Q  I read in a the December 22, 2003 edition of Time Magazine that Gnosticism needs much time for intellectual study and you are saying something different. What do you have to say about that?
A  Gnosticism is better understood through art, music, and poetry and not through intellectual pursuit, as stated in the Time magazine article. It is better understood in terms of Buddhism than of Christianity. I find that one of the simplest, truest ways of describing the experience of Gnosis is found in the lines of the Tao Te Ching, "The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao." Just substitute "Gnosis" instead of "Tao". In this instance the terms can be interchangeable.

Q  How then can I understand Gnosticism, when I don't have a frame of reference in other religions?
A  Read my answer above. I'll elaborate by recommending that you read the poetry of the Sufi poets Rumi and Hafiz. I particularly like Daniel Ladinsky's translations of Hafiz. They all point to the union of the soul and God, or what Gnostics call the Bridal Chamber. Perhaps one of the best, if not the best, poem about experiencing gnosis is I Entered Where I Did Not Know, by St. John of the Cross, translated by Willis Barnstone, editor of The Gnostic Bible. Having read the original poem often since early childhood, I can say that this is, without question, the best translation I have ever come across.

Q  At what point did these ideas form and split? It just seems so probable and improbable at the same time.
A  These ideas have always been and will always be, under many names and illustrated by different stories. Some of the greatest exponents of gnosis that ever existed never even heard of Gnosticism.

Q  I appreciate and understand a little of Gnosticism, but I am a Christian and someone who carries the traditions of the Holy Bible. So please, if you could, make a reference to that?
A  There is much that is Gnostic in the Christian Scriptures. There is Jesus on the cross, praying for his enemies and those that crucified him, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." For the Gnostic, evil springs from ignorance. If we truly knew, the compassion and empathy in our hearts would prevent us from causing harm. Jesus also said, "Do not judge so you won't be judged." "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you." When the self-righteous wants to proclaim their piousness in public, Jesus said, "When you fast do not look gloomy like the hypocrites: they make their faces unsightly so that other people may see that they are fasting. I tell you this, they have their reward already. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that men may not see that you are fasting, but only your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees what is secret will give you your reward." Another instance, "This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you." When the experience of gnosis is upon you, you can do no other but love. I often call gnosis the presence or gift of the Holy Spirit. When the ego is at rest, when thought is silent and time is still, the Divine Presence dwells in you, eternity present, NOW. Jesus also said, "Before Abraham was, I am."

Author Matthew Scull wrote, "He who is unaware of his ignorance will only be mislead by his knowledge." We need to know what we don't know and know how to ask the appropriate questions, not get sidetracked by red herrings that divert us from the central issue.

Q  I have read that you coined the term Wild Gnosis. How would you briefly describe it?
A  Wild Gnosis is the experience of Gnosis left without explanation or description. As if it were a natural animal seen but allowed to continue free, in it original state, never caged and never named. Never creating a concept of the experience or clothing it with the robes of any religion, but allowing this experience to make a home within us where it can continue visiting and interiorly rearranging us with its Presence.

Q  Who is Sophia? A female deity?
A  Sophia is not a deity, but an aspect of the Divine Presence or Being (We don't often used the over-defined term "God"). She can be associated with Chokmah, the highest Sephiroth attainable in the Tree of Life. Her name means wisdom. I mostly associate her with the Shekinah, The Indwelling Presence. In the Kabbalah and other mystical works of medieval times, the Shekinah is often treated as the consort of God who can only be reunited with God through human fulfillment of the Great Work or Restoration.

Her benevolence embraces even the lowest creature. We see the Divine Presence in the face of all creation, but Being is neither male nor female. From Being proceeds all that is. In the Sophianic aspect there exists no judgment, so there can be no sexism, racism, or any of the other "isms" that people use to separate others from themselves. There is no homophobia, xenophobia or any of the other ignorant, chaotic ills that perpetuate fear and violence within self and others.

Q  How would you describe your Eucharist service?
A  The ritual of the Eucharist outwardly represents our internal saga of separation and reunion. It dramatizes the feminine principle of Divinity, her descent and imprisonment into matter, and her liberation and redemption as well as that of all the sparks lost in darkness. It is her voice, which is also our own, that from the depths of ignorance and alienation manages to reach the Most High God, creating a bridge across the stars that moves within us, permitting the Divine Bridegroom to extend his healing touch and turn our blindness into sight.

While mainly based on the Gnostic mythology of the holy Sophia, it is liberally imbued with the Lurianic myth, with my own experiences, and with material derived from the Holy Order of Miriam of Magdala—all reminiscent of the Vow of the Bodhisattva, where the Bodhisattva vows not to return to Nirvana until all existence has been liberated.

The ritual includes both masculine and feminine aspects of Being. We have our own music written and composed to fit our ritual. Consecration and communion are the lifting of the veils that conceal Divinity, the revealing of the Bride and Bridegroom, face to face, and sealed by the bridge to the Most High. No one is excluded from Communion, regardless of their background or belief system. We have had visitors of different backgrounds, including Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostics and even Atheists.

For us God is to be experienced, not defined or conceptualized into a belief system. We are a small sanctuary that holds maximum 36 to 40 people. Sometimes it is full beyond standing capacity; sometimes there are less than twenty people present. The ritual has to be experienced in order to see what it is about.

Q  Are animals permitted to the services?
A  We are an inter-species congregation; so don't be surprised to find a couple of dogs and cats present. They are either very well behaved or bored with the whole thing.

Q  Do you give a homily at sometime during the service?
A  We give a 20 to 30 minute talk before the Eucharist service. These talks are prepared as a keynote for the day and are also prepared as classes for our students to the priesthood as well as for all present. The statements made in the talks are not positions necessarily taken by the speakers or by the Sanctuary and are not to be accepted or rejected. They are made to provide different points of reference so that the hearers may step outside the confines of their own concepts. They are designed to jump-start the mind from a complacent state of comfortable concepts. Often, if even for just a moment, identity, time and self with all its criticism and judgment may become very still. In that silence we may hear the gentle, but insistent voice of the Indwelling Presence speaking through each individual heart.

Q  How do you attract a congregation?
A  People hear about us in a number of ways: word of mouth, articles that have been written about us, mentions in books, the internet, a couple of documentaries and sometimes even through the phone book. We do not proselytize. Our Sanctuary was created to serve as a "shelter for travelers," to use metaphoric language. Some remain indefinitely to keep and tend it, others come when they need it to continue on their journey. That's why we have no membership, beliefs or dogmas. Another metaphor I can use is the oasis, where one can come and refresh oneself while traversing the desert—others remain as Keepers of the Sanctuary to be of service to other travelers.

We have only the minimum essential structure to function as an ordered whole. For us spirituality or religion is something that can only be experienced, not believed in, as belief would be just another name for opinion.

Q  How does the Sanctuary support itself financially?
A  The Sanctuary is supported exclusively by voluntary donations, although no basket for money is passed during the service. There is a small basket by the door where people may feel free to leave a donation if they so desire.

Your tax deductible contributions are gratefully accepted.