on 6 January 2005
This book was written, I believe, to be a general introduction to Gnosticism for people with no prior understanding. It is very good in that it does give a brief overview of the major concepts that Gnosticism entails as well as similarly brief overviews of the major Gnostic sects that have appeared through out history.
On the negative side, the book is brief, after all it is only an introduction, and will need to be supplemented by other reading before a modern reader can get a true idea of what Gnosticism was in history, and is today. I would reccomend supplementary readings of "The Allure of Gnosticism" Ed Robert Segal, for an overview of Gnosticism from a genererally psychoanalytic, Jungian perspective, and Elaine Pagels "The Gnostic Gospels" for a scholarly, but very readable treatment of the ancient gnostic literature. I would genuinely suggest a modern beginner should read this supplementary work before launching into a reading of the Nag Hammadi Books because they are confusing and off-putting until you can approach them with a good idea of the "Inner language" or jargon of the times.
Side by side with Christianity, the Gnostic tradition had its origins 2000 years ago in the Middle East. The main difference between the two is that Christianity focuses on faith whilst Gnosticism seeks a state of consciousness in which the divine can be directly experienced. Hoeller’s excellent book investigates the history of the Gnostic worldview as an indigenous Western mystical tradition. It is also a concise and sympathetic look at the teachings and spiritual lineage of Gnosticism.
According to the author, Gnosticism straddles the divide between psychology and religion – the place where soul and spirit meet, where dream and vision are transformed into an experience of liberation. Gnostic myths, metaphors and symbols partake of both psychological and metaphysical meaning. It this sense they are like endless loops in which psychological meaning points to metaphysical meaning that leads one back to the individual psyche again. It is the place where cosmology and psychology fuse, where archetypes and deities merge and separate in an endless dance. In both the intrapsychic and external sense, Gnostic myths belong in depth psychology and religion at the same time.
The author discusses the Gnostic view of the soul and of the divine and manifest worlds, considers the Gnostic Christ as a guide to the sacred mysteries and as Liberator more than Saviour and looks at the concept of Sophia (wisdom) in the Gnostic tradition. Various groups like the Mandaeans, Manicheans and Cathars are investigated.
One of the most interesting sections deals with three great Gnostic thinkers: Valentinus (famous for the poetic beauty of his words), Basilides (renowned for his mystical profundity) and Marcion (noted for his informed criticism of the Bible.) Finally Hoeller considers the influence of Gnostic ideas on writers and artists like Blake, Jung, Hesse, Melville and others.
Another very gripping section looks at Gnosticism in the light of Chaos Theory, Modernism, Post-Modernism and Nihilism. Here, Hoeller very convincingly refutes the claims of certain critics that Gnosticism is similar to nihilism and proves that it is, on the contrary, a very positive and life-affirming worldview that offers hope to the individual in the 21st century.
The text is enhanced by black and white illustrations of ancient and modern Gnostic art, and the book includes a glossary of terms, a general reading list, a bibliography of modern books and an index. I also recommend this same author’s earlier masterpiece, The Gnostic Jung And The Seven Sermons To The Dead.
on 28 August 2010
Far from being a mere overview of the history of the heterogeneous ancient Gnostic movement, Gnostic polemist Stephan Hoeller puts forward a compelling case for the relevance of Gnosticism today.
A skillful blend of history, esotericism and spiritual insight, Stephan Hoeller reveals the limitation of the orthodox Christian and Jewish world view and proposes the Gnostic alternative with simplicity and poise. Emphasizing the need for each and every one of us to transcend our limitations and those of our imperfect world with the aid of the great spiritual advanced beings of all cultures (especially Jesus), Hoeller proves the relevance of the myths, sacraments, depth psychology as espoused by the Jungian school and an enlightened spirituality in our secularized world.
A brilliant introduction to a cherished spiritual tradition that deserves to be heard.
on 23 June 2003
This is the BEST book a Gnostic wannabe might want to start from. It covers a little bit of everything. This is definetily THE book to own about Gnosticism.
From the myths of the early Christian Gnostics to the modern Gnostic thoughts that are spread through the world(although some hidden) this books has it all. The Gnostic views on Jesus, the various Gnostic "groups" that existed and some still exist. Their works, beliefs, sacraments.
really, REALLY GOOD!!
on 8 January 2004
Perhaps I have been spoilt by having read many far better books on Gnosticism, because I found myself nodding off frequently over this lacklustre volume. The author's heavy Jungian slant is speculative at best, and struck me as anachronistic. I also found the book somewhat slanted in favour of the religious sect its author leads - it is important to bear in mind that millennial revivalism is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the persecuted groups of early centuries.
As an introductory 'dummies' (albeit short on entertainment) text, the book is dull but usable, but it has little to offer those with some prior knowledge.
