Self-Examination

A Homily for The First Sunday in Lent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The season of Lent extends from Ash Wednesday up to the eve of Easter Sunday. The word “lent” comes from a German word meaning “spring.” It is a time of purification and introspection in preparation for the renewal in spring. The first day of Lent occurs on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter Sunday. The number forty has much significance in relation to the mythic story of Jesus and the preparation of Lent. According to scripture and tradition, Jesus was forty hours in the tomb before his resurrection and forty days fasting in the wilderness before undertaking his public mission.

The forty days before Easter is a time for us to also fast from the outer world. In an agricultural society, Lent is the time in the year when the winter stores are dwindling and it becomes time to tighten one’s belt, until the food stores can be renewed in the spring. It represents a period of self-examination, rest and introspection prior to the arrival of spring. In our self-examination, it is a time to work on overcoming our weaknesses, rather than a time to mourn over our past errors—a time to die to the old in preparation for the renewal in spring.

As we turn our attention inward in self-examination psychological energies are stimulated that lead us toward a reconciliation of the Shadow elements in our psyche. We experience a tension and dynamic resolution of the opposites and a unification with the contrasexual image within ourselves. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas: “when you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and female into a single one,…then shall you enter the Kingdom.”

Introspective self-examination helps to bring the contents of the unconscious into consciousness, which results in a conjunction of the opposites. When we make the two one, when we unite the opposites, something new arises within the psyche on a higher level of manifestation. We meet a transcendent and transpersonal being within us. Gnostics have compared this experience to viewing a light-being of oneself in a mirror. “…when you make eyes in the place of an eye, a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, and an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter the Kingdom.” The Jewish Gnostics write about a stage in Kabbalistic meditation where one meets a figure of light resembling oneself, a light twin, that is necessary before one can ascend in the Divine Chariot (Mercavah) to the place of light.

In medieval times, Lent was a period of bitter fasting and self-mortification. Self-punishment and intentional suffering was considered an act of piety pleasing to Deity. This idea sprang from the Old Testament concept of a jealous God, jealous of the good fortune and happiness of humanity. The theory arose that, if our life was too good, we would forget about the gods, and thus the gods would visit adversity upon us to make us need them again. If we voluntarily took on suffering we could escape the jealous God and prevent him from visiting evil or punishment upon us to remind us of his existence and power. The medieval idea of penance was that, if we took it into our hands to punish ourselves, we could escape the punishment of God in the hereafter.

There is some truth to this conception, in that the evil or punishing circumstances in our lives are often the result of the activity of the gods of the unconscious that we have ignored. Yet our austerities and mortifications will never be effective, unless they can bring the gods of the unconscious into consciousness. In this instance, the jealous gods are but the inversion of the helpful powers of the unconscious. “Diabola est Deus Inversus.” (The Devil is the inverse of God)

The religious practice of fasting is universal and not a phenomenon of Christianity alone. The initiation of a shaman is generally preceded by a three day fast. There are many references to this three day period throughout the Biblical literature. Jonah spends three days in the belly of the great fish “Dag Gudul,” three days elapse between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus and St Paul is blind three days after his encounter on the road to Damascus. The ordeal of the fast in the Native American practice of the vision quest produces the experience of a visionary death and rebirth in which the young shaman finds his or her helping spirit and other spirit powers.

In our modern culture, it is difficult to artificially create the conditions necessary to call forth these helpful powers. It cannot be made to happen by self-serving or self-deprecating acts of mortification. Such acts become another manipulative act of the ego personality, which inevitably fails, somewhat like the child who attempts to get what it wants by holding its breath until it turns blue. Eventually it passes out and begins to breath again.

The personal sacrifice and austerities of the Native American vision quest is intended to bring one to the brink of death. When one comes to the lowest point, when the ego is at its wits end, then one calls forth the healing powers of the psyche. In the vision quest, the Native American youth goes out into the wilderness alone. He fasts and prays, offering himself up to the elements of nature and the higher powers. He continues to fast and suffer until the higher powers take pity on him. When the spirits come to him he gives prayers of thanksgiving not self deprecation. The dual qualities of spiritual courage and humble emptying are required to make this sacrifice of self to Self. The Elder Edda describes this initiation. “I know that I hung on the wind-swept Tree for nine full nights wounded with a spear, and given to Odin, myself to myself, on that Tree from which none know of which root it rises.”

