Broken from the divine harmony of herself she fell, says the tragic philosopher, and became the manifestation of matter; and the whole universe of her city, of the world, was formed out of her agony and remorse. The tragic seed from which her thoughts and actions grew was the seed of a pessimistic gnosticism.
—Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet
The novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell presented a modern version of the Gnostic vision in a series of novels, The Avignon Quintet (1974– 85). Akkad, an Egyptian merchant-banker who is also a latter-day Gnostic, preaches to small groups of European expatriates. At times plump and sluggish-looking, at others looking ascetic and haggard, at home in four capitals and speaking as many languages or more, sometimes wearing western clothes and sometimes traditional dress, Akkad offers to piece together the surviving fragments of Gnostic teaching, which the established religions had tried to destroy: the bitter central truth of the gnostics:
… the horrifying realisation that the world of the Good God was a dead one, and that He had been replaced by a usurper – a God of Evil … It was the deep realisation of this truth, and its proclamation that had caused the gnostics to be suppressed, censored, destroyed. Humanity is too frail to face the truth about things – but to anyone who confronts the reality of nature and of process with a clear mind, the answer is completely inescapable: Evil rules the day.
What sort of God, the gnostic asks himself, could have organised things the way they are – this munching world of death and dissolution which pretends to have a Saviour, and a fountain of good at its base? What sort of God could have built this malefic machine of destruction, of self-immolation? Only the very spirit of the dark negative death-trend in nature – the spirit of nothingness and auto-annihilation. A world in which we are each other’s food, each other’s prey …
In classical and medieval astrology, there was a planetary significator that was antithetical to the Hyleg – Giver of Life, Health, and Longevity. It was called the Anareta, and was also known as the Interfector or the Killer Planet. It was considered to be the planet most involved with illness, pathology and death. Our Earth is Anareta, entropic and self-immolating, a predatory machine that feeds on its children in endless cycles of creation and destruction. In the East Kali is the figure of this dark mistress as giver and taker of life, impersonal and indifferent Nature, productive and destructive, cycling the worlds through eons of mutation, transformation, entropy, and death and rebirth. Her cruel gaze and dance of bones is the inherent order of the universe, unknowing of human suffering she is not aware of inflicting pain or joy; rather her actions are utterly indifferent to the tears or laughter of her human supplicants. The Gnostics knew her as the fallen archon Sophia who gave birth to the Demiurge or creative principle of the universe and its destruction.