“Why Black Gnosticism?” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Since I began studying Black Gnostic practices, I have often wondered why such groups choose Gnosticism. Out of all of the things they could’ve chosen to identify with–why Gnosticism? In the latter half of the 19th century and the onset of the 20th, Gnosticism in antiquity has become a hot ticket item that has come to mean nothing coherent or consistent. Yet despite such inconsistency, it has become generally accepted that Gnosticism was an ancient set of practices stemming out of the early period of the Christian development in the Middle East and in North East Africa. Informally, during Christianity’s early stages, the differences between what Cornel West identifies as “Constantinian Christianity” and “Prophetic Christianity” were quite telling (although here, “Christianities” would be a more appropriate term). In this sense, there was very little difference between Gnostics and others because most Christians were more “Gnostic” in their orientation than not. In other words, Christianity wasn’t formally established, so experimentation was more the standard than anything else. It was primarily during the rise of Constantine and the Nicean conferences that such formalization began.

In their book The Jesus Mysteries, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, however, describe the origins of Christianity in a uniquely different way. They argue that Gnosticism is a product of Ancient northeast African influence. More specifically, they argue that Egypt’s influence predominated religious discourses from Africa, to the Middle East, to early Europe, to east Asia’s shores. They and such historians as Gerald Massey, Kersey Graves, John Henrik Clarke, Joseph Campbell, Ben Jochanan, and filmmakers such as Peter Joseph of the famed internet film Zeitgeist generally argue that Egyptian astro-theo-mythological narratives influenced other societies, but did so in a unique fashion. They did not promote the overt worship of Ausar (Osiris) in, say, Greece, but they did influence groups to interpret their cosmology from their own contexts. Here, Attis of Greece is a representation of Heru (Horus), as is Krishna of India, Mithra of Persia, and later Jesus the Nazarene. Freke and Gandy further argue that Jesus is merely the Hebraic interpretation of what they call the “Osiris/Dionysus Godman,” or Heru, a concept they argue has been transplanted across the eastern world and used as a form of ancient theological discourse (in a sense, each “god” and “goddess” was a particular argument about the nature of existence, not a mythical figure to be taken literally). They further suggest that such reinterpretations were not only common, but provided iconic/mythic vehicles for articulating advanced ideas about Egyptian scientific, astrological, and mythological concepts. Yet a more basic question might be–why? One reason Freke and Gandy pose is that Egyptian (or Kemetian) theology provided a means for translating the potential of human development in a monotheistic context (the term theology is not wholly accurate because such divisions were not differentiated from religion, economics, and politics as they are in a western cultural context). Monotheism provided an overarching concept of the divine, but it was uniquely Egyptian that the notion of the divine would openly engage an anthropomorphic idea of the god-being. Factoring in that Egypt is said to have been produced by societies in central and even southern Africa centuries before it reach the northern edge of the Nile River in northeast Africa, it can be argued that the anthropomorphic symbolism of Egypt stems from philosophies that far exceed the timelines we’ve constructed for its development. In fact, the astrological charts that Egyptians developed and employed may suggest centuries of research, re-evaluation, and examination prior to the advent of Egypt itself!

To further complicate matters, the anthropomorphized godman, according to Freke, Gandy, and Marc Edmund Jones (Occult Philosophy), was an archetypal script for articulating complex notions the Self (and the various levels of the Self that comprise all existence), the physical realms of energy that comprised the godforce on a physical plane (magnetism, heat, light, etc.), mathematical and scientific concepts, and the potential for all beings to achieve the full expression of human possibility-godhood. In this way, each god and goddess was, in itself, an assertion about a specific vibrational level of existence. In other words, ideas about space, time, being, infinity, and manifestation are articulated in the pantheon of Kemetic divinity.

It is this tradition that has been transliterated into contemporary Christianities, despite that it is not commonly taught as such. Early Christian practices generally required the support of a master teacher or elder initiate. Yet at a critical juncture when Christian Gnostics–whom Freke and Gandy argure preceded Christian conventionalists–were often killed in an effort to use the religion as an extension of the burgeoning Catholic state of Rome, the religion was spread by the uninitiated throughout the rural areas of the Middle East. Able to articulate the narrative of Christ’s life with his disciples (a fantastic story that attracted people in droves), the esoteric aspect of the early religion was gradually buried beneath the narratives of the largely uneducated–but faithful–converts. Over time, as practitioners became clerics of Rome and no longer the persecuted converts of a deviant religion, they sought to dismiss anyone that practiced what was considered Gnostic heresy (an irony considering that the early “church” was quite non-traditional in its own right).

Yet the only consistent feature of Gnosticism was its lack of consistency. Gnosticism, and by that I mean in spite of how people have perceived Gnosticism since the late 19th century, was actually quite syncretic, and was not the antithesis to Christianity we now tend to think it was. In this sense, it is fitting that a group of spiritual theorists in the Los Angeles area would use Gnosticism as a base for interrogating new modes of perception and practice. In fact, as the potential for new ideas becomes apparent in this new age, the choice of Gnosticism as a moniker for this type of theoretical inquiry proves to be quite ingenious…

~ by Lord Amaru on June 27, 2008.

One Response to ““Why Black Gnosticism?” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.”

  1. Thank you for your objective summary. I will copy it and share it. The Black Gnostics meet at KRST Unity on Western.
    Have you seen this 81 page interview of Alfred Ligon as a part of an oral history program?
    http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb4g5009q6&brand=oac4&doc.view=entire_text
    Hotep, Artist Bridgitte Montgomery

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