Devotion to the Triune Deity

A Homily for Trinity Sunday

by Bishop Steven Marshall

One of the common questions we receive as Gnostics is “Why do you espouse the doctrine of the Christian Trinity?” To answer this question we have only to listen to the voices of the early Gnostics themselves. In the entire canon of Biblical scripture there are only a few vague references to a trinity in the letters of St Paul, yet the Gnostic scriptures of the Nag Hammadi collection are filled with trinitarian expressions of God. In the Gospel of Philip,we see written, “…the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” There is no place in the mainstream canon of the Bible where we can find so clear a reference to the Christian Trinity. In this way, we can state quite emphatically that we, as Gnostics, are trinitarians, yet we encompass far more than any dogma of the Church concerning this Trinity.

Whereas the mainstream Church has spent nearly two thousand years developing a dogma of the Trinity, Gnostics have always approached the Trinity as an archetypal symbol and a mystery. As an archetype, the Trinity arises in every culture, in every place and time. Even in terms of physical processes, most every phenomenon can be described as a trinitarian expression—active, passive, and their connecting interaction; motion, inertia and rhythm; thesis, antithesis and a resolving and connecting principle.

Many religions besides Christianity include a triune deity. The Goddess of modern Wiccans includes Maid, Mother and Crone. The Hindu pantheon includes the Creator (Brahma), the Destroyer (Shiva) and the Preserver (Vishnu). Religions that have a triad of gods often develop family relationships between the members of the triad. This is particularly the case in the Egyptian mysteries with Osiris (Father), Isis (Mother) and Horus (Son), as well as Ra (Father), Pharaoh (Son of Ra) and Ka (the connecting and transmitting Spirit). The Gnostic symbol of the Trinity incorporates these two trinitarian formulae from the Egyptian mysteries—Father, Son and Holy (Mother) Spirit. The Gospel of the Egyptians describes such an emanation of the Trinity: “Three powers came forth from him; they are the Father, the Mother, and the Son.” Here the Mother (Holy Spirit) is the second person of the Trinity, where she might also be identified with the Egyptian Ka. The Gospel of the Egyptians further describes the emanation of a triune series of ogdoads making a total of 24 powers, as described in the Book of Revelation. “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.”

In the tradition of the Pharaonic succession in ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh is a divine king, an Anointed One, a Christos, through the connecting power of the Ka (Spirit) that unites the Father and the Son and passes on to the Pharoah the power and consciousness of the Sun God, Ra. The Pharaoh is called the Son of Ra after receiving the Ka (Hereditary Spirit) of the Father. Also, in the Mass, immediately before the minor elevation, this uniting principle of the Holy Spirit, the Ka, is again invoked. “To whom with Thee, O Mighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, be ascribed all honor and glory, throughout the aeons of aeons.”

The mainstream Catholic tradition emphasizes the relationship between the Father and the Son, as an exclusive relationship between God and one man in history, called Jesus. Most of the controversy over the Trinity throughout the centuries has been over the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the other two persons of the Trinity and how that might influence the doctrine of both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. The traditional Credo provides only one minimal reference to the Holy Spirit, as “the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who together with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified: Who spoke by the prophets.” The Eastern Orthodox differs in that the Father alone brings forth both the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Gospels record that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to remain on earth to guide and care for us, yet, in Orthodox and Catholic liturgy, the Holy Spirit is never invoked alone and is not fully explained as to its relationship to all of humanity.

A fuller explanation and development of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity is threatening to the mainstream position in two principle ways. One is that the Holy Spirit is primarily a feminine Power, as realized by the early Gnostics and later mystics of the Church. One cannot pursue the imagery and mystery of the Holy Spirit without encountering a feminine energy, the Mother of the Holy Trinity. Julian of Norwich recognizes this when she writes, “The Light, breathed forth in the Logos, is at one and the same time the Mother and the Daughter of the Logos.” She again relates this when she writes, “The deep wisdom (the Sophia) of the Trinity is our Mother.”

