Eros & Gnosis: A Gnostic Study of Human Sexuality

By Dr. STEPHAN A. HOELLER

Human beings are not only the funniest monkeys: they are the sexiest ones as well. In many ways we are a species singularly devoted to sex. We talk, write, read, joke and argue about it; we dress and undress for it, and, given favourable circumstances, we perform it regularly. More importantly, and sometimes lamentably, we have innumerable laws and commandments to organise, punish, curb, repress and otherwise influence sexual actions and feelings and have devised psychological penances of guilt and shame which we come to attach to our sexuality.

Because of these and related circumstances, most people are confused and bewildered about sex much of the time, and those who profess not to be thus flummoxed tend to take umbrage under clichés and half truths which they have consciously accepted, but which are not in harmony with either their instinctual or their spiritual natures.

It goes without saying that if the Gnostic worldview is any kind of a worldview at all, it must be able to address itself meaningfully to this predicament and thus to suggest spiritually sound ways in which men and women might successfully extricate themselves from the same. The present essay is an attempt to suggest some Gnostic ways of viewing and dealing with sexuality, and in offering it to the reader, the author is not unmindful of certain hazards.

Psychoanalyst Edward Glover once suggested that writing on psychologically charged subjects should be classified as a dangerous occupation. When in the course of such writing one happens to expose the unconscious motives of some persons, pandemonium is certain to follow. The psychologically exposed individuals frequently relieve their anxiety by attacking the writer who has presumed to disturb their precarious and cherished peace of mind. Martyrdom is surely not an uncommon experience to the Gnostic, and if some form of it befall the author, the risk will hopefully have been worth taking!

The ancient term “Gnosis” has two very useful modern analogues; they are the words “consciousness” and “meaning.” Both of these are vitally important to any useful consideration of sexuality. Without consciousness, in the psychological sense, sexuality is a mere expression of instinct: Useful in its domain, but unrelated to the enhancement of life, to the experience of the fullness of being. With the coming of consciousness, all experiences, including the sexual ones, acquire meaning. As consciousness adds a greatly needed component to experience, so meaning brings us the experience of totality, of the fullness (Pleroma) extolled by the Gnostics.

Between the reality of our lives lived in time and the quality of life’s timelessness, between our personal and mundane experiences and the realm which transcends the tangible world, there exists a creative tensional relationship of opposites. The Apostle Thomas, reporting the words of Jesus, reminds us that the saving, or Christ principle, always comes to us to make the two into one, to unite the above and the below, the left and the right, the inner and the outer, and the male and the female into a single one.

The reconciling agent of all such opposites is meaning. When, on the other hand, the tension between the poles of existence is lacking, then, as C.G. Jung has expressed it, human beings “have the feeling that they are haphazard creatures without meaning, and it is this feeling that prevents them from living their lives with the intensity it demands if it is to be enjoyed to the full. Life becomes stale and is no longer the exponent of the complete human being.” (Analytical Psychology and Weltanschauung).

Sexuality is one of the most important tensional relationships of the opposites in life. It is therefore evident that it must have, it does have, great meaning. To leave such a rich mine of meaning, of Gnosis, unexplored would be a grave omission indeed. Let us then proceed with our exploration. As it is useful in such cases, we shall proceed from the ground upwards, as it were, and begin with the evidence of the physical aspect of humankind by reviewing the evidence of biology.

The Gnosis of Biology

The human species is a unique one in many ways, and not the least claim to such uniqueness is to be found in the sexual sphere. The human is the sexiest animal on earth. No other sexually reproducing species makes love with such frequency, and consequently, sexually toned behaviour saturates a large portion of the individual and social life of every man and woman. There is a biological reason for this. Unlike the female of every other species, the human female is capable of constant sexual arousal. She is biologically capable of copulating every single day of her adult life. She can make love during pregnancy, and she can become sexually active shortly after having a child. In fact, she can engage in sex whenever she pleases.

Animals are far less sexy than humans. All female animals have a period of heat (the estrus) during which they copulate, and when this period is over, neither the females nor the males of the species engage regularly in sex. (Among caged baboons and chimpanzees one may observe some sexual activity outside of the period of heat, as one may among free chimps and orangutans, but their sexual activities at “unusual” times are minimal when compared to the human.) Unlike humans, female animals do not accept males while menstruating, they do not initiate sex during pregnancy, and they do not resume their menstrual cycle before their young are weaned.

