Hi CA, love the blog! Just wondering what your stance was on 'gender' in modern gnosticism/Hermeticism - one of the things which turns me off about early gnosticism is the way it treats gender as an indivisible, essentialist quality of everything (fundamental duality of man/woman etc) whereas in modern times I would advocate that we have a much more enlightened view of the mercurial, shifting nature of gender and sexual identity. Whats your thoughts?
Interesting question. Bearing in mind that we’ve only got fragmentary source texts for Gnosticism and Hermeticism as a whole complete system or blow by blow set of teachings, plus a load of stuff written by detractors, any view on gender is necessarily going to be focused through a modern lens. Many of the original texts were discovered and translated out of their original language by those within an orthodox (deliberately small ‘o’) version of Christianity, or at least its world-view, which has a very narrow view of gender - ultimately boiling down to be fruitful and multply Anything that messes with that is dodgy.
So translators bring their own baggage here, and when we’re looking at the important work done by magicians throughout the Renaissance through to the twentieth century in the West, we’ll see that a good chunk of them were white men, with all our implicit programming regarding norms. Even the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was a massively progressive organisation given its time - Moina Mathers was essential to it, as were other women like Florence Farr, Annie Horniman etc.
Even Crowley relied on women, albeit in a more vessel-specific form. After all, Thelema would never have existed without the seership of Rose Kelly. Yeats relied on Georgie Hyde Lees as well. Add to this mix the nineteenth century fascination with “fertility cults” born of colonialist exploration and anthropology, a smidgen of Murray and sexual repression, and we have the ground that spawns Wicca in its most gender-essentialist form.
Or at least, that’s how it appears. The key point, as I see it personally, despite what has been written about unification of opposites, rose-croix, lance and cup etc, they key is not gender or fertility, but polarity,
At first glance it seems that penis-in-vagina sex is the thing that’s lauded, with a bit of buggery on the side for the super-secret degrees. But go deeper, and in my experience it’s actually about interchange and dynamism. (This is not to say that all forms of sexual magick produce the same result - there are in fact subtle differences.)
But we’re not talking about sex here, we’re talking about gender, and like sexthats a thing that isn’t limited to the old western insistence on masculine and feminine, as we are (re)learning.
This is why I brought up polarity. Think of a bar magnet - it has two poles, negative and positive, or north and south. Traditional gender essentialism would fixate on the two poles. There must be a north and a south to perform the great mysteries!
But let’s take a look at a bar magnet for a second:
Sure, we can see the north and south poles here. But that’s not the important part. Magically and Gnostically speaking, we are interested in the whole field.
As we can see, the divisions of the poles as north/south is pretty much an arbitrary naming in response to the fact that each end appears to have different qualities - being attracted to the North Pole etc.
The key word here is appears. If we study the whole field, we can see that there are interalations between the fieldlines; gaps, spaces - inbetweenesses.
These exist as part of whole - the reason I say we are relearning beyond traditional duality of gender is that it has ever been thus. There have always been people who identify with different positions on the continums, different spaces in the field-as-whole, and we can see this in other cultures, and in some indigineous societies.
The bar magnet is a whole thing - where does the north become the south? The usual response is to draw an arbitrary line down the middle, because it seems most obvious, when if fact as the diagram shows, things are farm more subtle and complex.
The kind of gnosticism I explore is born of gnosis, and that gnosis, at its very core, is non-dualistic and pluralistic at the same time. It is a constant coming-together and breaking-apart; an endless onrushing flow that provides endless upwelling of difference and variety.
Think of the legendary wizards and witches, dancing by the fire, shifting through many shapes as they go between the shadows and soar across the sky.
Think of the legend of the loathly lady- what seems to be one thing may be another. In the words of sorcerer-artist Austin Osman Spare:
“Does not matter, need not be.”
See also the Gospel of Thomas, logia 22:
Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, “These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, “Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom.”
Bearing that verse in mind, we can interpret the following rebuke of Peter in logia 114:
Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
At first glance it seems to be saying that only guys can perceive the Kingdom, but recall above the line of male not being male, nor the female being male. This is something more than simple gender binaries here, though at first glance it appears so.
In studying Gnosticism, we see a bias against femaleness within the texts - Sophia is feminine, and in some schools of Gnosticism is responsible for the Fall and creation of the Demiurge. However we must bear in mind that Sophia is not a human female, but a spirit. So we might argue that in fact the bias against femaleness is actually a bias against that which caused Sophia to fall, which Peter sees Mary as embodying. There is some suggestion that the Mary in the text is Mary Magdalene, meaning that many of the associations of so-called looseness and perhaps prostitution apply. here.
We can only guess at what this metaphor meant to the writers of the original text, but my guess is that it is similar to certain near Eastern cosmogonies wherein the female is regarded as fluid and or-veiled, and is thus a synonym for reality itself, full of a desire to tease and play. See also Salome, the Dance of the Seven Veils and the descent of Inanna.
Now, obviously that’s problematic towards women, as we would see it today - but the very fact that the Gnostic Jesus smacks Peter down and says, Hey, if she follows me she’s just like you, Petey seems to indicate something interesting. Pre-Pauline hold over Christianity, it seems women were far more active in the nascent movement, and it seems as if Yeshua was remarkably egalitarian for his day, if the stories of hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes and dodgy folks are to be believed.
Another thing that’s interesting in terms of Gnosticism is the syzygy or twins. Each aeon as its twin, and when you contemplate that fact, things begin to click - it is the connexion between two seemingly separte things which revals them as one thing, ultimately described as the One, which is like unto the Tao, in that it cannot be truly understood through names, or perceived, save through the ten thousand things.
That’s to say, there is no One per se, which is separate - see also Crowley’s obsession with 0=2.
Within the school of Gnosticism I deal with, the two may be seen to equate to all phenomena, which to the properly prepared consciousness, are surrounded by a nimbus, as it were. This nimbus draws us into the realms of pure creativity, the endless unfolding of Being which, within the Christian context might eventually allow us to the understanding, wrapped in the convention of occult language, that Keter is in Malchut & Malchut in Keter.
Or, to put it another way, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, all around us - we never Fell, at all. We we were never divided in the first place. For this reason, some legends state that Adam-as-Primordial Being was an androgyne - neither male nor female. Thusly, when he asked for a companion, his rib was drawn out of him and shaped to create Eve.
Within that mystical context, we can see that being made Male in a Gnostic context is not about gender, but rather a Primordial State where our conventions of gender and duality do not apply, and never did.
(Yet more under the cut)