Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.
— Joseph Campbell
Gnosis gets a bad rap, and I totally understand why. It’s the people who want to use their personal experiences of the gods to get maximal attention from their friends; it’s people who claim to be the last true oracle of a deity and whose oracles are mostly the gods vehemently agreeing with that person about who is or is not worthy of scorn and approbation.
It’s most especially the people who want to craft or claim a “true” connection to the gods so that they can sit atop Mt. Special, and wait for people to line up and be initiated into their version of whatever mysteries, as revealed to them by their deity. Looking for a hegemony to be hegemmed by? Why not Zoidberg?
It is, most of all, the humble ministers working in the service of the community of followers, cooking pasta, organizing gatherings, and cleaning up after events, who are talked down to, marginalized and unappreciated because of pretenders to the title of Priest and Priestess who use their gnosis or “mysteries” to attain rock star status.
These things are annoying, and it is easy to understand why certain groups simply want to pull the plug on that sort of obnoxious drama. However, gnosis is important. Let me lay it out for you.
I want to start with a folk story from an unlikely place: Chassidic Jewry.
A Rabbi addresses his congregation with a question: “Where does the spirit of God reside?”
Everyone smiles, because they know the canonical answer: their God is omni-present.
The Rabbi answers himself, saying: “The spirit of God resides where it is invited in.”
And everyone stopped smiling.
If you are reading this, I’m going to make a wild assumption that you aren’t a Chassidic Jew, but I think the principle remains true. In order to have strong and healthy relationships with our deities, we need to make a place in our lives for them. We need to give them a place to be, and we need to invite them in. Largely, humans don’t, and we make excuses about why we don’t.
Excuse 1: You Need A Priest… Or to Be A Priest
There is ancient mythology, and it exists because human beings had experiences of the gods. Mythologies will always tell you that humans were fundamentally different back then. Of course it does, because if it didn’t, you might get the insane idea that the gods are continuing to interact with people (other than the clergy that is telling you that they, and not you, can talk to the gods using their ancient, secret, mystic hoobity-ha).
You might get the idea that the gods are not hermits, living in a dark cave somewhere. You might get the notion that they, in some way, wanted to be a part of everyone’s life, and not just the lives super special people who know special ancient secrets that the gods supposedly hid from the rest of the proletariat.
Why This Is Stupid.
There are only two possibilities: the gods want to be among us, or they don’t. If they don’t then no one can make them do it. If they do, then they won’t make the means to help them manifest so complicated.
Excuse 2: We Are Unworthy
Another common theme is that the gods avoid wicked people. You see that in mythology, too. We, of course, are morally imperfect. We are all morally imperfect. Therefore, the gods don’t want to be around us, and we need to know special ways of pleasing and bribing them to get them to manifest.
Why This Is Stupid.
I’ll be blunt. I have met lots and lots of people, and I never ran across anyone perfect. The majority of people are assholes. This is not new. People have basically always been assholes. Odysseus was an asshole. Medea was an asshole. Theseus? MEGA ASSHOLE. Yet the gods still wanted to be a part of the world when these people were around.
Furthermore, what kind of gods do you believe in? Are they the sort that run at the first sign of difficulty? Have difficulty solving basic social problems? Flip their shit at the first sign of adversity? If so, then they don’t really want to be a part of our world at all, so stop calling them. Strife is what our world is all about. It is the defining feature of human existence.
And let’s be frank… there is no category of people that is just fundamentally better. We’ve been through this. Rich people are not spiritually superior to poor people, men are not spiritually superior to women, women are not spiritually superior to men. Ideas like this are common, and they have a name: bigotry. They are all universally wrong.
The gods DO want to be a part of the world, and that means dealing with humans, who are flawed creatures.
Our gods are not hermits. They do not hide from us. They have not hidden away some secret of being with them and talking to them. They want to be a part of our lives. We, however, need to invite them to do so.
That which only exists in the past is dead. Ancient Mythology is the story of the gods existing in our world in the past. If we never allow for modern mythological stories (Gnosis), then our gods only exist in the past. If our gods only exist in the past then our gods are dead.
If the faculty which allows humans to create mythology exists only in the past, then the human soul is dead.
But what about those crazy people who have gnosis? And what about all the contradictory experiences people have? I have two thoughts for you on that.
Firstly, my own, inspired by the thinking of the Dalai Lama. The Lama was quoted as saying that people try to conceive of reincarnation as being like a strand of pearls. A more illuminating analogy, he said, was to imagine our incarnations as a stack of blocks, where there is no continuity, precisely, but where the position of the more recent block is determined by the blacks that it rests upon.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m going to assume that deities are, you know, spiritual creatures. I therefore liken their manifestations (those times when they enter our world) as being like incarnations. Each manifestation is of the god, but there may not necessarily be continuity between them — though certainly there can be, and I have most definitely seen that, especially with Hermes.
The second thought there comes from Campbell.
“Every [mythological experience] is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.”
— Joseph Campbell
So, in summary:
– The gods only exist where they are invited in
– We need to give them permission to be a part of our lives
– Mythology is a collection of stories about where humanity and the gods touch
– If mythology stops, the gods are no longer a part of the living world
– It’s ok for there to not be continuity between our experiences of gnosis, just like it is ok for us not to remember past incarnations.
– We need to make sure that gnosis never gets in the way of respecting community leaders who do the grunt work
– Don’t be a diva
– Priests are nice, but we can do without
– The greatest of mysteries is knowing how to help the gods to become a part of mundane reality — which is ultimately where they desire to be.