Gnostic Films for the Holidays

Gnostic Films

A group of gnostic films I want to rewatch over the holidays: Vanilla Sky (2001), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), eXistenZ (1999), Dark City (1998), and Pleasantville (1998). Dead Man (1996) and Altered States (1980) with more hermetic and alchemical themes. And of course The Matrix (1999) and The Truman Show (1998) with gnostic imprisonment and escape themes. Those with gnostic undercurrents: The Ninth Gate (1999), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), Blue Velvet (1986), and Excalibur (1981).

Should keep me busy…

For those who need a primer in gnostic thought…

Depends on your reading. I’m not a Gnostic, but rather an Anti-Gnostic Gnostic… a misnomer, but for me there is no alien god hiding or exiled beyond the universe awaiting its moment of redemption or salvation of my spark. Yet, as in pessimism there is a sense that something is wrong, something at root malevolent and dark within the immanence of our energetic (Will) cosmos. The early Gnostics were of course soteriologically minded, believing that this malevolent demiurge (Old Testament’s Yaweh-Ialdabaoth) and his minions (Archons) had lured the sparks of God into this universe to trap them and feed eternally on their suffering and pain. Kabbalistic thought would engender a myth of the broken vessels and the Tree-of-Life and Tree-of-Death or right hand path/left-hand-path of white and black magics to describe it. For Gnostics we are all Strangers in a Strange Land (Heinlein), lost in a labyrinth of time, cut off from the source or Plato’s One, etc. Christ in their scenario is Lucifer the Light Bringer who makes a call to the faithful through personal experience. That’s the crux… that was the central heresy and why the Catholic Church hounded them out in all forms: the Church had a hierarchy of intercessors, the Pope being the ultimate intercessor between humanity and God (Demiurge-Yahweh). Gnostics had no need of intercessors or Churches, worldly power or organization… only the personal experience of each human alone with the alone.

The Gnostics had no need of outer form, ritual, Churches but rather relied on absolute inner sense and experience (see Bataille). None of the above films is a pure Gnostic rendition, but all have elements and undercurrents either overt or askance of the notion of gnosis or an irrational (beyond reason) knowledge that awakens one from the sleep of timespace, etc. One could spend years developing and reading through the literature, I’ve spent a lifetime reading on it and its roots in philosophy etc. Hell, even one like François Laruelle makes use of it in his non-philosophy. Classic texts like Hans Jonas gives you the base or skeleton key. The aphorist E.M. Cioran gives you the inner forms… there is literally hundreds of good works on it, and thousands and thousands of secondary commentary and historical, mythical, philosophical works… for a light economical reading The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today by April DeConick brings much to the table in easy to know and understand popular parlance from a scholar who does have more stringent works.

I’m no scholar, just a widely read bibliophile and maniac in search of wisdom and knowledge. I’ve hounded the streams of so many currents in thought that none of them can reduce me to its view. Singular and dividual I stand amid the ruins of our Western culture not in some nostalgic take or to save what’s left, but to explore what’s still vital and alive in it.

Eric Voegelin’s Anti-Democratic Worldview

I’ve never been much of a fan of such thinkers as Voegelin, and yet let us be clear we need to understand such right-wing reactionary thinkers and their attack on progressive liberalism and its roots in Modernity. The reactionary spirit is not going away, as we see in our recent political debacle, so understanding and thinking through the ideologists of that form of political theology and its underpinnings is needful in the times ahead.

The Lutheran Eric Voegelin a reactionary conservative and anti-democratic ideologist of constitutional liberalism would equate it and its traditions with Gnosticism as the core of Modernity. His attack upon all forms of progressive and socialist thought would stem from his right-wing religious ideology. For him much of our current civilization was under the sign of a “falacious immanentization”, an “End of History” ideology based on a recurring theme of gnostic thought.