Christian mystics have also used fasting to stimulate mystical experience. The prayers of the Christian mystics are filled with wonder, love and thanksgiving, not self-deprecation and confessions of guilt. We must first feel that we are a worthy offering before we can courageously empty ourselves in humble sacrifice and thanksgiving. When we offer our inner first fruits upon the altar of our hearts, we experience a mystical transformation and rebirth. What originally was thought to be so important about one’s life is no longer so important. We find the hidden pearl within. We find that we have gained the spiritual treasure that eclipses all worldly treasures.

This loss of self-importance and discovery of Self is a continuous process. It is not done once and for all time, with the receipt of perfect Gnosis. If approached with the appropriate psychological intent, a retreat to the wilderness and short period of fasting may indeed call forth the helpful and instructive powers of the unconscious. The key to the retreat and fasting is to lose one’s self-importance. Isolation and austerity in voluntarily giving oneself over to a symbolic death is an aid to this psychological preparation. Coming to the powers of the unconscious with a planned agenda or desire to wrest away some importance from the experience only leads to failure.

An Elder of the Brule Sioux describes the necessary humility and self sacrifice to obtain a vision and discover one’s Self in a story of a young man’s failure on a vision quest. “You went after your vision like a hunter after buffalo, or a warrior after scalps. You were fighting the spirits. You thought they owed you a vision. Suffering alone brings no vision nor does courage, nor does sheer will power. A vision comes as a gift born of humility, of wisdom, and of patience. If from your vision quest you have learned nothing but this, then you have already learned much.”

It might be thought strange that I should compare Native American shamanism with classical Gnosticism, for, in the popular view, Native Americans are earth-worshippers and Gnostics earth-haters. Yet, a deeper appreciation of both begins to demonstrate their kinship, and to reveal that neither dichotomy is accurate. The Happy Hunting Ground of the Native American is not a place in this world, nor was the Gnostic paradise. The Native Americans respected the earth because their life depended on it, yet, in the extremities of the vision quest, the earth is acknowledged as a place of suffering, a place to perform one’s earthly and spiritual calling until the time comes to join the Sky People of their ancestors.

So, why do we not suggest that we all leave this vale of woe in some mass suicide? Because there is something yet very precious about human consciousness—there is an insight, a resurrection, a Gnosis that can only be achieved in this embodied consciousness. This Gnosis not only liberates one from the attachments and snares of the world but also awakens a compassion for all sentient beings and a desire to remain and help others with the task of Self-knowledge. Liberation from the chains of attainment frees us from bondage to our demiurgic egos. The fasting and mortifications of the vision quest comprise one of the ways that have been used to burst these bonds of the Demiurge who says “I am the only god.” Under this tyranny a vision of Gnosis cannot come.

An extended fast is only one means of producing the altered state of consciousness that can knock the ego-personality out of its autonomous tyranny of self-importance. Until the autonomy and resistance of the ego is broken down, there is no place for the helpful powers to come forth and communicate. According to the teachings of Don Juan in the writings of Carlos Castañeda, we find our personal power when we loose our self-importance. The oppressive circumstances of our lives, the petty tyrants and jealous gods that we meet, help us to lose our self-importance and to find our personal power. When we lose our self-importance, all the things that push our buttons no longer affect us. The archons (the jealous gods) have no power over us. We find the personal power to transcend the petty archons and ascend to the realms of light.

We lose the self-importance of the ego-personality to find the Self. According the Gospel of John, “whosoever shall lose his life shall gain it.” Self-importance is not the same as self-worth. We find something we think will make us important in order to cover a lack of self-worth. When we release the self-importance of our ego-personality we find the worth we have in the eyes of the Father from the beginning. In the death and rebirth experience of Gnosis, we lose our life in order to gain it.

The visionary experience of shamanic initiation is a vision of dismemberment and death. The shaman sees his or her body hollowed out and filled with crystals, wounded and healed, in order that he or she might heal others. From the wounding of Jesus upon the Cross to the stigmata of the saints, the wounded healer remains an archetype of our own death and rebirth in Gnosis.

