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 Beloved of the Logos

A Homily for the Day of Holy Mary of Magdala

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The figure of Mary of Magdala, also known as Mary Magdalen, is both complex and controversial. She has remained a mystery for a very long time and an object of difficulty for the Church from the very beginning of Christianity. One question we receive from those of mainstream backgrounds is why the importance of Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic scriptures and our contemporary practice of Gnosticism.

An attempt to answer this question and sort through the maze of material that has been proposed may come from the Gnostics themselves in the form of their insightful and very helpful threefold division of human understanding: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental), and the pneumatic (spiritual). The hyletic point of view, coming mainly from a reductionistic materialism, proposes that Mary’s importance is as the sexual partner, wife, and carrier of the bloodline of Jesus. The evidence for this line of reasoning is so full of surmise, supposition and conjecture that we hardly need consider it, but even if true, many great and benevolent rulers have given rise to progeny who were weak, decadent and cruel. The genes do not necessarily determine the person. So, even if the descendants of Jesus have been maintained in a bloodline throughout history, little of salvific meaning has come from that quarter.

The psychic perspective, assuming Mary Magdalen to be the Mary of Bethany who anoints and washes Jesus’ feet with her hair and the woman at the well who has five husbands, considers her to be the model of the repentant sinner. This again falls short of a really convincing answer. It devolves into an ethical reductionism that proposes that simply changing our behavior on a physical and psychological level will bring about the Gnosis or relationship with the Savior that is truly salvific.

Only the pneumatic perspective, that of the Gnostic seems to penetrate to the core of the issue of what makes the figure of Mary Magdalen so important to Christianity as a whole and to Gnostic Christianity in particular. The Gnostic recognizes Mary Magdalen as the one of the greatest, if not the greatest apostle of Christ.

In the Gnostic literature she is titled, the Apostle who excels the rest, the Disciple of the Lord, the One who knew the All, the One who reveals the Greatness of the Revealer, the Inheritor of the Light, the privileged Interlocutor, the One who is always with the Lord, the One whom they call His Consort, and the Chosen of Women.

To contrast this with the mainstream understanding and attitude, let me share with you a story that my friend Frodo, whom some of you may have met, passed on to me. In one of her theology classes at Mt. Angel Seminary, one of her Benedictine professors was asked about the definition of an apostle. He answered that the apostles were those who saw Jesus and were blessed by him after the resurrection. Frodo piped up, “Then Mary Magdalen must have been the first apostle.” The professor nodded, “Yes, but we don’t talk about that.” Yet even Pope John Paul II has called her “the Apostle of the apostles.” A Manichaean document, The Psalms of Heraclites, calls her the “Net-caster” who gathers together the remaining eleven disciples back to the Savior after the resurrection. This indicates that she was one of the principal apostles of Christ.

And yet we intuitively sense that there was something about Mary; she was not just one of the other disciples. She had a relationship with the Christ that was different than the others. Part of our understanding of the mystery of Mary Magdalen is to understand this relationship with the Logos. Whether it was sexual in the physical way or purely spiritual really makes no difference in the Gnostic perspective, some element of their relationship far transcended the mere physical nature of the flesh.

Even as the Gnostic resurrection takes place while we are in the flesh, so can such a transcendental relationship manifest while in the flesh, even as it manifested between Mary and Jesus. However, theirs was not an ordinary relationship in an erotic or conventional sense. There was something mysterious and transcendent between them that the other disciples could not understand.

“The Lord loved Mary more than all the disciples and kissed her on her mouth often. The others said to him: Why do you love her more than all of us? The Savior answered and said to them: Why do I not love you like her?” (Gospel of Philip)

Jesus is both asking the other disciples about the difference between Mary Magdalen and them, and he is questioning them as to why they are not conscious of the same relationship of love. The kiss, according to the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, is initiatory in character.

“For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in each other.”

One of the more Gnostic lines in one of the songs in Jesus Christ Superstar is where Mary Magdalen sings, “I don’t know how to love him.” Admitting this question, she reveals that Jesus is not like other men, and their relationship must transcend the ordinary sexual relationship between man and woman. In her discovery that she cannot love him in the strictly physical way that she knew before, she apprehends the Mystery of the Christos. In an intuitive way she discovers the Mystery, like Thomas, when Jesus asks the disciples, “Say who I am like,” and Thomas replies, “My tongue can in no way tell whom thou art like.” It is this intuitive and pneumatic perception that makes Mary more beloved than the rest of the disciples.

