Due to the influence that Gnosticism has had on popular media and Christianity itself in recent decades, an examination of the basic beliefs of the Gnostic worldview would be helpful.
- The material world, that is, the universe we perceive through our senses, is not the true manifestation of existence. Instead, it is a prison, a trap, a dream, an illusion or even a torture chamber made of gross matter that is meant either intentionally or unintentionally to keep us here.
- Beyond the material world there is a dimension of non-material existence, often called the Pleroma. This is the place where true existence lies, usually considered to be in a timeless, thoughtless state analogous to the Buddhist experience of Nirvana. If there is a creator god, this is where it resides in, along with its godly light and possible offspring.
- Human existence is a mixture of both dimensions. Gnosticism postulates humans were originally spiritual beings or sparks of divine light from the Pleroma who got trapped in the material universe, forming the combination of soul and body we are, and who must endeavor to free themselves and their kin from the misery of matter.
- There's only one way to escape the material world and return to the Pleroma, and it is gnosis, that is, a specialized form of experiential knowledge that comes to a human being when they recognize the universe as being a prison. Gnosis usually entails both demonstrating love and compassion and striving to escape from materialism.
Gnosticism was both a religious and an intellectual movement, which pretty much guaranteed the developing of an elaborated, multiculturally-influenced mythology. Although there were dominant currents that codified most of it, most specifically those called Syriac-Egyptian Gnosticism, different groups would hold doctrines that mixed-and-matched or varied from the below list in their own ways. Gnosticism was also highly syncretic, tending to merge with any other religious school it came into contact with, creating a new Gnostic sect of that religion or forming a new religion altogether.
- Gnostic beliefs were dualistic as often as monistic. The former entailed believing in a balance of forces of spirit and matter, a concept loosely similar to the Yin-Yang where the force that ruled the physical world (the "bad" God) was as old and powerful as the force that ruled the spiritual plane (the "good" God). The latter, on the other hand, believed matter and its evil ruler to be an accidental subproduct of spirit and its divine creator, thus inferior to them.
- In many Gnostic sects, the "good" God receives the name of the Monad, also known as The One or The Absolute. It is the high source of the Pleroma and its divine light, is either hermaphroditic or sexless, omnipotent, and goes often accompanied by a pantheon of emanations or minor deities called the Aeons. These are often separated in male and female and gathered in pairs called syzygies, although some texts give also a hermaphroditic aeon named Barbelo as the first and father of all them, inferior only to the Monad.
- The most distant aeon from the Monad, a female entity named Sophia (Greek for "wisdom"), fell into error. Some versions say that she tried to emanate a universe without her male counterpart (Sometimes called Theletus, sometimes it was Jesus), others say that she tried to take on the mind of the source in its entirety. Whatever the reason, she fell out of communion with the rest of the aeons and became trapped in the primordial material universe. Some say that Sophia was destroyed and her remnants would become human souls. In any case, although she evokes the figure of Lucifer or a Fallen Angel in role, it's firmly established that Sophia is not evil, neither in intention nor in actions, but rather a victim of herself who is now working for humanity's good and her own atonement.
- On the other hand, there is evil in the Gnostic universe. From the matter that solidified out of Sophia's divine power, a false god (the "bad" one) was born, known as the Demiurge or Yaldabaoth, the Gnostic equivalent of Azathoth (though it can be argued the Pleroma/Monad is more of the benevolent Azathoth and the Demiurge is more like Yog Sothoth). The Demiurge then creates the physical universe, which is isolated from the higher dimensions above and elects himself as its ruler. He's accompanied by a myriad of created servants called the Archons, which are identified as the angels and demons of the Old Testament. Some sects specify the archons are actually only six and are rulers of six celestial bodies, with the Demiurge being the seventh and ruling the Earth.
- The reason why suffering and evil exist in this world is because it is actually governed by this flawed Demiurge who mistakenly believes himself to be the absolute God and demands arrogantly to be worshipped as such. This is the deity worshiped by many Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam and others) who are materialistic, vicious and not in possession of true spiritual wisdom. He is, thus, analogous to Mahabrahma in Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism, who also mistakenly believes himself to be the ultimate authority while the rest of the gods snigger behind his back. In any case, the Demiurge and his archons manipulate humanity into violence and misery to feed themselves and further their egotistical projects.
- There are many versions about how humans came to be. Some say the Demiurge originally created a bunch of soulless apes out of matter, and that Sophia took pity on them and breathed sparks from the Pleroma into them, trapping the sparks in their material bodies but also giving the bodies the capacity for intelligence, hence the evolution of humanity. Others say that the sparks were the destroyed remnants of Sophia herself, imprisoned and tortured by the Demiurge. Sometimes it is considered a reinterpretation of the story of Genesis, with Sophia herself as an equivalent to the serpent or the Tree of Knowledge (her name implies that role) who gave intelligence and souls to the ignorant animals that then became mankind.
- Despite the fundamentally anti-Abrahamic nature of Gnosticism, Jesus has a free pass in their teachings, as he's described as come to Earth to spread the Gospel of the True God, which explains the discrepancy between the Old and New Testaments. Their beliefs about his nature varied radically: some believed he was fully divine and his physical form just an illusion, while some believed he was a divine being who temporarily inhabited a human shell and was "freed" at death. Anyways, to show how important he was in their beliefs, he was often considered to be an aeon by itself, sometimes the intended counterpart of Sophia who came too late. With the true knowledge of the universe he imparted, others could hope to achieve freedom from the Demiurge's clutches.
It is difficult even to tell where Gnosticism came from, as there is so little information on it. Much of what we know about the Gnostics is fairly fragmentary-few of their original works survive to this day. Furthermore, much of what we have learned about the Gnostics comes from early Christian writings which were critical and/or derisive of these perceived "heretics." Gnosticism was also highly secretive, being practiced mostly by elites who had the leisure time necessary to contemplate its mysteries, which is one of the reasons it eventually died off among more popular religions.
That said, scholarship agrees that Gnosticism was an eclectic mixture of beliefs. It is safe to say that early/primitive Christianity and Hellenstic currents like Platonism codified together most of its basis, but it might have been spiced up by esoteric Judaic mystic teachings, and considering by that time there was already influence of Asian religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism flowing over into the Western world, those have to be counted on too. That goes without mentioning the doctrines that were influenced by Gnosticism and the latter's own revival movements in later ages. Although it is largely (though not fully) extinct today, remnants of Gnosticism can still be found in multiple facets of history and religion.
In comparison with other ancient religions, Gnosticism didn't permeate modern popular culture until relatively recently. When it did, it was largely thanks to one of the mentioned revivals, medieval Catharism, due to its role in some historical conspiracy theories about Christianity (most notably Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and the cultural phenomenon surrounding it). Additionally, some more or less popular pieces of fiction (like The Matrix, Philip K. Dick's works and some selected anime series) would include more essential Gnostic influences in order to achieve a certain philosophic premise. Otherwise, it remains a comparatively obscure historical curiosity.
Because the Gnostics had largely died off as a movement by the Middle Ages, there was no one to preserve their texts through reproduction, and many of their texts were lost through time. Until the 1950s, most of what was known about the Gnostic religion as it flourished in ancient times came from the writings of its detractors-such as St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who wrote a five-volume work Against Heresies in AD 180, explaining what the Gnostics believed and why it conflicted with Christianity. That is, until a remarkable event took place in the Egyptian desert. Two brothers digging for fertilizer in a cave on their way to avenge their father's murder discovered an earthenware jar that contained an ancient book. Before realizing its value, some of the text was used for kindling by the family, but they eventually realized its age and sold it to a collector in Cairo. The manuscripts were split up and traded all over the world. Amazingly, the recovered manuscript contained dozens of books written in Coptic that were still in legible condition. Take a look over here if you'd like to read English translations of the Coptic texts yourself. Standouts include:
- The Gospel of Thomas
- The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
- The Hypostasis of the Archons
- On the Origin of the World
- The Thunder, Perfect Mind
- The Secret Book of John
SimonianA second-century sect that regarded Simon Magus (the supposedly Evil Sorcerer that butted heads with St. Peter) as its founder. It is believed to have been a syncretic Jewish cult, originally built around John the Baptist, that turned towards Simon and Gnosticism when Christianity became the latest trend, creating in the process a philosophy similar to an earlier form of Valentinianism. They taught about a version of Sophia called Ennoia, a creation of God who had created many angels herself, only for them to rebel against her and create the world to imprison her. There she would have been forced to reincarnate in many female figures through history to receive cosmic Slut-Shaming until God himself descended in the form of Simon to save both her (then incarnated in a human named Helena) and mankind.
