Renewal of Life

A Homily for New Year’s Day

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The New Year’s holiday is part of the progression of the Christmas season. Occurring subsequent to the winter solstice, Christmas and the New Year have similar significance as the rebirth of the light and the renewal of life at the darkest time in the semester of the sun’s waxing. The birth of the new year, like the holy birth of Christmas, is symbolized as a child, the birth of the infant light. Many old European customs and celebrations reflect the symbolism of the child during this beginning of the new year. One such custom is the election of the Children’s Bishop (episcopus puerorum). The elected child would dress up as a bishop, journey in children’s procession to the archbishop’s palace, and from a window in the palace, give a pontifical blessing upon the entire gathering.

New Year’s Day occurs in the Christmas cycle as one the twelve days of Christmas, the period between the ending of the lunar calendar and the beginning of the solar year, a time betwixt and between, a time of misrule when the usual rules and authorities of the world are suspended. It is a time of temporary chaos, confusion, celebration, and breaking down of old established forms to make way for a new light and new resolutions, the eternal new-born child of the year. These twelve days represent an opportunity for a psychological and spiritual renewal as well.

The Children’s Bishop was also called the fatuorum papam, the Fool’s Pope. At this time of the new year people would celebrate the festum stultorum (feast of fools). During this feast, a servant at court or, more often, the court fool would serve as the Lord of the Misrule in place of the usual head of the manor. The Lord of Misrule would rule for the one night of the feast and entertain the assembled guests with the making of foolish and madcap rules for everyone to follow. In the reversal of the relationship of the ruler to the ruled, a reversal of conventions and values also occurred.

The Lord of Misrule has a function similar to that of the medieval fool, whose task it was to mock authority and give a humorous and compensatory perspective to the convention of rulers and rulership. His task is also to point out the absurdities of convention by poking fun at the head of the court and keeping the conventional authorities from getting too puffed up with themselves.

The Gnostic in the world has a role similar to the role of the fool in medieval society. The role of the Gnostic is sometimes to reverse the conventional view of reality, to turn the wisdom of the world on its head, like the image of the Hanged Man in the Tarot with his radiant nimbus and beatific smile. The Gnostic writings often point out the absurdities of the conventional figure of Jehovah and reverse the interpretation of the Old Testament myths. The values of the world and the spiritual values of the Gnostic are often contrary. Even so, the values of unconscious are often polarized to the values of the conscious persona as well.

The “Time of Misrule” provides an opportunity for entering into the unconscious, so that something greater may come into consciousness, so that a greater consciousness might come to birth. The writings of Hermes Trismegistus describe a technique for bringing forth this birth of consciousness. “Your consciousness is in God; draw it into yourself, and it will appear; will, and it takes birth; suspend the senses of the body and the birth of the Godhead takes place.” Suspending the senses of the body breaks down the world that the lesser self (ego) has built up. The breaking up of the ego’s conventional structures for obtaining information allows consciousness to bring in and assimilate the birth of greater consciousness. This is the way of the birth of the Divine Life within. As stated in a Valentinian homily, “Those who dissolve the world and are not dissolved themselves are lords of all creation and destruction.”

The ego in the psyche has a function similar to the Gnostic Demiurge, which means “architect.” Like an architect, the ego creates an ongoing stream of worlds and ideas, but they are artificial creations. There is a difference between an artificial creation, lacking life and consciousness, and a creation to which we have given birth. The process does not so much involve a dissolution of the ego itself but a dissolving of the world that the ego has artificially created out of error and ignorance. Consciousness must overcome the four functions of the ego: sensing, thinking, feeling and intuition; it must overcome the power of the four elements in order to enter the stillness and silence of Midwinter where, in the hush of the night, in our own soul, the spiritual birth takes place.

The Hermetic writings state that the body of Gnosis is built by an inner purification through the mercy of God. “But first you must purify yourselves from the mindless torments of matter, one of which is ignorance, though there are many others, which force the man who is confined to the prison of the body to suffer by way of the passions. But these at once depart from him on whom God has had mercy, and so the body of Gnosis in man is built.” The ego persona can not manufacture the body of Gnosis by way of its own creations. The process of giving birth to a greater consciousness within us is not under our ego control; it requires the grace of God for the miracle of spiritual rebirth to occur. Yet it also requires an act of will on our part, a fervent intention, a desire for this change to occur.

In interpreting this passage, we must meditate on the rising above or transcendence of the passions of the body. This is not at all the same as the repression of the bodily appetites with which most of us in our Puritan culture are well acquainted. In many ways the path of rebirth is the reversal of the Puritanical repression of the bodily passions. In repression we are exerting the control of our lesser wills; in transcendence we are invoking and receiving the grace of a higher Self within us, that takes us to a still place where, like in the hush of midwinter, the new birth comes about in us. “This is the way of true rebirth. And now my child be still, and keep solemn silence; and thus will the grace from God not cease to come upon us.” Kyrie Eleison. “O lord, pour forth thy grace upon us.”