In this regard, the Pistis Sophia gives one of the most declarative statements of Mary’s importance to the Gnostic tradition.

“It came to pass then, when Mary had heard the Savior say these words, that she gazed fixedly into the air for the space of an hour. She said: “My Lord, give commandment unto me to speak in openness.”

And Jesus, the compassionate, answered and said unto Mary: “Mary, thou blessed one, who I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren…for thou art blessed before all women on the earth, because thou shalt be the fullness of all fullnesses and the perfection of all perfections… thou who shalt be sung of as blessed in all generations…who shall inherit the whole kingdom of the Light.”

That she gazes fixedly into the air for the space of an hour suggests that she experiences a visionary trance or altered state of consciousness. The Gospel of Mary describes one of her visionary experiences in more detail:

Peter said to Mary, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Savior which you remember—which you know, but we do not know nor have we heard them.” Mary answered and said, “What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.” And she began to speak to them these words: “I,” she said, “I saw the Lord in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I saw you today in a vision.’ He answered and said to me, ‘Blessed are you, that you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the nous is, there is the treasure.’ I said to him, ‘Lord, now does one who sees the vision see through the soul or through the spirit?’ The Savior answered and said, ‘One does not see through the soul nor through the spirit, but through the nous which is between the two—that is what sees the vision…’”

The vision comes by way of a reorientation of the soul, a metanoia, a turning about which gives rise to the nous which is something that comes to birth between the soul and the spirit and which sees the vision. The nous is most often translated as “mind,” yet it means something more spiritual and subtle, more akin to “enlightened mind,” or “divine soul,” or “awakened consciousness.” It is this reorientation of the soul which turns the soul to the spirit and gives birth to the nous. The Exegesis on the Soul describes such a reorientation of the soul from external things to internal and spiritual realities.

“As long as the soul keeps running about everywhere copulating with whomever she meets and defiling herself, she exists in suffering. But when she perceives the straits she is in and weeps before the Father and repents, then the Father will have mercy on her and he will make her womb turn from the external domain and will turn it again inward, so that the soul will regain her proper character…. So when the womb of the soul by the will of the Father, turns itself inward, it is baptized and is immediately cleansed of the external pollution which was pressed upon it, just as garments when dirty, are put into water and turned about until their dirt is removed and they become clean. And so the cleansing of the soul is to regain the newness of her former nature and to turn herself back again.”

This reorientation of the soul towards the spirit, this new relationship between the soul and the spirit from which the nous comes into being, parallels the relationship between Mary Magdalen and the Savior. This perhaps illustrates the meaning of the enigmatic line in the Gospel of Philip, “The Sophia whom they call the barren is the mother of the angels, and the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen.” Even as the orientation of the soul inward to the spirit gives birth to the nous, so Mary’s orientation toward the Savior gives rise to her vision and understanding. The soul, like Sophia as the mother of the angels, bears spiritual children when she is oriented toward the spirit, as further described in The Exegesis of the Soul:

“Thus when the soul had adorned herself again in her beauty and enjoyed her beloved, and he also loved her. And when she had intercourse with him, she got from him the seed that is the life-giving Spirit, so that by him she bears good children and rears them. For this is the great, perfect marvel of birth.”

This birth is by means of that mystic kiss described in the Gospel of Philip by which the perfect conceive and which the Savior shares often with Mary. This is the birth of the nous when the soul gives birth by the life-giving Spirit.

This metaphoric sexual imagery gives rise to another hotly debated question as to whether Mary Magdalen was actually a prostitute before her metanoia. Whether in history she was or not is really not important to the Gnostic perspective. The association of Mary with the story of the repentant prostitute who after a metanoia becomes united to Christ in a spiritual way becomes a story of the condition of the Gnostic soul in the world and the means for its redemption. The relationship between the existential condition of the human soul in the world and the figure of the prostitute is made most clear in a passage again from The Exegesis of the Soul.

“Wise men of old gave the soul a feminine name. Indeed she is female in her nature as well. She even has a womb. As long she was alone, a single one, with the Father, she was virgin and in form androgynous. But when she fell down into a body and came to this life, then she fell into the hands of many robbers. And the wanton creatures passed her from one to another and made use of her. Some made use of her by force, while others did so by seducing her with a gift. In short they defiled her and she lost her virginity.