CerinthianA sect founded by Cerinthus (50-100 AD), an early Jewish Christian who learned supposedly angelic secrets in Egypt and opposed the Four Evangelists. He was the first to speak about a world-creating Demiurge and a spirit-like Christ, though he did not consider the former to be evil, but merely ignorant of the true God. His movement ended up becoming more of a curiosity, as it did not seem to have offshoots or direct relation to the posterior Gnostic schools, but it would be influential enough at his day for St. John to write his first epistles only to teach Christians not to follow Cerinthus.
MarcioniteFounded in the 2nd century by Marcion of Sinope (85-160 AD), possibly a disciple to the Simonian Cerdo, Marcionism was a Christian dualist sect. Like the previous, it is not always considered a full-fledged Gnostic movement, as it lacked the Hellenistic flavor of its successors and didn't teach about any kind of gnosis yet, postulating instead that the key to salvation was in the Gospel of Paul. However, its system of beliefs was otherwise almost identical to mainstream Gnosticism, to the point it could be considered just a very Christianized form of it. It might have also helped the figure of Paul the Apostle to become a fan favorite for posterior Gnostics, cementing a recurrent idea that he was unknowingly or secretly one of them.
ValentinianThis tradition was founded in the early 2nd century by Valentinius of Alexandria (100-160 AD), a former Christian bishop who almost became Pope. This and the Sethian sect (which are called together Syriac-Egyptian) pretty much codified the philosophical corpus and popular perception of Gnosticism altogether, their doctrine composing most of what you just read about the Aeons and the Demiurge in the mythology above. However, unlike other Gnostic schools, Valentinianism was deeply optimistic and preached universal salvation of all sentient beings; according to it, even the malevolent Demiurge will eventually be rescued from his ignorance, as all things containing the spark of creation are inexorably moving towards redemption. This school had a European offshoot founded by Valentinus's apprentice, Marcus, in which Gnosticism was mixed with Pythagorean mathematics for extra Mind Screw.
SethianThe other great classic Gnostic tradition, the Sethian school was contemporaneous to the Valentinian, Basilidean, and Marcionite, but it actually descended from older Hellenistic Jewish traditions that might have predated Christianity and Gnosticism themselves. Sethianism told a Darker and Edgier version of the classic story, portraying the Demiurge and his archons as more evil and monstrous and downplaying Christ's role as savior of humanity in favor of Seth (Adams third son) and Edens serpent, who are agents of Sophia. Naassenes and Ophites, two smaller and weirder Gnostic sects that also venerated the serpent, are thought to be forms or offshoots of Sethianism.
BasilideanThis sect was founded by Basilides of Alexandria, disciple to either the Simonian Menander or a Christian named Glaucias. They apparently believed the universe was created with a war between innocent angels/archons, among which an arrogant Great Archon created the world believing himself to be a god. Unlike other schools, Basilideans believed this conflict had already ended and the Great Archon had already redeemed himself; only the world itself was left in need of enlightening, so Jesus would have been sent by the true God as a spirit inhabiting a body to teach about it. This school was quite secretive, but it was known for practicing elaborate rituals and magic invocations, as well as for introducing the deity name Abrasax or Abraxas (though whether this was a name for the Great Archon or the true God remains unknown).
ManichaeanFounded in the 3rd century by Persian prophet Mani (216274 AD), who was born an Elkasaite* and influenced by Zoroastrianism and possibly a former Valentinian named Bardaisan, Manichaeism was a wildly popular religion heavily influenced by and based in Gnosticism along with the aforementioned Zoroastrianism as well as Christianity and even Buddhism. So popular, in fact, that it extended from Rome to China, contended with Christianity for the spiritual control of Asia Minor and the status of successor to paganism, and only disappeared when Christianity, Islam, and the Chinese religions ganged up on it from all sides. Its doctrine postulated humanity and the universe were created during a series of battles (or "creations", in a multiple sense) between God and Satan, who would have been actually two opposing and non-omnipotent twin deities. Manichaeans believed matter was mostly neutral instead of evil by itself, but it had been used by Satan to trap sparks of God's light in Adam and his sons, so Jesus Christ and Mani (as well as Zoroaster and Buddha) had been sent to teach them to get free through gnosis.
MandaeanA religion that still lives today in Iraq and Iran, although many have emigrated due to persecution, with a relatively large number settling in either Sweden or Australia. Mandaeans have a blurred history, but their set of beliefs is essentially a localized mixture of Gnostic doctrines (to the point that manda is the word for gnosis in Aramaic), albeit with significant differences from the more Christian-influenced strains. They resemble Manichaeism due to the belief in two opposing dimensions of light and darkness (the supreme God is often called the King of Light, or simply Hayyi meaning "Life"), but differ from Manichaeism (while resembling the Elkasaism that Mani broke from) by encouraging rather than discouraging procreation. They show some monistic flavor by teaching that matter belongs to the dark side, but they differ from most sects by clarifying that the material world, while certainly created and ruled by fallen or evil beings,* is not an evil prison, but more of a boring waiting room.
Differing from more Christian-influenced forms of Gnosticism, they believe John the Baptist was the true prophet sent by the good god, with Jesus Christ being either evil or simply misguided. They practise repeated baptism in flowing freshwater as a purification ritual. Similar to some Sethians, they revere Sheetil/Seth, but also Hibel/Abel, Anush/Enosh and Manda d-Hayyi (Gnosis of Hayyi), as angelic saviour figures; in particular, some Mandaean scriptures portray Enosh as responsible for the miracles which became attributed to Jesus. Adonai (the Jewish God) is equated to Shamish, the archon of the Sun. Ruha ("the Spirit") is portrayed as the source of temptation and the mother of the archons, and called the "Holy Spirit" mostly ironically, but is still equated to the dove at Jesus' baptism and sometimes parallels Sophia.
PaulicianA Gnostic school created around 650 by Constantine of Samosata. Paulicians were often mistaken for an offshoot of Manichaeism, but this was actually a Berserk Button for them, as they looked down at Mani and his Pagan eclecticism due to Paulicianism's strong Christian heritage (a rather hypocritical sentiment, as Paulicians themselves, rejected many Christian symbols and doctrines themselves). Although they resembled Manichaeans by teaching that there were two opposing deities, the Good Spirit and the Evil Spirit, they ascribed the creation of the material world exclusively to the latter, and thus believed matter was an evil trap Jesus Christ had been chosen (not sent, but chosen, as an "adoptive" son of God) to preach against. Paulicians were theologically tough: their sect survived through History in diminutive communities, and it seems there were some vestigial forms until 19th Century before merging back with Christianity.
- A God Am I: The Demiurge, who mistakenly believes himself to be the absolute authority. He has the power to create and destroy worlds, but he is still the lowest totem on the celestial pole, beneath the insight of even enlightened humans.
- A Kind of One: Three Phoenixes are described in On the Origin of the World.
- Above Good and Evil: The difference between the sides is more defined as Chaos (Monad and Eons) vs. Order (Demiurge and Archons).
- To quote the Gnostic Gospel of Philip:
- Ambiguous Situation: fourth-century Spanish heretic Priscillian is sometimes described as a Gnostic, usually by his enemies, but whether he really was one remains controversial. It is certain that he knew what Gnosticism was, given that he uses some of its concepts and words in his own books, but the rest of his system seems to be just a very ascetic Christian doctrine (spiced with some other heresies, that is). Then again, he was known to favor secretism, so whether he would have put his true teachings on a public book is another thing.
- All Myths Are True: Gnostic cosmology is a hybrid of personal experience and self-conscious mythology-it's a worldview that seems capable of assimilating any supernatural creature or miracle it runs into. The original Gnostic scriptures seem to contain a patois of Greek philosophy, Egyptian paganism, and Judeo-Christian tradition.
- All There in the Manual: The Gnostic scriptures are the manual that they believed contained all their knowledge needed for salvation by gnosis. Unfortunately, big chunks of the manual are lost.
