I have enjoyed watching folks talk about the latest season of Twin Peaks and around the home we have been talking about it quite a bit. I appreciate this post over on the Nightshirt, not least of which for reminding me that this isn’t just a David Lynch joint, that Frost’s influence is key, too. Pointing out the series’s connection to Kubrick’s The Shining also clarifies and I find it exciting to consider how this connects the series to Stephen King and his particular Americana.
Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation (ἀποκαλύψει; apocalypse), or by knowledge (γνώσει; gnosis), or by prophesying (προφητείᾳ), or by doctrine (διδαχῇ; didactic knowledge or instruction)?—I Corinthians 14:6
I have mentioned Revelation a bit, but I came across this more recently and realized it provides a useful model for talking about what is going on in the text and how it might meant to be received and used. I like it, too, because it helps to flesh out what the gnosis of gnosticism is supposed to be and how it relates to other forms of knowledge and communication. There is also something to be taken here about the place of knowledge derived from ecstasies and trance, which is no small thing either.
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.
When I was younger, I got onto a Central European literature kick. A friend of mine had developed an interest in things Russian and I traced my own path in sympathy through the Russian world. What began with some Russian literature (like Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita and Sologub’s The Petty Demon) widened into matters philosophical (a mixture of Mikhail Bakhtin, Nikolai Berdyaev, G. I. Gurdjieff, Roman Jakobson, P. D. Ouspensky), and religious (there was a small Russian Orthodox bookstore down the street from where I lived). That widened and wandered into a few Central European forays—Danilo Kiš, Milan Kundera, Milorad Pavić, a few others whose names did not stay with me.
Justin’s Book of Baruch affirmed Herakles as a prophet on par with the Biblical ones, a figure who was charged with bringing about the order of heaven on the earth. However, his conquest is prevented from coming to fruition by the intervention of one of the Mother’s angels, Omphale-Babel-Aphropite. According to the account of Justin that we have, this story is reported with all of the usual sexism that haunts gnosticism, but what happens if we read the story against the grain? I don’t mean simply tell it differently, but read the counter-story already entangled within the first.
Okay, so I have a few things that I keep thinking about or which are being put forward for me to think about, things that will probably make their way into posts of their own, but right now I want to see what I can do to just get them out of my head and put them in front of my face, see what other connections might arise thereby. Notebooking, so caveat lector.
A report of Harriet Tubman’s dream:
“She thought she was in a ‘wilderness sort of place, all full of rocks and bushes,’ when she saw a serpent raise its head among the rocks, and as it did so, it became the head of an old man with a long white beard, gazing at her ‘wishful like, just as if he were going to speak to me,’ and then two other heads rose up beside him, younger than he,—and as she stood looking at them, and wondering what they could want with her, a crowd of great men rushed in and struck down the younger heads, and then the head of the old man, still looking at her so ‘wishful.'”
After meeting John Brown in 1958, Tubman knew the dream to be of him, though she appreciated its import only after the failed raid on Harpers Ferry.
This last turn here has been a doozy and I find myself returning to this blog frequently, writing lengthy posts, and then setting them aside because it just doesn’t quite feel like I am hitting the notes I need to with them. This turn into the face of gnosticism proper that I have been taking is a hard one; it heads straight down into some complex, deep, and unpleasant places. I’m unsure of the ability of the blog format to address these well, but I want to try to address them, especially in the current climate where we are seeing the occult-magical scene re-encountering its relationship with psychoanalysis and modernity.
There is a big question that is difficult to get at that nonetheless needs to be addressed if I am going to talk about gnosticism. Namely: what is gnosis? I have an answer, but I also have an allusive sensibility, so please pardon me as I make some wide circuits through this question.
I said I wanted to take this from the top, so let’s start with the big terms. Gnosticism is one of those words with a lot of historical baggage. Despite or because of that baggage, it is one of those terms that is difficult to use to identify a practice. It can mean anything from a very specific set of early Christian movements to contemporary magical practices with Satanic overtones. While there is a structural unity to much of the term’s diverse applications, that structural unity only gets us so far. Part of the problem with structures is that they are prone to inversions and re-constellations of meaning over time and space and across cultural milieus.