Gnosis, Psychosis, and the Society of the Demiurge

Difficulty    

This Text Can Be Found in the Book,
The Evolution of Consent: Collected Essays (Vol. I)


I said, “You’ve experienced a deeper understanding of reality,” to which he replied, “No. Not a deeper understanding, a complete understanding.”

____________________________________

Gnosis and Saṃsāra

In most mystery traditions there is a strong idealist element, whether it be a purely idealistic form of monism, or split with materialism in some form of dualism. To many of these perspectives, there is a clash between reality and ideality.

In the East, many Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jains, and more use the term saṃsāra to refer to the cycle of life and death, and māyā to refer to the illusion of reality or self. In the Western traditions, idealists such as Plato taught that we experience only a portion of the truth behind reality, and that the unmistaken truth is beyond our perception, in the world of forms. This belief inspired the Christian tradition, as well as its esoteric cousin, Gnosticism.

The Gnostics tended to believe that the material world was a grand illusion which was created by a secondary deity called the demiurge. The demiurge was the fashioner of the material Universe, but was not the ultimate provider of substance. The demiurge played the role of accepting the creative force of God (the One, the Absolute, the Monad) and developing from it the physical world. In some versions this is an attempt to mimic the higher deity, but failing, while in others it may be an attempt to trap some of the spiritual in a world of deception. Gnosis was an awakening from the deceptive material illusion of the demiurge, an understanding of a hidden spiritual truth behind reality.

In many ways, the demiurge provided the Gnostics with a solution to the problem of good and evil that plagued other religions; if God is perfect, why does evil exist? The Gnostics, being a sort of dualistic pantheism (for the most part), or emanationism, took a rather different view of good and evil. Evil was the product of ignorance of the illusion, an illusion of separation and materialism, given by the demiurge. This separation of perfection into individual pieces of good led to individual egos, and, since good and bad was a matter of individual priority, goods and bads. God, the Absolute, the Monad, was perfection, but the components of perfection themselves were incomplete, unaware of the larger perfection which they composed, and, thus, of their own perfection, and that of others. The acknowledgement of this perfection is called a state of gnosis.

 Psychosis as Mystical Experience

Upon further investigation into theurgical practices and the occult, one begins to come to the understanding that practices like magick, meditation, prayer, and the like are ways to trick the mind into belief in something other than reality, often claimed to be a higher reality, sometimes sourced in the world of forms. Practices like chanting and meditation, Sufi breathing exercises, and more, are meant to lead to these supposedly higher states of understanding. Many people claim to reach these states of gnosis upon use of hallucinogens. Indeed, entheogens have a long historical use for spiritual affairs, giving shamans and other spiritual advisers a gateway to “the other side.” Still, there are many that claim that the use of drugs is unnecessary. Many claim that meditation, contemplation, sensory deprivation, and other techniques may release the same euphoric feelings of awakening (to a new understanding of being), and even cause hallucinations. The goal is to trick the mind into positivity.

The goal of some of these practices would lead to, what today’s society would refer to as, madness; the ability to make decisions and feel ways that others stuck in the māyā (or another illusion) of saṃsāra see as ludicrous. Oftentimes, but not always, the goal is selflessness, lack of concern for material possessions, or for physical outcomes, and a unison with a higher reality of interconnectedness, love, and understanding. It also supports one’s own control of their emotions and mental well-being. If one is happy in one’s own head—even if others don’t understand it—is one not truly happy? This appears to be the goal of many of the esoteric practices. Instead of such an objective view, esoteric philosophies tend toward a higher respect for the subjective, for personal experience, private intuitive enlightenment. It should be clear that esoteric and occult practices regard the world as, if not completely, at least greatly, an illusion, and hold regard for an understanding of a deeper reality, which can be experienced only from within.