- Alternate Character Interpretation:
- Gnostic scriptures such as "On the Origin of the World" contain a radically different exegesis of Abrahamic traditions. The Creator is ignorant and malevolent, the Serpent in Eden was Sophia (or Jesus), Noah was a faithless jerk, and the Creator's angels are agents of violence and repression.
- The Abrahamic God is split into two different entities, the good god Jehova and the bad god "Adunay", who dedicated Jerusalem as a city of wickedness.
- The Gospel of Judas has Judas as the only one who really understood what Jesus meant and Jesus specifically instructing Judas to betray him, and Judas Wangsting about it.
- Thomas, not John, was presented as Jesus' favored disciple.
- Or alternatively, Mary Magdalene. Who is also sometimes implied to have a romantic relationship with Jesus. Probably not sexual though-the Gnostics were really into asceticism.
- In some versions, the Serpent of Eden was Lucifer. Who, after realizing how flawed and malevolent The Creator was, rebelled against him and gifted mankind with the knowledge to free themselves.
- Alternate Continuity: The reason for the suppression of the Gnostic teachings by the Roman Catholic Church.
- Ancient Rome: And Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Africa, et cetera.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: Many of the aeons represent/are abstract qualities like Bliss, Life, and Silence.
- Apocalypse How: Several texts describe the end of the world, like On The Origin Of The World (everything obliterated by light).
- Apocalypse Maiden: Sophia, but subverted by the fact that she will do this in order to stop the Big Bad.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The stated goal of Gnostics for their souls, trapped as they are in the material universe.
- Assimilation Plot: Some say that human souls are Sophia trying to reform herself into a single whole again.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Especially Sophia, always depicted as beautiful and almost always naked.
- Body Horror: The Gnostics had great contempt for biology. In fact, the physical body, the world, and the Demiurge are the three most reviled things in Gnosticism!
- BrotherSister Incest: The Aeon family tree gives you the first male Aeon and first female Aeon emanating two Aeons who emanate two Aeons which starts a pattern for six or seven generations or more.
- Catchphrase: Jesus gains one during the Gospel of Thomas.
"Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!"
- Eldritch Location: Jerusalem !
- In Mandaeism, Jerusalem is considered a city of wickedness, dedicated to the god of Judaism, whom they call Adunay (Adonai) or Yurba (possibly YHWH) and consider to be an evil spirit. According to Sidra d-Yahia 54, Jerusalem is "the stronghold that Adunay built ... [he] brought to it falsehood in plenty, and it meant persecution against my tarmidia (Manda d-Hiia's disciples)." In the Ginza Rba (15.11), it is said to have come into being as a result of the incestuous union of the seven planets with their evil mother Ruha d-Qudsha, who "left lewdness, perversion, and fornication in it. They said: 'Whoever lives in the city of Jerusalem will not mention the name of God.'" (elsewhere, however, it more prosaically says the city was built by Solomon). However, Yahya (John the Baptist), an important figure in the religion, is said to have been born there.
- Captured Super-Entity: Humans.
- Celibate Hero:
- Possibly hinted to be averted in the Nag Hammadi. A curious passage in the Gospel of Philip has a disciple asking Jesus, "Why do you love her more than us?" after Jesus and Mary Magdalene share a kiss. Jesus sardonically replies, "Why do I not love you like I love her?"
- However, the Cathars were encouraged to avoid sexual relationships or at least marriage, and the Perfecti (the ascetic elders of Catharism) were strictly chaste.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: There is a complex hierarchy of both angels and demons, and there are even references to the administration of the Demiurge.
- Cessation of Existence: The Gospel of Judas says that this will be the fate of the Hylics since they're The Soulless.
- Chaotic Good: The Aeon Christ (not to be confused with his persona, Jesus).
- Child Eater: According to the ancient Christian writer Epiphanius, at least one Gnostic sect (the Borborites) ritually consumed aborted fetuses as part of their secret ceremonies. However, some modern scholars doubt the reliability of his account. More mainstream Christians were also accused of cannibalism by the Romans-Communion was misinterpreted as this, either accidentally or not.
- Cosmic Retcon: The approach of Gnostic scriptures to preexisting Abrahamic views.
- Crapsaccharine World/Crapsack World: Depends on people's lot in life and various other factors affecting how they view the world. Crapsack if their life is obviously bad, Crapsaccharine if deceptively good.
- Crossover Cosmology:
- The original Gnostic scriptures included many themes from Kemetic and Abrahamic religions, as well as Greek philosophical developments. Modern tales with a Gnostic bent tend towards All Myths Are True.
- Manicheanism attempted to combine Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism, Mani believing the work of their founders was not yet complete.
- Crucified Hero Shot: Averted, subverted, mocked, and even played straight Depending on the Writer. Some tellings have Jesus lacking a material body, making his crucifixion an illusion. In others, he trades places with a man named Simon of Cyrene and then stands aside laughing as Simon slowly dies. However, the orthodox Christian position was also held by some.
- Dark World: The physical universe to most Gnostics. Somewhat subverted by Manichaeism, who viewed the physical world as being merely neutral, but prone to corruption by the dark forces.
- Dawn of an Era: Sophia will return with Jesus, redeem the souls trapped in the material universe, kick the asses of the Evil God and his Archons, then there will be cake.
- Demiurge Archetype: The originator of the malevolent false God who poses as the true God and oppressed humanity, keeping them in the physical plane and away from ascension.
- To Platonists the Demiurge was a perfect image of the supreme good and the archetype of all existing things. Any perceived imperfections in the work based off of it were just natural decay as things got further away from the source and this decay was not impossible to correct. They were not amused by most gnostic teachings of an evil Demiurge and the universe it made as a Crapsack World, especially Plontinus who pioneered much of the cosmology.
- It also demonizes the Platonist Stars Are Souls idea by making the stars evil rulers instead of heavenly homes for those who live justly.
- The archons are most obviously this to angels, what with many sharing names, but that they can also be read as "powers" brings to mind the netjeru or "godly powers", which is what ancient Kemet/Egypt called the heads of its pantheon and Demiurge was an alternate name of Ptah, who was the supreme god of Mennefer/Memphis when it was capital. Egypt was often mocked in Gnostic writings so it's doubtful this is all coincidental.
- Dirty Coward: The Gnostics were considered this by many because, unlike early Christians such as Ignatius and Polycarp, they were not prepared to suffer martyrdom for their faith.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- In one version of Sophia's fall, it's because she wanted to emanate without her male partner, who is either Theletos/Theletus or Jesus, depending on who's telling it.
- If you look at the table of Aeons, it looks like a male Aeon and a female Aeon emanates new Aeons every so often.
- Double Entendre: Some of the female Aeons' names have sexual implications i.e. Mixis (Commingling), Henosis (Union), Hedone (Bliss/Pleasure), Syncrasis/Synkrasis (Blending/Commixture), Macaria/Makaria (Deadly Destiny/Death/Destined Death/Destiny/Happiness).
- Eldritch Abomination: All of the archons' true forms qualify as this.
- Epiphanic Prison: The material universe. The general gist of it is that the universe wasn't created by God but Her misguided offspring, the Demiurge. Human souls are trapped in the material world and must, through mystical experiences, learn the right secrets (hence "gnosis", "knowledge") that will get them past the Archons after they die, so that they can ascend to the higher, spiritual reality where the true God resides and souls originate.
- Evil Counterpart: The Demiurge to the Monad and the Archons to the Aeons, although they're usually portrayed as being far less powerful.
- Evil Is Cool:
- The Gnostic sect of the Cainites, who you guessed it took their name from the first murderer. They believed that since the God of the Bible was evil, everyone who opposed him must be good, so they took up Cain, the Pharaoh of Egypt, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah... basically every villain in the Old Testament ... as their heroes and role models.
- It should be noted that they are A Lighter Shade of Black in the Evil Versus Evil conflict against the Demiurge. It should also be noted that the Demiurge is a master planner, and the circumstances that pushed those villains into their villainous acts were all part of the Demiurge's Evil Plan to keep humanity subservient to him. This is especially emphasized with regards to Cain and the Pharaoh. Cain was pushed over the edge to killing his brother Abel because the Demiurge liked him better. Over the course of the ages, the Demiurge created several enemies using this same "love the younger brother, hate the older brother" strategy i.e. love Abel and hate Cain, love Isaac and hate Ishmael, love Jacob and hate Esau, love Judah and hate Israel, etc. The Pharaoh was needed to play the role he did because the Demiurge was really really invested in a plan over 400 years in the making to cause the Exodus and make the israelites worship him unconditionally. Similar to god on trial if you think about it. Sodom and Gomorrah was a case of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: They were adopted by Gnostics simply because the sin that prompted their destruction, i.e. deviant sexuality, is one of the Demiurge's Berserk Buttons.
