Reflection 4

Mysteries of God, Cosmos, Humanity, week 4

Reflection: receiving esoteric teachings



Muhammed Ali al-Samman made a remarkable discovery that greatly changed views of Gnosis and early Christianity in ancient times. This Arab farmer started digging in the desert near his hometown of Nag Hammadi, in central Egypt, in the early morning of December 16, 1945, because he was looking for humus. In doing so, he came across an old stone jug. He became curious and hoped there would be something in it that could make him rich. At the same time, he was also a bit scared because there might be a djinn living in the jar.

Muhammed Ali gathered courage and smashed the jar to see what was inside. To his great disappointment this illiterate farmer discovered that it only contained thirteen old leatherbound manuscripts, with writings that he could not read. He knew it had something to do with early Christians, and took his treasure to his Islamic spiritual leader, who assured him that it was of no use at all. Yet, Muhammed Ali did his best to sell this worthless junk. He probably eventually received a very modest amount of money for it. After many years of drifting
and wandering, the manuscripts known as the Nag Hammadi writings became available for historical scientific research.

They turned out to be 52 third- and fourth-century texts that were Coptic translations of religious and philosophical texts, originally written in Greek. It was not until 1977 that an integral English translation was produced under the supervision of the American scholar James M. Robinson. In English it was known as ‘The Nag Hammadi Library’.

At first glance, it appears to be a heterogeneous collection including Christian texts, philosophical texts, Gnostic texts and three hermetic texts: Initiation in the eighth and ninth sphere, Hermetic prayer of thanks (see hymn 4) and Asclepius (already known in Europe in the Middle Ages). Despite the great diversity of the Nag Hammadi scriptures, there is nevertheless a common characteristic to be discovered: gnosis in the broadest sense of the word. The big question is why at that time those writings were hidden in the desert sand. A generally accepted explanation is that monks from the Pachomius-founded monastery at Tabennisi on the banks of the Nile buried this library of manuscripts because they feared it would otherwise be destroyed.
In the year 367 the church father Athanasius of Alexandria (295-373) sent a warning letter to many Christian faith communities. In this letter, the bishop listed writings that are now part of the New Testament and emphasized “only in these books is the teaching of divinity proclaimed” – a sort of white list. In that letter, Athanasius warned against the so-called apocryphal books which, he asserted, would have been written by heretics to ‘lead astray the ones of simple mind.’

Prohibited books
Certain monks of the Pachomius Monastery probably found their inner path in reading manuscripts that were not mentioned in that particular letter, and may have feared that they would be excommunicated and removed from their monastery due to the possession of ‘the mountain as a symbol’. That is why they may have put those manuscripts in a jar, smuggled them out of the monastery and buried them far away. Many conclusions can be drawn from an analysis of the Nag Hammadi library in relation to history. We now mention only three of them, because they are important for the theme of this book.

The ancient gnosis was much more varied and universal than was being stated by its adversaries, who erroneously assumed that gnosis was of an origin deemed exclusively heretical to Christianity. Young Christianity was much more diverse than previously believed. Both Christianity and ancient Hermeticism had an esoteric character, namely that spiritual insight, the gnosis, is not accessible to just anyone, but only to those who are touched inwardly, who open themselves to her and devote themselves to her.

Long before the Nag Hammadi writings became available there were a few who already expressed the above findings in word and in writing. The British historian, theosophist, gnostic and author George Robert Stow Mead (1863-933) was one of them. In 1884 he graduated as a classicist and became very interested in Eastern spirituality. Three years later he became a member of the Theosophical Society. In 1890 he quit his job as a teacher to become the personal secretary of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), founder and then president of the Theosophical Society.