As in the Hermetic Literature, C. G. Jung was also very much inspired by the subject of rebirth in Gnosticism:

“When a summit of life is reached, when the bud unfolds and from the lesser the greater emerges, then as Nietzsche says, “One becomes Two,” and the greater figure, which one always was but which remained invisible, appears to the lesser personality with the force of a revelation. He who is truly and hopelessly little will always drag the revelation of the greater down to the level of his littleness, and will never understand that the day of judgment for his littleness has dawned. But the man who is inwardly great will know that the long expected friend of his soul, the immortal one, has now really come, “to lead captivity captive”; that is, to seize hold of him by whom this immortal had always been confined and held prisoner, and to make his life flow into that greater life—a moment of deadliest peril.”

In the above quote we hear echoes of the insights contained in the Hermetic writings about rebirth. Here Jung describes the rebirth in relation to a summit of life. This suggests the transitions and passages that we experience in our lives. It also implies the need to transcend the “little will” and the “lesser personality” to make this transition from the lesser into the greater life. These changes and transitions are often painful and entail a letting go of a previous state in order for a new state to appear. In such a fashion, there is a mystical death before the interior and spiritual rebirth. How this spiritual rebirth differs from many life passages is that the aftermath of our suffering and loss transports us to a place of greater consciousness where the pain and sorrow is transcended. As promised in the Revelation of St John: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and their shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain.”

In order for all things to made new, the former things must pass away. The consummation of Gnostic rebirth gives us a way to transcend the sense of loss and pain, and to make the transitions and passages in our lives occasions for renewal and joy. We can consummate this rebirth by becoming the dwelling place for the interior God and the greater life. The Revelation of St John proclaims, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” According to Jewish mystical writings the Tabernacle of God is dwelling of the Shekinah, the feminine presence of God. In the Gnostic writings She is Sophia, the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. She is described as a city, a community of people not built by human hands, a fellowship of knowers. The fifth Gnostic Mystery describes this mystical fellowship in terms of a new birth of the light within our hearts.

“Behold a small star from the heavens descends to earth with light more brilliant than the sun. It comes to dwell in the hearts of the children of men and women, and these hearts are the foundation upon which is built the Eternal City, New Jerusalem.”

So this renewal in which there is no more pain, comes through the hearts of those in an invisible fellowship of Gnosis and in community with each other. If we care for each other through the passages, we can make them occasions for renewal and joy. Consciously will, desire and intend with inner resolve and the birth of the Godhead takes place within the tabernacle of our hearts. As we go into the New Year let us make our resolutions not on the basis of worldly expectations but on the true grace of insight and resolve that comes from the divine light within us. So may we prepare a place in our hearts and in our community for the mystical rebirth to take place. Then we shall proclaim with our Indwelling Divinity, “…for the former things are passed away. Behold, I make all things new.”


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

The Martyrdom of Tau Harmonius

Bishop and Last Martyr of the Gnosis

March 22

Color: Red
It is permissible to use the Requiem Eucharist, with the insertion of the special Collect, Lesson and Gospel and using the Black color.

the COLLECT

Remember him, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom, Thy faithful servant Tau Harmonius, bishop of the Gnosis, and a knower of the things that are, who like his predecessors of old gave his life and blood for the Truth that makes men free. Grant him we pray thee, a place of refreshment, a blessed tranquility, and the splendor of Thy Gnosis. We thank Thee, O eternal One, for the example of this faithful shepherd, who gave up his earthly life in Thy service, and we pray that inspired by his heroic virtue we may also bear witness to the Gnosis of Love, Liberty and Light, and may with him at length enter into Thine ineffable splendor and unending joy. Amen.

The LESSON

The Lesson is taken from the perfect Sermon of Hermes, the Thrice Great Lord:
In those days darkness will be preferred to light, and death will be held more useful than life; no one will look up to Heaven; the pious will be deemed mad and the impious a sage, the insane will be held brave and the most wicked good. For the soul and all things about it, whereby we assume that either it is born immortal or that it will attain to immortality, will be considered not only a jest but even non- existent. Nothing holy, nothing pious, nothing worthy of heaven or heavenly things, will be heard or believed by the mind. Nay, believe me, even the punishment of death shall be decreed for the man who has dedicated himself to the religion of the truth.