In this day and age, we can come to this experience of death and rebirth through invocation and prayer. We can simply invoke the helpful powers of the unconscious into consciousness. Such a prayer opens a direct line to the driver of the cosmic dump truck where is accumulated all of our lifetimes of psychic and karmic refuse. Such a prayer sends out a call that we are ready for it to fall on us. This is what the helpful powers are for. This is why they are called forth; to help us take care of our garbage, to polish the glass of our spiritual vision, to purify our refuse in the furnace of our fiery being, composted and compressed into crystal, to fashion the diamond body; to make of it a bright and pellucid mirror, reflecting to us the radiance of our Divine Self.


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

The Message of Gnosis

A Homily for The Annunciation to Our Lady

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Annunciation to our Lady has been an important feast day in the calendar of the Church for a very long time. Annunciation is a synonym for “announcement,” and refers to the announcement of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary concerning her role in the advent of Christ. The traditional date of the Annunciation is March 25, which signifies the mystical conception of Christ, occurring as it does exactly 9 months before the date of Christmas when we celebrate the Christ’s birth. The popularity of this feast day in the traditional Church is most likely due to the emphasis on the divine feminine in the image of Mary to which many people related as the familiar mythological image of the woman or goddess who gives birth to the Divine Child. If the image of Mary embodies such a potent archetype, why is so little importance given to her in the Gnostic writings, and why then have we, as modern Gnostics, begun to honor her festivals?

The early Gnostics are not particularly interested in the physical or even metaphysical mechanisms of Jesus’ conception and birth for two basic reasons. 1) The Jesus of the Gnostics is a post-resurrectional mystery figure, the living Jesus, and is primarily a spirit, a pneuma. The Gnostic Jesus was not a person who died and disappeared, never to be heard of again, but an ever present reality in the inner life of his Gnostic followers, the ever coming and redeeming Logos. Therefore historical descriptions or theological speculations regarding any physical phenomena of conception and birth are of little consequence to the religious experience of the Gnostics. 2) In contrast to the dominant paradigm about women in early times the Gnostics do not view maternity as the principle value of the feminine. By the importance given to Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic writings, we can see that women signify the conceivers and birth givers of a deeply spiritual process in the life of the Gnostic, a role far transcending their biological role of conceiving and bearing children. Also, the Gnostics tend to view conception and birth as more of a tragedy than a joyful event. Many Gnostic writings identify incarnation with death and ignorance, as opposed to life and consciousness. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “…for my mother gave me death, but my true Mother gave me the Life.”

Many of these Gnostic insights concerning conception and birth into the world seem to run counter to the values of life that many of us hold dear. They are paradoxically poised in reversal of our usual way of viewing our earthly life. The greatest paradox for the Gnostic is that of earthly incarnation. On the one hand it is a tragedy that anything should be born into this cruel world of misery and sorrow, and yet it is only through the incarnation of holy souls and the striving of humanity for greater consciousness in this life that the situation may be redeemed. When we approach these insights of Gnosis, we must remember that they are based on a view of the human existential condition through the lens of spiritual experiences and from the vantage point of an alternate and transcendent reality. What the Gnostics communicate is not so much a denial of earthly life as an affirmation of that which transcends it, the spiritual life that we knew at the beginning before our incarnation. Their intent is not to dishonor those who suffered and sacrificed to bring us into the world but to make us more conscious of a greater mystery.

To the Gnostic the conception of Jesus is a mystery, the same mystery that forms the background of our own existence. The evidence of this mystery, indeed, any mystery, is that a mystery can never be limited to one reality, and so we must approach this mystery of the Annunciation and the conception of Christ as multi-layered and multifaceted.

One of the models that the Gnostics used extensively is the classification of the universe into three levels of reality: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental) and the pneumatic (spiritual). Rather than denying either of these as illusory or false, the Gnostics accepted the reality of all three on their own level.

Applying the hyletic level of reality to the mystery of the Annunciation, we are dealing with a reconstructed history of earthly events. The Gospel of Philip seems to profess the position that Mary was a real woman who had sexual intercourse with a real man in the process of conceiving and giving birth to Jesus. “The Lord would not have said, ‘My father in heaven,’ if he had not had another father, but he would have said simply my father.” (The Gospel of Philip) Although the various Gnostic sects differed in their emphasis concerning the physical versus the spiritual reality of Jesus, the virgin conception and virgin birth were viewed as spiritual rather than physical realities by most of them.