Secondly, the full development of the mystery of the Holy Spirit intimates that all of humanity participates in the Sonship of God. If the Father appears in the Son and breathes the Holy Spirit together with the Son, who leaves the Holy Spirit with humanity, then the Holy Spirit that breathes in all humanity is the same Holy Spirit that unites the Father and the Son. In this way, all of humanity constitute the children of the Light of the Father, born of the Holy Spirit, our Mother.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus proclaims to the multitudes, “Ye are gods!” In the Acts of John he again exclaims, “Know ye not that ye are all angels, all archangels, gods and lords, all rulers, all great invisibles; that ye are all, of yourselves and in yourselves in turn, from one mass and one mixture and one substance!” If we can accept that we are both divine and human, then it is not such a great stretch to conceive of Jesus as an exemplary of that dual nature. God is manifest in the mystery figure of Jesus, as in ourselves through the Holy (Mother) Spirit; the distinction is quantitative rather than qualitative. Jesus manifested the unity and wholeness of his divine nature, and brought to us the message of our own unity with the Father, while we are yet in the process of remembering and uniting with that divine nature, the Christ within.

We, as Gnostics, do not promulgate a Triune Deity to fragment God or to argue the divinity of one man in history but to affirm the divine nature within all of us. The Gospel of Philip makes the Gnostic approach to the Trinity very clear.

“It is fitting for those who do have it not only to receive the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but to obtain them for themselves. If anyone does not obtain them for himself, the name also will be taken from him. But one receives them in the chrism of the fullness of the power of the Cross, which the apostles call the right and the left. For this one is no longer a Christian but a Christ.”

The Trinity is not something to be argued about or explained in rational terms but a mystery to be experienced, the mystery of our own unity in God. It is a sanctfying and mysterious presence, like a bright cloud with a voice of fire and the fluttering of wings, an indwelling Spirit, a boundless Light, a presence we manifest in ourselves whenever we invoke the Holy Trinity in the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

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

The Inner Resurrection

A Homily for Easter Sunday

by Bishop Steven Marshall

Easter is the major moveable feast of the liturgical year. It may fall on any Sunday between March 22nd and April 23rd. The date of Easter accords with the date of the Jewish festival of the Passover which is based upon the old lunar calendar. By this method of calculation the date of Easter is the Sunday nearest the first full moon following the spring equinox. The spring season in which Easter occurs, with its renewal of life following winter, bears out a synchronous relationship with the resurrection theme in the mythic story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We find at this great Christian festival a conjunction between the the cycles of nature and the mythic cycle of the liturgical year, a conjunction between microcosm and macrocosm, a conjunction between the interior, mythic dimension of reality and the outer dimension of the cycles of life. Because of this, many of the symbols that we associate with Easter, such as chicks, Easter eggs and rabbits, are fertility symbols representing the renewal and proliferation of life in spring.

The name of this festival derives from an Anglo-Saxon fertility Goddess named Oestara. Other related Goddesses are Isis of the Egyptians, Ishtar of the Assyrians, Astarte of the Babylonians and Tara of the Irish. All of these Goddesses have province over the night sky, the moon and the earth. They have both a celestial and starry aspect as well as an earthly aspect.

Sophia also has a celestial, transcendent aspect and an earthly, immanent aspect. The earthly aspect of Sophia relates to the Holy Spirit which “remains here on earth to guide and care for us.” She is the Spirit that gives life and sustains the life of all creatures on earth unto their redemption. Sophia also has a celestial, starry and transcendent aspect. She represents the light beyond the stars. In this mode of symbolism, the ancients imagined the night sky to be like a bowl full of holes through which the sea of light beyond shone through as the stars. Sophia as the Light of the Stars becomes the Star-Kindler, the Queen of the Stars, the Queen of Heaven. The Queen of Heaven is a title not only for the aspect of Sophia represented in the Blessed Virgin Mary but also for the historic figures of Isis, Astarte and Ishtar. She is both Earth’s Mother and Heaven’s Queen.

In the same fashion we must approach the mythic event of the resurrection of Jesus on more than one level. We must not succumb to the easy conclusion that the symbolism of the death and resurrection of Christ, the dying and renewing God, is nothing more than an image of earthly fertility and cyclical life. Because the story of the resurrection comes from the mythic dimension of reality, it transcends in great measure the limitations of earthly cycles and nature; there is indeed a great deal more to it. The cyclical rise and fall of vegetation through the cycle of the seasons, the death and resurrection of Christ, does not have tremendous meaning as the fertility of the earth but has its deeper and more profound meaning in the fertility and creativity of the human spirit.