The GOSPEL

The Gospel is taken from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
Jesus taught His disciples, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness‘ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

God Within

A Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Second Sunday of Advent has traditionally borne the theme of Divine Love, yet in the Christian mythos of the birth of Jesus this Love comes to earth in the name Emanuel, which means “God with us,” or “God in us,” the God within. Since the beginning of the New Age movement the cliches, “I am God” and “God is within me”, in their popularized form, have nearly become a dogma. Dogma comes out of ignorance, out of the expressions of those who have not had the direct experience of this quintessential Gnostic insight of interior being. This is why the ancient Mystery religions were secret. If people get too much information or other’s ideas about the mystery, they tend to get caught up in the dogma of it, rather than the mystical experience of it. So we too must guard against the triteness of such expressions, and move beyond belief structures and dogmatic statements, no matter how popular or politically correct, to get to the real experience and insight of Gnosis.

The idea of “the God within” is very popular right now-egalitarian, politically correct, and ideologically the rigAdventht way to think in many circles, but this is not the Gnostic motive for embracing this expression. The Gnostic embraces it, because it is born out of deeply mystical and transformative experiences of an interior, psychological and metaphysical reality of authentic being. For many, it is still primarily a belief, for some, even a dogma, wherein nothing outside of the tiny, reductionistic worldview of the psycho-social ego is allowed to enter into it.

The Theosophical movement founded by Helena Blavatsky has borne the primary credit for the initial dissemination of the concept of a spark of the divine light within the human being into mainstream Western culture and subsequently into the New Age movement. She discovered similar problems with devotees who embraced the expression of “God within” as a comfortable belief, rather than an experiential insight for which to strive.

In an article published in the journal of the Theosophical Society, Dr Stephan Hoeller, our Right Reverend Bishop, tells the following story illustrating this point. Supposedly one of Blavatsky’s devotees would go about mindlessly repeating over and over again, “I am a spark of the Divine Light. I am a spark! I am a light!” One day She got so tired of hearing these empty affirmations, she quipped, “Hush! I think I hear it snoring.” Madame Blavatsky makes the same point that the early Gnostics made 2000 years before, that a spark of the Divine Light is present within us but in many of us it is asleep. That spark is still sleeping in many people, yet in the mythology of the Dune series by Frank Herbert, “The sleeper must awaken!” In this context, the season of Advent symbolizes the preparation for its awakening. The God within, that spark of the Divine Light, is like a seed sown into the earth of our unconscious, a seed sleeping in darkness, awaiting its germination, its birth into the light, its awakening from slumber. The existential insight of a “God within” must also grow into fruition and be reaped within us; it must awaken, germinate and growing into consciousness, even as the Divine Child of the Christmas story goes through a spiritual conception and gestation in Mary’s womb in preparation for the Birth on Christmas Eve.

The Gospel of Philip uses a similar agricultural metaphor to describe the preparation for the birth of the Divine Light within us.

“Those who sow in the winter reap in summer. The winter is the world, the summer the other aeon. What comes out of the winter is the summer. Let us sow in the world that we may reap in summer. But if any man reap in winter, he will not reap but pluck out.”

This poetry of the Gnosis contains both an internalized and an externalized meaning of how the preparation for and the reaping of this fruit of our spiritual womb may occur. The writer of the Gospel of Philip is particularly fond of agricultural metaphors. In this passage the Summer represents the Other Aeon, the Celtic Summer-Land, the Treasury of the Light, the Heavenly Shore, the Inner, the Spirit. The Winter represents the World, the Darkness, Ignorance, the Outer, the Material. To sow in Winter and reap in Summer is to give up our attention to outer things and bring the light of the divine spark within us into consciousness. We live in a very materialistic age in which the message seems to be for us to sow in Summer to reap in Winter. To reap in Winter, and thus “pluck out”, is to strive to find interior wholeness through giving our attention to the outer and material things of this world in lieu of the Spirit. The point is not that we must give up all attention to our material existence in the world but that we must not do so in lieu of an attention to the interior, spiritual and incorruptible Treasure of the Light, the Divine Spark within us. When we sow in Winter to reap in Summer out of the experiences of our earthly lives spring consciousness, meaning, and a Gnosis of the God within. If we sow in Winter, we can find this great treasure even in our earthly experiences.

The expression “I am God,” as popularized by Shirley MacClaine and the New Age movement is still very much faith in a comfortable belief for many people who cannot conceive of anything transcendent to the psycho-social ego of humanity; it is still very much oriented around Me! Me! Me! God becomes identified with the lesser self, the demiurgic ego, and so the “God within” becomes equated with the unregenerate and demiurgic human ego. Just as the Old Testament Jehovah, we become comfortable in thinking that “There is no other God before Me!” This point of view counsels us to work entirely opposite to the way of the Gnostic; it tells us to throw up our light seeds into the spirit through affirmation and prayer, so that we might reap the material fruits of this world; it tells us to be of the world but not in the world.