Voegelin found in the Calabrian monk Joachim of Flora a hook for his own reactionary thought, believing that this monk created a speculative history that satisfied the desire to endow mundane human existence with a meaning which Christianity, and especially the Augustinian conception of history, had denied it; and he did so by relocating the end of transcendental history, the Christian eschaton, the ultimate transfiguration in God out of time within historical existence. Joachim’s project, according to Eric Voegelin, was the “first Western attempt at an immanentization of the meaning of history.”1

What unites the various manifestations of this spiritual disorder according to Voegelin’s reactionary thought—positivism, progressivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, liberalism, fascism, National Socialism—is the radical “will to immanentization,” the closure toward the transcendent dimension of human experience, that underlies their construction. Indeed, the most extreme modern ideologies go a step further; their proponents not only reject the transcendent ground but seek to “abolish the constitution of being, with its origin in divine, transcendent being, and to replace it with a world-immanent order of being.” They aim to bring about the transfiguration of human nature through human action in history and to build a terrestrial paradise endowed with the meaning and salvational qualities of the Christian eschaton. In short, the ideological constructions embody, in Voegelin’s famous terminology, a radical and “fallacious immanentization of the Christian eschaton.” The Christian conception of man’s ultimate transfiguration in God was brought “down to earth,” transformed into the notion of human transfiguration in time, to be accomplished through strictly human and immanent action; the transcendent Christian end of history was transformed into a mundane “End of History” to be realized in the immanent future. The ideologists carried the process begun by Joachim to its limit; the transcendent dimension of reality was fully absorbed into mundane existence.

Voegelin saw Gnosticism all over the modern age. He even considered liberalism, constitutionalism, and “democratism” to be gnostic ideologies, and some of his students were extremely hard on John Locke, who had a sizeable influence on the American Founding. If he lived today he’d be attacking Transhumanism and the notion of the Singularity as one more manifestation of the Gnostic Spirit of transcendence in immanence or the “End of History” ideology, along with its notion of hermetic revival of self-divinizing cyborg or AGI merger as the new Golem-Homunculus – as Immortal Man.

  1. Raeder, Linda C. Voegelin on Gnosticism, Modernity, and the Balance of Consciousness. Voegelin Review 2020

Negative Capability and Our Predicament

If I had a basic stance it would always return to John Keat’s notions:

“The Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…” (Letter to his brothers Tom and George)

Over and over I seek out such thinkers and writers who seem to be situated in that in-between space where one is faced with the nameless and unknown without grasping for some religious or scientific reason or image to dispel its mystery. Certain forms of horror and the weird come closest to this region of thought beyond which all is silence of mysticism. One reason philosophies of Will rather than Intellect fascinate me is just that, we are driven creatures, irrational and prone to error both in judgment and vision, our brains filling in the gaps of our knowledge and vision of existence with invention.

As Andy Clark in Surfing Uncertainty puts it:

“The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action. Thinking matter, dreaming matter, conscious matter: that’s the thing that it’s hard to get your head—whatever it’s made of—around. But there is an emerging clue. It is one clue among many, and even if it’s a good one, it won’t solve all the problems and puzzles. Still, it’s a real clue is prediction.

To deal rapidly and fluently with an uncertain and noisy world, brains like ours have become masters of prediction—surfing the waves of noisy and ambiguous sensory stimulation by, in effect, trying to stay just ahead of them.” (Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind)

In other words we are the creative animal, we live by and in inventions, worlds of imaginative leaps bounded by reason, logic, and imagination. It’s a world that was well adapted to the natural realms within which we developed and maintained our material existence for hundreds of thousands of years. But that all changed somewhere around ten thousand years ago when men began taming themselves and the natural world around them. We began domesticating ourselves and the natural worlds, began a process of domination and control of which our unnatural or anti-natural realm of artifice, technology, and civilization is the outcome.

With all our philosophical prowess we have yet to encompass the big picture of this actual heritage.

