Heroes of the Gnosis

A Homily for the Day of All Saints

by Bishop Steven Marshall

One of the traditions that fell out of favor with the rise of Protestantism was that of prayers to the Saints, and so went the Day of All Saints from the mainstream culture of the USA in favor of Halloween. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is the eve of this feast day and from the Day of All Saints Halloween got its name. In almost every other Christian nation people celebrate the Day of All Saints and the Day of the Dead following, as occasions of great meaning in their spiritual life. This loss of the tradition of Saints has resulted for most of us in a breakdown in one of the intermediary levels of contact with the numinosity of the Divine. The Saints are those souls who have gone before us into the Pleroma, and can therefore provide spiritual guidance and assistance to those who seek the light of Gnosis. Because they were at one time incarnated human beings with all the limitations that such suffer, they are one rung closer to us than other intermediaries.

This all begs the question of why do we need intermediaries? Certainly this was the impulse of Protestantism that believed that the human soul neither possessed nor required any such intermediaries between itself and God. This is one of those statements that may seem true on a purely theoretical level but tends to fall down on the practical and experiential level. A tradition of Saints and other intermediaries is particularly important to the Gnostic, as the Gnostic realizes how very far we are from the Pleroma in this world and how spiritually blinded we are in this embodied existence. For this reason Gnostics have everywhere described vast numbers of intermediary realms and beings to aid humanity to the light of Gnosis. One level of this higher and divine aid is that of the Saints, those human souls who have made it out of the chain of death and rebirth and into the Pure Light of the Pleroma. The paradox is that intermediary beings and sacraments can aid us in achieving a direct and unmediated experience of God that we could not otherwise attain.

A tradition of the Saints provides several factors essential to a workable spiritual and initiatory practice. First it provides a historical connection and a continuity with the past. Even if it is a mythological pseudohistory based on legend rather than fact, it is nonetheless a source of great psychological power and is very real at the soul level. On a psychological level the tradition of the saints provides a bridge between the conscious and the higher unconscious. That which is more ancient has more power in the transformative processes of the unconscious. The continuity with the past, in a sense a connecting of past, present and future, represents a contact with the timeless realm of the unconscious. For the Gnostic, the connection with the past opens up a subtle channel to the Gnostic art of memory. One of the messages throughout the literature of the Gnostics is the injunction to “remember.” The inwardly or outwardly manifested figures of saints who bear this bridge to the backward and forward flowing stream of time can help us to remember our own history as a spiritual being and perhaps even a being who is beyond history. As the place of the Saints is described in the Book of Enoch, “There shall be light interminable, nor shall they enter upon the enumeration of time…”

The figures of the saints are the cultural images through which we can access the archetypal realm. Many of the saints directly relate to the gods and goddesses of pre-Christian religion. St. Barbara corresponds to the Voudon god Legba in Santeria, St. Brigit embodies the archetype of the Celtic goddess Brigid, and St. Michael directly relates to the archangel by that name. The tradition of saints is not a Christian phenomenon only. Indeed, one of the most popularized of the Buddhist saints is Quan Yin. Even Wiccans and Neopagans have saints in their background. Gerald Gardner, the source for all of the popularized movements of Wicca and Neopaganism in America, describes the “mighty dead” as those souls in the Craft who have gone beyond the wheel of death and rebirth and who can provide spiritual assistance and teaching to those in earthly embodiment.

Another role of the Saints is that of the inner and outer teachers of the Gnosis. In this fashion they serve the Logos in bringing into the world the message of the Gnosis. In the Book of the Gnosis of the Light, Mani proclaims, “The Father sent a creative Logos to us. The Logos means “the Word,” and yet it encompasses much more than the written books and letters of the Holy Bible; it includes all the wisdom teachings of all the Messengers of the Light, the spoken and the written. The Logos is the archetypal mediator between the Divine and Humanity, transmitting and interpreting the prophetic effulgence of God; it is the collective hypostasis of mediating influences of which the saints are a part. The Book of Wisdom describes saints as those who “will flash like sparks through the stubble.” This description conjures up images of lights flashing in the darkness, reminding one of the description of the Logos in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The holy prophet Mani, almost as if he were recording a vision, describes these lights that are given to the Logos. “Then lights, which are the means of Gnosis were given him, and he was given authority over all the secrets, so that he might distribute them to those who had striven.” The saints are the lights which are the means of the Gnosis. They are those who in life have taught and distributed the secrets of the Gnosis—those who had striven to receive them—who “fled before the evils of the Aeon, putting it behind them, and took the promise of the Father unto them.”

