“Many gnostics, on the contrary, insisted that ignorance, not sin, is what involves a person in suffering. The gnostic movement shared certain affinities with contemporary methods of exploring the self through psychotherapeutic techniques. Both gnosticism and psychotherapy value, above all, knowledge- the self-knowledge which is insight. They agree that, lacking this, a person experiences the sense of being driven by impulses he does not understand. Valentinus expressed this in a myth. He tells how the world originated when Wisdom, the Mother of all beings, brought it forth out of her own suffering. The four elements that Greek philosophers said constituted the world- earth, air, fire, and water- are concrete forms of her experience.
Thus the earth arose from her confusion, water from her terror; air from the consolidation of her grief; while fire . . . was inherent in all these elements . . . as ignorance lay concealed in these three sufferings.
Thus the world was born out of suffering. (The Greek word pathos, here translated ‘suffering,’ also connotes being the passive recipient, not the initiator, of one’s experience.) Valentinus or one of his follower tells a different version of the myth in the Gospel of Truth:
. . . Ignorance . . . brought about anguish and terror. And the anguish grew solid like a fog, so that no one was able to see. For this reason error is powerful . . .
Most people live, then, in oblivion-or, in contemporary terms, they have ‘no root.’ The Gospel of Truth describes such existence as a nightmare. Those who live in it experience ‘terror and confusion and instability and doubt and division,’ being caught in ‘many illusions.’ So, according to the passage scholars call the ‘nightmare parable,’ they lived
as if they were sunk in sleep and found themselves in disturbing dreams. Either (there is) a place to which they are fleeing, or, without strength, they come (from) having chased after others, or they are involved in striking blows, or they are receiving blows themselves, or they have fallen from high places, or they take off into the air though they do not even have wings. Again, sometimes (it is as) if people were murdering them, though there is no one even pursuing them, or they themselves are killing their neighbors, for they have been stained with their blood. When those who are going through all these things wake up, they see nothing, they who were in the midst of these disturbances, for they are nothing. Such is the way of those who have cast ignorance aside as sleep, leaving [its works] behind like a dream in the night. . . This is the way everyone has acted, as though asleep at the time when he was ignorant. And this is the way he has come to knowledge, as if he had awakened.
Whoever remains ignorant, a ‘creature of oblivion,’ cannot experience fulfillment. Gnostics said that such a person ‘dwells in deficiency’ (the opposite of fulfillment). For deficiency consists of ignorance:
. . . As with someone’s ignorance, when he comes to have knowledge, his ignorance vanished by itself; as the darkness vanishes when light appears, so also the deficiency vanishes in the fulfillment.
Self-ignorance is also a form of self-destruction. According to the Dialogue of the Savior, whoever does not understand the elements of the universe, and of himself, is bound for annihilation:
. . . If one does not [understand] how the fire came to be, he will burn in it, because he does not know his root. If one does not first understand water, he does not know anything. . . . If one does not understand how the wind that blows came to be, he will run with it. If one does not understand how the body that he wears came to be, he will perish with it. . . . Whoever does not understand how he came will not understand how he will go . . .
How-or where-is one to seek self-knowledge? Many gnostics share with psychotherapy a second major premise: both agree-against orthodox Christianity-that the psyche bears within itself the potential for liberation or destruction. Few psychiatrists would disagree with the saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas:
‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.‘
Such insight comes gradually, through effort: ‘Recognize what is before your eyes, and what is hidden will be revealed to you.’
Such gnostics acknowledged that pursuing gnosis engages each person in a solitary, difficult process, as one struggles against internal resistance. They characterized this resistance to gnosis as the desire to sleep or to be drunk-that is, to remain unconscious. So Jesus (who elsewhere says ‘I am the knowledge of the truth’) declares that when he came into the world
I found them all drunk; I found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into this world, and empty they seek to leave this world. But for the moment they are drunk.
The teacher Silvanus, whose Teachings were discovered at Nag Hammadi, encourages his followers to resist unconsciousness:
. . . end the sleep which weighs heavy upon you. Depart from the oblivion which fills you with darkness . . . Why do you pursue the darkness, though the light is available for you? . . . Wisdom calls you, yet you desire foolishness. . . . passion. He swims in the desires of life and has foundered. . . . he is like a ship which the wind tosses to and fro, and like a loose horse which has no rider. For this (one) needed the rider, which is reason. . . . before everything else . . . know yourself . . .
The Gospel of Thomas also warns that self-discovery involves inner turmoil:
Jesus said, ‘Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over all things.’
What is the source of the ‘light’ discovered within? Like Freud, who professed to follow the ‘light of reason,’ most gnostic sources agreed that ‘the lamp of the body is the mind’ (a saying which the Dialogue of the Savior attributes to Jesus). Silvanus, the teacher, says:
. . . Bring in your guide and your teacher. The mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher. . . . Live according to your mind . . . Acquire strength, for the mind is strong . . . Enlighten your mind . . . Light the lamp within you.
To do this, Silvanus continues,
Knock on yourself as upon a door and walk upon yourself as on a straight road. For if you walk on the road, it is impossible for you to go astray. . . . Open the door for yourself that you may know what is . . . Whatever you will open for yourself, you will open.“
Pages 124-127; The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
“‘Sophia is two,’ Linda said. ‘She was born in 1976. We tape what she says.’
‘Everything is taped,’ Mini said. ‘Sophia is surrounded by audio and video recording equipment that automatically monitors her constantly. Not for her protection, of course; VALIS protects her – VALIS, her father.’
‘And we can talk with her?’ I said.
‘She’ll dispute with you for hours,’ Linda said, and then she added, ‘in every language there is or ever was.'”
-Page 209; VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence Network/ 1981) by Philip K. Dick (PKD)