Oftentimes, when a person goes through a breaking point in their life they will experience what modern medicine regards as psychoses. During fits of mania, for instance, people may experience hallucinations, delusions, irrational energy and ambition. They may claim to see things that others do not see, hear things that are unheard. They may claim to have a relationship with God, being a messenger or angel, or, in some instances, believing they are the one and only Jesus Christ. Fits of mania come with great euphoria, and in many cultures are considered a blessing, or a “breaking through” to the spiritual world. Schizophrenics oftentimes have feelings of possession or great irrational fears of spiritual beings with ill intentions. Bipolar disorder often comes with fits of mania, followed by fits of depression. Where mania is coupled with euphoria, feelings of grandeur, and ambition, depression is the exact opposite. Could bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and similar psychoses be the source of, or at least point to the source of, idealism, dualism, and the belief in the supernatural?

 Metaphor and Reality

Would it be possible that people like Plato, Buddha, Jesus (if he really existed at all), and more had picked up on a deeper level of reality? Could the main contributors to spirituality be schizophrenics, bipolars, drug-abusers, and others today seen as mentally ill? There are certainly some educated folks who support the view![i] Plato himself, regarding theia mania, announces through his protagonist, Socrates, in Phaedrus, that “in reality, the greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven-sent.”[ii] Like all else in the Universe, the human consciousness reflects a duality, a polarity. Some have called it the id and superego, while in the past, in some cultures, it was regarded as possession by demons and angels, good and evil behaviors.

Creativity levels can go up when one faces a “break from reality.” Einstein himself said that the hitting of his head led to his own eureka!-moment. Many artists have been drawn to mystical practices for their promises of creativity, of opening one’s eyes to the world of forms, of pure concept, in such a manner.

Could it be that some folks are having legitimate, but highly subjective, experiences, which they have a hard time explaining to others? Many people undergoing psychoses will experience selflessness, even being unable to tell self from others, and having other issues regarding object-relations. They can become filled with irrational love (or hate). The same kinds of experiences can occur from use of harder-hitting drugs. Even CNN has admitted to some of the therapeutic effects of using hallucinogenic mushrooms, and that they create feelings of interconnectedness.[iii] When someone is on hallucinogens, it’s very hard to understand their experiences from without, though. Perhaps all one can do for the seer is smile and nod, never being able to understand their perspective oneself. Sometimes, though, people sharing in group usage will experience the same altered reality, or trance.

If a person is having an experience that others don’t understand, perhaps the best one can do is share their feelings by way of metaphor. Afterall, many poststructuralist thinkers today have supported the notion that art provides a better message if it provides subjective interpretation, rather than outright claims about reality. If it provides a means of personal discovery, rather than programming, a message may have more meaning to its reader. This may be especially true when it comes to things for which there is no logical explanation, and thus which are unable to be programmed! Many of the things people experience and try to relay through metaphor may be unspoken truths, unspoken because they cannot be spoken. A less objective and rational, more subjective and emotive, way of presenting one’s ideas may be the only way for others to understand truths from within, which don’t reside outside, cannot be pointed to.

Though genetics may be a factor in psychoses, it certainly isn’t regarded by modern medicine as the main source. Anyone can suffer from mental breakdowns, mania, depression, or schizophrenia, given the proper conditions. Genetics may make one more prone to them, but this is true of anything. The same is true for drugs. Anyone can experience a drug, but some people react differently, either in duration, intensity, or type of experience. Individuals should not be treated as problems in themselves, but perhaps their lifestyles, practices, or environments should be considered as problematic and treatment-worthy. Nonetheless, modern medicine oftentimes looks to pharmaceuticals for the quick solution, rather than taking a more holistic approach.

Radical empiricism, in the way of William James or Henri Bergson (for instance), would suggest that the only legitimate form of knowledge is experience itself. No matter the nature of the experience, if this is to be true, it is legitimate, even if not described coherently to others.

 The Society of the Demiurge

We live in a society that just does not make sense, where existential questions of meaning and purpose leave their holders bewildered. “What is my value? Am I really only worth $10 an hour? Should I really just do as I am told, and let my boss take all the credit for my work? Is this all there is to life? Doing what I’m told, for other people’s benefit?” This is absurdity.