“And in her body she prostituted herself and gave herself to one and all, considering each one she was about to embrace to be her husband. When she had given herself to wanton, unfaithful adulterers, so that they might make use of her, then she sighed deeply and repented. But even when she turns her face from those adulterers, she runs to others and they compel her to live with them and render service to them upon their bed, as if they were her masters. Out of shame she no longer dares to leave them, whereas they deceive her for a long time, pretending to be true and faithful husbands, as if they greatly respected her. And after all this, they abandon her and go.”

This passage makes it clear that, as the psychic perspective would propose that repentance and change of behavior is all that is needed, the Gnostic knows that repentance alone is not enough for salvation and freedom, the mystical vision and union as well must take place. There must be a change of relationship between the soul and the spirit, between the nous and Christ. We ourselves, even as Mary Magdalen, must become the Beloved of the Logos.

The key to this relationship is told in the story of Jesus’ response to the kind, loving and knowing act of a weeping woman, who anoints the feet of her Lord, and washes them with her tears and her hair. Jesus responds to her when questioned about her status, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.” We can see in this story the keynote of love and forgiveness. Mary Magdalen has been called in our liturgies, “the pattern of our love.” The feeling tone of such love is pure forgiveness. Someone in an exalted state of consciousness once said, “Such forgiveness, such forgiveness, such forgiveness in the very being of consciousness itself.” The response to such forgiveness is a gratitude that transcends the tongue’s speech. If each of us could know what Mary knew, that those from whom we have been sent love us with a gratitude that we can scarcely imagine; if we knew what Mary knew, we would have no fear of death, no fear of anything of this world, for we would know the Beloved of our Souls.

It is such a love that casts out all fear; it is the truth that sets free. It is a love that transcends all of our anxious attachments whether physical, emotional, intellectual or ideational. It is where the soul merges and rests, moves and merges and rests again with the spirit. It is a movement and a rest, a rhythm and a dance, inwardly at rest and outwardly moving in the world or outwardly at rest and inwardly in motion and dynamic union, like looking at your soul in a mirror in front of a mirror, the reflection being reflected upon and within itself for ever and ever. The Gospel of Thomas describes such an experience where Jesus says, “When they ask you what is the sign of the Father in you, tell them: It is a movement and a rest.”

Everything else that worldly life promises us is but a paltry substitute, a sham, a seducing lie distracting us from the real union. The true beauty, the true joy for which the soul, the bride of the spirit, longs is the true Bridegroom. This Beloved never uses or abuses us, never abandons us, as do the false and temporal promises of this world. When we have this Gnosis, we know the Beloved in eternity, we know who we are, from whence we have come, and whither we are going. This is the ecstasy of the union with the Beloved, out of time, out of the limitations of flesh. Sometimes this union is found in another in this world. Most often it is a relationship with something transcendent, which can nonetheless deepen, transform, and give greater meaning to our terrestrial relationships. If we have this love, it does not matter with whom, with what gender, or how this love manifests in our lives. However the silly dramas and romances of our lives play out, however we may have won or lost in love, what is important is that timeless and limitless love of the Savior, and that we recognize ourselves, like Mary, as the Beloved of the Logos. May we find that Bridechamber of the Light, as we take Mary Magdalen as “the pattern of our love.” Just as Jesus said to Mary, so let it be said of us that we “loved much.”


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

Bread From Heaven: The Inner Transubstantiation

A Homily for the Day of Corpus Christi

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday as a solemn commemoration of the Holy Eucharist, is a fairly recent festival in the development of the liturgy of the Western Church. It was officially adopted by the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311. It later became an especially important date in the recognition of various esoteric orders and mystical developments from within Christianity, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The date carries a central importance in the Fama Fraternitatis, the seminal document of the Rosicrucian orders throughout the world. During the late Middle Ages the festival was observed with a grand procession of the exposed host in a pageant joined by religious orders, prelates, sovereigns, princes, magistrates and members of various craft guilds. The procession was followed by miracle plays put on by Guild members. Some have hypothesised that such ritual dramas were the beginnings of the degrees in Freemasonry. One of the reasons for its adoption by more Gnostic and mystically oriented movements throughout its history could be similar to the reasons for the veneration of St. Paul the Apostle by the early Gnostics, that being that this feast day was originally inspired by a spiritual experience.

Robert de Torote, Bishop of Liège, ordered its first celebration in his diocese in 1246 AD through the inspired persuasion of the Blessed Juliana, a visionary and the prioress of the convent of Mont Cornillon. A devotee of the Most Blessed Sacrament ever since her youth, her feeling for the Eucharist increased even more after a vision in which she saw the Church under a full moon bearing one dark spot. She interpreted the dark spot as the failure of the Church to adequately revere the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist and the real presence of Christ in its elements of bread and wine.