The Labyrinths of the Asemic Night

The Labyrinths of the Asemic Night

The Priest reminded him of the Sin Eater’s of old whose open sores gave acolytes and bearer’s of sin alike visions of infernal worlds of hopeless love. Asemic mappings of the invisible noumenon surrounding us in the Abyss, the slow insectile elaboration of a secret legacy hidden in the seams of broken masonry or the pools of blood found in dark alleys of inner cities. Listening to the chittering patter of the night, the clicking clatter of millions of legs across the rain-soaked stones of the labyrinth he heard in the distance the lonely song of some darkened siren of the veil, her song slipping between the folds of the coronal horizon of dying stars. Here at the center of the darkness he felt the cosmic night drifting through his mind like a hint of closure, an exposed moment of stylish and incipient emergence of some unknown and unknowable future.

On Scientism

Scientism: Scientism is the dogma that the sciences have access to truths that hold some essential Truth denied by other organizations of knowledge. It is a secular religion with its own hierarchy of priests, theologians, and secular proselytizers who deny all other forms of truth beyond their own. Scientific dogma holds that both philosophy and religion are the opiate of former ages, a form of thought surpassed under the aegis of scientific method and inquiry.

Of course the defenders of philosophy and religion dispute such claims and the wars of thought go on… Why do men seek dogmas, seek to ground their stubborn beliefs in systems of thought or inquiry that in their own domain hold great promise, but the moment they assume the mantle of spokesman or preachers of the Real and Reality they suddenly seem superficial navigators of the horizon of thought?

The sad thing in our own time is that the sciences being funded by government and corporations have also been bound by those ideologies to say and do only what their respective employers or political affiliations allow them too. Sciences as an empirical naturalism was once a great tool for exploration of the world and the cosmos; and, still is. But over time it has become dominated by both political and monetary (capitalist) forms to the detriment of empirical investigation and the common hope of humanity. Will this ever change?


Tears were impossible, yet tears were his heritage. Sorrow was beyond him, yet sorrow was his birthright. Anguish was denied him; even so, anguish was his stock in trade. For Trente, there was no unhappiness; nor was there joy, concern, discomfort, age, time, feeling. And this was as the Ethos had planned it. For Trente had been appointed by the Ethos—the race of somewhere/somewhen beings who morally and ethically ruled the universes—as their Paingod. To Trente, who knew neither the tug of time nor the crippling demands of the emotions, fell the forever task of dispensing pain and sorrow to the myriad multitudes of creatures that inhabited the universes. Whether sentient or barely capable of the feeblest unicellular reaction-formation, Trente passed along from his faceted cubicle, invisible against the backdrop of the changing stars, unhappiness and misery in proportions too complexly arrived at to be verbalized. He was Paingod for the universes, the one who dealt out the tears and the anguish and the soul-wrenching terrors that blighted life from its first moment to its last. Beyond age, beyond death, beyond feeling—lonely and alone in his cubicle—Trente went about his business without concern or pause.

—Harlan Ellison, Paingod and other Delusions

E.M. Cioran: Our Century

However severe we are in regard to this century, however serious the shortcomings may appear, one cannot, however unjustifiably, refuse it the merit of knowing itself, and of wanting itself to be condemned. This merit, this privilege rather, assures it a unique physiognomy and gives the fatality that awaits it an irresistible attraction. Happy and unhappy to live there, we contemplate with voluptuarity and terror the signs that define and distinguish it. Other centuries also knew the curiosity of the outcome, the impatience of the imminent and the intolerable, the pangs of a dreaded and expected certainty, with this difference, however, that it was open to them to conceive an after, a day after a disaster, an end followed by a judgment, a hope of compromise or fraud. For us, the irreparable model of completion, is flawless; it is even the only form of rigor and perfection that we can imagine. Consequently, indistinct of our future, it draws us, with its irreproachable tenebrosity, as wonderfully apt to approach it, the more we fall into this flattering nightmare, felt by all those who had the advantage of finding themselves at the heart of some great calamity.