The current economy is one where prices and costs do not match (see “The Mutualist Cost-principle”). This ends up meaning that values are distorted, externalized, and robbed from their original holders. In many ways, status should tell us a lot about a person and their values. Status and income should be a reflection of labor and hardships overcome, of virtuous pursuits. This is not so in this society. Instead, more often than not, status, money, and power is gained by threat of State, by taxation, and legal monopolies, by way of interest, profit, and rent. If money is the measure of value, the measure of taxes, interest, profit, and rent is the measure of stolen value, leaving some without any recognition of their worth at all, and others with overinflated worth at their expense. This causes many problems, such as those described in “Mutualist Sex Economics.”

We live in The Society of the Demiurge. Nothing makes sense to us. Our lives lack recognition, while we witness the lives of others, overrecognized, overfed, oversexed. It’s no wonder that people in our society at times live in dream-worlds of subjectivity, unmatched to the objective reality around them. To accept the world as it is, its measures of value included, is to accept a notion of self-worthlessness, meaninglessness, purposelessness, and valuelessness for most of the people of the world. This is depressing. To accept one’s intuition about how the world should, or can, be, means assigning these drastic thoughts to the world itself: “It is the world, not I, that is without meaning, purpose, and value.” One begins, or risks beginning, to wander into the land of solipsism and mania.

Primitive people, of the hunter-gatherer variety, are typically considered to have very little occurrence of mental illness. Mental illness, instead, is considered a product of alienation, which has been connected to authoritarian modes of production. Larry Gambone notes, in “The Primal Wound: Origins of Authoritarianism and Mental Illness,” that

   Since our Paleolithic ancestors most likely lived in ways similar to the residual “primitives,” they too must have been free of these afflictions. Mental illness was not an innate human condition. Of course, there are organic causes for mental disturbance, such as brain damage or chemical imbalances, but these account for only a minority of cases. In the main, mental illness had to have social causes. It was how society was arranged that lay at the root of the problem.

   The arrangement in the “civilized” world, and virtually a definition of the word civilization, was hierarchy and power, in other words, authoritarianism. Among the “civilized,” certain people, almost always a minority of male adults, had the right to dominate, torment and exploit others. These conditions did not exist among truly “primitive” people. Authoritarian relationships were lacking among these mentally healthy, but technologically backward peoples.

[…]

   Partnership cultures, lacking rigid hierarchy and authoritarianism, are mentally healthy. Dominator culture inequality and violence gave rise to the neuroses and psychoses generally associated with civilization. Dominator culture splits humans from each other and humanity from nature, giving rise to alienation. Thus we are wounded.

Gambone notes further that this isn’t how it always was, but,

   Old European spirituality and philosophy evolved directly from the beliefs of the Paleolithic hunters who painted those marvelous cave paintings. The central belief seems to have been that everything is alive and therefore ought to be respected. Paleolithic people saw themselves as part of a larger whole or totality. All creatures, all things, were part of the web of life and every act, no matter how insignificant, had meaning. Life and death were not polar opposites but part of a continuum, since nothing, or at least a part, never dies. The sacred was not demarcated, for existence itself was deemed sacred.

   It wasn’t enough to understand this intellectually, people had to truly feel it, to experience it directly. Some people have an innate ability to contact the numinous. These men and women were the shamans, who served as guides to the initiates. Everyone could contact this unity through rituals where the ingestion of psychedelic plants was combined with dancing, chanting, drumming and fasting. People did not fear death since they directly experienced continuity.

   With partnership cultures no separate evil cosmic force exists. There is creation and there is dissolution. There is dark and light, negative and positive. However, this opposition is not real. Both aspects are needed for such “opposition” to exist. Both sides are ultimately part of one whole existence. There is no sense of alienation or duality. Nature/divine, man/woman are not split from each other. It’s not difficult to understand how such the beliefs and practices would sustain mental health. For partnership society, spirituality is not reduced to a rigid doctrine, belief or theology, but is a way of life, integrated into daily existence. There is no repression. If people fast or go without sex, it is for a ritual purpose and not because enjoying food or sex is supposedly sinful.[iv]

Mental illness is largely caused by authoritarian relationships that contradict the natural, instinctive, values with which we were born. According to evolutionary psychology, our mental capacities are best suited to environments which we were in as Cro-Mags, as hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers live a lifestyle generally without coercive hierarchy, and full of sharing and cooperation. That is, hunter-gatherers evolved to have relationships with extended family, other people who valued them for their unique contributions, and loved them, cherished them. Economies in these groups were supported by loose credit exchanges rather than by rigid dealings of value. There was little, if any, disparity in wealth. The world made sense.