Now the Aeon here refers to the world, so what Mani describes are those who have renounced the world and its rulers, the archons. By renouncing the power of the archons over us, as Valentinus expresses it, “by dissolving the world and not letting the world dissolve us, we are lords of all creation and destruction.” The context in which creation occurs here is the context in which we need to understand the creativity of the “creative Logos” described by Mani. Its meaning far transcends the popularized phrases of “create you own reality,” or references to the creativity of our egos. We must in some way distance ourselves from the world and its attachments before we can experience a creativity that is truly freedom from the limitations of the world. The saints are the deceased among us who have broken these attachments and gained the freedom of Gnosis.

The saints are the heroes who have served the Logos and fought the good fight against the archons of the world. Although we might interpret the Renunciation as a psychological confrontation and repentance of our interior archons, the world created by them is truly alien to our essential being. We are “strangers in a strange land,” as the title of Heinlein’s novel indicates. The world of the archons is not our home. In this fashion the example of the saints reminds us that we must put away our attachments to worldly things and worldly ways of thinking and perceiving, if we are to hear the message of the creative Logos and come closer to the ineffable light. One of the analogies of these worldly limitations in the Gnostic mythology is that each of the planetary archons fashioned a garment with which to limit and enslave the human spirit. We must strip off each of these garments and release them back to the archons who fashioned them. As Jesus responds to Mary’s question: Whom are thy disciples like?

“They are like little children who have installed themselves in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, ‘Release unto us our field.’ They take off their clothes before them to release it to them and to give back their field to them.”
The good fight of the saints also reminds us that once we have received the treasure of the Gnosis we must guard against the world, its archons, and its attempts to lull us back into a condition of forgetfulness and ignorance. “Therefore I say: If the lord of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will stay awake before he comes and will not let him dig into the house of his kingdom to carry away his goods. You then must watch for the world, gird up your loins with great strength lest the brigands find a way to come to you, because they will find the advantage which you expect.” On a very deep psychological level this is another injunction to “know thyself.” We must recognize and confront our own archons of vacillation, falsehood, lust, pride, anger, greed and slander, all of which we find manifested in the Gnostic description of the demiurge, before we can be alert to the psychological forces that attempt to keep us in unconsciousness and ignorance.
Lastly, the saints serve as an example of how we can overcome the hold of the archons by releasing the field of the world and becoming laborers in the vineyard of God. Our taking up the work of the saints is aptly described in the familiar parable of the servants and the division of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-29) The inequities in this parable seem very unfair—not everyone is given the same amount—yet this is the way it is in the world and even in the spiritual realms transcending it. The parable describes the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven, not material wealth on earth. The differences in the money allotted to each expresses the differences in consciousness and capacity for Gnosis in different people. The Gnostics recognized different measures of consciousness in different classes of people—the hyletic, the psychic and the pneumatic. Even a casual observance of the human population reveals that not everyone has the same capacity for Gnosis. Some are hardly conscious of a spiritual dimension at all—the hyletics. Others are aware of it but do not know what to make of it, and so formulate it into rules of conduct and dogmas of theology—the psychics. Still others, the pneumatics or Gnostics, consciously perceive a spiritual dimension. Such are capable of knowing the things that are real. We do not need to be psychic or clairvoyant; we simply need to know the things that are real. We need to realize our connection with the greater realities of being.

