I’ve been on a cosmological kick while diving a little more deeply into the Gnostic material. As I read through the divergent perspectives on salvation and the best means of attaining it (which is what the cosmologies are for, after all), I am articulating it with my own magical work. There are some potential pitfalls in this sort of work and as I navigate them I’m reminded of the old saw about the map not being the territory, except that there really isn’t a map or territory in these cosmologies.
That seems to be one of the ways that we get Gnosticism wrong, both as would-be Gnostics and intellectual historians of Gnosticism. We try to turn its productive cosmologies into representations of some deeper reality, a map that points to a territory we are exploring. Rather, they operate a bit more like invocations. They create a space, a territory, into which forces can be channeled. In so doing, they reveal something about the forces they channel.
The territory of the invocation doesn’t create the forces it channels, but it does give them manageable expression, provide us an opportunity with which to engage with them, neither precisely on our own terms, nor on the terms of the uninvoked forces. The invocation is a dialogue, a sign of the presence of spiritual intelligences taking interest in us and us taking interest in them. Learning a spiritual cosmology is something like a slow invocation.
Exceptionally workable cosmologies are good dialogues, where participants are able to mutually express themselves to each other well. Like dialogues, they only make sense in reference to the scene in which they take place. They are less an image of what is transpiring in the magical work than communication about what transpires. Sometimes they may be like diagrams in a lab manual or exercise guide, exemplary but in need of practical application, but that is about as close as they get to being maps. By repeating them, you instantiate the territory which they merely intimate. Perhaps we might call them diagrams, a somewhat broader category than a map.
Working a cosmology is a process and following it through with magical work activates that process. The shape it takes won’t ‘resemble’ the diagram, because the diagram (at best) stages the encounter and provides structure for its progress, it does not tell you how the process will develop once you put living presences in the positions demarcated for them. Where those encounters put into question or transform the staging, you get new or rival cosmologies that really matter on a practical and personal level.
This is one of the reasons why Gnostic cosmologies matter, because they are forms of instruction and invocation. They aren’t strictly rival accounts of the spiritual world so much as different forms of congealed practice. Comparing them only becomes useful when we think about the forms of practice to which they refer or to which they might refer. That provides us with a stepping stone beyond practice into ethos, into forms of life that can be integrated with them. Those forms of life are related to the spiritual forces that take part in the dialogue well beyond their ‘position’ in cosmological diagrams.
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I’m considering opening a smaller private blog to talk about some of the details of my work that don’t quite belong in this more public forum. If I do, I’ll let folks know here.