What is Gnosticism?

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.

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Light Streaming

Back in my first year or so of graduate school, I attended a lecture on the importance of writing in mysticism. I wish I could remember the name of the woman, but it escapes me. I carried a copy of it around with me through a few moves, but there have been just one or two many sharp turns in my life since then; it fell off the proverbial truck.

It was the late 1990s and she had come of age reading Derrida and De Man, but beneath the veneer of deconstruction there was an astounding core: for a group convinced of the ineffability and transcendence of the divine, mystics were obsessed with writing about it. It’s almost compulsive. Rather than a via negativa that opens to a pleroma, what if it only ever opens to a threatening negativa, which it is the work of writing to obscure?

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