Nowadays, Gnostic ideas are represented in many religions and philosophies of the world, so we can say that coverage is the whole globe.
Gnosticism, from the Greek “possession of knowledge”, is a common designation for many esoteric trends that arose in the territory of the late Roman Empire. It originates from the Hellenic and Egyptian mysteries.
There is no exact number.
The first dated sources of information on Gnosticism date back to the 1st century BCE.
Symbols and ideas of gnosticism often appear in the works of symbolist philosophers and world fiction. In the twentieth century, the opening of the Nag Hammadi Library, an ancient collection of Gnostic texts dating from the I – III centuries AD, was followed by a significant surge of interest. In 1977, a complete translation of all texts into English was published (The Coptic Gnostic Library).
A brief history
The teaching developed directly during early Christianity, and its postulates are in many ways opposed to Christian ones, and first of them concerns the role of God in the universe. Some Gnostics, unlike Christians, believe that the material world is a prison, imperfect and crippling for man and his soul, which could not have been created by God. The creation of the world is attributed to a force called the Demiurge, which in its limitations serves as the source of all the troubles and misfortunes of the human race. The Gnostics based their teaching on a treatise on the value of knowing the world, hence the word «gnostic». According to them, the world is knowable and finite.
The essence of the teaching
The essence of the direction is well revealed in the teachings of Simon the Magus. This is the desire to streamline the universe around us, to give everything due importance or, in other words, to display the mechanism of the surrounding world. In Gnostic teachings, the influence of the Pythagorean school is also strongly noticeable, so the Gnostics’ worldview system is divided into 3 pairs of opposites. Together with the creator, they represent the sacred number 7, which in many practices is considered the number of the mage.
The first pair is Mind (Nus) and Thought (Epinoia). They are followed by the Voice (Background) and its opposite – the Name (Onoma). The Reason (Logos) and Reflection (Entumesis) guard the rear. Together, all these pairs, guided by the Demiurge, give rise to the lower world, according to the Gnostics – our world.
Curious against this background is the desire of the Gnostics to unite the previously Christian schools, together with the pagan wisdom of old teachings.
Biography of the creators
One of the founders of Gnosticism can be considered a prominent philosopher and magician, Simon Magus (Magician) (a figure of Gnosticism 1 in CE, mentioned in the Bible as a false messiah). Some of his statements have come down to us: “From the universal Aeons (which are cycles of the creation of life), two shoots grow without beginning and end, they come from one root, which is an invisible force, incomprehensible silence, Bitos. Of these shoots, one manifests itself above the other and the one from above is a great force, a universal mind that orders all things, and it is masculine. The second shoot, manifesting itself from below, is female producing all things. Their union generates the Creator.”
Particularly significant, in this case, is the figure of Basilides of Alexandria, a figure of early Gnosticism, who taught in Alexandria in the 2nd century CE. Only fragmentary information has been preserved about his works, but it is believed that he composed his own Gospel. According to the comments of his opponents, Basilides claimed that God the father created entities with limited power – the Mind (Nus) and the Word (Logos) symbolize legs, support. The head is represented by Prudence (Phronesis), and the hands by Sophia (wisdom) and the Dynamic (power); and 365 angels, who in turn created the earthly, lower world.
Some Gnostics believed that in the lower world souls suffer, unable to reach the primordial truth. At the same time, the truth or “the world beyond” is perceived as a kind of source, where the soul is free and omnipotent. The Gnostics also assigned a special place to Christ, who in their interpretation was the personification (embodiment) of the principle of Nus (divine mind) here we can see an analogy with the light of knowledge illuminating ignorant people, or the image of a prophet carrying the new testament. By the 3rd century CE, the written evidence of the Gnostic teachings had been virtually destroyed.