Due to the so-called “silent ovulation” (the absence of the signs of heat) of the human female, her fertility is never dramatically announced as it is among the animals. The result is that human couples do not know when a woman is ready to conceive. In order to insure the conception of offspring, humans thus must make love regularly, even past the time when conception has occurred. Similarly, especially where breast-feeding is not prolonged, human mothers are capable of resuming their ovulation about six weeks after delivering a child. There seems to be an unmistakable conspiracy of nature directed toward motivating human beings to make love daily, for the human female, alone of all other females, is uniquely designed to do so!

Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, in her book The Sex Contract (William Morrow and Co., 1982) traces the evolutionary development of the unique human sexual situation. She tells us that the genetic evolutionary process which led to the present condition of humanity in regards to sex began about 8 million years ago, when humans became accustomed to walking upright. Protohominid females who delivered their young in a relatively immature state had a better chance of surviving childbirth, because the smaller birth canal, developed as the result of walking, made the delivery of large, developed infants hazardous. The mothers, now forced to care for their children for a long period, were more prone to engage in sex outside of their limited periods of fertility than they were wont to do earlier in their evolution. Since the most popular females were fed and protected most adequately, they tended to survive in greater numbers and thus passed on their genetic traits to more offspring. Thus our present patterns of biologically unlimited sexual intercourse came into being.

Dr. Fisher writes: “With the stimulus of constantly available sex, protohominids had begun the most fundamental exchange the human race would ever make.” The fundamental exchange consisted in bringing males and females more closely together than hitherto would have been possible. The bond of constant sexual interest kept them together in each other’s company; it made them divide their labours, to exchange food, to share the daily work and joys of living. Men and women became aware of each other emotionally, and eventually mentally and intuitively as the result of the sexual force which tied them together, creating a never abating forcefield of dynamic tension between them. Sex has become the progenitor of affection, love, relatedness, and above all, consciousness. From purely biological data we may thus infer with some justification that the coming of unlimited sexual expression became the fountain and origin of vast achievements of human consciousness which otherwise could and would not have come to pass. The implications of this insight for past, present and future are large indeed, and should be apparent to all.

The Gnosis of Psychohistory

Human biology has its history, and so does the human mind, or psyche. As one might expect, the importance of sexuality and of its influence on various aspects of human life are very much part of this history of the mind. Psychohistorians, whose theories contain elements relevant to the concerns of sexuality, are numerous. Among those inspired by Freud, singular distinction belongs to G. Rattray Taylor (Sex in History), while among C.G. Jung’s followers one needs to refer to Erich Neumann (The Great Mother and The Origin and History of Consciousness) as well as to Esther Harding (Psychic Energy; Its Source and Goal.) The considerations which are to follow here utilise the theories of these authors, and amplify their views by way of certain insights of the ancient Gnostics.

The protopsychology of the ancient Gnostics (as well as of others in the Hellenistic culture) perceived three main divisions of the human person. The first of these is matter, or body (hyle, soma); the second mind, or soul (psyche); and the third spirit (pneuma). The existential point of gravity of a person’s life moves according to certain patterns from one of these three to the others, and an individual’s type (today called psychological type) would be determined by which one of these three principles acts as the primary focus of his or her consciousness. All people are capable of experiences of body, soul and spirit in some measure, but the seat of their principal identity is located within one only. Thus, there are people whose outstanding concerns are invariably material, while others function chiefly from a centre of consciousness lodged in their mind, while yet others look at all things from a point of view that is primarily of a character that we might call spiritual.

The presence of any individual within one or the other of these three categories is not a matter of accident, but rather of a transformational growth and development or consciousness, which begins with the material plane and rises eventually to the spiritual.

