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.

Commemoration of the Holy Philippe of Lyon

August 2

Color: White

The COLLECT

O gracious and loving Shepherd of the sheep, we remember before thee at this time Thy wondrous servant, Nizier Philipe, a master and wonder-worker on earth, who in his great humility called his person the dog of the good Shepherd; and we pray that strengthened by his glorious example, we too may, according to our several abilities, render unto thee the loving and loyal service thou askest us to give to thy suffering world. Amen.

The Lesson and Gospel shall be those of the Sunday nearest to this date.

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.