Derick Varn: The first one is somewhat simple, how you would like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Fr. Jordan Stratford: Okay, I’m 39, four kids, hopelessly in love with my wife of six years. I work as a Creative Director for a small ad agency, and I live in Victoria BC Canada. I’ve been a Sophianic Gnostic for about 17 years. I consider myself a Priest of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. What that means to me is that, if you go back say six, eight thousand years – well, further, actually – you have people employing a Eucharistic ritual to invest the material with the spiritual. The central idea of Western Religion is incarnation, that the Divine is real and can (and does) become manifest in the world. There are specific forms of this ritual that are unique in the West, and have a continuity from antiquity to the present day. You see this in ancient Egypt, throughout the Greek Mysteries, Persian Mithraism, through the Sol Invictus Cult of ancient Rome, continuing through Christianity. Later it winds through nominally Christian but distinctly heretical movements such as the Templars, the Cathars, the Rosicrucians, the Liberal Catholics and occult investigations of the late 19th Century. I am a part of that Tradition.
Specifically I’m a Gnostic Priest, of the Apostolic Johannite Church – an esoteric Gnostic Christian communion with valid apostolic succession.
D.V.: How are the Johannite Church and the Ecclesia Gnostica related?
J.S.: Well I would personally argue that they are both of the same ekklesia, although no formal relationship exists between them. We use the same liturgical calendar, same ecclesiology, and I think you’d be hard pressed to point out any significant differences. It’s logical that at some point there will be a formal relationship. For most people it’s simply a matter of proximity. If you’re a Gnostic in Seattle, you go to Rev. Sam’s EG Mass. If you’re inCalgary, you go to the AJC Mass at St. Joseph’s.
D.V.: And are both different from say, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica?
J.S.: Vastly – the current EGC is not the original EGC but rather a homonymous organization that sprouted up in the early 80’s. The avowed anti-christianity and anti-semitism of its liturgy make it I think incompatible with the excellent work that the modern Gn churches are doing; Bishop +Hoeller’s church, Bishop +Rosamonde’s wonderful Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum, and of course the Johannite church.
D.V: What about the Gnostic reconstruction movement makes it difficult to sort of have a unified front the way say, SCOBA (The Standing Conference of Cannonical Orthodox Bishops) do in the US and Canada?
J.S.: I think that the NACGB is an excellent start: it hits some of the common snags that plague any alternate religious congress. The thing to remember is that most such organizations serve as divisive, discerning heresy from orthodoxy, whereas such an approach is largely anathema to most practicing Gnostics. Which is not to say we’re so open-minded our brains fall out; just that if our approach is more Jungian and another’s is more Martinist, there’s room for us to challenge and learn from one another. The current emphasis is on Gn churches which are also Indie Catholics, and I personally would be reluctant to see that change: there is certainly a role for a broader conference that would include some of the more Protestant-oriented groups, such as the AGCA.
D.V.: On the center corners of the Internet where Occult-types make up a disproportion number than in the “real world” population–such as blogger, livejournal, etc–“Gnostic” is often code word for Thelemite. Now, there many things that Thelemites and Gnostics share in common, but it also seems to be a source of confusion and bad blood. What do Gnostic reconstructors (in their Manichaean and Christian influences) have in common with most Crowleyan Thelemites?
J.S.: I interpret “Knowledge and Conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel” as synonymous with gnosis. “Do what thou wilt” means both attaining and incorporating gnosis: figure out the truth about why you’re here, and just do that. There is certainly a significant Hermetic strand in the Gnostic braid, and Thelema does a fairly good job of representing that. Crowley also had a solid understanding of the archetypal role of the Divine Feminine, and this too is shared by Gn churches. It’s obvious that Crowley wished his work to be seen in the context of the Restoration; this explains his adoption of the symbolism and titles of the original EGC. Presumably modern Thelemites have some desire to be likewise associated. It’s something we can build on.
D.V: And what are some differences?
J.S.: I think the main criticism of Thelema is due to the fact that they seem to mistake the general for the specific: either by viewing Crowley’s experience as unique and making him a kind of Dark Messiah, or by erroneously claiming that Thelema is a new religion ex nihilo. The thing is, Liber Al has to be seen as a personal work, relevant only to Crowley and his Victorian programming. The idea that one should adopt this as scripture – anti-Semitic screeds and all – is just not healthy. Gnosis means being the Magus of your own Aeon. Put down thatEquinox and get on with it.
D.V.: Now while some see Gnosticism as a largely Christian heresy or even a pre-Nicene Christianity… but is there a role for less Christian oriented Gnostics in these independent Catholic Gnostic Churches and in the broader movements?