In the parable, the one who buries his coin in the ground shows the least degree of consciousness. The clue to this is his thinking that “the lord was a hard man.” It seems that the Lord he knew was the old “tooth for a tooth” and “an eye for an eye” Jehovah of the Old Testament who would forbid us to use and increase our consciousness. The point of the parable is “use it of lose it.” We must invest our consciousness in experiences that can augment and increase our consciousness in seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, not hide it in the ground. If we do not show responsibility in a small sphere onsciousness how can we be given charge over the expanded field of consciousness beyond this world.

Sometimes the risk of obtaining greater consciousness is pain or grief, yet if we allow fear of loss and suffering in the world to make us bury our consciousness and freeze our capacity for Gnosis, then we shall lose the greatest treasure, the treasure of increased consciousness and Gnosis. The Gnostic does not fear making a mistake or missing the mark, for every effort towards Gnosis, in the appropriate direction, takes one further to the goal than if no effort had been made at all. This is most possibly the basis for Carpocrate’s doctrine of the need to experience sin (the missing of the mark), as even an arrow that goes wide of the bull’s eye is closer to the goal than the arrow that has never left the bow. The difference between sin and Gnosis in ones experience is whether there is the lack or the inclusion of consciousness in it. We can increase our capacity for Gnosis by using the capacity that we have been given. We must take the opportunities for achieving Gnosis when they come to us. “Let there be among you a man of understanding; when the fruit ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand, he reaped it.” (The Gospel according to Thomas)

Opportunities for Gnosis are opportunities for using our light of consciousness to increase that light. Increasing the light of consciousness within us increases our memory of that Light from which it originated. We remember our way back to the Light.

The saints are those who have made the journey of transcendence and therefore can help us remember the way back to our origin in the Light. Part of this is the difficult struggle of remembering who we are and for what purpose we were sent forth into the world. The example of the saints can serve as awakeners of that memory within us of our individual promise to the Light and the spiritual currency that we have been given from the Light to bring with us into the world. The Community of the Saints reminds us that there is a greater consciousness beyond this world, a community of consciousness that continues to offer us its assistance. When we commune with the saints we find that there is more grace, more forgiveness, more compassion beyond this world than we could have ever imagined. They have made the journey through this world with an understanding of the struggle, and have gone to the Light still beaming forth compassion for all those yet suffering in the world. The joy of the saints truly increases when one of us remembers our divine purpose and puts our God-given currency of consciousness to work in the world for the liberation of souls. In this fashion we become reapers of the harvest and workers in the vineyard of the Logos. “Jesus said: The harvest is indeed great, but the labourers are few; but beg the Lord to send labourers into the harvest.” (The Gospel according to Thomas) In response to such works of consciousness the joy of the saints streams down upon us who have put our hand to the plow and the sickle, who have not buried our currency of consciousness in a hole.

The saints are those men and women who took the opportunities for Gnosis when they were offered, who came with the sickle in their hand and reaped the fruit of Gnosis. Their example for us is that when we have the opportunity for Gnosis, we must take it, it might not come again. Do not put it off by telling ourselves that we are not ready or not worthy, or concern ourselves with what others might think. The opportunity for Gnosis is the opportunity to raise ourselves into the communion of the saints, to raise our souls into the immortal spirit which is beyond time, death and rebirth. If we take the opportunities for Gnosis that come to us, our consciousness is increased, and it is this light of consciousness which can never die, which will not taste death. “The saints shall exist in the light of the sun, and the elect in the light of everlasting life, the days of whose life shall never terminate, nor shall their days be numbered, who seek for the light and obtain righteousness with the Lord of spirits.” (The Book of Enoch the Prophet)


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

The Knights of Holy Wisdom

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

by Bishop Steven Marshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Angelic Defender of the Gnosis

A Homily for the Day of the Holy Archangel Michael

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Day of the Holy Saint Michael the Archangel, also known as Michaelmas, is an important feast day in the Gnostic liturgical calendar. The Archangel Michael has enjoyed a surprising prominence in all three of the great world religions of the West—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It was a day of particular importance among the feast days of the liturgical calendar of the Medieval Christian church, thereby obtaining the common name of Michaelmas. Of the three Archangels mentioned in the canonical writings of the Roman Catholic Church, none has enjoyed more popularity or had as many Churches and Chapels dedicated to him, as the Archangel Michael. His popularity and presence in the mystical dimension of the human psyche eventually forced the Roman Catholic Church to include him in their theology as a Saint.