- Evil Is Sexy:
- Averted, the Demiurge (Big Bad) is a lion-headed serpent who is also really ugly. Unlike modern Christian interpretations of evil, evil in Gnosticism is usually boneheaded and bureaucratic in nature, more like a supernal Oceania than a whorehouse. Its paragons have unattractive names like "Quarrelsomeness" and "Bitter Weeping."
- Also inverted, with Sophia, who is always depicted as beautiful and generally depicted as naked.
- Evil Is Sterile: Some Gnostics believed that the material universe had gone through countless cycles of destruction and re-creation, as the demiurge is repeatedly failing to achieve his vision of a perfect universe. Because an imperfect god cannot create perfection.
- Evolutionary Levels: In most Gnostic systems, there are three categories of people. First, the Pneumatics, or "Spirit-Men," who will Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Then, the Psychics, or "Soul-Men," who won't ascend but maybe still live after death somehow (the books contradict themselves on this matter). Finally, the Hylics, or "Flesh-Men," who are soulless cattle who have no real life at all, but are mere puppets of the Demiurge. These are by far the most numerous of the three.
- Forbidden Fruit: Subverted. Eating the forbidden fruit opened Adam and Eve's eyes to the fact they were prisoners.
- Ghost in the Machine: The basis for most Westerners having this view of the soul, as opposed to it being: a) breath, b) your life force, c) your conscience, d) a shield from demons, e) your free will, f) your goodness, g) dependent on your body, h) protection from comas, i) your glamour, j) your ticket to heaven, k) your ticket to surviving death, etc. Some of these aspects are compatible with this view and some are incompatible in and of themselves but taken as standalone statements they can lead in a different direction.
Also, this is the reason why most people have a concept of Fluffy Cloud Heaven. It is based on a concept of the Soul that was popular before this one predominated due to Existentialism. This needs mention of Fire and Brimstone Hell, a concept more closely associated with traditional religion. Thus, this belief has been considered heretical several times. Ask any follower of a traditional religion about heaven you will likely get a lot of descriptions that assume that people have bodies in heaven, even though some will give a description of heaven consistent with this view.
- God Is Evil/God Is Flawed: The Creator of our world, the Demiurge, is presented at best as ignorant and petty, and at worst as a megalomaniacal sadist.
- God Is Good: The Monad. Sort of. It is described in the Apocryphon of John as being without quality or quantity, not partaking of goodness but far surpassing it.
- God of Order: The Demiurge is a being that wants to enforce its order and law on creation, with the Archons as its angels of order. Unfortunately the Demiurge is ignorant at best, malevolently oppressive at worst.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Gnostic opinion of femininity varies. Some groups held it equal to masculinity, but those who presented it as negative tended to comically do so. The Gospel of Thomas is a good example of the latter- it ends with Peter saying that "Women are not worthy of life", and Jesus saying that he would guide women to make themselves male in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: The Demiurge.
- I Have Many Names: The Monad and the Demiurge. The Monad is also known as God, the One, the Absolute, the Reality, the Ultimate Reality, Aion teleos, the Perfect Aeon, Bythos (another Aeon has this name as well), Pro Arche, He Arche, the Ineffable Parent, etc. The Demiurge is also known as Ariael (Hearth God, Lion God), Saklas (Fool), Sammael (Blind God, Senseless God, Satan), and Yaldabaoth (Come Child).
- I Kiss Your Hand/I Kiss Your Foot: Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Philip, but where he kissed her is missing in the lacuna where just the location is missing and the rest of the text before and after it is intact.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: No matter what their interpretation of Yahweh, all branches of Gnosticism present Jesus as an emissary of the good God. The one exception to this are the Mandaeans who hold Jesus to be a false messiah who perverted the teachings of the prophet John the Baptist, the main figure of the religion. Interestingly, despite the heresy, Mandaeism is the sole historic gnostic sect which remains extant (though is now in danger as a result of belonging to an isolated group not accepting converts.)
- Karma: Goes along with Reincarnation.
- Light Is Good/Light Is Not Good: On one side, there's the Aeons, who live in greater realms of light. On the other, there's the Archons, who are pretty much evil angels, and one of them is a solar deity.
- Missing Episode: Almost the entire written record of the religion, but for the chance discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts in 1945. Still, many other scriptures are referenced in this extant collection that have not been recovered.
- Moral Dissonance: Gnosticism tries to solve the problem of God's apparent tyranny in the Old Testament by subverting it completely and presenting the Old Testament God as the equivalent of Satan.
- More Than Mind Control:
- Essentially the only power of the Archons and Demiurge is their ability to create illusions that we souls subsequently participate in and give power.
- The Church Father Irenaeus of Lyons alleges that a Gnostic cult leader named Marcus used this on his congregation to gather followers.
- The Multiverse: The material universe is the heaviest and slowest projection of divine energy. Interpenetrating matter are increasingly subtle Heavens, each one an order of magnitude more vast and energetic than the last.
- Nightmare Fuel:
- Some texts (Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Philip, Treatise on the Resurrection) hint that the fate of hylics (the lowest form of humanity) will be this; some even go as far to say being hylic in and of itself is this.
- In the Docetic Gnostic tradition, Christ is portrayed as a disembodied force rather than a mortal man, with Jesus himself being either a host possessed by the spirit of Christ or simply an illusion. Particularly strange is one passage in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth in which the true Christ watches the Crucifixion and laughs at the gullibility of his persecutors. Depending on how one interprets the scene, this is either really cool, really creepy, or some combination of the two.
- Most of the general implications of Gnostic thought may be this for some people.
- Not Quite the Almighty: One of the core beliefs of Gnosticism is that while the Demiurge created the material world, he is not the Top God he thinks he is and the material world is the lowest of realms. The Monad is the true supreme being, with the Demiurge's creator Sophia the farthest aeon from it.
- Omniscient Morality License: Definitively averted.
- One Steve Limit: The Monad has Bythos as one of his/its names as well as a female Aeon who also has Bythos as her name. Another male Aeon has the name Bythios (an extra i sort of makes it not the same name).
- Ontological Mystery/Platonic Cave: One of the major themes, with the early Gnostics being influenced by Platonism.
- Order Versus Chaos: The Monad and the Aeons are good, versus the evil Demiurge and Archons. Naturally, Order Is Not Good.
- Original Man: Some discourses describe the original human race as already dwelling among the worlds of light with the aeons while man on Earth is just a copy the demiurge made when he saw one of them and did not understand what he was looking at. Since Manichean religion is often grouped with Gnostic religion it is worth noting that Mani's original man was created by God to defend creation from The Anti-God's invading forces. Modern man is an accidental result of The Anti-God's invasion. You may be an inferior copy/thing that should not be, but Jesus loves you anyway.
- Our Angels Are Different: The Archons, who are the Demiurge's agents and forces of oppression; the most notable apparently correspond to the planets of the solar system, forming a group of seven entities alongside the Demiurge, called the Hebdomad. The Aeons can also be called angels, though they are technically more like gods. Some systems include actual angels who tend to rank below Aeons and become imprisoned in the world of matter, though they're a little quicker to realize things were not right than humans were, as well as the first to recognize Jesus for what he was.
- Our Archons Are Different: The Demiurge's take on the angels, who are a dark twist on the classical belief that Stars Are Souls.
- Path of Inspiration/The Heretic: Thought to be this by the early Christian church fathers, as well as most modern-day Christian denominations.
- Pieces of God: The original single consciousness is now split into infinite consciousnesses.
- Perspective Flip: The Nag Hammadi neatly presents Yahweh as the opposite of everything he's ever claimed to be. Well, except a jealous, violent dictator.
- Pride: The Tripartite Tractate states Logos created the universal defects who are responsible for most of the evil in the universe through mistaken pride that he could create as well as God. He and the other aeons were at a loss at how to handle the defects Logos accidentally created until Jesus came from the Father to help them.