J.S.: I think it’s a mistake to see Gnosticism as something other than a distinct, pre-Christian religion which both contributed to and influenced greatly early Christian history. So, yes, speaking as a non-Christian Sophianic Gnostic, is there room for me? I hope so! Certainly the AJC has been generous and welcoming to me, and making room for my contributions both liturgically and pastorally.
D.V.: It seems that Protestant oriented Gnostics are extremely rather, although certain Protestant movements such as the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Quakers have been said to have Gnostic tendencies. Do you see there being any relationship? How do conceptions or misconceptions hinder the more Protestant-esque Gnostic groups?
J.S.: I see a very strong Gnostic resonance in the Quakers – as for the LDS all I see is the random co-option of symbols without any apparent significance. As for what the “Protestant-esque” groups are doing, I personally leave such discernment up to the individual. Gnosticism is the artists’ religion: I work in oil, you work in watercolours. We’re still all of us looking at this experience of gnosis from different angles, jamming on it, playing with, experimenting and innovating.
D.V.: What is Gnosis? How is it similar and different from the English word, knowledge?
J.S.: I understand gnosis to be a way of seeing; a poetic language of experience for describing our intimacy with the indwelling Divine. The word “knowledge” is more closely associated with episteme: knowing your zip code or the capitol of Finland. I am fond of Gilles Quispel’s interpretation of gnosis as “knowledge of the heart”.
D.V.: How do sacraments interact with gnosis in a Johannite viewpoint?
J.S.: The sacraments serve, literally, to inspire, to breathe on the Divine Spark within all of us in hopes of kindling that sacred flame. Out of respect and caretaking for its Apostolic heritage, the AJC honours the same seven sacraments of orthodox Christianity, but from a pneumatic understanding rather than an exoteric or dogmatic stance.
D.V.: I am struck on how this Gnostic view of sacraments is not all that different from an Eastern Orthodox mystical view, even if it is a more pistic perspective. What kind of relationship is it possible for more exoteric Christians to have with esoteric ones?
J.S.: Well for the most part of history, the esoteric folks have been sitting in the back pews, getting their esoteric on, with the exoteric folks up front none the wiser. I think what it boils down to is whether you see the sacraments as real or not; if they’re real, then they work regardless of who’s ministering. Most Gnostics today are showing up to mainstream Catholic and Anglican churches, Unitarian and UCC congregations, and Friends meetings. There are only a dozen functioning ecclesiastical Gnostic parishes in North America. One does what one can.
D.V.: And I know you are probably sick of this kind of question, but how has the boom in scholarly and popular literature created by things like Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the Gospel of Judas affected the way gnosis is talked about? Has it affected church membership?
I think it’s shored up the misconception that Gnostic is a later Christian heresy, and presented a conspiracy-theory style literalist pseudohistory that’s really missed the entire point. Gnosticism has never been about “what happened” but rather “what is happening”,
about engaging with and personally re-interpreting myth and scripture. Recent attention has for the most part given opportunity to our critics to defame us as “world hating dualists” — but it’s also fair to say that there are many Gnostics who now self-identify
due to the Da Vinci Code phenomenon.
D.V.: Well, what do you think was the critical mass that led both gnostic and mystic ideas out of mainstream American Christianity? Is it rooted in Roman Catholic legalism at the beginning of Modern Europe? Or is it something else?
J.S.: Well I don’t think Gn ideas ever left Christianity, and certainly I’d say that Gn ideas in fact underscore distinctly American Christianity, which is really a kind of millennarian 19th Century Folk Religion, a kind of pidgin with little in common with historic orthodoxy. Bloom states that Gnosticism is the true American religion. People go to megachurches because they want an immediate, overwhelming and intimate sense of the Shekhina, they want the peace that surpasseth all understanding. They crave gnosis.
D.V.: So most people versed in the modern history of Gnostic reconstruction and other forms of esoteric spirituality know that psychology, particularly Lacanian and Jungian psychoanalysis is never all that far away. Psychology is often criticized for being a modern attempt at religion. However, the reverse criticism is often leveled at Gnosticism. How is the mythic and Gnostic understanding different from, say, basic psychological archetypes? Or is it merely a problem of language convention?
J.S.: How am I supposed to look good in this interview when you ask me such well-thought-out and self-answering questions?
D.V.: Why do you think Gnosticism has had so much influence on popular culture, not directly like in the Da Vinci Code, but indirectly such as in The Matrix (which is admittedly a poor aping) to the works of Philip K. Dick?
J.S.: Well to be fair, the word “Gnostic” never appears in the DVC, and the Gn influence on The Matrix can hardly be considered indirect. But such things are the root of all good stories – you’re not some poor peasant stuck in the muck, you’re really an exiled Prince, and your parents want you to return to the Kingdom and claim your birthright. You’re not just Harry who lives under the stairs, you have magical powers and are the hero of important and dramatic events—but you’re real identity has been hidden from you by priggish and ignorant power-mad forces. This story never goes away, because in a very real sense it’s true, and always has been.