If you were going to read only one book on Gnosticism, you could do far worse than snap up Elaine Pagels' superb introduction "The Gnostic Gospels", (also available from Amazon), which offers highly readable yet scholarly coverage which could leave no reader disappointed.
on 24 May 2013
This is a very readable, interesting and comprehensive account of the content and history of Gnosticism. It is also very relevant to the contemporary renewed focus on human spirituality. As Stephan Hoeller eloquently points out, our current understanding is materialist and mental. Physicalism and rationality are taken to explain all phenomena, including humanity itself. This is a reductionist view and in any case is not conclusive, as physicalism so far has no account of metaphysical realities, for example of consciousness, and rationality does not determine virtue, value, or what we consider reasonable. It does not explain how rationality originates. Religion itself has become a mental assertion to creed and doctrine. Gnosticism's attention to spirituality, its pursuit of the transcendental, its focus on a gnosis which generates self enlightenment and inner transformation, is therefore a welcome, holistic, and potentially liberating view. The attempt to eliminate Gnosticism through a long history of persecution highlights the inadequacy of the orthodox doctrinal Christian position.
The complaint of Irenaeus is that Gnosticism denies incarnation. This may originate as a theological complaint, but does have wider significance since it renders Gnosticism other-worldly, specifically disinterested in political engagement. Gnosticism critiques the world, and then disengages, rather than campaigning for reform. It opts out of human social responsibility.
Stephan Hoeller does point out that there is much gnostic material in orthodox Christianity. The apostle Paul's conversion encounter on the Damascus road is a clear case. John's gospel is gnostic in tone. Christ's resurrection is only temporarily corporeal, and is as a body which defies physical reality, rendering the resurrection more of a spiritual than a physical event. Moreover, the creedal doctrinal version of Christianity which became evangelical orthodoxy is itself highly gnostic in its insistence on special salvific knowledge revealed to a chosen elite. The modern charismatic phenomenon includes much gnostic experience - it is a `baptism in the Holy Spirit'.
Hoeller portrays Gnosticism as liberating. If it represents a free spiritual journey then this may be so, but in attempting to define Gnosticism, he then ties it down. A spiritual gnosis is now required, rather than being permissive. On pages 187-189 he sets out 14 points which define Gnosticism, and then claims that `At least the first ten of the fourteen points may be considered wholly authoritative... the absence of any of them from a person's worldview might disqualify him or her as a Gnostic'. Along with the view that Gnosticism is knowledge revealed to an elite, we now have a constraining, strictly limiting spiritual religion. We are back to where we started.
Far better is the emphasis on Gnosticism as myth. Myth as an interpretation of religion offers meaning which is powerfully relevant to the human condition. But it is best as an open narrative, not one which insists on anything, but offers everything. Herein lies a renewed spirituality for our materialist mentalist age.
Author `An Enlightened Philosophy - Can an Atheist Believe Anything?'
Editor web forum `Atheist Spirituality'
on 8 February 2009
This was the first book on gnosticism that I read several years ago, and found it at the time to be very useful to providing a base from which to explore further.
That said, some points need to be made: first, the book's author, Mr Hoeller, is more interested in gnosticism as a potentially-revivable religious tradition, rather than as an intriguing ancient religious movement. Early gnosticism mixed platonic and neo-platonic philosophy, Jewish tradition and emergent Christian traditions into several variant forms; this book ignores the complexities of the gnostic movement in favour of offering a simplified overview based, as one other reviewer has noted, upon a Jungian understanding of the religion. Certainly, this is far from being a poor line of enquiry - Jung himself was very interested in gnosticism, and wrote his own gnostic 'sermon', Septem Sermones ad Mortuos ("The Seven Sermons to the Dead"). But it is, however, reductive, and only lighly touches upon the subtle differences between the different strands of the religion, which range all the way from radical dualistic views, such as are found in Sethian gnosticism, through to the monistic, philosophical visions of Valentinus and his school.
All in all, a good introductory volume, but the reader may well come away with a perspective upon gnosticism more derived from Mr Hoeller's own feelings towards it, rather than might be gleaned from reading a more neutral study, or from a personal a study of the religious texts themselves.
on 4 May 2011
How good this book "is" will depend on what you are looking to get out of it. Anyone who has listened to one or more of Dr Stephan Hoeller's many lectures will know him as a man who is a well grounded & articulate teacher of comparative religion & the gnostic tradition, as well as the work of Carl Jung in relation to these.
If you are looking for a meaningful introduction to gnosticism, written by someone who has a solid academic background in the field, but who is also a PRACTICING gnostic, I highly recommend this book. I would also recommend that you purchase some of his lectures that are available at BC Recordings, as his passion & sense of humour also come through strongly.
The writer has been deeply influenced by Carl Jung, but given that Jung is arguably one of the most influential gnostics of the last 100 years, this can hardly be seen as negative. He seeks to clarify the common themes of the gnostic worldview in a manner that is both meaningful & mindful of the variety of gnostic thought & experience.
on 26 February 2014
a reference book and source book ,to help my study of dream analysis.Expislains this complex subject well.It is a book I'll keep and dip into.
on 23 December 2014
A book from an old man who has lived is whole life near gnosticism. I have the book, this one is for my 32 years old son.