The legends including him in the Christian tradition stems primarily from the story of his fight with the dragon in the Book of the Revelation of St John.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there a place for them found any more in heaven.”

Many of the legends about St. Michael the Archangel relate to the mystery of the Holy Grail and the tradition of the Cathars, which flourished in the area of France from which these stories sprang. Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Grail romance is one that brings together most effectively the mythical imagery related to Michael. In the War in heaven, the Archangel Michael, brandishing his sword, strikes an emerald out of the crown of the Devil. It falls to earth, and from this one great emerald is fashioned the Holy Grail. According to a similar French legend, this same Holy Grail was guarded by the Cathars, its custodian being Esclaremonde, the Countess of Foix. Throughout history, the Devil and his archons strive to retrieve the emerald for his crown and to destroy its guardians. To keep it safe from the human minions of the Archon, St Michael strikes the top of Montsegur with his sword. A great cleft opens in the rock, into which Esclaremonde casts the Grail, and which closes over it to keep it from harm or theft. The story recounts that after her death her Cathar friends secretly buried her in the same place where the Grail lay, that she might guard it even in her death. The legend goes on to foretell that one day she will awaken from death and bring the Grail back with her.

Many of the chapels and churches dedicated to St. Michael are connected as well to devotees of our Lady Wisdom and the military order of the Templars. Although one of the great proponents of the crusade against the Cathars, St Bernard of Clairveaux, who drew up the rule for the Templar Order, was a devoted student of the Wisdom literature and our Lady Sophia. The Order of the Templars also took on the mythical character of guardians of a mystical wisdom encountered on their journeys through the Middle East. The military protection of the Templars given to pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land aptly symbolizes the military role of St. Michael in legend and in the mystical life. Just as the Templars vowed to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, so St. Michael is the Defender who guards us on our journey back to the Pleroma. In the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the small figure holding her up represents St. Michael bearing her away to safety.

In approaching the subject of angels and archangels from an experiential and Gnostic point of view, there is not a lot of evidence in the material reality of our everyday lives for their existence or interaction with human beings. As far as the current reports of angels rescuing people from run-away trucks and curing people of cancer, whether true or not, ultimately, the Gnostic considers valuable those interactions with angelic beings that concern the spiritual and transcendent dimension of human existence. The appearance of angelic beings is, for the Gnostic, an indication of an altered and transcendent state of consciousness. Whenever we deal with angels we are concerned with a different degree of consciousness and sublimation of perception than the everyday, an altered state of consciousness through which we can perceive spiritual realities of a transcendental and transformative character. The emphasis here is on the inwardly transformative character of the experience. The acid test of Gnostic experience is that what we perceive changes us in a fundamental way on an interior level of being. Concerning this difference between ordinary and non-ordinary perception, the Gospel of Philip states:

“But you saw something of that place and you became those things. You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become the Father. So in this place you see everything and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself—and what you see you shall become.”

A transformative contact with angelic presence does not come in ordinary states of consciousness but in extraordinary states of consciousness where what we see changes our inner perception in the deepest and most interior part of our being, so that what we perceive spiritually we truly experience as our Self. Such contact may occur in dreams, a spontaneous flood of interior images, various hypnagogic states of consciousness, or even synchronistic events related to such interior images. Occasionally these visionary states may take on the character of a seizure, as is often reported of shamans and some mystics in their contact with the spiritual realm.