Knowledge as Therapy

There must be a way that ideals and reality can match up a little more; a way for both the object and subject to make sense, and not contradict. Instead of completely rejecting the physical world of materialism, or the mental world of idealism, there must be a way to maintain a higher synthesis. We don’t have to reject the world because it doesn’t make sense to us, or reject our senses to approve of the world. Subjectivist and objectivist understandings of reality can be found equally valid and invalid. What’s needed is a more complete understanding. Gnosis goes beyond these divisions.

When subjective and objective understandings don’t match, frustration may occur, leading further to anger and aggression. Once frustration occurs, it is stored in the body, and must be released, oftentimes as aggression. Worchel and Cooper note that the social psychologist, Dollard

and his colleagues believed that if aggression does not follow frustration, the frustrated person retains a residue frustration and a readiness to aggress. Each frustration that is not followed by an aggressive response adds to the residue. Finally, the residue will build up to a point at which any further addition sets off a very violent aggressive action. A person who is constantly frustrated at work may go home and blow up at a minor offense committed by his or her child.[v]

These residues may eventually build into psychoses if not properly released. Aggression is not the only source of release, however. Practices such as meditation, sex, and exercise have shown to lead to calmer states of mind, and the ease of concerns and frustration. Frustration can also be thwarted before it occurs, or simply relieved, by the simple act of understanding (there’s that tricky gnosis again). It becomes easier if the understanding isn’t one of ill-intent or inconsideration. According to Nicholas Pastore’s research in social psychology, frustration was caused by arbitrary excuses. If a person felt as though the cause of their frustration was with good reason, they would be less, but not entirely, likely to be frustrated at all. If they thought a poor excuse was given, they would be frustrated.[vi] Ours is a poor excuse for a civilized society. Worchel and Cooper report, in their book, Understanding Social Psychology, that Pastore

felt that in addition to blocking an ongoing respone [sic], a frustration had to have an unexpected arbitrary component before it could qualify as an aggressive instigator. Pastore had subjects report how aggressively they would respond to such situations as these: “Your date phones at the last minute and breaks the appointment without an adequate explanation,” or “Your date phones at the last minute and breaks the appointment because she (or he) had become ill.”

[…]

Pastore found that significantly greater aggression resulted from arbitrary thwarting than from nonarbitrary thwarting, and he suggested that the dimension of arbitrariness be incorporated into the definition of frustration.[vii]

We live in a society which is constantly aggressing on us, frustrating us. We all have tons of frustration built up. For some, this leads to complete mental breakdowns, and even long-lasting episodes of psychoses or neurotic behaviors. As explained above, we feel devalued by The Society of the Demiurge, but we can’t make sense of it. We are utterly confused, put into existential crises. What if we could understand the causes of these crises? Would we still be so psychotic/neurotic?

What would happen if we realized that human value is intrinsic, and not encased in its monetary measure? That the source of others’ recognition in politics and academia, on the silver screen and behind the scenes, is the command of our labor, the extraction of our value? Those who revel in mass economic success often do so at the expense of our own measure of success.[1] By laying claim to subsidies from taxes, and investments from wealthy individuals making a stolen income by means of interest, rent, and profit, they execute the outcomes which, without our being, they would never be able to accomplish, for the true source of their surplus is our burden of enforced scarcity, the theft of our means. Our labor is celebrated in their honor.

Profit and plunder are synonymous. Just as the recipient of a thief’s gift is too a thief by extension (if they don’t return the property to its rightful holder), the recipients of interest, profit, and rent are government by extension, for without privilege granted by the state, these returns would be reduced to mere wages, due to effort, rather than monopolistic theft.

