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Gnosticism Definition and Teachings

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According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnosticism is the doctrine of salvation by knowledge. Even the word ‘gnostikos’ can be translated as meaning, ‘good at knowing’. Ironically, even the followers of this disputed faith aren’t quite ‘good at knowing’ how it was founded. This is due mostly to the persecution of the faith throughout the ages, which has lead to many important historical documents being destroyed.

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According to popular belief, however, Simon Magus is said to be the father of Gnosticism.

The religion itself is drawn from the wisdom of Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and Jerusalem. According to www.meta-religion.com, it’s considered a mystical religion, combining Occultism, Oriental Mysticism, astrology, magic, elements from Jewish tradition, Christian views of redemption, and even aspects of Plato’s doctrine that man is not at home in the bodily realm (McManners: 26).

It’s a somewhat contradictory belief, at one moment claiming that life is enormously significant, while at the next teaching that basically life is suffering, and to suffer is to reach salvation.

This may be scholars translating the texts into too literal terms, however, such as is the case in many ancient religions. If one were to look into what the Gnostics teach at present day, that isn’t the case anymore. While every life is precious, so is the gaining of gnosis, or divine knowledge. They look to Jesus Christ, paraphrasing the prophet to say, “The shadows of this world are perceived by mortals, and they think they know the Truth, but the Reality which casts the shadows is hidden from them, and they do not perceive the Light.”

The Gnostics believe in evil, is what this is saying; but through that evil, humans persevere to see a sort of higher knowledge. Hard times bring wisdom, and through wisdom we reach salvation. Wisdom is the Light which Jesus speaks of, which can be taken literally (meaning God), or metaphorically as a sort of lifting of the figurative blindfold. Curiously, if one reads into Buddhist or Hindu texts, this Light is referred to as, of course, Nirvana. Gnosticism is one of few Christian religions which follow both the teachings of Christ so closely while also borrowing from many Asian belief systems as well.


A common thread in Gnosticism seems to be transcendence. Again, this may be scholars mistranslating ancient texts, but the belief that to walk the Earth is to be dead. To reach salvation, or basically to die if one wants to be literal, is to truly live. Many take this to mean that unlike many Judeo-Christian religions, Gnosticism again resembles Asian beliefs in that life on Earth is meant to be spent searching for the Divine Truth (www.thepearl.org).

Like many Middle Eastern religions, fasting and meditation is pivotal to Gnosticism.

Gnostics meditate in order to find the Ultimate Reality, or the Divine Truth. During meditation, they focus upon the teachings of Christ, particularly his scriptures of Light. They focus upon finding this Light within themselves, or gnosis. What’s particularly admirable of Gnosticism is that though this meditation is inspired through the teachings of various religious texts, whatever epiphany or revelation occurs is subject to the individual. To reach salvation, one has to first find their own inner Light and to know it as a human being.

The gnostic Book of Covenants says, “Look up, my children. There are worlds of knowledge which do not even glimmer on your horizon. Universes are unfolding beyond your perception. Worlds being born, dying, being renewed in glorious Light are your heritage.” (www.thepearl.org)

This second birth of sorts is a common thread in many Christian beliefs. For a better understanding of this particular part of Gnosticism, look to John the Baptist. “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16, King James’ Bible)  The Lord, whom Christ refers to frequently as the Light. Is this the same Light referred to in the Book of Covenants? This could be as to say, that the Lord is all-encompassing. By meditation, one becomes aware of such an all-encompassing universe being born, dying, and resurrecting once more. Perhaps the Book of Covenants is referring to the Holy Ghost?

Just as confusing as many of the teachings of Gnosticism, which can in itself be taken many ways, are the jumbled mass of “founders”.

As for who actually came up with the idea, one can’t really seem to come up with one answer. If an individual looks through the Gnostic teachings, there are common threads to Judaism, Buddhism, the Taoists, and even a few Muslim ties. Even the great Roman philosophers are looked upon to provide more down to earth, perhaps pragmatic views.


However, the founder of Modern Gnosticism was V.M. Samael Aun Weor (March 16, 1917 – December 24, 1977).

He was an interesting man who came across many interesting ideas regarding ancient Christian beliefs, primarily during the 1950’s. According to his WikiPedia entry, “Samael Aun Weor teaches that psychological aggregates form in one of these three centers, therefore it is said that there are three fundamental defects: the demon of the mind related with the intellectual center, the demon of the desire related with the emotional center, and the demon of the evil will related with the motor-instinctual-sexual center.”

He refers to these teachings in threes significant of many religions. “Judas (desire), Pilate (intellect), and Caiaphas (will) who crucify Jesus; Jubela, Jubelo, and Jubelum who murder Hiram Abiff; Apopi, Hai, and Nebt who murder Osiris; the three furies who attack Orestes; the three daughters of Mara who attack Buddha” (www.wikipedia.com)

Samael Weor was also a profound believer in astral projection, which was quite shocking during the 1950’s. It was considered by many to be a hedonistic upon first glance, but perhaps conflictive to the ancient teachings that all life is sacred, he believed homosexuality in particular to be the product of collecting some pretty bad karma.

Today, modern Gnosticism has gone the way of Kaballah and Wicca and has become almost trendy. Unfortunately, despite the many great minds who have embraced the belief (William Blake, for one), too many trendsters are blindly claiming this religion as their own. All one has to do to see how rampant this disrespectful trend is, is to go to one of many “blogging” sites and search for Gnosticism. Rather than finding carefully put together think tanks, or even the occasional contemplative scholar, what one will usually find is an endless list of teenagers seeking individualism by picking up on a poorly researched but “really out there” religion.

Unfortunately, today Gnosticism has gone from being persecuted as and by heretics to being the subject of adolescent curiosity. Only a few handfuls of true scholars of this ancient faith remain, with scores of screwball believers of the holistic prolonging misplaced stereotypes.  Hopefully someday another revival of this rich belief will surface, but until then, false believers will continue to cheapen what was once a beautiful institute.

Sources Cited

Acts 22:16, The King James Bible





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Gnosticism Definition and Teachings. (2017, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/gnosticism-definition-and-teachings/

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