- Rage Against the Heavens:
- Certain forms of dualism make the assertion that the thing worshiped as God in this world is actually an evil impostor, but that a true benevolent deity worthy of being called "God" exists beyond this world. The Gnostics believed that God (the deity worshiped by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Greek Pagan philosophers like Platonists) was really an evil creator or demiurge that stood between us and some greater, more truly benevolent real deity, although there is no reason given why the higher deity allows the realm of the evil demiurge as flawed and unjust to continue to exist. Similarly, Marcionites held beliefs deemed maltheistic in nature, depicting God as represented in the Old Testament as a wrathful, genocidal, malicious demiurge.
- Ironically, the Father, the "true God" is often seen as much a creator deity as the Demiurge, only unlike the demiurge His creation is not of matter and is much like human imagination or thought, or even dreams. He does not actively, physically create, as the demiurge does, but His every thought and mental image becomes real as soon as it is thought. This is how the Aeons, cosmic constructs which are personifications of concepts, ideas and emotions, were formed, and it is also, in turn, how the Aeons themselves are able to create. This, in fact, is how the Demiurge came to be, from a misguided thought brought about by Sophia.
- And some forms of Gnosticism state that all of this is a method, an ongoing project directed at one single goal, which aims to reunite the original singularity of awareness into one single thing again. This is called Salvation in certain of the scriptures. The whole of reality is basically God Himself/Itself seeking something like Buddhist Nirvana, on an unfathomably cosmic level. Think about that for a while.
- Reader Gender Confusion:
- The Monad, based on all of its genderless descriptions, gets confused by being listed with the male Aeons in the family tree of Aeons.
- Also, the Aeon Metricos/Metrikos (Maternal/Mother) is the Anthropomorphic Personification of motherhood and maternality despite being listed as a male Aeon.
- Really 700 Years Old: Norea, who is the twin sister of Seth and eventual wife of Noah. It doesn't say when she dies, but you can infer she lived a really long time. It's easily longer than either Methusaleh or even Cain.
- Reincarnation: Referenced in some Gnostic texts.
- Satan Is Good:
- Since Gnostics seek gnosis, that is, spiritual knowledge, many believe that the tempting serpent in Eden was really the spirit of Jesus (sometimes Sophia or her servant Ophis) trying to redeem humanity with knowledge. Luciferianism is a belief system that venerates the essential characteristics that are affixed to Lucifer. The tradition, influenced by Gnosticism, usually reveres Lucifer not as the Devil, but as a liberator or guiding spirit or even the true god as opposed to the Demiurge.
- Gnostics had a complex relationship with the devil. Opinions on the devil, and his relationship to the Demiurge, varied. The Ophites held that he and his demons constantly oppose and thwart the human race, as it was on their account the devil was cast down into this world. According to one variant of the Valentinian system, the Demiurge is besides the maker, out of the appropriate substance, of an order of spiritual beings, the devil, the prince of this world, and his angels. But the devil, as being a spirit of wickedness, is able to recognise the higher spiritual world, of which his maker the Demiurge, who is only animal, has no knowledge. The devil resides in this lower world, of which he is the prince, the Demiurge in the heavens; his mother Sophia in the middle region, above the heavens and below the Pleroma. The Valentinian Heracleon interpreted the devil as the principle of evil, that of hyle (matter). As he writes in his commentary on John 4:21, The mountain represents the Devil, or his world, since the Devil was one part of the whole of matter, but the world is the total mountain of evil, a deserted dwelling place of beasts, to which all who lived before the law and all Gentiles render worship. But Jerusalem represents the creation or the Creator whom the Jews worship... You then who are spiritual should worship neither the creation nor the Craftsman, but the Father of Truth. This vilification of the Creator was held to be inimical to Christianity by the early fathers of the church. In refuting the views of the Gnostics, Irenaeus observed that "Plato is proved to be more religious than these men, for he allowed that the same God was both just and good, having power over all things, and Himself executing judgment."
- Save the Villain: At least in Valentinian Gnosticism, it's expected that eventually even the most wicked people and deities will be redeemed. It sort of helps that the Demiurge and the Archons are categorized as belonging to the psychics group and not the hylics group. Some books, however, do say quite clearly that not all humans even have souls that can be saved.
- Secret Identity: Several of the female Aeons have a penchant for disguises.
- Sex Is Evil: Gnostics were a diverse group and had equally diverse opinions on sex. Some were strict ascetics and believed that sex, masturbation, and even wet dreams were vile temptations of the material plane. Others thought sex was a normal part of creation (Sophia and all that) and indeed the world was created through a kind of sexual relationship between dimorphic aeons. And yet more Gnostics were antimonians who believed that all rules were created by an evil God to control his subjects, and so every single sin must be committed before a human can escape from the prison of the world. Whew! (Actually, we only know of the anti-nomian sects from Catholic and Orthodox theologians. Whether they existed in fact is up to debate.) Some Gnostics believed that the material world was a harsh and evil place, and therefore it was sinful to have children.
- Significant Anagram: Sophia and her servant Ophis are anagrams of each other with an extra a left over.
- Spell My Name with an "S": The Archons Iao/Jao/Yao and Ialdaboath/Ialtabaoth/Jaldaboath/Jaltaboath/Yaladabotah/Yaltabaoth.
- Spin-Off: Neoplatonism is a merger of Platonism with various influences including Gnosticism. Notice Aeons are called hypercosmic gods and Archons, cosmic gods.
- Manichaeism itself could be considered this, if becasue of how far off it is compared from the rest of Gnostic beliefs along with the inclusion of Zoroasterian, Christian and Buddhist elements.
- Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness:High - Infinite: The Demiurge naturally due to being several of the tropes under this category. Eldritch Abomination, Cosmic Horror Story, God Is Evil, etc. but also some tropes from the high category as well. The Chessmaster, No-Nonsense Nemesis, etc.
- The Soulless: A good deal of humanity are Hylics, who have no souls and are merely part of the physical universe.
- Tangled Family Tree: The Aeonic family tree of generational emanations. Note: This list is the fusion of various sources ie Valentinius, Valentinians, Tertullian (Hereseologist), Ptolmey, Colorbasus, etc. Some lists list their names all in Greek, some lists translate some names into Latin. Different lists sometimes give different meanings to each name. Also, other Aeons like Abrasax/Abrasax, Barbelo, etc. aren't list in the family tree.
- The Monad (The One)
- The Monad (The One) & Bythos (Depth/Profoundity) Charis (Grace/Love) Enonoia (Intent/Thought) Sige (Silence)
- Caen (Power) & Akhana (Immensity/Love)
- Nous/Nus (Mind) & Aletheia/Veritas (Truth)
- Logos/Sermo (Word) & Vita/Zoe (Life)
- Bythios (Deep/Profound) & Mixis (Commingling), Ageratos (Ageless/Decayless/Unageing/Undecaying) & Henosis (Union), Autophues/Autophyes (Self-Existent/Growth) & Hedone (Bliss/Pleasure), Acinetos/Akinetos (Immovable) & Syncrasis/Synkrasis (Blending/Commixture), Monogenes (Common Origin/Only-Beggoten) & Macaria/Makaria (Deadly Destiny/Death/Destined Death/Destiny/Happiness)
- Anthropos/Homo (Humanity) & Ecclessia/Ekklessia (Assembly/Church)
- Paracletus/Parakletos (Comforter/Helper) & Pistis (Faith), Patricas/Patrikos (Father/Paternal) & Elpsis (Hope), Metricos/Metrikos (Maternal/Mother) & Agape (Love), Ainos (Ever-Lasting/Praise) & Synesis (Intellignece/Understanding), Eccclessiasticus/Ekklessiastikos (Son of the Assembly/Son of the Church) & Macariotes/Macariotes (Blessedness/Bliss/Happiness), Theletos/Theletus (Longed-For/Longing/Perfection/Will/Willed-For) & Sophia (Wisdom)
- Christ (Annointed One) & Hagia Pneuma (Holy Spirit)
- The Dreaded: The Mandeans have a particularly negative and fearful attitude toward a certain fellow who was active militarily in the seventh century CE, known alternatively as "Whom Mars accompanies", "The Most Deranged of The False Prophets", "The Son of Slaughter", "The Seal Of The Prophets Of The Lie" and "The Arab". They think he is still alive and that his reign will last 4000 years (about 3600 left) during which time pollution and every kind of evil creature will multiply. Then he will be usurped by the false messiah Jesus who will be welcomed simply because he will appear to be a messiah by comparison to his predecessor.
