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Angel carrying a glowing bowl through the heavens

Gnostics practice a kind of “freelance religion.” They shun dogma and seek confirmation of spiritual truths through intuition and personal experience. (photo: public domain)

Gnosticism is the practice of spiritual inquiry independent of established religious dogma. The term derives from the root, Gnosis, which refers to intuitive knowledge of spiritual truths or mysteries as originally possessed by ancient Gnostics. An essential aspect of Gnosticism is the confirmation of spiritual truths through reflection and personal experience. We might think of it as a form of “freelance religion.” Coming from actual experience, both inner and outer, the knowledge is subjective and varies from one individual to the next, a situation quite different from the abstract knowledge of learned dogma. This is why mainstream Christian churches regard Gnosticism as heresy.

Its subjectivity, intuitiveness, and emphasis on actual personal experience make Gnosticism an artist’s or creative person’s way of approaching spirituality. Dogma, in stark contrast is more objective, impersonal, and learned by rote. It originates from an institution by way of other people and may not be modified if it is found wanting.

Today, with the breakdown of organized religion, many spiritual seekers are actually Gnostics without consciously identifying with the term. These independent spirits carry on the ancient tradition as they search for spiritual knowledge that comes from within or that they may perceive in the world around them. As of old, they insist that the knowledge must be confirmed by an inner sense of correspondence with their own experience. What they believe has to have an intuitive sense of “rightness.”

All Gnostics assume that God is active in the world and calls to those to whom He wishes to speak. They believe no institution should stand between the individual and the voice of God. By stressing contact with God, Gnosticism devalues the visible world and a places great emphasis on the sphere of the unknowable. The ancient Gnostics viewed the soul (self) as a tiny manifestation of the limitless divine presence. In a unique reciprocal relationship, the soul contained the divine, yet was itself contained by the divine.

Starting with Carl Jung himself, Jungian psychology has interpreted Christianity from the gnostic perspective. In the gnostic celebration of the Eucharist, for example, the participant vicariously experiences the death of the personal ego as symbolized by the crucified Christ. The subsequent resurrection represents the emergence of an integrated unified ego-self, revealed by identification with the risen Christ.

The true self is personal and definite. It is not nebulous but made up of a unique and definite set of emotionally important ideas. What dies, what is crucified is ego’s false image of itself – the false persona – along with the false, erroneous, or destructive values that ego tries to live by. In this view, Gnosticism seeks not perfection but wholeness.

Carrying the Jungian interpretation further, Gnosticism promotes the integration of the shadow (repressed “negative” aspects of the personality) by progressively exposing and dealing with the ignorant and destructive aspects of our nature. To approach wholeness, the gnostic practice seeks the “bringing together of the fragments.”

Naturally, whether this Jungian take on Gnosticism seems valid must, like all other spiritual truths, depend upon its sense of intuitive rightness.