—E.M. Cioran, The Key to the Abyss

Sean Crow: The Godless Lands

Sean Crow’s Godless LandsCapture

Began reading this new entry in a certain type of fantasy I’ve been enjoying of late. Sean himself told me recently he is an adherent of David Gemmell’s work like others are to Tolkien. Gemmell is of course a master of nuance and the gray tones of moral ambiguity. Creating characters of the heroic mold tending toward the grimdark vectors of the great outsiders who hold to no religious or social creeds or dogmas, but rather harbor within themselves a moral compass of unique disposition challenging the universe on its own ground situation by situation. Call them existential heroes who choose life over death, honor and integrity over the imposed morals of State or Religion.

Sean’s characters so far follow in this mold. We find a world that has been inundated by a small apocalypse of disease, The Blight. It’s a world of fear and dread, ruled by a contingent of feudal lords and their Inquisitorial Knights who control access to food and shelter in cities that enforce strict compliance to a regimen of cleansing and purity.

The prologue and first chapter introduce us to Arlo, Ferris, and the Doves. Arlo is a man caught in the circumstance of being the head of the Doves, the Inquisitorial enforces of purification and cleansing of the city of those who once they catch the dread Blight must be mercifully eliminated. It’s a grim task and Arlo is a man who is not evil in the absolute sense, but has been assigned a task, one he does not relish but knows must be done. Arlo has himself lost a wife and loved ones to the Blight so knows the sorrow of this dreaded disease.

Ferris is a Dove, or an ex-Dove, a man who has seen death aplenty, but has chosen to live outside the city in the godless lands where there is no protection or safe haven. Ferris is a coward, but as in Gemmell’s character Rek of Legend, he is a coward on the side of life, a man who chose to protect the innocent and certain of the diseased from the dread execution. We meet him on a road outside the city in a forest where a woman and her child are running from Knights. Ferris unknowing why he does it helps them evade the law chasing her down, and offers her a small reprieve and help to find better safety. Ferris will question his own motives and like Rek in Gemmell come up with no satisfactory reason why he is the way he is. This is as far as I’ve gotten so far, but it’s enough to keep me reading. One thing I will say is that even if there are shades of Gemmell in the work I’m not going to look for such things from here, only that his mentioning of Gemmell as his “Tolkien” or go to writer of inherited influence brings such thoughts to mind.

Just finished Sean’s novel today. Very enjoyable read. As previously stated the novel started out with the escape of a young woman, Bethany, and her daughter, Katrina from an unwanted marriage in the aristocratic town of Brightbridge. Bethany and her daughter run into Ferris on the road outside the town where they are being tracked by a group known as the Pathfinders who are scouts under Arlo’s command. Arlo we remember is a knight under the command of a half-crazed aristocrat whose tendencies to violence are quick and deadly. Yet, Arlo, being a man of loyalty and honor serves his lord with the utmost zeal to the point that he’s gained a reputation as the “Death Knight” in the local environs for his zealous and officious slaughter of whole families who have come into contact with the plague known as the Blight.

The story revolves around the escape of mother and child, a tale of two towns and a farm where their destinies are entwined with others who have escaped before and sought in the godless lands a refuge against the madness of aristocrats, the plague, and the cruelty of enslavement. The story will run the gambit of half-crazed aristocrats, cannibals, mercenaries, and innocent men and women seeking to escape the plague ridden cities where cruelty and mayhem have led to inhuman depths of depravity. Brightbridge is controlled by Arlo and his mercenary forces of death, while another town, Riven, is controlled by a sadistic giant named ‘The Butcher’. The Butcher is the son of a doctor who succumbed to the Blight and died leaving his son whose apprenticeship in the arts of healing have taken a darker turn toward sadism and torture and the worship of a dark god of cannibalistic cruelty named the ‘Hungry God’.

In Sean’s novel the deadly ‘Death Knight’ of Brightbridge, and the ‘Butcher’ of Riven, will both leave their respective towns for different reasons. The one in search of his Lord’s runaway bride and daughter, the other in search of a new supply of meat for the Hungry God. As one can tell this will lead both parties into a collision course with the refugees of a Farm where people from both towns have fled to begin new lives in the godless lands. Throw into the mix another group of survivors known as the ‘Withered’ – those who have survived the plague only to succumb to a dark and terrible zombie like state of insanity, and who seek to murder all those who are still normal humans.