Mead’s interest gradually shifted from Eastern spirituality to Western esotericism as found in Greek philosophy, early Christianity and Hermeticism. It is a development that many are going through: first breaking away from ecclesiastical Christianity, then seeking refuge in Eastern spirituality and finally, enriched with new insights, returning to the Christian roots. George Mead was anything but superficial. He undertook thorough and scientific research and published many texts, in particular translations and reflections on classical Hermetic and Gnostic writings. In his book ‘Echoes from of the Gnosis’ he writes in 1906:

‘My dear friends (if you will permit me, I would reply), there is no Christian Gnosis and Trismegistic Gnosis; there is but one Gnosis. If that Gnosis was for certain purposes either associated with the name and mystic person of the Great Teacher known as Jesus ofNazareth, or handed on under the typical personality of Great Hermes, it is not for us to keep the two streams apart in heart and head in water-tight compartments. The two traditions mutually interpret and complete one another. They are contemporaneous; they are both part and parcel of the same Economy. Read the fragments of these two forgotten faiths, or rather the fragments of the two manifestations of this forgotten faith, and you will see for yourselves. […]If I believe rightly, the very essence of the Gnosis is the faith that man can transcend the limits of the duality that makes him man, and become a consciously divine being. The problem he has to solve is the problem of his day, the transcending of his present limitations. […] It would be manifestly absurd to go back to the past and simply pour ourselves once more into these ancient forms; this would be death and a mental and spiritual ‘reincarnation’ backwards, so to speak. It is precisely this absurdity which so many literalists attempt in theology, only to find themselves tranded among dead forms with the tide of the spiritual life far out’.
(Echoes from the Gnosis, The Hymns of Hermes by G.R.S Mead)

Gnostic foundation
George Mead laid a solid Gnostic foundation upon which others could build. For example J. van Rijckenborgh used the 1906 English translation of the Corpus Hermeticum by George Mead as the basis for his book series The Egyptian Arch-Gnosis. For addresses to his pupils, van Rijckenborgh also made grateful use of the English translation of the ‘Gospel ofthe Pistis Sophia’ which Mead had already published in 1896, the second edition of which was published in 1921. The Pistis Sophia is portrayed as a woman who goes the gnostic path of initiation and in doing so is confronted with thirteen soul reversals through which she must struggle in order to achieve soul-rebirth. Those soul reversals have been laid down in the thirteen so-called penitential hymns that she sings, three of which are included in this book (see hymn 5).

The manuscript of the ‘Gnostic Gospel of the Pistis Sophia’, probably written in the third or fourth century, had been kept in the library of the British Museum since 1785. On Blavatsky’s advice, Mead translated it from Greek into English and published it. Blavatsky absolutely opposed the clerkish Christianity of that time, but she considered this gnostic gospel to be extremely important because ‘the soul is always the one subject, and the science of the soul was the sole purpose of all the ancient mysteries.’

In part four of his book ‘The Gnosis in Present Day Manifestation’, Van Rijckenborgh elaborates on the meaning of the words Pistis and Sophia for people who want to go the Gnostic path. He sees the Pistis and the Sophia as two streams or emanations flowing forth from the divine realm (referred to by gnostics as the Pleroma) which together can transform humanity according to the plan of God. The Pistis is the flow of knowledge as it manifests in countless ways within authentic spiritual traditions; it is often misunderstood and wrongly applied by the majority of people. The Sophia represents the flow of wisdom that keeps aloof from the world but radiates on her. That Sophia is known in all authentic spiritual traditions. In the apocryphal Bible book ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ it scintillates through the words in many ways (see hymn 6). Van Rijckenborgh writes (in ‘The Gnosis in Present Day Manifestation’):