We are expected to sit by and idly watch as our value is taken from us. We are told from the day we are born that this is good and right, and that in the future we too may survive from the toils of others, so long as we accept our programming. But for some, this is too much. This is too much nonsense, too much confusion. Without the means to reconcile the subjective and objective experience of reality, what is right and what is done, some fall into depression, others into mania, and still more into the oscillation between the two, known as bipolar disorder. How many of these disorders are not disorders at all, but the outcome of rational, healthy, genetically-fit individuals put into situations of utter madness, forced to choose between the legitimacy of their intuitive and subjective experiences, where the world is an illusion, or those of logical and objective suggestions of others, where one’s own thoughts and intentions are delusional? If one sees themselves as worthless, accepting the world and rejecting the self, they fall into depression, while an extreme mode of self-acceptance, feelings of unrecognized grandeur, of a world that must be changed and lacks sense, are symptoms of mania. Still, there are many others who face dementia, schizophrenia, and more.

The fact of the matter is that the objective and subjective views of reality don’t currently correspond, but they can and should. One can understand their own intrinsic value, while also understanding the value of the world around them, but in order to do this they must understand why and how they don’t currently match and how they properly complement one another. I believe geo-mutualist philosophy answers this question quite well.

Though we will not, and should not, accept the mismatch of value and measure, we can at least be more at ease with ourselves and our own self-worth if we understand that, though we are not recognized, those who are recognized are often recognized at our expense. This doesn’t sound comforting at first, because it means we are in a dire situation. However, being in a dire situation and understanding it adds to a lot more potential for solution than does being in a dire situation which one cannot understand, which drives one mad attempting to. Understanding the dire situation can restore feelings of self-worth, while remaining balanced, and not slipping into objectively irrational self-worth, as demonstrated in manic behavior. It also allows one to understand the cause of their frustration, and thus, where to direct it in order to solve it. “People don’t recognize my value, because…” is a lot more therapeutic than “People don’t recognize my value, for no good reason.” That is— in the vein of Nicholas Pastore—, when we understand that our lack of recognized value is not arbitray, but due to very real problems outside of us, we can better handle the stress due to the problem.

What Happens When You Die?

People who experience psychoses, be they drug induced or what have you, are oftentimes understood to be hallucinating. They oftentimes describe religious, or just highly subjective, imagery, and, at times, strong feelings of love or duty. If you’ve ever taken magic mushrooms or another hallucinogen, you may be familiar with the strong feelings of interconnectedness, perfection of the world, love, and even more. These feelings can also come with mania. Depression, on the other hand, is the opposite; one feels disconnected, imperfect, sad or hateful, etc. These feelings may also accompany the use of hallucinogens; a “bad trip.”

These kinds of radical feelings very well may tell us about the origins of religion. It’s probable that “good” and “evil” are instincts programmed genetically into our brain, which allow us to better navigate our world, and make decisions. A psychologist may opt, instead of calling expressions of these values demons or angels, to refer to them as id and superego. No matter what it’s called, the polarity in human value-systems is obvious, and yet, “id” and “superego” are just as immaterial as “demons” and “angels.” They cannot be physically pointed out or accurately measured, and therefor do not physically exist, but exist as tendencies alone. These tendencies are expressed in the archetypes of mythology.

An atheist, having a wholly-material view of the world, a world without meaning or purpose, may be exhibiting deeper signs of depression, even if not clinical. Similarly, a theist, with a wholly-spiritual view of the world, may be exhibiting deeper signs of mania. Likewise, the corresponding answers to “What happens when you die?” may correlate to these feelings; to the realist, that’s it, the body just rots and consciousness ends, and, to the idealist, everything just gets better! So, what does happen when you die?

I’ve been asked this question multiple times before, and perhaps the best answer I can provide is this one: As far as I see it, we’ve already died many times before. That is, we must consider that our bodies are composed of other living things, like carrots, tomatoes, wheat, rice, and perhaps even cheese and eggs, or cows and chickens, if that’s the kind of thing you’re into. All of these things were alive at one point separate from us, but when we eat them, they are alive as part of us (at least, part of them is). So, if they are us, we have died many times over. Our own consciousness exists as a higher unity of consciousness.

We are not merely our physical bodies. Just as nutrients come in and are made into cells, cellular structures break down and are ultimately exhausted by the body. In fact, our body cycles through an entire set of cells every seven years, meaning that every seven years we are composed of completely different material than we were composed of before. This being so, we are not just our cells, we are the relationship between them. But where did this relationship come from? None of us remember the process of becoming conscious of our own separate realities. All we know is that it happened, and it happened out of seemingly nowhere. There is absolutely no reason to think it won’t happen again.

