The Literalist Christians accused the Gnostics to be similar to the Pagans, using their old and out-of-date beliefs. They also say that the initiations into Gnosticism were copies of the Pagan initiations at Eleusis, that they worshipped pictures of Jesus Christ together with pictures of Pagan philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, etc. It is true that Gnostics attended Pagan festivals and welcomed Pagans in their meetings. This was right because Gnosticism and Pagan Mysteries had many things in common; they did not see the pagans as enemies and encouraged their members to study the works of the philosophers of the antiquity. On the contrary they acknowledged borrowing from the Pagan doctrines, rituals, beliefs and ceremonies. Pagan books were found along Gnostic documents at Nag Hammadi. What is obvious is that Gnosticism, like Paganism, was for some chosen clever people, while Christian Literalism was for the mass.
Christianity originated during the time of the Roman Empire, which was also the time when the Mysteries reached their highest popularity. The simultaneousness of the propagation of the mystery religions and of Christianity, and the striking similarities between them, demand some explanation of their relationship. The similarities can be explained by parallel developments from similar origins. The mystery religions and Christianity had many similar features, for instance a time of preparation before initiation; periods of fasting; baptism and banquets; vigils and early-morning ceremonies; pilgrimages and new names for the initiates. In the Christian congregations of the first two centuries, the variety of rites and creeds was almost as great as in the mystery communities; few of the early Christian congregations could have been called orthodox according to later standards. In theology, the differences between early Christians, Gnostics, and pagan Hermetics were slight as all these religions had a common conceptual framework. The similarity of the religious vocabulary is also great. There are also great differences between Christianity and the mysteries. Mystery religions, as a rule, can be traced back to tribal origins, and Christianity, to a historical person. The holy stories of the Mysteries were myths; the Gospels of the New Testament, according to the Literalist Christian churches, relate historical events. The essential features of Christianity were fixed once and for all in the bible while the mystery doctrines always remained in a much greater state of fluidity. Only remnants of the mystery doctrines, amalgamated with Platonism, were transmitted by a few philosophers and individualists to the religious thinkers of the Byzantine Empire. Though it attracted little attention among Pagans and Jews at the beginning, the rise of Christianity was by far the most important “sectarian” development of the Roman period.
Origin of Christianity
Original Christians were members of the Gnostic tradition that flourished over all the Mediterranean at the time. They had a common mystical philosophy and a dislike of limited Literalist religions. There was no well-defined original Christian doctrine but a continuous Gnostic tradition from different cultures and experience, all producing their own variations on the Gnostic philosophy.
The Literalist version of the Christian story taught to us by the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church is that Christianity developed from the teachings of a Jewish Messiah and that Gnosticism was a later deviation. In act, the opposite is probably closer to the truth. Gnosticism was a mixture of Judaism and Pagan Mystery religion while orthodox Christianity was a later deviation. Some Jews adopted the Pagan mysteries, created their own version of the Mysteries, adapted the symbolism of the Osiris-Dionysus myths into one of their own, had their members initiated in these inner mysteries, chose as their godman the Jewish dying and resurrecting Jesus, and this new creed was became known later as “Gnosticism”. The Jesus story far from being the biography of a living person is a myth that contains encoded spiritual teachings created by Jewish Gnostics whose allegorical meanings were revealed to the initiates in the Inner Mysteries to help them becoming a Christ. Probably the non-initiated made the mistake to view the Jesus myth as historical facts creating, in this way, Literalist Christianity. The Gnostic Gospels stories are never taken to be anything but myths; it is only because we have been told by the Literalists that the New Testament must be seen as historical that we believe it to be so. In fact what Gnosticism really implies is that Jesus was a Pagan God, and that Christianity is derived from Paganism. This explains the similarities between the stories of Osiris-Dionysus and Jesus Christ.
The Real Jesus
It is true that most people even today believe in a historical Jesus, the most important person who ever lived even if there is no evidence of a historical Jesus. This is not important to the Gnostics who see Jesus as a Mythical “archetype” through which one can reach the “Christ Consciousness” within oneself. Most people want to believe in a Saviour who was literally incarnated to bring them Salvation. This is nothing new: the miracle worker has always been a part of the ancient myths; he brings hope to the simple person who does not see that life itself is a miracle. The Godman was created to appeal to spiritual beginners who still have to discover that this mythical figure represent their true self. Those who are not ready worship this Godman as if He was a person. The teachings of the Secret Inner Mysteries of the original Christians were not designed to bring any discomfort to the simple believers. They were created to bring something more important that blind belief in historical events, they were bringing “Gnosis”, or knowledge of the Truth, to the initiates.
In the same way that Mithraism was inspired by Charismatic leaders, none of which was Mithras, Christianity was also inspired by charismatic leaders, none of which was Jesus. The myth of Jesus is very similar to that of Mithras’ on which it is based in part. It is strange that the Roman Empire took over the Mysteries of its enemies, the Persians and the Jews but one must not forget that the majority of its inhabitants were not Romans and, moreover, had little sympathy for them. Although Christian Literalists rejected the Gnostic Inner Mysteries of Christianity, they went on calling it a Mystery cult.