When we apply this Gnostic idea to the matter of human sexuality we may find some useful insights. There is, first of all, what we might call a hyletic (matter oriented) type of sexuality. To persons of this type sexuality is primarily a bodily urge, largely unrelated to any feeling or regard for the partner in sex, and originally even quite unaware of the possible results of copulation in reproduction. In a sense, we might say that persons in this stage of development are not participating in a sexual act, but they are identified with it. An interesting phenomenon connected with this is the identification of persons with their sexual organs, as evidenced by works of much primitive art, where men and women are represented with disproportionately large sexual organs. Similarly one may note the use of words denoting sexual organs when describing an individual in the idiom of obscene slang. All of these are evidences of the identification of the entire person with sex. Men are merely phallus bearers and women vagina-carriers; they are not persons, but embodiments of their sexuality. Hyletic sexuality in its later stages also becomes involved in the idea of offspring. Men thus come to look upon their mates not as persons but as the potential or actual mothers of their children, and women look upon men as beings capable of giving them children. In each case we are dealing with a primitive phenomenon, a manifestation of hyletic or biological urges. (It needs to be recognised that the urge to have offspring is just as primitive and unconscious an urge as the one moving to sexual intercourse. The notion that the desire for children is somehow more moral and refined than the desire for sex is nonsense!) Freudian psychohistorians tend to call the hyletic phase of sexuality “matrist,” by identifying it with the archaic domination of children by the Mother. Matrist sexuality is quite permissive, even promiscuous and polymorphous, and leads to the formation of “shame cultures” and the development of the incest taboo. The term “oral” is applied to its quality by Freudian writers.

In the next stage of development, sexuality becomes linked with emotion and thinking. Ego-development having taken place, consciousness now wishes to subdue the unconscious and thus develops numerous devices for the control of impulse. This is the greatest period of sexual repression and the phase when issues of law and commandment take on a great importance. The Gnostic terminology calls this phase the psychic, for it is here that the mind-emotion complex called “psyche” (soul, or mind) becomes dominant. Mythologically and symbolically this ego or mind is frequently connected with the masculine principle, and thus we find that psychic humanity tends to be patriarchal and masculine in its orientation and consequently a negative view of femininity and of female sexuality predominates. Men in their desire for impulse control begin to view women as temptresses, as instinctual creatures who have to be subdued and controlled. Jungian psychology calls this the “patriarchal phase” while Freudian writers refer to it as “patrist” or father-identifying, and its predominant tendency is said to be “anal.” It is obvious that the dominant cultural influences of Western society are predominantly of this variety, and that most of these influences stem from religious roots within the semitic religiosity of Judaism, Islam and non-Gnostic Christianity. This phase of the development of consciousness is greatly attached to the institution of marriage, and its chief taboos are against adultery and homosexuality. Its result is the so-called “guilt culture.”

The third, or pneumatic, phase is the most difficult to discuss, because it denotes a form or state of consciousness that is as rare today as it was in the second and third centuries A.D. There is little doubt, however, that several ancient Gnostic teachers, most notably Valentinus, envisioned this spiritual condition as a union of the masculine and feminine aspects of the human being with a consequent androgynation, which undoubtedly would have its reflection in the sexual sphere also. While the anti-Gnostic church fathers with fierce inconsistency accused the Gnostics of excessive asceticism and licentiousness in the same breath, the more recent discoveries of Gnostic writings indicate that the Gnostics were intent upon a mysterious pneumaticisation of sexuality, which process was embodied in the Valentinian sacrament of the bridal chamber. One of the chief results of the pneumatic state of Gnosis is the ability of the Gnostic to rise above the law (antinomianism) and to be motivated no longer by the external commandment of so-called revelation, but rather by the internal command of the indwelling divine spirit. This might be envisioned as the highest form of situation ethics, inspired by intuition, rather than by any rational considerations. The principle is compatible both with the ethics of existential philosophy and with Jungian psychology. The pneumatic Gnostic can no longer rely on any external commandment but must live by the existential courage of daily moral decisions. In Sartre’ swords, “he is doomed to freedom.” C.G. Jung also envisioned a condition within the individuation process where in the moral laws of society and church are relativated and indeed rendered meaningless by the spiritual growth of the individual. Right and wrong become a matter of personal choice based on spiritual insight, rather than standards derived from a code delivered by god or by society.