We are part of a process culminating toward a superorganism larger than ourselves, much in the same way our cells compose our own consciousness. This larger consciousness will not be composed simply by the random combination of human bodies, but, like cells, by a higher relationship which binds them. This relationship is love. We are evolving toward higher levels of sociability, with love as the binding force. When people say “God is Love,” this is a possible reason why. Some psychoses patients, stuck in a land of idealism, may be picking up on forces of the future; perhaps people like Plato, Buddha, and Jesus had similar experiences, picking up on an ideal future, a world of love and higher truth.

The Universe as Comedy

To the Greeks, the genre of comedy was one which often entailed some sort of overcoming, victory on behalf of the weak over the strong. In Aristotle’s Poetics he wrote that comedy naturally included some kind of fault or blunder which does not end in crises or disaster. Could it be that our very own Universe, saṃsāra itself, functions similarly? Afterall, it is the idealist who picks up on the future, and it is the idealist who is also most ridiculed. In the story of the ark, Noah played such an idealist, building a large ship in a society which had not seen rain. In the story, he foresaw the flood, but was chastised, was seen as mad. Idealists are often seen as mad, and idealistic theurgical and entheogenic practices strive for temporary madness, seeing these times as points of awakening and understanding.

We have now taken a peak at the perspective of the esoteric traditions, understanding them as believing in a reality beyond reality. We have looked at psychotic behavior, and its relationship to these traditions, pondering the possibility that psychosis can tell us about the extremes of the human psyche and origins of spiritual metaphor. We have considered the fact that mental illness is a reaction to one’s surroundings, and one which is inevitable if society does not change or one does not change their own perspective about the nature of the madness. We have looked into the possibility of knowledge therapy, and what happens when we die.

Psychotic breaks may be natural occurrences in a society where value is externalized, and may even be growing experiences, or points of awakening for many people, in the same way as entheogen usage. The reason for this is that psychotic breaks are an adjustment to one’s surroundings, and a reevalutation of one’s value in those surroundings. This reevaluation can lead to feelings of worthlessness, as well as inflated feelings of self-worth. Psychosis in itself is not desirable, but, like a positive experience on mushrooms, it may open the eyes to a fuller range of emotions, some of which we are holding inside and cannot release. When we do, it can be overpowering. Most times people don’t recover, and this is unfortunate, but this unfortunance is one of ends, not necessarily of means. If the individual can get past the experience, it can be a foundation from which to grow, and express one’s self more fully.

Many of the people the state holds in its medical prisons are indeed mentally ill, but one has to ask oneself if a sane person is one who goes along with a world that is crazy, or acts out against its conveniences. Many people, when facing fits of mania, gain strong desires to fix the world, and feel empowered to do so. Can this be a natural, instinctual, reaction to a world so crazy? Is it some kind of built-in, genetic, defense-mechanism of the species? If so, who can be blamed for these reactions? Could it be possible that a revolution won’t occur in this world until it experiences a fit of mania? Is that what it will take the masses to rise up? Feelings of grandeur? Delusions? I certainly hope not, but I also find myself hard-pressed to blame people for their subconscious stepping in and directing them to act in such a way. And you know? Perhaps that is just what it will take. And you know what else? It would be quite the comedy, after all, when the madness in humanity sets itself on a straight course. Perhaps, in many ways, this is the alchemical dream.

A true awakening, or gnosis, would be a complete and complimentary understanding of the subjective and objective facets of life, and not just a polarized view in one direction or the other. In order for these to make any sense at all, one very well may have to experience both sides.


Notes

 [1] I am not intending here to sound the alarm of unnecessary or petty resentment. I believe people should retain all forms of earned income, but I do think that our definition of earned must be taken rather seriously if our goal is to be based in justice.


References

[i] Raymond Lloyd

[ii] Plato, 491.

[iii] Elizabeth Landau

[iv] Larry Gambone

[v] Worchel and Cooper, 326.

[vi] Nicholas Pastore, 728.

[vii] Worchel and Cooper, 330.

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