Gnosticism (is a philosophical and religious movement originating before Christianity. It's teachings are primarily based on gnosis, the ineffable knowledge of transcendence obtained through introspection and intuition. One of the most unique features of gnosticism is its adherence to the idea that the universe itself and its creator are corrupt and wretched.
The Gnostic God differs from most religions in that there is a true and transcendent god who did not create anything, but rather emanated the substance from which everything exists. Many portions of the divine essence have become so far from their source they were able to become corrupt; because of this, gnostics view worship of anything worldly to be worship of isolated and corrupted portions of this substance. With the true god are the Aeons, deities who exist between it and the physical plane together in the realm of Pleroma (Fullness). These immaterial Aeons sprung forth spontaneously from the essence in numbers up to 30.
The youngest Aeon, named Sophia ("Wisdom") or Achamoth, emanated a flawed being who mistakenly believed himself to be the absolute God and created the universe in the image of this flaw. He is often called the Demiurgos, Demiurge, or "half-maker," as he took the already existing divine essence to fashion his own creations. He also created beings called Archons to rule over this universe. Humans, in this sense, are physically bound fragments of divine essence who express the dual nature of their prison; their fragments are called "divine sparks," something which most are ignorant about. The Demiurge and his Archons seek to keep humans ignorant of their divine spark and keep them within the universe until a sufficient amount of gnosis has been achieved prior to death. In this structure, humans alone cannot reach salvation, and thus the Messengers of Light (principally Jesus) come from the True God to assist them.
There are seven Archons, each with a corresponding planet, and are as follows:
- Jaldabaoth - Saturn
- Jao (Iao) - Jupiter
- Sabaoth - Mars
- Astaphaios - Venus
- Adonaios - Sun
- Ailoaios - Mercury
- Oraios - Moon
It is important to note that there are many different variations of gnostic cosmogony to be found in the ancient gnostic texts. Often, there are slight differences between the grouped emanations of aeons or archons, but the core myth is prevalent in the same form.
Gnostics don't believe in conceptions of sin because the material world is viewed as inherently flawed and corrupt. Thus, even the "worst" sin is seen as inconsequential as real life only exists in the spirit realm. Unlike many other religions, salvation is not seen as being from sin, but rather the ignorance of spiritual realities from which sin is derived. "Ethics" and "morality" as systems of rules are opposed, as they often originate from the Demiurge. Morality originating from one's inner integrity from the divine spark, on the other hand, is embraced; it's left to the insight of the individual.
Magick is an essential component of ancient gnosticism, though it's less prominent in modern forms. Gnosis was incomplete without knowledge of formulae which, when pronounced, would be the undoing of lower cosmic deities.
Originally Gnosticism was considered an offshoot of Christianity, but evidence now points to it originating centuries beforehand. Suggested places of origin include India, Syria, Phoenicia, and Greece, though its true origin is not known. In the 5th century CE it was nearly wiped out by catholics and the Roman army for heresy. Some fragments of gnostic works probably survived in secret, because several heresies surfaced over the course of history with teachings remarkably similiar to the ancient gnostic thought - namely the Paulicians (7th to 9th century AD), the Bogomils (10th to 15th century AD) and the Cathars (12th to 13th century AD), though there were possibly others. Also Manicheism - a religion originating in the 7th century AD - which is by some historians considered an offshoot of Gnosticism, is very similiar in it's teaching and practices.
There was little historical evidence regarding Gnosticism up untill the 20th century. There were only a handful of badly damaged archeological finds of the primary texts (Bruce and Askew codex) and therefore most information regarding Gnosticism could be found in the heresiological writings of the Early Church Father, such as Irenaeus, Hippolitus and Tertulian. In 1945, the Nag Hammadi library (a large collection of gnostic codices, some dating 2nd or even possibly 1st century AD) was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Substequently, the Gospel of Judas was discovered at El Minya, Egypt in the 1970s. These discoveries lead to a large revival of Gnostic thought and creation of many different gnostic organizations, such as the Ecclesia Gnostica (though it's important to note there existed some gnostic organizations even before the discovery Nag Hammadi, such as the French Gnostic Church). The texts of the gnostic gospels were also, after their initial discovery, often integrated into many different New Age movements and theories, and to this day still are.