International Christian Gnosticism
Christian Literalists said that they spread quickly through the world while Christian Gnosticism remained a minor heretical fringe group. This is untrue, and the opposite is true. Literalism was a minor school of Christianity that grew in Rome at the end of the 2d century AD. At that time Christian Gnosticism had spread through the Mediterranean countries and was very active in Alexandria, Edessa, Antioch, Ephesus and Rome.
The Gnostic Heritage
In the 4th century the Roman Church in the west had condemned Gnosticism as heretic but the Eastern Church based in Constantinople kept the original Christian spirit alive a little longer. In the west, the spirit of Christian Gnosticism was reintroduced in the Literalist Church via mystical writings attributed to Dionysus, a co-worker of Paul. Now it is believed that these documents were written by a 6th century unidentified monk who chose to write under the name of Dionysus to claim authority for what should have been described otherwise as heretical works. Dionysus was not concerned with a historical Jesus; his Jesus, on the opposite, is a symbolic representation of the “Logos”. He said that there were two Christian Gospels: the Gospels of the Literalist Christian Church and a secret symbolic gospel that can only be shown to the initiated.
Despite the Literalist Church’s efforts, some “heretical schools of Christian Gnosticism” continued to survive: the Paulicians until the 10th century -and later as Bogomils in the Balkans until the 15th century and as Cathars until the 13th-, the Manicheans until the 13th and the Simonians until the 14th. The Great German master Eckhart wrote about Sophia, and taught that at the heart of Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism there were the same mystical doctrines. Other followed: such as Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Pico, Jacob Boehme, Blake, Milton, Goethe, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Carl Jung etc.
Recently, in 1945, one Gnostic library was found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. All of their books were excluded from the New Testament although the early Christians appreciated them. Few Christians knew of their existence until this discovery although they contain, according to their authors, the teachings of Christ and his Apostles. However these teachings are quite different from what the Literalist Christian churches tell us. To the Literalists the Gnostics were dangerous mystical, freethinking heretics contaminated by Paganism that was still active at that time. The Gnostics were very similar to the Pagans although they saw themselves as the true Christians, the only ones who knew the secret inner mysteries of Christianity, and the Literalist bishops as part of an “imitation church”. Like the philosophers of the Pagan mysteries they believed in reincarnation and in the Goddess Sophia. They believed that their secret teaching imparted “Gnosis”, a direct experience in the “Knowledge of God”. The aim of the Pagans was to become a God; in the same way the Gnostics saw the Christian initiates as aiming to become “Christ”.
Gnosticism was the greatest threat to early Christianity. Gnostics taught that there is total opposition between this evil world and God. Redemption was viewed as liberation of the elects from the chaos of a creation derived from incompetent or malevolent powers. Salvation required discovering the Kingdom of God within oneself. They saw transcendent revelation as antirational, allowing for no natural goodness in the created order, and eliminating individual responsibility. On the other hand the orthodox stressed the need to adhere to tradition.
At the centre of Gnostic’s philosophy is the idea of God as a big mind which contains the cosmos, and which is conscious of itself through all conscious beings within the cosmos. The Pagan Gnostics mythically represented the idea of the One Consciousness of God by the image of the “King”. On this base the original Christians created the image of the “Christ” which is similar to “King”. Christ is the consciousness of God and we are all Christ’s body, we are all one in Christ, rich, poor, powerful, slave, freeman, male and female. Pagan and Christian Gnostics believed that initiation meant awakening the King within oneself.
The present time Jesus story was not created at a specific time or by one person only. On the opposite it developed over time as different Gnostics added their view and modified the old ones. The earliest Christian writings we have are the “true” St Paul’s letters from the first half of the first century AD. Paul is quoting older hymns to Christ and this could mean only that he is developing a Joshua/Jesus cult that could have existed for centuries. The New Testament gospels written 50 to 100 years later describe a historical Jesus while Paul’s Jesus is a mythical figure who did not live in any particular place or time. Paul does not quote Jesus, does not mention him as a recently dead Jewish master, and does not describe him as a person who lived on earth. Paul’s so-called “secret of Christianity” is not a historical Jesus but the mystical revelation of “Christ in you”, the one Consciousness of God in all of us. His Jesus is a mystic figure whose story shows the initiates the way to realise the Christ within oneself. For Paul the important concepts of the Jesus myth are his baptism, death and resurrection that symbolise the stages of initiation.
The myth of the Godman Jesus is closely associated with the myth of the Goddess Sophia whose name means “wisdom”. It is impossible to understand one myth without referring also to the other. Sophia is like her son/brother/lover Jesus, a figure known to Pagans, Jews, and Jewish Gnostics. She was rejected later on by the Jewish literalists. Before, however, they worshipped the Goddess Asherah, Jehovah’s wife. Sophia has been described as the “mother of the Logos”.