The poetic message of the Gospel of Philip tells us rather to be in the world but not of it, to sow our light seeds into the world through providing the Mysteries, through generating art of all forms, through acts of compassion in the world, so that we might reap spiritual experiences and the insights of greater consciousness, whereby we can truly recognize the God within. Nothing is wrong with affirmations and prayers that spring from Gnosis, but when sown from ignorance, the accent is on reaping material things, instead of the spiritual light and fire that are our true spiritual inheritance.

This striving for Gnosis does not necessarily mean the giving up of material things, but giving the light to those in ignorance in very simple, mysterious and unassuming ways. This reminds me how, in the movie of the Season, Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle manifests the light through simple, unassuming and yet very mysterious ways “in the world”, so that people might discover something that is of the spirit and not of the world.

One of my adolescent wishes as a child was the longing to somehow become a real Santa Claus, to make something otherworldly and, yet so real to me, manifest in a world so full of suffering and lacking in spiritual numinosity. The way of the Gnostic to “sow in Winter” and “reap in Summer” is a way for all of us to manifest this wish for ourselves. We give the light to those in ignorance, not through preaching on every street corner or evangelizing the world, but through awakening the spark of light asleep within us through spiritual and mystical experience. As each each one of us awakens and is liberated, as each one of us gains a greater consciousness, the darkness and suffering in the world is a little more dispelled, and that illumination brings us closer to a recognition of the God within.

When we come closer to recognizing the God within, we begin to see our own suffering in the world, yet we also begin to feel a connection between our tiny spark within us and the infinite Source of Light, and a compassionate longing to share that light. This experience of Divine Love, as the theme of this Sunday in Advent, is the bridge between the “Unknown Father, in truth the Mother of all,” and our Indwelling Divinity. It is through our use of this connection in greater consciousness that we sow in Winter and reap in Summer. This is not about sacrificing all or any of our physical health or possessions for the sake of other’s material needs, but the giving of the inexhaustible Treasury of the Light, from which we too may reap according those seeds that we have sown in the world. Such is an externalized meaning of this passage from the Gospel of Philip.

An internalized meaning is no more aptly expressed than in the following passage from the Corpus Hermeticum.

“Cease to seek God in created things on the outside, but seek Him within thyself; and thus learn who it is that takes possession of thee and says: ‘My God, my consciousness, my understanding, my soul, my body.’ Then learn whence is sorrow, and rejoicing, and love, and hate, and being awake, and being asleep, and getting angry against one’s will. Now if thou inquire into these things thou shalt find Him in thyself, one and many, like the atom, and thus thou shalt find the way out from thy lesser self.”

The writings of Hermes Trismegistus give us an essential key for discovering the God within. He counsels to undertake an interior inquiry about ourselves by asking, “who it is that says: ‘My God, my consciousness, my understanding, my soul, my body’?” He also counsels to take inventory of the opposites within us-joy and sorrow, love and hate, waking and sleeping, as well as those resentments and hurts that move us against our will. At the end of such an inquiry, we find that we are not our thoughts, we are not our bodily sensations, we are not even our emotions; we discover that there is something behind, beyond our psycho-social ego, something immortal and unchanging at the very core of our being, in the inmost of the inmosts that is authentically who we are. We find a place within that is not bound by the faults, foibles and limitations of our lesser selves, a place that is not our body, not our ego, not our worldly skills, not our thoughts or emotions, where we can take in the spiritual love of others both incarnate and discarnate, both human and of other orders of being, without danger of inflation. Too often, when we are given love or praise it gets soaked up by our lesser selves, and interpreted sexually, physically or personally, we let our creative and demiurgic egos get all puffed up with our self-importance in the world; we reap in Winter; we pluck out. The love and praise never gets to its effective target, that Self from which all good comes, to awaken our awareness of the Divine Light within. There is an impersonal place of consciousness within us where we can let this light and love in, a core of Divinity that is alone worthy of praise. The messages of the agricultural metaphor from the Gospel of Philip and the Hermetic tractate are both about finding the way out from our lesser self.

As we proceed in our preparation through the Advent season, let us strive through that connection between the Ineffable Greatness and our Indwelling Divinity; let us open ourselves to the memory of who we truly are beyond the shadows of our lesser selves, let us open ourselves up to the larger pattern of the Story of an event long ago and far away, the story of a small child in a simple stall, yet a child as radiant as the light of the sun a thousand times a thousand, the image of that small spark of light within us that glows in the darkness, yet the darkness has never put it out. This we come to adore. Like the star which guided the Wisemen to the place of the Divine Birth, so may we find that star within us, that we might be guided to the place of our own rebirth, to that place where our star still shines, to that place of the God within.


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