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Gaia and Gnosis

ONE: The Unspelling of the Earth

Throughout this site, I have argued that belief in an off-planet deity is dangerous to human survival, and even to human sanity, because it works against our instinctual bond with the living planet, Gaia. By correlating Gaia with the goddess Sophia of the Mysteries, I want to show the ancient provenance of that bond. Recognition of the Wisdom Goddess as the indwelling intelligence of the earth is central to the message of metahistory.org.

Fine, but anyone might wonder: Is this call to recognize Sophia a plea to found a new, Gaia-based religion, or to return to the Goddess worship of archaic times? Neither, but it is a challenge to find in relation to the earth what has previously been found through belief in what lies beyond it.

" I believe that most of what was said of God was in reality said of that spirit whose body is the earth" (A.E., The Candle of Vision).

This is the credo of metahistory.org. Knowing Gaia is not a matter of belief; it is a vision quest for the entire human species. Recognition of Sophia, the wisdom of the earth, was common to all indigenous peoples in former times. In the classical age of Pagan religion, Sophia was known by many names: Magna Mater, Isis, Demeter, Great Mother, Great Goddess, and White Goddess. The names given to Sophia in tribal cultures run into the thousands. If Sophia is regarded as the divine spirit that animates the entire planet, i.e., the informing intelligence of the biosphere, then we can imagine how the vision quest of our species might unfold: by contemplating the animation of the material and sensory world, we move into deep rapport with the mysterious source of life itself. (Bapuna mask of White Goddess, Congo.)

The quest is about how we, the living, consecrate ourselves to the divine source of sentient and animal life.


Sensation is the greatest mystery of natural science.
- Wilhelm Reich, Ether, God, and Devil / Cosmic Superimposition

The return to animism is explicit in the message of metahistory.org, but not blind, superstitious animism. I have proposed the term biomysticism for empathic and visionary participation in the life-force. In Slanted Truths, Lynn Margulis refers to biomysticism as "debilitating"—which I take to mean that she sees the projection of human feelings upon nature as bad for science—but anyone who has experienced deep rapport with nature, be it through entheogenic rites or simply by watching the sunset, knows that the experience is quite the contrary: it is healing, rejuvenating, and inspiring. Biomysticism involves a religious attitude toward nature, yes. It may also be considered as a basic survival technique.

Since the initial formulation of Gaia theory in the 1970s, advances in astronomy and biology have increasingly echoed the ancient Gnostic vision of the cosmos. The multi-galaxy Universe (attested in spectacular fashion by the photographs from the Hubble telescope), autopoesis, emergence theory, panspermia and exobiology, plasma cosmology, the earth-sun-moon symbiosis—all these factors of leading-edge science can be correlated to Gnostic cosmology. This is not to say that the mythology needs to be, or can be, validated by science. No, myth is an imaginative tool that works in a different way than science, and serves different ends. But science, especially as it relates to Gaia, can acquire richness and resonance by correlation to the participatory aspects of genuine "creative mythology," as Joseph Campbell called it.

Gnosis (by one definition) is a method of direct access to the physics of the cosmos through the instrument of the body and senses — "the biophysics of perception," to borrow a felicitous term from Wilhelm Reich. Modern science denies categorically that such access is possible, but Reich warned that "the scientist will increase his errors in proportion to the neglect of his own system of sensory perception and awareness" (Ether, God, and Devil / Cosmic Superimposition). I maintain that scientific theory divorced from the body and senses will only lead to confusion and contradiction. In The Science of Yoga, a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I. K. Taimni says, "This [type of confusion] is inevitable as long as we continue to investigate, exclusively by physical instruments and mathematical analysis, a Universe whose foundations lie in the realms of mind and consciousness."

Reich also warned against mysticism, of course, and in no uncertain terms:

    Mysticism means, in the literal sense, a change of sensory impressions and organic sensations into something unreal and beyond this world... Both "devil" and "angel" correspond to human structural sensations that deviate basically from those of animals and primitive people. (Ibid.)