‘During the course of time we see how an external manifestation of the divine Brotherhood appears again and again as a messengerto found a religion. When this religion begins to take shape it divides into a greater or lesser number of sects. That is splendid and positive, although many fulminate  against it. This fulmination itself is also good, for it points to the effect of a magnetic power, of the primary emanation of the Pleroma: the Pistis, which unceasingly makes itself known to mankind in a thousand-andone forms. […]
It is logical that a pure intellectual reaction follows the touch of the Pistis. Some persons react spontaneously, emotionally; others react mentally from the beginning. When the mentally directed persons undergo the touch of the Pistis, they begin to consider it. It is in this way, in the multifarity of its aspects, that theological science has arisen. A theologian is a specialist with respect to the knowledge mankind has gathered under influence of the primary emanation. He is therefore a specialist because he has made a choice from the multitude of appearances: he is a Christian, an Islamic, a Buddhist, a Brahman or some other sort of theologian. If he is a Christian theologian, one must specify to which of the many Christian sects he belongs. […]
Do you realize that precisely this struggle of the theological parties is the purpose of stimulating emanation of the Pistis? The aim is to drive mankind, time and again, to the extrimity of its pitful mental faculty. Servants of the Pistis can do no more than seek salvation, but in their present state of being they will never be able to find it. […]
The Pistis points to the Sophia. But who or what is the Sophia? It is the other divine emanation that accompanies Pistis; it is the true, unassailable wisdom, the wisdom which, without making any concessions, issues from the Pleroma of God. This Sophia takes shape in gnostic schools of all times. Therefore, in these schools of the Gnosis we find the same Sophia, the same wisdom, the same way, the same truth and the same life. Regardless whether the seekers come from this or that community, whether they are coloured brown, red or white, whether they come from the Buddhist, Islamic or Christian camp, they are taught by the one Sophia. They submerge to rebirth in the one Sophia.’

The names Pistis and Sophia are also regarded respectively as exoteric – intended for the masses – and esoteric – meant for initiates. According to the esoteric teacher George Gurdjieff this dichotomy lacks precision. Gurdjieff starts not from exoteric versus esoteric but from the triad exoteric, mesoteric and esoteric, which can be represented as three concentric circles.

Exoteric, mesoteric and esoteric

According to Gurdjieff, the inner or esoteric circle is formed by those people who have attained the highest development possible for man, who have full control over their state of consciousness and who have realized a free and independent will. They cannot do anything that is contrary to their insight, neither can they have an insight that is not expressed in their actions.

The people belonging to the middle or mesoteric circle understand more or less the same as the people of the esoteric circle, but their knowledge is of a more theoretical nature and is not yet fully expressed in their actions. There can be no disagreement and no misunderstanding between them.

The third circle is called the ‘exoteric’ circle, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity. The people belonging to this circle possess much of what the people of the esoteric and mesoteric circles have realized, but their knowledge is of a more philosophical nature, and is still hardly translated into action. Again according to Gurdjieff, the vast majority of people is not yet part of the exoteric circle, but is located in the periphery. Those people understand relatively little, they are aware of themselves in a very limited way and are guided mainly by external influences. Gurdjieff compares such a person to a machine that functions automatically, but has no consciousness. If he were alive today, he might use the computer as a metaphor for the not-yet-awakened human being.

Gurdjieff’s aforementioned tripartite division agrees quite well with the vision of Karl von Eckartshausen (1752-1803). His ‘universal creed’ is included in part 2 of this book (see hymn 7).
This German esoteric teacher based his work upon a threefold universal wisdom school of humanity, grounded on the tabernacle as described in the Old Testament, including a forecourt, a temple, and a sanctuary. In his booklet ‘The interior Church and Community of God which is scattered throughout the World’ refers to them as the outer, the inner and the innermost.

‘Man – nature – God – these are the subjects in the wisdom schools: man in the court, nature in the temple, God in the sanctuary. It has always been the intention of the wisdom school to lead man
from the court of his own self to the temple of nature, and, through nature, to the innermost sanctuary, to God. The working method of the wisdom school is divine in the innermost,
spiritual in the inner, and natural in the outer. Its mysteries consist of the connection of the material world to the world of the spirit and the connection of the spirit to that of God. She allows people
of all religions into the court because she intends to connect people with people and people with God.
In the forecourts, the diversity of the religions can persist. Brothers are entering the temple with their fellow brothers. And in the sanctuary they, as anointed ones, as Christians, become one with each other.’