The sexual implications of the pneumatic phase of the growth of consciousness are considerable. With the fusion of the masculine and feminine attitudes in the psyche, a fully mature sexuality may be expected to arise. Love becomes the fulfilling of the law, and it goes without saying that this love will have sexual expressions as well. Neither will the expressions of this love be in any way limited by human institutions and prejudices whether they concern marital status, the gender of the beloved or the permanence or impermanence of the love relationship. The spirit bloweth where it listeth; human institutions and earthly considerations must pale before the pneumatic love. The accusation of libertinism hurled against the Gnostics by Irenaeus, Hypolitus and others is thus revealed as the sort of misunderstanding the contemporary Gnostic might face also. The intuitive morality of the pneumatic can be readily confused by the uncomprehending with hyletic, immorality and amorality, while it is nothing of the sort. The pneumatic phase bears, incidentally, all the hallmarks of what Erich Neumann called the “integrative phase,” and its characteristics are to some extent identical with what Freudian psychologists envision as “genital” sexuality.

Different Strokes for Different Gnostic Folks

The above noted psychohistorical considerations raise important issues which might be of concern to contemporary Gnostics. Are all Gnostics obliged to follow the pneumatic ethic at all times? Is psychic morality, especially in the sexual area, still relevant to the Gnostic? Have we all successfully outgrown hyletic modes of behaviour? And how are the answers to these questions likely to affect the sexual behaviour of the contemporary Gnostic?

Our situation might be summed up as follows: We live in a culture which ostensibly follows a psychic system of morality in sexual matters, but which is in practice more often than not composed of persons whose character is hyletic. Pneumatics are far and in between, and usually hidden away in the secret corners of contemporary life. Moreover, all persons possess hyletic, psychic, and pneumatic components in their character, with one or the other predominating. It is thus evident that most persons, including Gnostics, will express their sexuality sometimes in ways that are hyletic, at other times they may be attached to attitudes that are predominantly psychic and in some instances they may be capable of behaviour that may be properly recognised as pneumatic. Most people may also go through these phases in their own lifetimes. It is by no means unusual for early youth to be sexually quite hyletic (a sort of adolescent sexuality, as it were), for young adulthood to be involved in the marital and societal ambiance of a psychic sexual morality, and for the middle-aged person to achieve a matter-of-fact and liberated attitude toward sexuality, without serious inhibitions and guilts; in short, an attitude that approximates that of the pneumatic.

Since it would be reasonable to say that modern Gnostics may thus find persons of all three orientations in their midst, it might be helpful to present here a few brief guidelines for all three types regarding sexuality.

The hyletic needs to be reminded that, while hyletic sexuality is no more sinful or less virtuous than any other kind, it is still limiting and limited. Indiscriminate sexual behaviour is characterised by unconsciousness and this is a condition one ought to outgrow. Still, no one can be equally conscious of all aspects of life at all times, and a relatively high level of consciousness in one area may be accompanied by a relatively low level in another. The key concept must always be authenticity. If our behaviour has adduced to it as much consciousness as we could muster under the circumstances, this should be enough. There should be no judging of anyone for his or her sexual mores. Authenticity by nature is a highly personal issue. One person may be far more authentic and conscious while associating with multiple sexual partners than another locked into a rigid psychic cage of so-called monogamy. Striving for consciousness will inevitably bring its own reward and is far more useful than blind obedience to external rules.

The psychic person may prove more troublesome within a Gnostic context than either the hyletic or the pneumatic. Unlike the happy-go-lucky hyletics, psychics tend to be rigid personalities with a strong proclivity for projecting their own shadows, especially their sexual shadows on others. They tend to be judgmental, intolerant and self-righteous. In short, they are a mess, or at least they appear as such. Psychics ought to remember that goodness, by anyone’s standards, including their own, is never enough. Wholeness, not goodness, is the objective of the Gnostic life. Jung was fond of saying in truly Gnostic fashion: “It is only the fullness of being that counts.” Rules exist in order to be outgrown. We may not always be ready to outgrow them yet, but the desirability of the prospect must always be kept in mind. When following rules after the fashion of the psychic we but see through a glass darkly, and we should aspire to the clear vision face to face with authentic reality. While we must be careful not to judge the hyletic, we must often dissuade the psychic from judging everyone. Psychics may also be reminded that it is the psychic law alone that creates sin. “I had not known sin but by the law” said a Hebrew prophet. The harsher our own standards of judgement the greater will be our own guilt and spiritual impotence and the more our potential for liberation will diminish. Sexual guilt has been the greatest single curse the demiurge and his minions have hurled against humanity; it has been the blight of our culture, the stifler of creativity and the enemy of Gnosis. It must be recognised and its suggestion rejected at all times.