One of the universal difficulties of non-ordinary states of consciousness is that the initial impact on our ordinary, worldly-habituated egos is that of disorientation and confusion. The experience may initially inspire fear and trembling—fear because of the complete otherness of the experience and trembling because of the flood of psychic energy that shakes up the psyche and the electrical activity of the brain and of the body. As recounted in the Book of Enoch the prophet:

“In the five hundredth year, and in the seventh month, on the fourteenth day of the month of the lifetime of Enoch, in that parable, I saw that the heaven of heavens shook; that it shook violently; and that the powers of the Most High, and the angels, thousands of thousands, and myriads of myriads were agitated with great agitation. And when I looked, the Ancient of days was sitting on the throne of his glory, while the angels and saints were standing around him. A great trembling came upon me and terror seized me. My loins were bowed down, my reins were dissolved and I fell upon my face.”

What has this to do specifically with the Archangel Michael? As with most questions of a Gnostic orientation, the best answer is that which we obtain from our own experience. Yet, to obtain such experience, some poetic and archetypal imagery is exceedingly helpful and often necessary. As stated in the Gospel of Philip, “Truth did not come into the world naked, but it comes in the types and images.” The Archangel Michael has not only a metaphysical correspondence but serves also as the archetypal defender and protector of those assaying the journey into non-ordinary states of consciousness on their way to achieving Gnosis. The Book of Enoch further describes this role of the Archangel Michael:

“The holy Michael, another holy angel, one of the great holy ones, was sent to raise me up. And when he raised me, my spirit returned, for I was incapable of enduring this vision of violence, its agitation, and the concussion of heaven.”

Enoch’s experience of being raised up is central to the role of St. Michael the Archangel. This passage might commonly be interpreted as describing Enoch’s return to ordinary bodily consciousness, but I would like to propose that perhaps it is describing his being raised into a higher state of consciousness that raises him above the agitation and roiling maelstrom that is perceived when first seeing the chaos of material existence from the viewpoint of spiritual perception. I would propose that what Enoch experienced is a mystical vision of heaven from the vantage point of a spirit yet trapped in the chaos, but who is raised above it by the assistance of the Archangel Michael. By such an interpretation the Archangel Michael becomes the one who raises us up, the defender who raises us above the ignorance and darkness of the chaos of matter into the Light of the Pleroma. In the Pistis Sophia, Michael is one of the two archangels that guard and accompany Sophia in her assumption into the Pleroma.

“It is again thy word: Thou hast given commandment to Gabriel and Michael, that they guide Pistis Sophia in all the regions of the chaos, until they lead her forth and that they uplift her on their hands, so that her feet do not touch the darkness beneath, and that on the other hand they of the lower darkness do not seize hold of her. And I led forth Pistis Sophia, she being on the right of Gabriel and of Michael. And the great light stream entered into her. And Pistis Sophia beheld with her eyes her foes, that I had taken their light-power from them. And I led Pistis Sophia forth from the chaos, she treading under foot the serpent-faced emanation of Self-willed, and moreover ctreading under foot the seven-faced basilisk emanation, and treading under foot the lion and dragon-faced power. I made Pistis Sophia continue to stand upon the seven-headed basilisk emanation of Self-willed; and it was more mighty than them all in its evil doings.”

Such an ascent and raising up is again described in the Sufi story, Mohammed in the Golden Valley:

“Over against the valley I saw an Angel in meditation, perfect in Majesty, Glory and Beauty. When he saw me he called me to him. When I had come close I asked, ‘What is thy name?’ He said, ‘Michael. I am the greatest of the Angels. Whatever difficulty thou conceivest, question me; whatever thou desirest, ask of me.’ I said to him, ‘To come hither have I undergone many toils and sufferings. But my purpose was this: to attain to gnosis and the vision of Truth. Show me the direction that leads to Him, so that perhaps I may attain the goal of my desire, and receive a portion of His universal Grace.’ Then that Angel took me by the hand, he made me enter and led me through so many veils of light that the universe I saw had nothing in common with everything I had previously seen in these worlds.” (Avicenna)

In both of the preceding stories, St. Michael assists the supplicant in rising towards transcendence and union with the Light of the Fullness. There is a particular direction of the soul that leads to our transcendental interaction with angels and archangels. As Mohammed, our purpose and motive must be to attain Gnosis and a vision of truth. Angels and archangels are the messengers and servers of the ineffable greatness that transcends human intellect and desire, so their interaction focuses on the spiritual dimension of life and they accompany those who direct themselves towards the highest divinity. The Gospel of Truth describes those who direct their contemplation to the transcendent heights.