Hermeticism and Christianity
Von Eckartshausen never mentions his sources, but his writings are unmistakably Christian and Hermetic at the same time. The monks who buried the manuscripts in Nag Hammadi knew from experience that Christianity and Hermeticism can go well together. Lodovico Lazzarelli and
Karl von Eckartshausen hinted at this idea in their writings. George Mead and J. van Rijckenborgh also strongly expressed this opinion. Van Rijckenborgh even made efforts to realize what he referred to as ‘Hermes’ ecumenism’, which is based on inner recognition and goes far beyond a practical cooperation between religious and spiritual organisations.
Sometimes the connection between Hermeticism and Christianity is magnificently portrayed in an artistic way. For example, the Walburgis Church in Zutphen, the Netherlands, has a ceiling mural of Hermes Trismegistus; and the Cathedral of Sienna, Italy has a large and famous floor mosaic picturing Hermes giving esoteric teaching to Moses (see image 7).

This book ‘Mysteries and Hymns of God, Cosmos, Humanity’, which is based mainly on the Hermetic Gnosis, deals with teachings and views referred to by many people as esoteric,
but in fact – and here is an opportunity for readers to refine their terminologies – this is what Gurdjieff calls the exoteric circle, and Von Eckarthausen calls the outer school and the forecourt. This is where people who, from inner necessity, wish to become a Tat – a pupil of Hermes – find themselves in their approach towards the inner path.

Hermes is not Tat’s biological father but his spiritual one: he has ignited the fire within his pupil. That is why Tat calls his teacher ‘father’ and Hermes considers him to be his son. In Tat, the archetype Hermes Trismegistus is completely present as inner master, but has not yet manifested himself. Tat has a developed and cultivated personality consciousness, but not
yet a soul consciousness, and therefore also not yet a spiritsoul consciousness.

The soul and the spirit can only gradually express themselves in him, once he goes an inner path, guided by Hermes Trismegistus – the symbol for a descended initiate and a spiritual school. That path of transfiguration is, in a symbolic form, magnificently described in the dialogue between Tat and Hermes in the fourteenth book of the Corpus Hermeticum.
That is the reason why this treatise is fully included in this book, divided between the chapters 4, 5 and 6.

A bona fide spiritual school works in a spiritual sense for all of humanity because its call resounds powerfully in the world field, both audibly and inaudibly, both visibly and invisibly.
In a practical sense, it works only with those who approach her ‘desiring to be instructed in the essential things, to understandtheir nature and to learn to know God’ (Corpus Hermeticum 1:6).
It does not speak to the great majority because ‘those who walk in the gnosis are not pleasing to the masses, on the other hand, the masses are not pleasing to them. They are considered foolish, they are the target of ridicule and mockery, and sometimes even to put to death’ (Corpus Hermeticum 11:11).

Unmasking and breaking

Unfortunately, such furious and destructive reactions to gnostic manifestations have not been exceptions, for the gnosis has an unmasking and breaking effect on forms that do not concur with it. Partly because of this, Jesus says to his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you’ (Matthew 7:6).

And the classic seventeenth-century Rosicrucians wrote: ‘Divulged mysteries become worthless; if desacreted they lose power. Therefore, do not cast pearls befor swine, nor roses before donkeys.’

Thus we can understand why Hermes gives his pupil Tat the following advice. ‘However, avoid discussions with many; certainlynot because you want to deny them your wealth, but rather because the multitude will only think you one to be laughed at. Like attracts like; but the unlike is never friend to the unlike. The words I have spoken will only attract very few listeners, or perhaps not even those few. Moreover, these words have the following special characteristic: they urge evil ones on to still greater malignity. That is why it is necessary to be on guard against the multitude; they do not conceive the liberating power and glory of what is being said’ (Corpus Hermeticum 5:65).

The person whose heart is deeply touched by the gnosis for the first time experiences an enormous joy and grants that joy to all those dear to him. But when he talks about it and tries to involve them in his new discoveries, they usually turn out not to be at all interested. Then it is most of the time best to just return to the order of the day and leave it at that, and certainly not
attempt to put those involved in contact with a spiritual school. Catharose de Petri explains this as follows in chapter 6 of The Seal of Renewal.

‘If pulling out a fish of the water you will kill it, because you remove it from its natural life element. Before placing any human being in the sphere of life of the gnosis, you will first have to make sure
that you do not tear them away from his natural element. How can we establish that? By determining the signature of the person concerned. This signature must meet certain conditions. First of all, dialectics must have become oppressive to him as a sphere of life. Secondly, a positive new seeking element must be clearly apparent in him. Thirdly, such a person must alreadyspontaneously come to live by new norms, even if only with a stumbling gait in endeavouring to walk a new path. If there is
no such signature, a person is definitely not , or at least not as yet , fit for life in the gnostic field. Whoever disregards this rule will always do serious harm tot someone who does not have the
required signature’.