That rare bird known as the pneumatic, must above all, be discreet. Pneumatics have a divine right to their freedom, including their sexual freedom, but they have no right to bad manners. The spiritual nobility of the world must maintain decorum and discretion while exercising its prerogatives. The humourous adage often attributed to the British aristocracy of some time ago may be remembered here: “Do what you wish, but don’t do it in the road and frighten the horses.” Politicised sexuality, such as we have experienced in the era of the various liberation movements often comes under the heading of bad manners. Rigid psychics will not be converted to a pneumatic point of view by being confronted with sexual behaviour inappropriate to their level of consciousness. Ill advised action inevitably creates reaction. Pneumatics need not be apologetic about their liberated state, and they need not dissimulate or be guilty of hypocrisy. At the same time they must extend to the unliberated the same freedoms they demand for themselves. Persons who flaunt their sexual unconventionality and wish to force everyone to bear their sexual foibles without complaint are usually hyletics putting on the mask of pneumatics. “By their manners and their discretion ye shall know them” could be said of the true pneumatics.

Conclusions for Daily – and Nightly – Life

It is a cliché that we live in an era of great sexual confusion. Clichés, however, are not usually untrue, they have merely become clichés by excessive repetition. Can the Gnostic point of view bring some clarity into this confusion? Can the contemporary Gnostic offer meaningful suggestions on the sexual topics and perplexities of our times? We shall answer such questions by stating our Gnostic position regarding individual issues of sexual significance.

Sex in general. Biology, psychology and Gnosticism indicate that sex is a beneficent, consciousness-enhancing factor in human life. Sexually active persons are healthier, more balanced, and generally more pleasant members of society then the sexually inactive. There is every indication that sex is good for you physically, psychologically and spiritually. All sex that is not injurious to anyone and does not violate the sovereignty of any person is good, although some kinds of sex, such as those among loving, concerned, compatible partners are no doubt better than others.

Sex and the Sacred. In many religions, both pre-Christian and contemporary, sexual practices play some part. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the notion that sexual acts and religious acts can converge, one must exercise considerable care when trying to apply such principles within a contemporary context. Such magicosexual practices as one finds in the Hindu Tantras, in the “great rite” of the witches, and in the sex magic of the late Aleister Crowley, all suffer from the shortcoming that they tend to depersonalise the individuals who participate in them. Joseph Campbell in his splendid book Myths To Live By has pointed out that beginning with the mysticism of the Troubadours, the West came to espouse love-magic as against mere sex magic. C.G. Jung’s commentaries on the Rosarium Philosophorum indicate that a similar principle of love-magic was present in the system of Alchemy. The Gnostic tradition indicates that the early communities of knowers, particularly those attached to the teachings of Valentinus, practiced a supreme rite of pneumatic union, sometimes called the “mystery of the bridal chamber” which may have served as the prototype of many later rites of love-magic, symbolising the union of the lower personality with the heavenly pneuma, which may be envisioned as being of a contrasexual nature (female for men and male for women). The development of a conscious personality is one of the great achievements of Western spirituality. Persons love, unconscious beings merely copulate. Both actions are magical, but the former is preferable to the latter. There is no doubt that the magic of the sexes needs to be re-incorporated into religion, but we must take care that in attempting to do this we will not resort to archaic practices which were useful in periods of history when consciousness and personality were minimal compared to contemporary conditions.