- Übermensch: Some of the Aeons have been know to act like this and to encourage other too.
- The Unfettered: Jesus' sin is an illusion speech in the Gospel of Mary.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Gnosis, or personal revelatory experience, is often interpreted by the psychological profession as schizophrenia, due to the incompatibility between theophony and a strictly materialist viewpoint.
- Turned Against Their Masters: The Archon Sabaoth, who was created to preside over the Sixth Heaven, renounced the Demiurge in disgust upon hearing the voice of Sophia and discovering that the Demiurge was not the ultimate authority he claimed to be.
- Unreliable Narrator: Heresiologists were dismissed by academics for awhile. The finds at Nag Hammadi showed they got a lot of the cosmology right (though they went out of their way to make it sound stupid).
- Villain with Good Publicity: The Demiurge who is known to most as God (plus as God Is Good to most of those most).
- Word of Dante: Gnosticism is mostly known due to the Dantesque popular culture references way more so than actual Gnostic texts themselves.
Anime & Manga
- Neon Genesis Evangelion, deliberately or not, mixes Gnosticism with both the Kabbalah (a Jewish Gnostic variant that proposes we are all pieces of Adam Kadmon) and a mystic reinterpretation of the Jewish story of Genesis where Adam's original first wife wasn't Eve, but Lilith, who fell into error (Sophia-equivalent) thus paving the plot for Eve's creation, humanity's acquisition of the Fruit of Knowledge and the resulting Fall of Man from Eden into biological bodies. Some versions say Lilith or Sophia was the Tree of Knowledge or at least gave the Fruit of Knowledge to Eve in the first place (the Retcon of the Serpent as Big Bad Lucifer was due to Word of Dante and Christian "ignorance is bliss" ideology), if you would consider the theory that Sophia gave a part of herself to humans as souls resulting in the evolution of human intelligence.
- Rei Ayanami, the soul of Lilith, the original mother of all humanity, is Sophia, and as The Philosopher lives up to that symbolism. Her flawed fragmented daemonic children, the Lilin (humans) are the Demiurge, technological creators capable of cruelty against each other, after all Hell is Other People. The referral to humans with such a daemonic name is likely from a Gnostic influence. The fall of Sophia (Lilith/Rei, who literally fell to Earth) is responsible for the birth of the Demiurge (the evolution of biological life, and the suffering that it has brought), but Sophia's fragments still exist in this world in the form of our souls (humanity as the bearer of the Fruit of Knowledge), and thus it is possible to redeem ourselves from our daemonic existence (human individual bodies and prone to disease, despair and death) and reconcile with her. The central dogma of an Ancient Conspiracy called SEELE is the reunification of Lilith with her lost male counterpart, Adam (analogous to reuniting Sophia with her lost male counterpart), that shall lead to their Messianic Ascension and Universal Salvation from their Original Sin of existence under the Demiurge/Lilin/Human Bodies. In the End of Evangelion, it does happen: Rei absorbs Adam, takes control of Lilith, reawakens, turns into a Giant Naked Rei/Adam Kadmon/Sophia, destroys all human bodies, and merges all souls into a gestalt God-superconsciousness.
- Usual iconoclast Go Nagai includes and discusses Gnosticism in his manga Devilman Lady, an expanded sequel to the popular Devilman, where heroic demons are cosmically locked in combat with an evil God that is openly identified with the leading Archon.
- A popular Epileptic Tree about The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is that Haruhi, as the unconsciously cruel and capricious creator of the material universe, is the Demiurge, and in fact, the real unconscious God is the narrator, Kyon. Haruhi aka the Demiurge is either an aspect of his personality, or a convenient person to work his power through. Note his dialogue at the beginning of the series; he once wanted to believe in time travel, aliens, and espers, but has learned to suppress it. Having someone else have god-like powers to create these things allows him denial. Plus, what better way to throw someone off of their own powers to destroy everything than by telling them to keep someone else in check. In Haruhi theology and fandom, "Kyon is God" theories are the equivalent of Gnosticism.
- Fullmetal Alchemist mixes Gnostic elements with Eastern and Jewish Kabbalah influences plus Cosmic Horror Story. It's also subverted, considering how unpleasant it is dealing and facing the Truth.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena heavily references Demian with the themes about breaking out of the world's shell, Demian itself being a work based on Gnosticism. Dios and Akio's story is one of a fallen and split god.
- Serial Experiments Lain. Many characters express a desire to give up their bodily existence and live on in the Wired. Lain herself is it at one point referred to as a "scattered god", possibly refencing Sophia, while Masami Eiri represents the Demiurge - Lain even calls him an "acting god".
- Texhnolyze: The further into this series you get, the more Gnostic symbolism and saturation shows up, with some of the darker and more paranoid ideas becoming increasingly warped and played with in a highly Mind Screwy manner. For example, the disturbing way in which Doc increasingly mirrors Sophia, or Kano mirrors the demiurge. And then of course, there's Ran.
- Who Kano keeps calling "Theoria" for no obvious reason. Naturally, this is yet another Gnostic concept meaningless to a casual viewer.
- In A Certain Magical Index, some of the magical characters are surprised when they learn of Academy City's ambition to create a Level 6 Esper; it may be a scientific project, but the concept is similar to teachings in Gnosticism.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion has Homura turn into a sort of a mixture of the Demiurge, Mara, and a Paradise Lost-like Lucifer: she becomes corrupted by love and rips Madoka, the proper God of the setting, from her position and takes her power herself, trapping all of the characters in a magical world where their desires have been granted but their true powers and nature suppressed. Notably, this Demiurge is not a piece of the Source, but a servant of it who takes its place in order to protect it.
- Shamanic Princess boils down to an Ontological Mystery which is solved through the revelation that the concepts of good and evil are irrelevant. This knowledge does not really let the heroine overcome the self-centered creator deity that's toying with her. It lets her restore balance and make it easier for everyone to co-exist.
- Digimon Adventure tri. opens with a speech about Demiurge trying to create his own world, but not truly understanding what he's doing, and therefore creating a shadow world instead (this shadow world is implied to be the Digital World).
- Grant Morrison loves this.
- One arc of Doom Patrol features what are basically gnostics from another dimension, the Cult of the Unwritten Book, who have their very own decreator. Later on, the Shadowy Mr. Evans outright calls God Yaldabaoth.
- In The Invisibles, the antagonists are called archons and represent order.
- Nameless is also a deeply gnostic text about an antagonistic "god" who rules the material universe, opposed by the protagonist and a woman named Sofia.
Films — Live-Action
- The Matrix is a modernization of the idea of the physical world being an illusion, which became a popular Trope Codifier in America, making it indirectly responsible for a lot of gnostic themes' proliferation today.
- Waking Life references Gnosticism in its last few minutes, when the main character is trapped in a dream he can't wake up from. He comes across another character who proceeds to give him advice that living is simply the individual's constant negation of God's invitation to become one with the universe, how dreams offer a glimpse into the infinite nature of reality and that in order to be free from the illusion called life, the individual need only to accept God's invitation.
- According to George R. R. Martin, the faith of R'hllor in A Song of Ice and Fire is partly based on Catharism. Indeed, a select few traits line with Cathar beliefs, like theological dualism and the belief that the physical world is essentially hell. However, their overall belief system is fundamentally opposite to Cathar teachings: whereas the Cathars believed in fundamental human free will, asceticism and the rejection of meaningless ritual, the faith of the Red God is all about preaching how people are its slaves, uses sexual rituals randomly and is so utterly dogmatic that it makes the medieval Catholic Church that the Cathars opposed look tame in comparison. Combining this with the fact that R'hllor's title is "Lord of Flame And Shadow" (how the Demiurge is described in the Pistis Sophia), if anything this religion is to Cathar beliefs what Satanism is to mainstream Christianity.
- The Silmarillion should be counted in because of the "spiritual" hierarchy, beginning with Eru, supreme being, creating the Ainur, split in the Valar and the Maiar, then the Elves, and finally Humans. The tale is also gnostic because it states that while the world was created by Eru, the greater Ainur gave it form, and one of them (Melkor), broke out and claimed it for his own, being "the lord of the world". Maybe the linguistic way from Eon to "Ainu" is not that long after all.
Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? ... The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.
- Read Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories, particularly the chapter Recovery, Escape, Consolation. When talking about escaping the harsh reality with the help of imagination (among other things), he uses such language:
- On purpose or not, the metaphor Tolkien chooses is blatantly Gnostic. Also, notice that he used to consider the possibility of Elves reincarnating.
- The hints of Gnosticism in Tolkien's works are fairly limited because the author himself was a devout Catholic. However, Natalia Vasilyeva, author of the unauthorized derivative work Black Book of Arda, goes full rock and roll with all the Gnosticism. Here, Eru is obviously Ialdabaoth, the Valar are obviously Archons, and Melkor rebelled because he went outside Eru's little creation and saw the Pleroma there.
- Discworld: Terry Pratchett explicitly, in a Lemony Narrator moment in Small Gods, compares the actual state of things in Discworld (where gods are mostly created and sustained by human belief, although the stupider ones don't realise this) to "the good old Gnostic heresy, which tends to turn up all over the multiverse whenever men get up off their knees and start thinking for two minutes together, although the shock of the sudden altitude tends to mean the thinking is a little whacked."
- His Dark Materials: The universe is, in a sense, self-aware; the Authority and, later, the Regent are demiurges.
- Anything written by Philip K. Dick, who had a keen sense of the existential paranoia implicit in the Gnostic scriptures and a working knowledge of the recently-translated Nag Hammadi codices (and don't forget the I Ching). Particularly of note are VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, and Radio Free Albemuth. However, prospective readers should be warned about the high Mind Screw content and the possibility of their brain turning to liquid, pouring out of their ears, and reassembling itself in a smiley face twenty-five kilometres over the peak of Kilimanjaro—and no, that's not a highly confusing metaphor for insanity.
- Hermann Hesse, whose novel Demian is what the egg speech in Revolutionary Girl Utena was borrowed from. The whole novel is more or less a dissertation on questioning popular religion's philosophy.
- God have mercy on our souls, but Dan Brown has done as much to raise Gnosticism into the public consciousness as the Wachowskis.
- It might be useful to point out that while the Wachowskis have ushered Gnosticism into the public consciousness through the underlying philosophical discussions in their films note , Dan Brown has raised awareness of Gnosticism by flinging the term around so liberally in such a vague and arbitrary manner in his books that it drove most of his readers to look it up on The Other Wiki... where most of them found two things: 1) Gnosticism is incredibly detailed, ancient, and so deep and involving that you can spend days on a Wiki Walk just scratching the surface, and 2) Dan Brown has a very bad habit of completely missing the point when it comes to secular and philosophical ideology.
- Unfortunately, the "gnosticism" presented by Dan Brown in his books tends towards the polar opposite of actual Gnostic beliefs as expressed in their scriptures. He says they believed Jesus was completely human; Gnostics actually tended to think Jesus was completely god without a trace of the human. Dan also thinks the Gnostics respected women, which, while true of many Gnostic sects, was far from universal; a good number of Gnostics actually tended more towards the Greek idea that women were an inferior form of life incapable of spiritual understanding.
- In a meta example, the literary critic Harold Bloom developed Gnostic theory of artistic influence wherein new generations of poets seek to construct the predecessors as controlling antagonists against whom they can react.
- Daniel Gonzalez's science fiction short-story Sofia is about a parallel universe where Gnosticism and not Christianity became the worlds main religion. He gives a lot of information about Gnostic history, terminology and doctrine.
- Creation Man And The Messiah by poet Henrik Wergeland is by far the most gnostic piece of literature written during the 19th century, telling how higher spirits intervened to ensoul humanity. The spirits are called Eons (or aions) here as well.
- Communities of Gnostics living in the Iberian Mountains play a major role in Harry Harrison's King and Emperor. They consider themselves the keeper of the Holy Grail.
- The novel Flicker by Theodore Roszak is an unusual example of a modern work that depicts Gnostics as outright villains. The novel's Gnostics are an Ancient Conspiracy, who briefly went overground as the Cathars, who believe that to liberate humans' souls from the grip of the Demiurge humanity must cease to exist. However, as their moral principles block them from actually killing people, they attempt to put this into practice by seeding popular culture with subliminal and later overt messages that aim to convince people that the universe is meaningless and subconsciously suppress their libidos, both discouraging breeding in the hope that humanity will die out.
- Roz Kaveney's Rhapsody of Blood Urban Fantasy series is strongly influenced by Gnosticism, although in a variant form where Yahweh and Satan are old friends and both Knights Templar, who started as humans and, on becoming gods, tried to become top gods to genuinely help and protect humanity, but got lost in their roles.
- The second KZ' Deep File novel The Cherry Hills Keeps a Crime is mainly about a Cathar revival sect that was established in the 1940s and exist into The New '10s.
- Lost's mythology and underlying metaphysics were heavily rooted in Gnosticism, but the show never drew any explicit parallels to it except for a brief glimpse of Philip K. Dick's VALIS, which also blended Gnostic spirituality and sci-fi. This came back to bite the writers, as it's kind of necessary to understand the finale, especially the part about personal revelation (i.e. what meaning the characters and the audience bring to events) being more important than authorial dogma (the writers telling everyone what happened and shooting down all but one theory).
- Babylon 5 has Delenn of the Minbari stating that "we are the universe made conscious, splitting itself apart to understand itself." By this and what little else we learn, Minbari religion appears to be similar.
- The Stargate-verse delves into this increasingly as time goes on, with one of the key goals of the protagonists being to seek knowledge - originally just scientific, but increasingly, spiritual too (though most of them are sceptics). Ascension beyond physical form is the end goal of most aware civilisations, primarily guided by Oma Desala (a Sophia-figure) and Ascension itself is indicated to be just the beginning of 'the Great Path'. Additionally, the villains are not only false gods, but even when they actually have the power to back it up (in the case of the Ori, ascended villains), they're depicted along the lines of the Gnostic interpretation of the God of the Old Testament.
- Dark invokes Gnostic ideas, especially in the thinking of Adam, the leader of The Conspiracy. He sees the material world, and specifically the Stable Time Loop in which he and others are trapped, as a prison to be escaped. Characters in the series often adopt a very dualistic, Dark vs. Light mentality (note the title!), and the names adopted by Adam and his antagonist, Eve are clearly significant.
- John Zorn: He has released several albums with a band called the Gnostic Trio: "The Gnostic Preludes" (2012), "The Mysteries" (2013) and "In Lambeth" (2013).
- Coph Nia actually has a song called "Gnostic Mass", whose lyrics draw heavily on Gnostic beliefs (no surprises there.)
- KULT is largely built on a gnostic-style cosmology.
- Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening both borrow from Gnostic traditions. Awakening, in particular, is rife with this, with the Supernal (the Pleroma) being shut off to humanity by jealous would-be gods called the Exarchs (the Aeons). Each mage has attained the ability to see past the Lie of the Fallen World (Gnosis), and actively seeks Ascension (a return to the Source) by varying means.
- The cosmology of Werewolf: The Apocalypse borrows from Gnosticism. The Triatic Wyrm is a demiurge masquerading as the true Wyrm of balance, and much of the suffering in the WTA world can be laid at its feet. The Urge Wyrms and Maeljin Incarna can be likened to archons. The true Wyrm of balance, trapped in the fabric of reality and unable to fulfill its original purpose, is not unlike Sophia.
- In Dark Alleys from Vajra Enterprises has several philosophies in the history of unpopular ideas section. Animism, Buddhism, Platonism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Descartian Skepticism, Sadism, Marxism, Nihilism, Freudian Psychoanalysis, Surrealism, Existentialism, Jungian Psychology, Punk, Paglian Feminism, and Postmodernism. In fact, the whole setting is very gnostic, with the material world being a prison used to keep humans from realizing their god-like potential.
- Aquaria is actually somewhat sympathetic to its Demiurge stand-in, Eric—he's desperately trying to recreate his unconditionally-loving mother. Although given that his most successful mimic turns against him, it may have been a fool's errand, and the Pleroma not even as noble as the Gnostics thought...
- Elven (especially Altmeri/High Elven) religious beliefs in The Elder Scrolls universe take a lot from Gnostic beliefs, specifically the belief that elvenkind is trapped in a world made by Lorkhan, a demiurge-like figure that tricked the divine ancestors of the elves into giving up their divinity and trapped them in material mortal forms. The fact that Lorkhan is also the "God of Man" means that a lot of elves do not like humans.