Catharose de Petri describes herein the characteristics of a human being fit to become a Tat, to join the exoteric circle, the forecourt. This signature reminds us of John the Baptist in the desert and of arcanum 9 of the Hermetic tarot, known as the hermit or eremite (see image 8). This does not mean that such a person is alone in life, but that he or she has inwardly liberated himself from those people who are completely absorbed in the sensory world and its astral counterpart. Such a person is like the largest sheep that has left the flock, in the following parable from the Gospel of Thomas.
‘The Kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them got lost. That was the biggest. He left ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, “I love you more than the ninety-nine”’ (Gospel of Thomas, Logion 107).

Spiritual seeker

Those who have wrestled themselves free from the crowd may feel lonely, but they are irrevocably led by the Universal Brotherhood to places where the still-latent inner light can
ignite. When the pupil is ready, the master is there! Such a person is then like the pilgrim of arcanum 9 of the Hermetic tarot, which shows an old man in a hooded robe walking
through the desert in the dark with a staff and a lamp. The old age of this traveler points at the countless experiences gained over many lifetimes. This spiritual seeker experiences a life
that is focused solely on sensory perception as a desert.

He is in the dark and consciously on a journey towards the land of light, the kingdom of the soul, a remnant of which he carries within him: the awakened divine spark in his heart, which illuminates his path. That ignited spirit-spark is symbolized by his lamp. The hood ensures that he can look neither left nor right, that he is one-pointedly directed at what lies ahead and therefore does not stray onto side paths. This traveler has become aware of the vertical dimension, symbolised by his staff. He has learned to be more or less independent and is therefore able to think, judge and act freely. Tat, a pupil of Hermes, is such a pilgrim. His request shows that he longs for inner renewal and also that he acknowledges his ignorance with regard to the path.

‘I have disengaged myself from the world and made myself inwardly strong against the world’s delusion. So would you please now complete what is lacking in me, just as you promised me, and
teach me about rebirth, either by word of mouth or by means of a mystery’ (Corpus Hermeticum 14:3).

Hermes Trismegistus, the initiate and representative of the universal Brotherhood on earth, identified in arcanum 5 of the Hermetic tarot, is obliged to comply with this request, for his apprentice has tested the waters, the stream of the Pistis and the stream of the Sophia. Having found the Pistis too insignificant, he is therefore ripe to be connected with the emanation of the Sophia, in accordance with the following words of Hermes from ‘Admonition of the Soul’.

‘Merchants set forth their wares to be seen, not by the blind, but by men with sound eyes; and story-tellers, and those who make speeches at cross-roads, speak to be heard, not by the deaf, but by men with sound ears. And even so, philosophers do not address, and seek to initiate in wisdom, souls that are walking on the road that leads to death; they address, and wish to imbue with wisdom, those souls only which are walking on the road that leads to life. And these latter are souls which come to them and seek to be taught; but the souls which are walking on the road that leads to death are they that do not seek teachings, but recede from them and scorn them.
If you wish to escape punishment, O Soul, beware of errors and avoid sins; if you desire reward, let yourself be led to the right way of life. For it needs must be that sin brings punishment and loss, and that the right way of life brings reward and gain. If you join yourself to Spirit, O Soul, your light is increased, so that you see with your mental eye the right way of acting; but if you turn away from Spirit and join yourself to sense, you lose the light of intelligence, and are enveloped in darkness, and your mental eyesight is weakened, so that in consequence of your blindness and darkness you give your-self up to sins. The physician tells his patient not to eat what is bad for him. If the patient obeys him, he does right, and as the fruit of his right doing, he recovery health; if he disobeys him, he does
wrong, and as the fruit of his wrong doing, he continues to suffer pain and torment’.
(Admonition of the Soul, Chapter 9)