D.V.: I am fascinated by your idea assertion about American Religion. It seems very true, but it also seems like this sort of Gnostic faith is very more faith-based. It’s very pistic, no? So it’s sort of divided in loyalties? Or is it merely the reunion of the exoteric with the Gnostic without fully realizing the esoteric element?
J.S.: I did say there’s a craving for gnosis, but such a pistic approach is ultimately fruitless. It becomes less experientially Gnostic and instead objectifies and fetishizes; resulting in a kind of “gnosisolatry”, which is to say misses the point entirely. That being said, can one attain gnosis in a mainstream, exoteric Church? Of course. Gnosis is our birthright, you can’t put a fence around it. GnosticISM is a specific religious culture that centralizes and amplifies the experience of gnosis — as a means to an end, which is Grace.
D.V.: Why do you think that so many people tie Gnosticism with, say, New Age? Admittedly, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference, but what do you think the key differences are?
J.S.: I think New Age is an entirely meaningless term. There was a significant cultural shift in the West around the time of the first Vatican Council in 1870, which was a kind of line in the sand between medievalism and modernism on one hand, and between rationalism and mysticism on the other. This created a new kind of category, not bourgeois but bohemian, for people to inhabit. Look at the Symbolists, the Decadents. They were responding artistically to what the Theosophists and the Martinists were doing philosophically; diverging, exploring, experimenting. The Gnostic Restoration of 1890 came out of this milieu, but so too did the Golden Dawn and other instigators of what we now call “the new age”. So really I don’t see the point in outlining artificial distinctions when really all that can come of this is one bunch of people castigating the other. I don’t spend all day talking about chakras, or guardian angels but that’s not to say that I don’t think it can be a very valuable way of looking at things. Are we inhabiting the same world as the 19th century? Of course not. We’re not inhabiting the same world as those whose lives didn’t include nuclear power, DNA, satellites, etc. Does that make it a “new age”? The semantics are just… soggy.
D.V.: This is of particular importance to the Johannite Gnostics, but why is it that the Gospel of John is so favored by Gnostics and esoteric Christians of all stripes?
J.S.: I think that John is the bridge between the community of John the Baptist and the early Christians, and its “high Christology” is what makes it Gnostic. Jn is really the convincing argument that Christ is the Logos, and thus creates a continuity with the pagan world, particularly the Platonists. I don’t think you need to accept an historical Jesus to find the idea of the Incarnate Logos valuable.
D.V.: What is the gnostic reconstruction relationship to particular regional and historical Gnostics (who are often more literally dualist than most modern Gnostics) such as the Mandaeans of Iraq or even say Zorosterians?
J.S.: To be clear, there’s a distinction to be made between the Reconstructionists – those who limit themselves to the writings of the Sethians or the Valentinians in search of the “one true Gnosticism” – and the Restorationists, whose approach is more fluid and Sophianic. That being said, there’s almost no association at all with the Mandaeans, which I think is a shame because these are cultural barriers rather than ideological barriers. The first step is education, and then preservation, of this unique and powerful heritage. The war is doing unfathomable damage to entire currents of history; who knows what’s being dug up, blown up, and sold to black-marketeers? And of immediate concern is the human tragedy of displacement – the war has upset the uneasy peace between Muslims and Mandaeans, polarizing communities and erupting in xenophobic violence.
D.V.: What kind of environment do you think the Gnostic of any stripe finds himself or herself? I say this because its often thought of, ever since Eric Voegelin accused everything from communism to humanism of being gnostic since its trying to “Immanentizing the eschaton”?
J.S.: I’m not sure if I understand this question. Voegelin was an ass; there’s nothing in Gnostic scripture or culture which justifies his conclusions.
D.V.: This leads me to the perhaps one of the most important questions: how does gnosis effect ethics in a sort of theoretical way?
J.S.: Are you speaking here of gnosis or Gnosticism? Certainly the awareness and incorporation that one is, in essence, Divine, brings with it a profound ethical responsibility. The very personal nature of Gnostic revelation leads one to be extremely tolerant of the experiences of others. But really, this is a softball question.
Am I boring you yet?
D.V.: No, not boring, I think I am running out of interesting questions. So I think this will probably be my last question. So what do you have to say for gnostics in areas without Gnostic groups or churches?
J.S.: As a Gnostic, your duty is to your compassion and your own integrity. So what do you do? You donate blood. You join your local art gallery. You get outside. You remember that what divides us is illusory and temporary. Start something, like a monthly
coffeehouse discussion on Gnosticism. Go to your local UU church, stand up and declare yourself Gnostic- you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the handshakes and questions that follow.