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With the Divine in Mind
on 30 October 2009
A well-written introduction to Gnosticism, this work is unique in its comparison of the Nag Hammadi Library to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hoeller examines the mysticism and mythology of the Essenes and the Gnostics within the framework of Carl Jung's depth psychology. The almost simultaneous discoveries at Qumran and Nag Hammadi revealed an ancient psycho-spirituality that had been virtually forgotten for almost 18 centuries. In both cases the retrieval/collection, translation and publication took years to complete and some documents are undoubtedly lost forever.
The author emphasizes Jung's awareness that Gnosticism was the only tradition which considered the psyche or soul as the meeting point of the divine and the human. The open practice of Gnosticism endured to the third century of our era (except for the Mandaeans of Mesopotamia that survived to the present day). Jung called for a revival of this ancient heritage and for a return to the understanding of God as an immanent and transformative presence. His view of the symbols, myths and metaphors of the Gnostics inspired his life's work. Many decades after having written them, he commented as follows on the Seven Sermons to the Dead: "All my work, all my creative activity, has come from those initial fantasies ... everything that I accomplished in later life was already contained in them ..."
The first part deals with the discovery and significance of these mystical texts, both representing an inner tradition that was later branded 'heretical' by ecclesiastical Christianity when it became dominant towards the end of the second century and especially under and after Constantine. The author compares the Gnostic Christ and the Essene Messiah, looks at various feminine concepts of wisdom and identifies the similarities between the two sets of texts. There were colonies of Essenes in Hellenistic Egypt which was a crossroads of many religious influences. People like Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Lucius Charinus and Marcion are discussed here.
Part Two, The Other Reality, is devoted to myth. Amonst those investigated are the myths of Sophia/Wisdom and its relation to the Dancing Savior or Gnostic Christ who descended from the heavenly pleroma and fused its nature with that of Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan River. Others examined are those of the evil angels or `Watchers' who descended on Mount Hermon and interbred with human beings, and that of the Song of the Pearl. It includes a look at modern myths in a chapter that opens with Jung's controversial view of The Book of Job and then explores examples of gnostic symbols and motifs in the dreams and imaginations of individuals from our era.
Part Three investigates certain of the Nag Hammadi texts in detail. Some of these contain information on altered states of consciousness and how to attain gnosis through various spiritual practices. They include Allogenes, The Treatise on the 8th and 9th, and Zostrianos, but the Gospel of Philip is the most explicit and comprehensive of these. Hoeller argues that it may be seen as a gnostic sacramental theology. Under the themes of redemption and ecstasy, he discusses the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of the Egyptians. The Gospel of Truth -- possibly a Valentinian text -- is a poetic work of Christian mysticism like The Cloud of Unknowing. It speaks of the Father, the Truth and the Word. The second deals with the Pleromic Region (Ayn Soph), the figure of Seth and the transmission of light from that incorruptible realm to the earthly plane. It further contains the Sacrament of Seth wherein its ecstatic nature is exposed in evidence of glossolalia represented by sequences of vowel sounds.
The epilogue is titled From Hiroshima to the Secret Gospels: The Alternative Future of Human History. This is an assessment of our age, a warning of where humanity is heading, a call for introspection and a plea for renewed efforts at healing the human race. Serious contemplation of the wisdom contained in the Scrolls and the NH library may contribute to this healing process. Recognizing both the evil and the Divine Presence within ourselves is necessary for individuation, both individual and collective. This thought-provoking book concludes with bibliographical notes and an index.
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels would be ideal reading for those who enjoyed this book whilst Jung's Memories, Dreams and Reflections, an accessible autobiography of the great psychologist's inner life, has much to impart about the Nag Hammadi texts. Other works of related interest include Hoeller's Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing, The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James and A Psychology Of Hope by Kaplan and Schwarz.