Marriage. The Christian sacrament of matrimony was the last to be formally accepted; it did not come to be generally used in the church for hundreds of years. The reason for this may be found in the unacknowledged fact that the early Church, along with the Valentinians, knew only one true marriage: the heavenly marriage of the personality to the spirit. The contractual relationship of two earthly personalities within the context of property, inheritance, and so forth, the church initially left purely to the state. Only when the Church allowed itself to become an agent of the secular power did she uniformly come to practice marriage as a sacrament. Thus the present practice of the sacrament of marriage is a deficient sacrament, a mere shadow of the mystery of the bridal-chamber. There is no reason why the church, even the Gnostic church, should not bless the contractual relationships of men and women when asked to do so, but it must be kept in mind that this is not a mystery of the same order as the Eucharist, or Holy Orders, or the other true mysteries. The notion that sexual congress without the benefit of such a contractual relationship is sinful cannot be accepted within a Gnostic context.

Homosexuality, bisexuality, and androgyny. It is generally understood that at the non-physical level, people are not limited to their bodily gender. Jesus declared in the Gnostic scriptures that he “came to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female.” We may take this to mean that in order to attain to the Wholeness of the Pleroma, all persons are striving toward a spiritual androgyny. In the hyletic phase of development this often manifests as polymorphous bisexuality, in the psychic phase as homosexuality, and in the pneumatic phase it moves increasingly into the area of a spiritually based androgyny. None of these are sinful or should be condemned in Gnostic thinking. The idea of a “crime against nature” is meaningless to the Gnostic, for our nature is not merely physical nature, such as our gender, but our total nature within which all dualities exist. When asked about homosexuality, the great modern Gnostic C.G. Jung merely said: “Well, they are the only people who are trying doing something against over-population.” The attraction of persons of the same gender toward each other meets with the most powerful taboos of the patriarchal-psychic phases of cultural development and is therefore encumbered by many unnecessary ideas and apprehensions.

Birth control and abortion. Anthropologists have noted that agricultural societies tend to be opposed to the limiting of births, while nomadic-pastoral societies encourage the same. Many great religions came to adopt the mythos of the agricultural societies and have proscribed birth control and abortion. The theological justification brought forth in support of the position of these religions is more or less to the effect that the prevention of birth is a contravention of the will of God. Many religions believe that a distinct soul is attached to every foetus at conception and that therefore the destruction of the foetus is murder. This idea is highly speculative and, like all theological notions, not subject to any evidence. The Gnostic traditions hold that the soul’s connection with the foetus is minimal until the seventh month of pregnancy. The obsessive fury of various religionists in our days against both birth control and abortion ought to elicit no sympathy from Gnostics. It is obvious that the more conscious humanity becomes, the more it will exercise conscious control over the size of families and the less it will be inclined to place innumerable offspring heedlessly onto an overpopulated earth. That people simply ought to become sexually inactive when not desiring offspring is a notion that is as silly as it is unrealistic.

Monogamy, celibacy, and chastity. While often confused, these three terms have very distinct meanings. Monogamy denotes sexual exclusiveness in favour of only one partner; it is an idea that acquired much importance in the psychic phase of psychohistory. Even today it may have merit for some, but it ought not be advocated or enforced generally. As consciousness expands, the affectionate and emotional needs widen also. It may be counterproductive to be attached to rigid ideas of monogamy in such instances. Celibacy is the unmarried state, as is customary among the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Gnostics make no rules about whether their clergy ought to marry or not, and thus the issue of celibacy is of no great import for us. Chastity implies abstention from sexual activity of any kind; it is a practice that puts a very heavy strain on the psyches of persons, and its benefits are minimal, if any.

Family. Whenever this term is used today, it tends to denote the nuclear family unit of industrial society, which means, really, a phenomenon of the last hundred years. In the time of Jesus or even in that of Louis XIV the concept of family differed radically from the one of today. To go along with the moral reactionaries of our time and to hold up the nuclear family of recent vintage as the divinely decreed paragon of all virtue and goodness and the best possible cornerstone of society is, to say the least, unrealistic. While some sort of family structure is likely to continue to exist in humanity, we must possess an elastic vision regarding its future contours and character. Some modern research indicates that radical changes in the present family image would be highly beneficial to the psychological well-being of people in our society. Dr. David Cooper, existential psychiatrist, and associate of R.D. Laing, in his fine work The Death of the Family (Penguin Books, 1971) has built a convincing case for the need to develop alternatives to the nuclear family of conventional society. Once again it must be remembered that as human consciousness grows, the importance of ties and roots based purely in blood and soil tend to diminish. Relatively primitive, traditional societies are often so constructed that the individual is tyrannised and dwarfed by the family. In contrast with this, modern urban societies are moving more and more in a direction where the family loses its hold over individuals who thus need to develop their own lives and resources. For practical purposes it may be noted that the less closed off, the less insular and nuclear the family is, the less likely it is to destroy the sexual and social independence of the individual. A family ought to act as a springboard to life and to people and not as a fortress wherein a small nucleus of persons shuts itself in, while shutting the greater world out.