I don’t want to spoil the reading pleasure of prospective reader’s mind with more plot and narrative details, only to say that you will be introduced to the members of the Farm who will play a major part in the coming clash between the deadly Deathknight Brightbridge and the Butcher of Riven. Like all novels there are twists and sub-plots, many POVs to delight our curiosity and move the tale along toward its denouement. Sean’s a storyteller with a sure eye to detail, and provides just enough information here and there without overly pounding the reader with infodumps. All in all this was a tight, compact tale which gives us just enough characterization and depth to enrich and pique our interest without bogging us down in an overly wrought tale of description gone mad. Sean has an eye for both psychological and external description to keep us reading, and yet knows just how much is too much guiding the reader into a good balance of strategy and action.

From what I’ve read this novel grew out of several tales that Sean had written in collusion with a painter friend, stories of various characters in the novel that would contribute to its overall design. It does have that visual appeal, and strangely the tale although written before our current COVID-19 crisis seems apropos in its theme shaped by a politics of cruelty and torture, freedom and normalcy. The novel has the medieval feel, and yet as one reads through it one will detect a sense that this is a civilization that has fallen from a more advanced and productive technological one based on a knowledge of the sciences. I’ll leave the reader to explore the threads of that on their own. Unlike many thick books of fantasy this is one that can be read in a couple of evenings. And even though there are other books that are projected to come in the same world, this one can be read as a stand-alone tale without having to worry about sequels. I like that. Too many writers have gotten into the habit of writing long overly wrought worlds that never seem to end. It’s refreshing to see a stand-alone tale that has a good beginning, middle, and end in the old style. Sean is a new voice in a field that is becoming saturated by cliched ridden world-building and stories that seem to endlessly repeat certain tropes over and over again. Sean’s doesn’t. It presents us with a tale about the common people who no matter what background, whether aristocrat or street urchin come together in a wilderness and forge a new life of cooperation and survival in a world of ruins. I like that, and think you will too.

Buy it on Amazon: The Godless Lands
Visit Sean Crow on Good Reads: here

Emile Cioran: The Failed Mystic

Timid, devoid of dynamism, the good is inept at communicating itself. Evil, much more zealous, seeks to transmit itself, and succeeds because it possesses the double privilege of being fascinating and contagious.

—E. M. Cioran, The New Gods

I think anyone who has struggled against one’s cultural inheritance, and let’s be specific: one’s Christian heritage whether of Catholic or Protestant background (although one will always qualify such things further!). I think they must admit to themselves a certain failure to completely extinguish it. Cioran was no different. Raised in an Orthodox Greek household, his father himself a Priest of that Church, enforced a certain inheritance of thought and form on the young Cioran that would never leave him. Cioran was a mystic at heart, but one who never attained its sublime ecstasy. He was a failed mystic. Continue reading

The Illusion

One imagines a Library at the center of the universe housed in a vast cosmic library world labyrinth, hollowed out and housing all the known knowledge of space, time and the multiverse. Then you’re asked to find the Grimoire of a sorcerer long dead whose works were meant only as a guide to the labyrinthine Library of Time… you’ve been seeking this book now for 999 years. You meet Jorge-Luis Borges in a forgotten niche of the library who describes a labyrinth of Babylon which he once entered much like this library…. but that was exactly 232 years ago and you cannot remember exactly what the conversation was about except that it seemed to hold the key to your current quest. Now you begin retracing the years and alcoves of the labyrinth of time seeking him out… but he left the library 231 years ago for parts unknown… you stand there a moment not knowing whether the quest is worth it or not; or, who sent you on this errand into the interminable labyrinth without outlet. To move or not to move is your only thought. You think to yourself that Zeno was a prankster… a deluded god of thought and change. If all movement is an illusion, then the labyrinth, library, and time are all unnecessary delusions of the quest; and, the quest itself can never be completed, because one can never leave one’s current place. But then this must be the place, and you the sorcerer of the one thought, guide and perplexed victim, one.