The psychic level of interpretation would comprise the ideas, belief structures and mental constructs derived from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. This category would include the theology and soteriology of the Christ in the form of creeds designed to integrate the mythology and the history of the Christ into a cohesive belief system. We might also add to this the many explanations of the Annunciation to Mary and the conception of Christ that rely on metaphysics of one kind or another. The main distinction of the psychic level of reality is that it is second or third hand, being one level removed from any historical reality and one level removed from any direct personal experience.

The pneumatic reality of the Annunciation comes from a direct experience of a spiritual power, the Gnosis of the Christ Within, the revelation of the Holy Spirit that flesh and blood hath not revealed. The pneumatic level of the Mystery communicates an alternate reality of story, myth, ritual and mystical experience. On this level of reality Jesus has a spiritual mother and a spiritual father. As Jesus speaks of his Father in heaven, so he also has another mother, a spiritual Mother. Among the early Jewish Christian communities the Holy Spirit was called the mother of Christ. In the Gospel of the Hebrews Jesus says, “My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and carried me away to Mount Tabor.”

To further point us in the direction for discovering the pneumatic reality, the Gospel of Philip intimates that something is missing from the conventional creed of the mainstream Church about the conception of Christ: “Some said Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit. They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive of a woman.” Not only does this passage affirm that the Holy Spirit is a female power but it also acknowledges that a masculine polarity is necessary for the conception to occur. In the announcement of Gabriel, the angel describes two spiritual powers rather than one. “The Holy Spirit (the Mother) shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest (the Father) shall overshadow thee.” Jesus had a mother and father according to matter—the hyletic reality. He also had a mother and father according to spirit—the pneumatic reality. What distinguishes this from the theological explanations of psychic Christianity is that it comes from the Gnostics’ direct experience of their own spiritual mother and spiritual father. Unless we also have this experience, then it remains merely another belief.

The Gnostics tend to disregard and minimize the hyletic and psychic aspects of the Mystery in their writings, not because they disavowed them, but because they knew that ultimately only the pneumatic experience of the Mystery is transformative. Concern over historical facts, pseudohistorical details, or theological explanations are not going to transform us or help us grow spiritually. They are not going to change us or increase our consciousness. Talk and discussion of the metaphysics involved in a virgin’s conceiving, propounding theories and ideas ad infinitum, is not going to change the existential condition of the human soul. An intellectual conception or interpretation, no matter how appealing to our minds, is still only a mental construct—only experience can transform us.

It is because of experiences of the Virgin Mary and insights into her spiritual role in the present that we, as modern Gnostics, have added this festival to our liturgical year. From the very beginning, Gnostics have had an especially close kinship with and regard for the feminine image of deity. Even if the early Gnostics did not write much concerning the spiritual role of the Virgin Mary, the Gnostic throughout history has been open to new and evolving images of the divine feminine as they have expressed themselves in direct experience. As a culture, we are currently experiencing a growing recognition of the importance of the divine feminine. The appearances of the Virgin at Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje in recent times points to an increased activity of the divine feminine in the collective psyche. When in 1950 the Pope proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin, it was not just an exercise in ecclesiastical authority but predicated upon the personal visions and experiences of himself and others.

Another reason that the Annunciation is important to the Gnostic is the model of Mary’s response to the announcement of the angel. The presence of an angel in this story gives evidence of communication from the alternate, spiritual reality of our inner lives. The feminist interpretation views this story as a traditional model of female submission and obedience. Yet this announcement need not be seen as something ordained and commanded from on high but as a revelation and a choice for Mary to make. In the Lurianic Kabbalah, each human soul has a specific and unique redemptive task to bring about the restoration of the Light, wherein the fragmented sparks of the primordial Adam, the Human of Light, might be gathered together into the original whole. Each of us at some point in our lives may be brought a message of our redemptive task from the inner angelic voice of our higher divine self. We have the free will to choose to follow the revelation or not. Mary responds to the announcement of the angel not out of resigned obedience but in an affirmation of her own true will and divine purpose. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Her choice brings it about, the fulfillment of the promise given in the aeons before her ever coming into the world. Mary hears the voice of her angelic and divine soul; she follows the Light which is above every power of the Father. In the story of Sophia, Sophia errs in following the false light of the Arrogant One. Leaving her consort, she brings forth the Demiurge, an imperfect god who is responsible for all of the tragedy of the human condition. She strives to redeem her mistake and correct her error through the sowing of a portion of her light power as sparks of light into the race of humanity.