Why give reverence to a seeming piece of bread? Such would seem to be the height of bondage to materiality to a professor of Gnosticism. Yet a sacramental practice designed around something as common and simple as a wafer of bread can not be accused of materialism. Material things are two-edged swords. They can be the symbols of transubstantiation that provide windows to transcendence, or they can be the closed blinds upon that window that prevents us from seeing anything beyond the material. Gnostics do not deny the reality of matter. Nor is matter inherently evil to the Gnostic. The crux of the problem is that a reductionistic materialism or preoccupation with material things tends to swallow up or deny the experience of spiritual reality. Both the outer material reality and the inner spiritual reality are real to the Gnostic. One is not real to the exclusion of the other. A connection exists between the outer and the inner. When experiences of the outer life symbolise events of the inner spiritual life then these experiences can be called synchronicities in Jungian terms. When external events become metaphors of the experience of an inward and spiritual grace then these events can be called sacraments or mysteries.

St Paul the Apostle in his Epistle to the Corinthians writes down the earliest written account of the institution of one of these mysteries, the sacrament of the Eucharist:

“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and He said: Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me. After the same manner also, He took the cup, when He had supped, saying: This cup is the new testament in my Blood; this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this Bread, and drink this cup, ye show the Lord’s death till He come.”

“Ye show forth the Lord’s death till He come,” has particular significance from a Gnostic point of view, since the death recalls the release of the Christ from matter and the taking on of his light vesture which is his true and spiritual body. Yet death also bears for the Gnostic an almost reversed meaning as the descent of the Life of Christ into matter in the incarnation and also mystically in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Corpus Christi means “Body of Christ,” which expression has been misinterpreted in two different ways in mainstream Christianity. What most know as the Roman Catholic view that the consecrated host becomes factually human flesh—which view is not actually shared by most educated Catholics—is a misinterpretation of the Aristotelian philosophy regarding the terms substance and transubstantiation. The term substance in Aristotle’s philosophy actually refers to the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than its outward sensibility. So transubstantiation refers to a change in the ontological essence of what a thing is, rather than how it is interpreted by the senses. A thing’s substance can be changed into something else while its outward sensibility remains the same. In this case the ontological essence of the bread becomes the “Body of Christ” through its consecration in the celebration of the Eucharist, while the host to all outward and ordinary senses remains a wafer of bread.

The other misinterpretation, widely known as the Protestant view, is that the whole expression, “Body of Christ,” is only a symbolic commemoration of an historical event and nothing else. The Gnostic view is not too dissimilar from the original Aristotelian meaning of ìtransubstantiationî with one difference. The Gnostic would emphasize the spiritual or pneumatic interpretation of the term. Rather than transubstantiation into material flesh, the Gnostic experiences the change as a transubstantiation into the spiritual “Body of Christ,” which is of the substance of a light vesture or body of light. The Gospel According to St. John calls the sacramental host “the living bread that came down from heaven.” So we are addressing a living or spiritual substance from a transcendent source, rather than an inanimate and physical one from the matter of earth.

“Amen, Amen, I say unto you: He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that Bread of Life. This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The transubstantiation of a wafer of bread into the Body of Christ is thus spiritual and subtle in nature, rather than wholly physical and sensible by our ordinary senses in our ordinary state of consciousness. What Jesus calls “my flesh” is then also of a spiritual nature and not physically human like ours as indicated in the Gospel of Philip.

“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 flesh is true flesh. Our flesh is not true, but we possess only an image of the true.”

The Gospel of Philip, which can be considered a source document for Gnostic sacramental theology, further describes the coming of Christ as the descent of the “Bread of Heaven” and the sowing of the truth, like the seed of grain, everywhere throughout creation.

“Before Christ came there was no bread in the world, just as paradise, the place where Adam was, had many trees to nourish the animals but no wheat to sustain Man. Man used to feed like the animals but when Christ came, the Perfect One, he brought bread from heaven in order that Man might be nourished with the food of Man. The Archons thought that it was by their own power and will that they were doing what they did, but the Holy Spirit in secret was accomplishing everything through them as she wished. Truth, which existed since the beginning, is sown everywhere. And many see it as it is sown, but few are they who see it as it is reaped.”