- A few elements of this are in The Final Fantasy Legend, featuring a Demiurge (The Creator) who created the world the heroes live in, apparently is from a higher dimension, and has archons (Ashura & his minions) who spread evil amongst the world For the Evulz. It's nowhere near as heavy as several Final Fantasy series (see below)
- Final Fantasy VII had the Lifestream, which is the Pleroma in all but name, the Cetra, who represent Gnostics as opposed to the materialistic Judeo-Christian-ish humans, Sephiroth (whose name is from a Jewish Gnostic variant called the Kabbalah) as the demiurge, and Jenova as Sophia in her Alternative Character Interpretation of corrupter and destroyer of the world.
- Both Sephiroth and Jenova find their counterpart in Aerith, who represents Sophia (or Ophis) as a savior figure. Her connection to the Cetra and humans fits the "divine in human" mold, and she becomes the embodiment of humans' hope for freedom from Jenova's corruption. Even her death helps save the world (albeit as a "Plan B") and, in some ways, made her a stronger force of good than ever.
- On the subject of Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy X had a more in-depth depiction of Gnosticism. The Pleroma is Zanarkand, and Sophia's fall from the Pleroma would be the destruction of the city, with Yu Yevon representing Sophia. Sin is the Demiurge: in the same way the Demiurge was created from Sophia's divine power, Sin was created from Yu Yevon's summoning talent. The Farplane also represents the Pleroma; everyone is made from the Pyreflies (divine sparks of light), and their soul returns to the Farplane after death. However, there are exceptions: anyone who died an unclean death, for example, will not stay in the Farplane and must be Sent there again. The Aeons also represent this, communicating with and helping humans from the Pleroma (Zanarkand) and fighting the Demiurge's influence. However, they can also represent Archons; in particular, Bahamut as Sabaoth, because they both turned against their masters in order to try and save humanity. The Yevon religion dislikes the idea that people can be free of Sin, and so they represent Christianity (in case it wasn't obvious enough already). At the end of the game, people are finally free from the influence of Sin, representing enlightenment and freedom from the Demiurge; but here it's a Bittersweet Ending, because this requires peoples' souls to fade away from this existence into another, meaning that The Hero Dies as he was from the Pleroma, the same way that the Aeons were.
- The cosmology of Fran Bow seems very heavily inspired by Manichaeism specifically: the world of the game is said to be divided into Five Realities, which are populated by antithetical beings of Darkness and Light. Number five is very important in the Manichean mythology, and so is the dualistic Darkness-Light worldview.
- Galactic Civilizations—its Dark Mithrilar is very similar to the mid-range-in-malignity versions of the Demiurge, with the Dread Lords his archons. Thanks to his xenophobia, he keeps destroying the universe, then traveling back in time to better remake the cosmos in his image--the Human image. Snippets from the main designer's original stories suggest that an overarching theme is going to be this Demiurge's redemption, putting this partly in Valentinian territory.
- The Mother in La-Mulana appears to be a pastiche of Sophia and the Demiurge. Like Sophia, she fell from the perfection of the heavens... although unlike her, she can't seem to get back on her own... and bears great understanding. Like the Demiurge, she created intelligent life expressly for her sake, namely to get her back up there—in a sense, to let her regain her glory. And every time, her children either turn against her, or extinguish themselves. Never mind that the fact that she fell, to begin with, might mean that re-ascension was impossible from the very beginning—just as, in the more severe forms of Gnosticism, the Demiurge has no ability (or right) to become genuinely divine. Nonetheless, this character is rather sympathetic— just being stuck on Earth is severely agonizing for her. She's not malevolent, but desperate.
- Shin Megami Tensei — pick a game, any game, either from the main series or the spin-off series Persona, and you'll find at least some Gnostic themes.
- Special mention goes to Persona 5, where the final boss is Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge, and the protagonist's Ultimate Persona is Satanael, the Gnostic equivalent of Satan.
- Silent Hill — even the soundtrack lyrics have a Gnostic undertone. To clarify, Sophia would be Alessa/Heather, the human woman who created God and left it to the world, while the God herself would be the evil Demiurge, worshipped by misguided idiots. The story of God's creation also has Gnostic influences.
- It should be noted that Keiichiro Toyama, creator and writer of the original game, was big on demonology.
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Its Demiurge figure (Lucifer) isn't sympathetic, but for once, the archons are. The whole reason Lucifer created Eternal Sphere was to be able to completely control the 4D cities' populaces. The result is that the archons are agonizingly bored and unfulfilled. Lucifer, on the other hand...
- Xenogears is pretty much a straight retelling of it. A good God (the Zohar) is pulled down from a higher dimension, and creates a woman from one of the sparks of light surrounding it (Elly). The Zohar is then used to create an evil god (Deus), which is followed by a false religion (-Ethos-), and while Deus created the world and rules it, using humans for its own purposes and letting its evil followers do whatever they like, the Zohar is the true, benevolent god.
- Xenoblade Chronicles — At first, it seems like the Gnostic influence is toned down to a much lesser extent than its predecessors'. The Monad(o) and Yaldabaoth are virtually the only references to it. But then the game's final act begins, in which case Zanza is the Demiurge, who created the world in his image, with Meyneth serving as his Sophia, while Alvis is the real God, and the Monado represents personal truth/revelation, among other things. It doesn't name-drop as heavily as the previous Xeno-games, but it's just as Gnostic as them.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2 adds the Architect, who is basically the real God to Zanza's Demiurge, as they're the good and evil halves of who they originally started out as.
- The Firstborn, the Big Bad of Clive Barker's Jericho is loosely based on the Demiurge. Rather than being created by Sophia, he is the first creation of God, who didn't come out quite right, to the point that even his creator couldn't love him.
- Crusader Kings II features Bogomilism and Catharism as heretical breakaway sects of Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, respectively, the latter is notable for the fact that female characters can be appointed as priests and bishops. Zoroastrism also has Manicheism as a "heresy". With some skilled maneuvering, a player can make them major religious denominations in Medieval Europe.
- Crusader Kings III offers a wider selection of Gnostic teachings, including the original late Antiquity sects of Valentinianism and Sethianism, to be revived. Reflecting the syncretic nature of Gnosticism, some of the Gnostic faiths belong to the Christian family (Cathars, Bogomils and Paulicians), some to the Islamic family (the Druze) and some to their own family called Dualist (Manichaeanism, Mandaeism, Sethianism, Valentinianism). But they all share the Gnosticism tenet, which you can even place in your own custom religion, that makes them recognize each other across religious families as righteous.
- Genshin Impact features several references to Gnosticism in its terminology, featuring gods known as Archons whose powers are concentrated in objects called Gnoses, and elemental monsters called Hypostases found throughout the world.
- Homestuck has Yalbadaoth and Abraxas as characters, taking the roles of Denizens. A few characters' internet handles also namedrop Gnosticism.
- Kill Six Billion Demons has Gnosticism as it's heaviest influence. In particular, the very creator God YISUN describes itself as a Consummate Liar and Unreliable Narrator, the cosmology reads like a greatest-hits of Hindu and Christian cosmology and the story focuses on the self and destroying illusions of self; fitting both the idea of personal interpretation and dispelling illusions about reality. As the cherry on top, the Big Bad Ensemble are called Demiurges; fitting the original concept they are false heirs to YISIN's throne and spend their time alternately demonstrating their immense power and mismanaging their disparate factions of the universe.
- The Salvation War all but namedrops it. With God being a false deity that demands worship due to mistakenly believing himself the true God, and Humans needing to use knowledge (both scientific and moral/spiritual) acquired with some help from higher beings, one of them Jesus, to conquer both Heaven and Hell.
- The SCP Foundation: The storylines about the Church of the Broken God and the Sarkic Cults are heavily based around this; the former being a sort of technological Gnosticism with a dispersed god, with the latter being flesh-obsessed cultists whose god is, yes, outright called Yaldabaoth.
- Æon Flux: From the name of the main character, Aeon, to questioning the nature of reality, to an actual appearance by a being known as The Demiurge.
- The LEGO Movie, believe it or not. Specifically the "Man Upstairs" plot, when it fully enters the stage.