“The place to which they direct their thoughts, that place is their root, which brings them upward in all the heights to the Father. Theirs is His head, which becomes a repose for them, and they are enclasped as they approach Him, so that they say that they have partaken of His face by means of the embraces…This is the way of those who have something on high through the immeasurable Greatness as they stretch after the One, alone and perfect, who is there for them. And they are not to go down to Amente, and they have neither envy nor groaning, nor is there death in them, but they rest in Him who rests, not toiling nor writhing round about the Truth. But they are themselves, the Truth.”

To partake of the countenance of the Godhead by means of embraces is a common means of describing the mystical union with the Most High. The image of St. Michael with the sword and scales symbolically shows us his role in aiding us in transcending the clash of opposites in the lower worlds to achieve the unifying experience of the Gnosis of God. The sword is double-edged, dividing the world into a duality of opposites, the right and the left, light and darkness, good and evil, yet the hilt by which he holds the sword ends with a perfect orb for its pommel, a symbol of perfect unity and transcendence of the opposites. The scales refer him to the zodiacal sign of Libra, which esoterically is the sign of relationship, of love and war. St. Michael not only makes war upon the foes of Gnosis but also aids us to rise above the warring opposites within our selves. This sense of rising leads us to an experience of the Godhead that at once embraces and fills us with such a sweetness and sense of familiarity and authenticity that we cannot but feel totally known to the deepest core of our being. This all encompassing and indwelling presence has no resemblance to the vengeful and punishing god of the Old Testament but fills us with a feeling of being our true, most loving, and most perfect Self. Thus it is described in the Gospel of Truth:

“But they do not stand revealed in such a manner as not to have risen above themselves. Nor did they lack the glory of the Father, nor did they think of Him as small nor that He is bitter or wrathful, but that He is guileless, imperturbable, and a sweetness, knowing all before they were, and not having need to be taught… And the Father is in them, and they are in the Father, being complete, being indivisible in the truly Good, lacking nothing at all but taking rest, being fresh in the Spirit. And they will heed their root, they will be at rest, they in whom He will find His root and not do harm to His soul. This is the place of the blessed — this is their place.”

As the archetypal warrior and defender, from what does St. Michael defend us? The Gnostic collect for his feast day indicates that he defends us from ignorance, the darkness and chaos of the world. The image of St. Michael defeating the Devil does not signify some moral defense against the temptations of the Devil endangering our souls but against ignorance of our divine origin, our root, and those forces both interior and exterior that would keep us in ignorance of that truth. When we have a numinous experience of transcendence many of the social forces of convention would have us deny or minimize the experience. Interior forces of pride, hatred, and false delusion may also keep us in ignorance or personalize our experience into a false semblance of the truth. One of the most powerful interior forces of our psyche that keeps us in ignorance is the inclination to personalize and concretize transcendent experience. Enoch cannot bear the vision of heaven primarily, because of his initial tendency to personalize the experience and identify with the clashing of the opposites. It is St. Michael who can aid us in transcending this tendency, so that, as stated in the Gospel of Truth, we might rise above our selves.

The name Michael is the Hebrew for “likeness of God.” His name is a reflection of that Divine Light to which our own divine spark is also akin. Michael is our guide and guardian back to the Pleroma, back to the Light from which we came. As stated in the Gospel of Truth, “this is the way of those who have something on high.” This way opens into an alternate reality where angels and archangels speak with us and help us toward our divine goal. Their aid and particularly that of the Archangel Michael can defend us from the spiritual evils of the midst as we wend our way on the long journey to behold the great flame from whence we are a spark. Not only shall we behold that flame but we shall become it ourselves. So may St. Michael’s strong hand uplift us and guard us in justice and strength. As in the story of Mohammed in the Golden Valley, may he make us enter and lead us through so many veils of light that, as we ourselves are changed by that vision, the universe we see shall no longer have anything in common with anything we had previously seen in this world.


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