Sex and the procreation of offspring. As one may deduce from various foregoing statements, the Gnostic cannot endorse the teaching that sex exists purely for the purpose of procreation. Such a view, even though held by theologians, is utterly un-spiritual and smacks of the worst kind of materialistic myopia. By this we mean that parenthood is but one of life’s functions, and it ought not to obtain ascendancy over all others. Children require “parenting” for only a certain period of their lives, and when parents fail to recognise this, untold unhappiness may result. Women, particularly, have been shunted by culture and religion into the over sentimentalised and inflated role of motherhood, and while starring in this role, have often forgotten how to be women. Monkish prudery being unable to accept the feminine in any other aspect but the maternal, the feminine ideal in Christendom became the mother, which condition in turn limited and constricted the psychic and physical lives of women.

One of the great tasks of modern Gnosticism is to restore the dignity and importance of the feminine within a spiritual context and this task includes liberating the feminine from such confining expressions as “mother” and “virgin” (not to speak of the biological absurdity of “virgin mother.”) As motherhood and fatherhood are but one of the possible by-products of human sexuality, so it is obvious that sexuality has far more and vaster functions in life than merely serving as a vehicle for procreation. Love, affection, relatedness, spiritual bonding; all of these are facilitated and enhanced by sex. Sex, we need to state again, is beneficial to humanity physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Procreation, on the other hand, is assuredly not always beneficial to the human race. Gnostics ought to add their urgent voice to the ever swelling chorus calling for effective programs and concentrated action against the population explosion. It is obvious that what the world needs is not less sex but less offspring.

Sexual Libertarianism

Modern Gnostics are not antiquarians. It is not our purpose to try to resurrect the Gnostic tradition in its ancient form, rather we strive to retranslate the available elements of Gnostic wisdom into forms appropriate for the present. One of the most relevant features of ancient Gnosticism is what might be called the libertarianism of the Gnostics. The available documents authored by or attributed to such lights of the Gnosis as Valentinus, Basilides, Marcion, Carpocrates, Epiphanes and others are all thoroughly libertarian in spirit. All of these Gnostic teachers and leaders would have no difficulty in agreeing with the following example of libertarian reasoning: “You as a person are better able to control your life than I am. Your life is your personal affair, for· better or for worse, except as in the living of your life you may impair or endanger the life and livelihood of others. No person nor set of persons on this earth has any logical right to interfere with you except as you may do injury to them.” (A Libertarian’s Platform by James C. Ingebretsen). Even as the political, economic, and religious lives of people are their personal affair, so are their sexual lives. The talons of the authoritarian demiurges of this world must be made to retract from the bedrooms of free men and women. Sexual relations which do not harm or injure anyone should be of no concern to legislation and to the police. Vague conjectures, based on private prejudice, and masquerading as statements about the “public good” and the “moral health” of the body politic ought never to serve as the basis for laws and ordinances.

It must be kept in mind that Gnostic libertarianism is not a mere matter of political or economic expediency. In reality this libertarianism is rooted in the most fundamental features of the Gnostic mythos, which has as its central theme the liberation of the incarcerated divine spirit from all bonds imposed upon it by the false cosmos of the demiurge. Early Christian leaders, even when not manifestly of the Gnostic fold, have often echoed the libertarian expressions of the Gnostic attitude. St. Paul the Apostle’s bold statement: “All things are permissible unto me,” as well as St. Augustine’s adage: “Love God and then do as you please” indicate that the Christian message was intended to replace the law of Jehovah, with the sovereignty of the individual soul restored by the new covenant of love. The relationship between freedom and love has been noted by many wise souls in many traditions, including in that of India, where we find a formulation of the five degrees of love through which the worshipper receives increase in what in our own tradition we might call Gnosis. The first degree of love, we are told, is the love of servant for the master, the second of comrade for comrade, the third that of parent for child, the fourth that of spouses for each other, and the fifth, or highest degree, is defined as passionate and illicit, that is, not sanctioned by any rule of society or of reason; a love totally unrestrained by any limitation whatsoever.