In the story of the Annunciation, Mary chooses to bring forth a messenger of the Light, the Savior and Redeemer, by following not the false light but the true Light above the Aeons. In the Pistis Sophia, Mary conceives spiritually through the accepting of the Redeemer as the soul of the child in her womb. The Living Jesus tells the story thus: “It came to pass then thereafter, that at the command of the First Mystery I looked down on the world of mankind and found Mary, who is called my mother according to the body of matter. I spake with her in the guise of Gabriel, and when she had turned herself to the height towards me, I cast thence into her the first power which I had received from Barbelo—that is the body which I have borne in the height. And for the soul I cast into her the power which I have received from the great Sabaoth the Good, who is in the region of the Right.” In this fashion Mary takes on the culmination and embodiment of the redemptive role and destiny of the Holy Sophia.

Sophia is very important to us. Everything we do in this Church can be viewed as a cover for her acknowledgment and recognition in a culture where in times past the right to do so was paid for with our lives. Witches were not the only ones who were burned in the inquisition. Before them the last remaining Gnostics of European culture, the Cathars, were hunted down and burned as heretics. We are the hidden Children of Sophia. We are the protectors and guardians of her secret Gnosis. We acknowledge the darkness of this world and that, even in this more enlightened age, we could be imperiled and persecuted for her sake. And yet, in this place of darkness we have known her light. As in the prophetic verse of Isaiah, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

These mysteries are within us. We can experience the conception of Christ within our own souls. We can receive the annunciation and hear the hail of Gabriel. We are all, regardless of our gender, the handmaids of the Indwelling Lord. When we receive the message of the promise we have made before the Aeons of the Light, even as Mary heard the announcement of Gabriel, we can affirm the light of who we are and reply, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”


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

Recognition of the Messenger

A Homily for the Third Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

In the tradition of the Church calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is often called Rose Sunday, because it represents a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent. This lightening has two points of significance. One is that of a greater light shining through the violet to reveal the rose tint signifying the coming of the Light, the other is a lightening of the mood, for which reason the Church has traditionally ascribed this Sunday to the quality of joy. The rose color expresses the joy of recognition, the recognition of the One who shines from beyond the veil of violet, who is the Messenger of the Light.

The joy of the recognition of the Messenger is described in one of the traditional scriptures for this Sunday in Advent:

“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zachariah, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a fulfillment of all those things which were told her from the Lord.” (The Gospel of Luke)

This joy of recognition, the recognition of the holy messenger has in so many ways been trivialized or minimized by mainstream religion and new age thinking that it is difficult, without direct experience, to appreciate the great mystery that it represents to the Gnostic. Understanding the Gnostic experience of the recognition of the messenger and the joy that it brings hinges upon two Gnostic insights. One is that there is an alternative, spiritual reality transcendent to the material world, and second that this reality manifests itself on myriad levels of being which are metaphorically connected but not identical in breadth or depth. For our present purpose we need only concern ourselves with two of these levels of being. The first is the microcosmic, interior, mystical, more individual level, the second is the macrocosmic, more universal level of manifestation. Neither of these levels manifest as merely subjective fantasies of the alternative reality, as both can be objectively perceived by what Jung called the “objective psyche” and have both psychological and metaphysical reality. This objective psyche is closely related to Jung’s “collective unconscious,” as it might be thought of as the psyche that accesses the “collective unconscious” through what Jung called the “transcendent function.” To make a long theory short, when people have an authentic experience of this alternative reality both the individual and universal levels of manifestation are objectively perceived in the language of poetic myth and metaphor; there exists a common “eye of perception.” The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, expressed this in one of my favorite of his verses.

“The waking have one world in common, whereas each sleeper turns away to a private world of his own.”

In this verse the waking refer to those awakened to the alternative reality of myth and metaphor, the sleeping to those in the ordinary state of consciousness and the perception of the everyday. It is through such an awakened and common “eye of perception” that we may recognize the Messenger of the Light on both the individual and the universal levels of manifestation.