In the last two sentences of this passage we receive a clue to the mystery of transubstantiation. The seeing of the truth as it is sown might be equated with the ordinary sensing of the ritual of the Eucharist, while the seeing of the truth as it is reaped might be equated with the non-ordinary sensing of the spiritual change, both inwardly and outwardly, as we partake of the light-power and spiritual sustenance offered to us in the Eucharistic meal. Likewise in the Egyptian Mysteries to which the Alexandrian Gnostics were heir, the risen Osiris is symbolised by a shock of wheat carried on a litter in procession. Thus bread and the wheat from which it is made becomes a symbol of resurrected Life and restoration to the Light. The sentence directly preceding in the latter passage from the Gospel of Philip describes the role of the Holy Spirit in providing these spiritual mysteries through material elements. The Holy Spirit, who is acknowledged by the Gnostics to be the spiritual mother of Christ, makes the change of substance, the transubstantiation, that sanctifies the bread to become the Body of Christ. Even so in the esoteric teachings of the Eleusinian mysteries, Kore, mythologically related to Sophia and Isis, weaves while she is in the Underworld the garment of light for the soul and cooks up the ambrosial food that nourishes it in its “flight into the sun.” The change of substance in the Eucharist, just as the transformation of the soul in the Eleusinian mysteries, is accomplished through a feminine power, the power of the Holy Spirit, our Celestial Mother and Consoler.

What is more important than diddling over sacramental theology is that something in the substance has changed and thus we can experience the same change by our participation in the mystery of this transformation of the oblations of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Christos.

One of the difficulties of seeing the miraculous in the plain is the materialism and reductionism of our contemporary culture. By this we do not proscribe having material things or maintaining a practice that includes physical symbols of a transcendent reality. The message intended is that through an overvaluing of the material world, we have forgotten how to use symbols and mysteries as windows to transcendence; we have lost the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

A profound difference exists between the symbols and ritual of a mystery and the signs and doctrines of mainstream religion. Most mainstream religion has forsaken the symbols and the mystery and have clung to signs and dogmatic beliefs in their place. Then all that remains of the rituals are but replicas without life, without the Spirit, without the capacity to induce Gnosis, the intimate acquaintance and intuitive knowing of an interior and spiritual reality.

The effort of our Gnostic sacramental work is to reclaim and restore the symbols and the myth, the mystery and the magic of our spiritual and religious heritage. Transubstantiation is not a doctrinal belief or a dogma of faith to the Gnostic but an experience, leaving an indelible stamp upon our consciousness. Instead of dogmatic theology we receive a mystical strand of interior images, sounds and sensations, which become the poetic and archetypal “grist for the mill” that grinds out a meaning for our experience. The host enthroned in the monstrance or elevated in the Mass is to the physical eyes of one in the ordinary state of consciousness nothing but a wafer of wheaten bread. Yet a change has occurred in our participation in the mystery of the Eucharist. It is no longer the same as before our experience of the mystery. Something has changed both in the substance and in ourselves. The “eternal life” that we receive is the recognition of the immortal spark of light within us, and by its increase we bring more light into the world. As the Christos hath said, “the bread that I give is my flesh, which I give for the life of the whole world.” Our light and our consciousness is increased by our partaking of the divine light embodied in its changed substance. The transubstantiation is not so much out there but in us; in the deepest and truest core of our being the ontological substance of who we are is changed. By our consciously, and I emphasise “consciously”, connecting the recognition of our interior spark of the divine light with the real spiritual presence, the transcendental reality embodied in the sacramental Host, it truly becomes for us that Most Precious Gift, a gift from the Treasury of the Light, The Heavenly Bread, the Life of the whole world.

When we participate in such a mystery our spiritual eyes are opened; we see and feel the light in the Host, because we find the same light in ourselves. We see the “truth as it is reaped.” When we give reverence to the consecrated Host as the embodiment of the real presence of Christ, we reverence the spark of light that dwells in all of us. When we experience the divine mystery we become conscious of our true and royal Self; we apprehend that Self, which as in a mirror, is the image of the Christ within.

The Host becomes a body for the Divine Light that “lighteth every one that cometh into the world,” so that, as we partake of that light and participate in its increase of our own light and consciousness, it becomes the way-bread of the weary pilgrim on the spiritual journey back to the Light, the Light from which we and the Mystery have both originated. It becomes the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of the Angels, the partaking of which can not replace the journey but which is the necessary sustenance on that journey, without which we would not have the nourishment, the strength, the life or the consciousness to endure. It becomes both mystically and cosmically, for us and for all the worlds, the Bread of Life, the Living Bread that came down from heaven, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ within.


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