Although many of the Gnostic scriptures abound in agricultural allegories, particularly in the Gospel of Philip, Gnostics are not so much concerned with the outer and ongoing cycles of death and renewal in nature but with the inner resurrection of the human spirit, the liberation and rising up of that immortal spark of the divine light within us. However, this inner resurrection is not entirely restricted to the human sphere; like the Buddhists, with their compassion for all forms of sentient life, we, as Gnostics, also look to the liberation and gathering of the sparks of light among all sentient beings, whatever their place on the spiral of manifest life. Yet before we can assist in the liberation of other forms of life, we must ourselves seek liberation and the resurrection while in this flesh. As the Gospel of Philip states in regard to the Resurrection, “If you do not receive it while in this place, you will not receive it in the other place.” The inner resurrection is the gnosis of the immortal light-spark within us, a conscious recollection of one’s own divine heritage and immortal being.

Like the other mystery religions, such as those of Eleusis and Sais, the Gnostics had a method for achieving this inner resurrection. As in the mysteries of old, the Gnostic practice of the mysteries gave a conscious realization of one’s immortality. In the mysteries of Eleusis this realization came forth in the vision of the Goddess Kore, in Egypt the vision of the Saitic Isis. Among the Alexandrian Gnostics it accompanied a vision of Sophia and a communion with the Resurrected One.

Easter represents a mystical experience of death and resurrection, not the celebration of an historical event. Something mysterious and miraculous happened; the disciples and early Gnostic writers experienced something, and yet the actual nature of the outward and historical event is not important to the Gnostic. There has never been, even in the gospel accounts, any agreement as to exactly what happened. We must approach these themes as interior and mystical events that can have meaning and reality for us today. We must ourselves experience this mystical death and resurrection as an interior and timeless reality. The Acts of St John record the mystical words of Jesus, “Understand me then as the slaying of a Word, wound of a Word, hanging of a Word, suffering of a Word, fastening of a Word, death of a Word, resurrection of a Word, and defining this Word, I mean every man!”

We do not celebrate the death and miraculous animation of the physical body of one man in history but our own apotheosis and resurrection as a reality in this life. Belief in an historical event is not going to change anything in us. The mysteries of Gnosis are not of this world; they are in the world but not of the world. This is nowhere more true than in the mystery of the Resurrection.

The Gnostics and disciples experienced not a dead Jesus but a Living Jesus, a spiritual not a physical being. The gospel accounts give ample evidence that the resurrected body was not the same as the physical body. In the Gospel of Philip we read, “The Lord rose from the dead. He became as he used to be, but now his body was perfect. He did indeed possess flesh, but this is true flesh. Our flesh is not true, but we possess only an image of the true.” The canonical gospels indicate that the resurrected Jesus was not recognized as the physical resemblance he bore during his incarnation. In the Gospel of St John Mary Magdalen does not recognize him until he speaks her name. In the Gospel of St Luke the father of James and Jude and another disciple do not recognize Jesus until he breaks bread with them.

We are dealing here with an interior experience of a transcendent reality. The resurrection story from the Gospel of St Matthew describes two angels at the open tomb. The presence of angels indicates that the teller of the story is recounting a visionary experience, an experience of an alternative reality. The angels say to the women at the tomb, “Why seek ye the living among the dead. He is not here; He has risen, as He said.” The words of the angels suggest that the Living Jesus is not in an history that is dead and gone. If we look for the resurrection in an historical event we are still seeking the living among the dead.

The Jewish mystical writings of the Zohar describe the resurrection as a spiritual phenomena, the resurrection of bodies of light nourished by the milk of the Holy Spirit.

“The complete resurrection will begin in Galilee. The resurrection of bodies will be as the uprising of flowers. There will be no more need of eating and drinking, for we shall all be nourished by the Glory of the Shekinah.”

The Gnostic resurrection is something that can happen while one is in this world. In the Egyptian mysteries Horus, as the initiate into the mysteries, describes the resurrection as being filled with light: “My whole body is filled with light; there is no part of me that is not a god; I am divine in every part.”

St Paul sums up the inner resurrection in this portion of his First Epistle to the Corinthians.

“But some will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, and thou sowest not that body that shall be, but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

At Easter our life and our perception of the world is given the opportunity to change. All things are made new. We arise from a world of periodical death and decay into a timeless and immortal realm of spirit. The permanent and indelible effect of the inner resurrection is that it forever delivers the human consciousness from the fear of bodily death. When you see your soul with your own eyes, when you know who you are and from whence you have come, when you see your star shining immortal in the heavens, then death is surely swallowed up in victory, and we can say with all the Gnostics and knowers of the truth before us, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

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


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.