One way by which the Messenger is recognized is by the message. The Messengers of Light have always been known by their message, a message of liberation and freedom, the revelation of a way out, the existence of an alternative reality beyond the everyday, something more real and more authentic than the shadows of our mundane lives. Like Plato’s allegory of the people imprisoned in the cave, whose only reality was the puppet-show of shadows thrown against the walls by the torchlight, who had never seen the upper world illumined by the light of the sun, so the recognition of the messenger and the message of another reality is taken by many for only the shadows of things that are real and belief in things that have never been experienced in truth. Some never even believe in an existence beyond the shadows of what they see in the everyday world. Yet the revelations of the Messenger do not lead us into some playground of pseudo-archetypes of our own fanciful imaginings, as such authentic experiences of the numinous, archetypal and interior realities come with an awesome, ego-shattering power, troubling and frightening in their importance and numinosity, and never what might be expected from the shadow-realities with which we are familiar.

This role is that of the Messenger on the universal level of manifestation. In this fashion the Messenger has the role of the Liberator and Saviour, as the Holy Prophet Mani describes in his sacred writings:

“The Messenger of Light, who comes at the right time and assumes the form of the true church and human flesh, and acts as leader within righteousness, chooses the personalities of his disciples and then frees them, both those of the Elect and those of the Hearers; he dives down into the deep oceans of the waters of the world, and draws them out from the jaws of the deep. And they do not stray again, but after other rebirths and toil for the Light, they come to the hands of the Angels; and the Angels carry them to the places where they shall be re?ned as pure gold.”

An extract from The Avatars by A.E. describes in similarly potent imagery this same role of the Saviour:

“In fancy this tireless child thought of leaping from crest to crest of the long blue waves of hills. Why could he not do it? He imagined the run and the mad gathering of power for the leap, and in the very act of imagining he had left the body behind. What had happened? The air in which he floated was vibrant with timeless melody, a sound as beautiful and universal as the light. Where was he? The earth was vanishing, swallowed up in a brightness as fiery as the ecstasy of the fire. A moment more and he would have passed from the illusion of boyhood. He was reaching up to some immeasurable power which was himself when consciousness faded.

‘It is time to waken him. The seer cannot be held to the eyes, the being cannot be held to the body.’

“He looked up. He saw a figure thrice the height of mortals, a body gleaming as if made of gold and silver air. It was winged with flame above the brows. The eyes which looked upon him were still as if they had gazed upon eternities. The boy cried, and knew not why he uttered the words: ‘I know you Shepherd of the Starry Flocks. What soul do you now draw from the Abyss?'”

When compared to the Gnostic conception of the Saviour, the popular views comfortable to the many, take on two extremes both of which prevent our recognition of the Messenger and the Message. The first may be called the “bootstrap” or “do it yourself” approach, which declares that we do not need a saviour or a redeemer outside of the ego personality of our everyday awareness of who we are. This is a very ego-centered approach, likened to the exclamation of the Old Testament Demiurge, “I am the only God, and there are no other gods besides me.” Lifting ourselves out of ignorance by our own bootstraps never seems to work very well. It results in our being limited to a horizontal plane of being, climbing over others to get to the top of the heap. Cut off from our source of divine glory and power, we become enslaved to the ego-personality, its grandiose hopes and its controlling fears.

The second popular view of salvation is the familiar “Sunday school” approach, which assumes that we are all wretched sinners with nothing of divinity within ourselves, wholly dependent on belief in an external and historical saviour for our redemption. This works even less. Again we are limited to a very horizontal plane of being, without a vertical dimension transcendent to everyday society. We end up believing that we must follow the commandments of mainstream religion to merit redemption and find ourselves enslaved to the tyrant super-ego of our psyches.

A third, Gnostic view proposes a conjunction of these two opposites. There is a divine and redeeming power within us, yet it is transcendent to the ego-personality of our usual awareness. It most often manifests as a mysterious, yet personal other within our psyches. This more individual manifestation of the Messenger is called by the Holy Prophet Mani the Light-Twin or Twin-Angel; Jung called it the “Self.”

The Gnostic also recognizes that we are in need of liberation and salvation, not from ourselves or our sins, but from the predicament of worldly existence in which we find ourselves. The predicament, however, is both external in the world and interior in our psyches. Just as the Gnostic psychologist, C.G. Jung, proposed the need for a third function transcendent to the level of psychological conflict, so we require a redeeming and liberating power and consciousness that is transcendent to the predicament that exists within us. It is as if we are all sunk in quicksand; we are no less human for having fallen into the quagmire, yet we cannot lift ourselves out or the others who are caught in it with us; we require someone outside of the quicksand to lift us out. Also, in our predicament of ignorance and forgetfulness, we require one who knows us from our divine origin to remind us of who we are.