This fivefold system of varieties of love shows not only an increase of intensity from stage to stage, but also, and most importantly, an increase of freedom. What began as servitude ends in total freedom. As restraint gives way to freedom, the force of love increases, until it becomes the supreme liberating influence of being. Now this concept, or rather reality, is not unknown in Western mysticism. Even as we may rightfully assume that the Gnostic mystery of the bridal chamber was a spiritual rite, which yet was not without the physically sexual concomitant, so we know that from a certain time onward the alternative mystical tradition of the West came to abrogate the dualism of orthodox Christianity regarding love, and came to replace it with a unitary experience which was at once spiritual and physical. Medieval Christian orthodoxy insisted on the duality of eros (fleshly, or sexual love) and agape (spiritual love, or charity). The Gnostic tradition, whether expressed by Valentinus in Alexandria, or by the troubadours in medieval France has as its objective to “make the two into one” by uniting eros with agape and replacing both with the higher synthesis, called by troubadours amor. Amor is neither fleshly nor ghostly, neither sensual nor spiritual, but partaking of both qualities represents a totally new quality. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This whole, or rather wholeness, is none other than the terrestrial epiphany of the Pleroma. Sexual and non-sexual love combine to bring forth the ineffable greatness in human life.

Here then is to be found the royal secret of sexuality. As consciousness frees itself of the thraldom of the unconscious, and with it from the taboos, fears, and guilts inculcated by society and exoteric religion, the liberating force of eros joins the inspiring energy of agape. This mystic union then produces an explosion of freedom, a leap of liberty of unbelievable power. The sexual libertarianism of the Gnostic has now born its aeonial fruit, the great dénouement of the age long process has come. Sex is important because it liberates, and in order to liberate sexuality itself must possess an optimum degree of freedom.

Humans are sexual and spiritual beings at once. When one or the other of these dualities is repressed or neglected, disunity and torment prevail. When both are united in freedom, true liberation and joy manifest. Therefore we must be free: Free to live intellectually, emotionally, and indeed sexually. We must be free to experiment, to fail and to succeed, to be perplexed and to be enlightened. The day of the old law of restriction must be declared defunct and the dawn of the new law of freedom must be ushered in. In stating this we are not proclaiming a novelty. We have the words of St. Paul to the Romans saying: “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may show his mercy to all.” Jesus said: “Judge not that you may not be judged.” And Heraclitus the Greek sage wrote: “To God all things are fair and good and right, but men hold some things wrong and some right. Good and evil are one.” The great and terrible truth is: That we must be free, lest we perish; that we are condemned to freedom, that the undying obligation of self-liberation has been imposed upon us before the world began, yea, even before the creator of this world came to be. We were not born to abide by the dark laws, and to wear the blackened chains of the rulers of this world, but to be free, liberated consciously divine children of the light. As a Gnostic hymn put it: “Ours is the voice of awakening in the eternal night.” Due to the design of heaven this voice is uttered not by one, but by two; not by man alone or by woman by herself but by both in unison. The voice of awakening is at least in part a sexual voice; the hymn is not merely one of praise but of passion. Today as ever the words of Goethe remind us of the Gnostic truth:

“Mann und Weib, Weib und Mann,

Reichenandie Gottheit an.”

(Man and Woman, Woman and Man,

Together they reach Divinity.)

The above essay first appeared in Abraxas 84, published by Ecclesia Gnostica, 1984, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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STEPHAN A. HOELLER, Ph.D., is an author and lecturer on Gnosticism, Jungian psychology, Theosophy, and other esoteric subjects. He is also presiding bishop of Ecclesia Gnostica (www.gnosis.org) and director of studies of the Gnostic Society in Hollywood, California. His works include Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing and Freedom: Alchemy for a Voluntary Society (both published by Quest Books). Dr. Hoeller’s lectures are also available for download from www.bcrecordings.com.

The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 121 (July-August 2010).

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