In The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Murder of Christ, Reich argued that mystical obsessions capable of infecting entire populations or races arise due to "projections of unnatural, distorted organ sensation." In other words, people can attribute to forces in a world beyond what they are actually feeling in their own bodies, but they deny the feeling because its ego-dissolving intensity frightens them. Or even because the sheer pleasure of it frightens them. I maintain that in Europe before the Christian enforcement of body-denial, due to which pleasure came to be viewed as a sin, many people enjoyed and invited, rather than condemned and rejected, the experience of ego-dissolution—hence, the hedonistic bent of Pagan civilization, and the orgiastic element in ancient mystical rites, Dionysian ecstasy, etc. (This argument is developed in Not in His Image.)

Reich contended that the capacity for total "orgasmic surrender" to vital currents flowing through the body was the primary condition for immunity against such a displacement of sensory-somatic forces. In his insistence that "orgastic potency" is essential to a sane society, Reich seems to have recalled (perhaps subliminally) the ancient custom of sacred mating in which the candidate for kingship was tested by sexual congress with a priestess representing the Earth Goddess (or the Earth itself, if you will). The man's willingness to surrender to the pleasurable streaming of the life-force was the proof of his potency, the power to rule with courage, wisdom, and tenderness.

Reich also allows the possibilityof genuine mysticism, rooted in the life force rather than displaced from it: "Kepler had an animistic concept of planetary functions which we should not confuse with mysticism, although he has often been accused of it" (Ibid., p. 89). In The Sleepwalkers, the classic book on the birth of modern science, Arthur Koestler explains how Kepler substituted gravity for the theological conception of the Holy Ghost. Koestler does not note, however, that the Holy Spirit was understood in the Mysteries to be identical with Sophia, the Wisdom Goddess whose body is the Earth. Describing the beliefs of the Barbelo-Gnostics, Irenaeus said, "from the first angel with Monogenes was emitted Holy Spirit, also called by them Sophia and Prunikos [Outrageous" (Irenaeus of Lyons, translated by Robert M. Grant, p. 98).

Significantly, Reich associates life-affirmative mysticism with planetary physics. (Reich's last book, Contact with Space, records his investigations of UFOs and anomalous phenomena in the atmosphere.) This is certainly due to his own first-hand experience of cosmic orgone streaming in the atmosphere of the Earth. I would call life-negative mysticism dissociative or sado-mysticism, for it is almost always connected with sadistic impulses, either covert or overt.

The animism proposed throughout Metahistory.org is consistent with the planetary animism of Kepler, the morphological perception of Goethe (whom Reich cites), and Reich's own orgonotic science. The greatest mystery of science is what unfolds in the human senses, but the investigation of that mystery is not uniquely the province of scientists.


    The Christian Church had exchanged the nature-oriented animism of prehistoric science for a mysticism remove from nature and life. Functional natural science must defend primitive animism against perverse mysticism and take from it all the elements of experience corresponding to sensory perception. (Reich, ibid, p. 89-90)

In Mythbusting 101, a series of lessons that chart the future direction of this side, I am developing the mythical-literary theme of the Wasteland in connection with the hero of the Grail Quest, Parzival. The French and German Grail literature of the 12th Century grew from specific mythological origins in Ireland and Wales where the Mysteries survived after their repression by the Roman Church. The theme of the Wasteland is a Celtic variant of the universal identification of woman with the Earth, but it takes a unique spin.

In Irish myth, Eri or Erui was a woman of the Tuatha de Danaan (pronounced Two-WAH duh Dah-NAAN), the tribal divinities of the Celtic race. She came to represent in a particular sense the "Sovereignty of Ireland." In other words, this female divinity became associated bioregionally with Ireland, specifically with Tara, the region north of Dublin. The poetic name for Ireland, Erin, derives from her mythical name. In an Irish legend called The Prophetic Ecstasy of the Phantom (written down around 1050 CE), Erin offers food to a mortal man who wanders into her magical realm, and when she proffers a cup full of delicious mead, she repeatedly asks the question, "To whom shall this cup be given?" This is the earliest evidence of the "Grail question" in Celtic literature: "The question which the Sovereignty did repeatedly ask became the question which Parsifal failed to ask" (Loomis, Arthurian Tradition and Chretien de Troyes, p. 377) According to the leading Arthurian scholar R. S. Loomis, the Question motif is unique to the genre of Celtic mythology and not found elsewhere anywhere in the world.