The role of the Gnostic saviour is also that of the Messenger who brings the message of remembrance, reminding us of who we are and the heavenly light-world from which we have originated. On the more individual level of manifestation the Messenger comes to remind us of the message to “know thyself.” On this level of manifestation the Messenger and the Self that we are bidden to know are the same. Yet we come to this recognition not by seeking who the mysterious other, this messenger of another reality, is but by seeking the Self who we truly are in the inmost core of our being, the inmost of the inmosts. As Jesus explains to his disciples in the Secret Sayings of Jesus:

“Jesus said: Pay no heed to the multitude; and think little on those outside of the mystery; for know that I am wholly with the Father, and the Father with me. Therefore I have suffered nothing of what they are going to say about me. For what thou seest, this I have shown thee; but what I am, this alone I know, no other. Let me then keep what is mine, and see what is thine through me. But see me truly, not what I said I am, but what thou being akin to me, canst fully realize, and wilt know in the fullness of thy time.”

We cannot rely on the multitude for knowledge of the Messenger. We can only know and recognize the Messenger when we awaken to and know our true and royal Self, the truly real and divine being within, neither flattering nor condemning but voicing the truth, the author of all that is truly good in us. In the Hymn of the Robe of Glory, the Messenger as an eagle and a letter brings to the wayfarer in the world the following message:

“Up and arise from thy sleep and hear the words of our letter! Remember thou art the son of kings; see the slavery and whom thou servest! Recollect the pearl for which thou didst hasten to Egypt! Think of thy brightness, and recall thy glorious mantle, which thou shalt wear as adornment and thy name be read in the list of Heroes; then with thy brother, our viceroy, thou shalt be in our kingdom!”

The call to remembrance reminds us that we are kin to great ones and that we have been enslaved, put to sleep, and have forgotten who we are in our likeness. In the Acts of John, Jesus says “I am a mirror to thee who understandeth me.” We cannot know who the Messenger is on a universal level of manifestation, for that is known alone by that Holy One, but we can perceive that Messenger as a likeness in a mirror, as a reflection of that Self within us that is the perfect reflection of the Holy One. The word Gnosis has been translated by Bentley Layton in The Gnostic Scriptures as “acquaintance”, an intimate acquaintance, likened to knowing in the Biblical sense, a knowing on a deeply interior level akin to the physical intimacy of sexual knowing, yet spiritually transcending it in both closeness and bliss. In the prayers written by the Holy Prophet Mani, he calls unto the Messenger of Light, the Christ, as “our celestial Spouse.”

“O Christ, our Light, come to us and take us unto Thee! We have trusted to the knowledge of Thy hope which called us unto Thee; take us up to Thine abode, O our celestial Spouse! We are trees in the orchard of Thy Light; our Light shines like the sun; for we have lit it with Thy fire, and nourished it with the good oil of purity.”

Such is the intimacy and joy of the acquaintance with the Messenger expressed by the Holy Prophet Mani. The Logos, the Word, the Messenger is already known of himself, and we must let him keep what is his and see what is ours through him; only when we know who we are as akin to him will we know what and who he is. Then shall we recognize the Messenger both individually and universally.

The Message is a call to remembrance. As described in the Hymn of the Robe of Glory, it reminds us not only of who we are and from whence we have come but of the promise made to us and the promise that we made in descending to this world. Our promise is to liberate the pearl from the coils of the world-dragon. That pearl for which we are sent by the command of those who sent us, is no less than our own divine Self. Through recognition of the Messenger we liberate the light which is within us: through the liberation of that light which is within us, we assist in the liberation of the light that has been scattered throughout all creation.

There is a redeeming and liberating power within us, yet it is in the likeness of the universal liberator of all beings. It is not circumscribed by the perceptions of our ego nor limited by cultural stereotypes or the material world in which we live. The Gnosis of the Self, the recognition of the Messenger, the intimate acquaintance with transcendent being is more powerful, liberating, and redeeming than anything offered by this world. The message of the Redeemer awakens us from slumber, clears away our ignorance, and reminds that we are akin to the image of the Holy One, not a redeemer of history and culturally defined form but the Living One who truly is. So shall we recognize the Messenger and see truly, as the Logos said, “But see me truly, not what I said I am, but what thou being akin to me, canst fully realize, and wilt know in the fullness of thy time.”


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