Gnosticism

By Anna Hanuska

Every religion has a story to explain creation. The Abrahamic religions claim that God built the world in 7 days, forming man on the last day. In ancient Egypt, the people believed that the tears of a god falling to earth formed the humans. Nearly every story of the formation of the world centers around humans and their interactions with the gods, emphasizing the relationship between humans and divinity. In Gnosticism, an all-powerful god does not craft the earth. A lesser god, called a demiurge, devises the material world. 

Gnostics believe that humans have a divine spark as a result of the strong relationship between mankind and divinity. Humans release their divine spark through pursuit of Gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. Finding Gnosis allows one to transcend the evils of the material world and achieve salvation. 

Although Gnostics originated from early Jews and Christians, they believe in the superiority of spiritual knowledge over church traditions and authority. They also emphasize the evil aspect of the material world, and believe in more than one god, like the malevolent demiurge who created the Earth. Additionally, Gnostics view enlightenment rather than repentance as a path to salvation. Despite their prevalence in early Mediterranian Christian sects, Gnostic writings were condemned as heresy and most were destroyed. 

One of the major principles of Gnosticism is the focus on internal motivation rather than outward rituals. Due to their belief that the material world holds only evil and salvation is achieved through knowledge, this ideal makes sense. Instead of prescribing the “correct” behavior as many Christian sects did, Gnostics highlight personal inclination.

Though most of the Gnostic movement fizzled out by the 5th century, a few European Christian groups in the Middle Ages had Gnostic aspects. The only surviving Gnostic group today, the Mandaeans, primarily practice in Iraq and have about 60,000 followers worldwide.