Initially, the Grail question was posed by Erui/Erin, a woman or a goddess in woman's guise. As the Sovereignty of Ireland, she was intimately identified with the fertility and beauty of the land. To become king of the land and guard its fertility, as well as its people, the candidate for kingship had to unite sexually with Erin. Here the Celtic material reflects the timeless universal theme of hieros gamos, sacred mating, the original rite for the anointment of sacred kings in the Middle East. Celtic and Indic (of India) parallels have been noted by many scholars. Sacred kingship was practiced among the Celts, but due to the loose, geographically widespread, and semi-nomadic character of Celtic civilization, this rite did not result in the establishment of theocratic urban centers.

The archaic myth shows us that something goes awry with the Soveriegnty of Erin. When the visitant to the magical realm fails to respond to the Question of the "testing cup," Erin herself is effected, and, by extension, the land identified with here. This is due to the paternal wounding. The canditate for kingship who is sexually wounded cannot have the pleasure of congress with the woman who embodies the land. In Irish myth, Bran was an ancient king wounded by a spear in his foot: i.e., he was the prototype of Amfortas, the wounded Grail King. Due to his inability, not to fertilize Erin, but to consummate pleasure by tasting the beauty of her terrestrial body, the wounded patriarch brings an evil spell upon the land. It becomes the Wasteland, infertile, polluted, shorn of the burgeoning beauty of nature.

A land under evil enchantment demands someone to come and unspell it. Loomis saw in the "Unspelling Quest" of Parzival the supreme derivation of these archaic mythic elements: "The Unspelling Quest became the central theme of the glamorous and mystifying legend of the Grail" (Ibid., p. 354). By asking the Question to the wounded Grail King, Parzival lifted the spell of evil from the Wasteland. Both themes, the Question and the Wasteland, are intimately related through their common origin in Celtic mythology. As I explain in Not in His Image, Celtic civilization was pan-European and served as the "guardian culture" for the indigenous peoples of Europa. When the Pagan way of life was destroyed and the indigenous peoples of Europa were forced to adopt Roman Christianity, the Mysteries were violently repressed—but they were preserved among small enclaves of Celtic people living in the hinterlands of Wales and Ireland where the Grail legend originates.

Today we may choose to see the evil enchantment of the Grail Legend as the pollution of the biosphere, but psychologically speaking, the spell operates in our own minds, in our perception of nature, as much as in nature itself. The key term here is descralization. We ourselves put the entire Earth under a spell when we cease to acknowledge the sacred power of nature, or surrender to its beauty as if melting in orgasmic delight. This being so, it is essential to recover the mystical and religious element of human experience by infusing Gaia theory imaginatively with a sacred element. I am convinced that imaginative or imaginal participation will lead to sensuous contact with the living planet, and this in turn will lead to sensory illumination. Everything we can do to unspell the Earth depends on what A.E. called "vital contact" with the atmosphere, the terrestrial envelope in which we live and breathe—or which is breathing us, if you will. In 1984, alchemist and mystic Adam McLean wrote

    I believe that as we look toward the end of this century, this Grail mystery will become more important in public awareness, becoming identified with the living esoteric body of the Earth planet itself. ("Alchemical Transmutation in History and Symbol," in At the Table of the Grail, p. 65)
It would be incorrect to speak of resacralization, because nature has never not been sacred in its own right, but we do need to resacralize our perception of the natural world. This is the non-scientific opportunity offered by the Gaia mystqiue, no matter what its pitfalls and drawbacks may be. Psychosomatic illumination through Gnosis is also a path of science (literally, "knowing"), a path that does not in any way preclude the methods of science and may in fact complement them.

The return to a Gnostically informed animism is not contrary to the modern scientific exploration of Gaia theory, and may be essential to it. The Sophianic vision of the Earth can enhance science by adding human participation and empathy to instrument-supported research, data accumulation, mathematical modelling, and the logical-analytical proof process. Those who would argue that empathy with nature is contrary to objective science do so at the risk of endorsing a disembodied, inhumane type of science. This approach recalls the insistance by Frances Bacon that we torture nature, "put her on the rack," in order to extract her secrets. This cold, inquisitorial attitude is consistent with the off-planet metaphysics demonstrated by salvationist religion since the Middle Ages, and adopted by science since the Enlightenment. As Theodore Roszak observed:

    Neither scientist nor theologian integrated the human and natural in a way that yielded a sense of our kinship with the universe and our ethical observation to the living planet. There is in fact a deep psychological continuity between the Christian hostility to paganism and the rise of modern science. Both are committed to the desacralization of the natural world. ("Nature and Nature's God," in Alexandria 5, edited by David Fiedler)

The alliance of mysticism and science was anticipated by Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics, published in 1975, but Gaia theory, chaos, emergence, plasma cosmology, exobiology, and other factors had to come together before we could see the possibility, and accept the necessity, of such an alliance. Capra's book was a flare that momentarily lit up the horizon, but it did not show us the lay of the land. It emphasized the homology of scientific and mystical propositions and conceptual structures, without considering how the human senses might reveal the intrastructure and operative laws of the cosmos in ways that cannot be expected from scientific instruments. Now that the territory is more well-defined, we can accept what others before Capra (most notably, Goethe, followed by Wilhelm Reich and D. H. Lawrence) had foreseen: science in the future will adopt the senses as tools rather than disregard them as sources of deceptive data.

Biomysticism leads to the resacralization of our participation in the natural world. I have coined the term ecognostic for the application of Gnosis to the future ecological awareness, or sacred ecology. In my new book, Not in His Image, I define ecognosis as "intimate perception of the life-force of the earth, such that it brings humanity into alignment with Sophia’s correction." This definition links the human capacity for deep rapport with nature with the central theme of Gnostic cosmology, the "correction" of Sophia. In making this link, I do not posit or propose what the "correction" is; nor did Gnostics make this matter explicit (not in any surviving writings, at least), except to suggest that it somehow involves the relation of the earth to the galactic center, the Pleroma

And the luminous epinoia [the power of imagination] was hidden in Adam [the human genome], in order that the Archons [mind parasites] might not reach that power, but that the epinoia might be a correction to the deprivation of Sophia [i.e., her separation from the Pleroma].
- The Apocryphon of John, 20.25

Sophia's correction is what the Gaian vision quest of our species will lead us to discover.

The Heartland

My case for adopting Gnosis and the Mysteries to frame sacred ecology, as well as to enhance Gaia theory along mythopoetic lines, relies on a multi-disciplinary evaluation of the Gnostic materials, relating them to comparative mythology, the history of religions, shamanism, mysticism, Asian metaphysics, entheogenic practice, ethology, evolutionary biology, and parapsychology. Unfortunately, Gnostic scholars do not look outside their special field to interpret Gnostic writings. No legitimate scholar would make the correlations I am proposing, but then, no legitimate scholar is capable of making such correlations, either, due to the blinders they wear. For instance, my basic assertion that Gnostics were the senior instructors and guardians of the the Levantine Mysteries goes beyond the limits of Gnostic scholarship. But I resolutely contend that the origin, nature, methodology, and aim of Gnosis is incomprehensible without correlations of the kind I have developed.

Unless we can bring the practice of Gnosis into our emergent connection with Gaia, the subject is not worth the bother. Gnosticism dissociated from the Sophianic vision of the Earth only serves to reinforce religious beliefs that keep the world under an evil spell of dissociation.

In the following two parts of this essay, I develop 20 points in the full-spectrum overview of my argument for correlating Gnostic teachings with Gaia theory. For each point considered, I summarize the consensus view held by Gnostic scholars, the ecognostic view proposed in this site, and the leading correlations to Gnostic theory and practice to be found in shamanism and Asian yoga and Tantra (exclusive of Bon Po, Dzogchen, and Vajrayana which, though they present startling parallels to Gnosis, tend to be too heady and complicated). All points in the ecognostic category are derived directly from textual evidence of Gnosticism. In other words, they present my extrapolations of Gnostic teachings selected with a bias for non-Christocentric, Sethian Gnosticism.

This is quite an exercise, I realize. It presents a considerable chunk to read and assimilate. But this is the final and summary argument I will make on Gaia-Gnosis in this site. It is time to move on, explore other themes, and develop new material, but not before mapping the heartland of the immense territory we have opened and explored in the five years of metahistory.org.


jll: April 2006 Flanders



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