My son had to write a paper for school responding to the concept of “Faith.” He approached it from a Nietzschean perspective concerning absolutism. That is to say a scientist’s obdurate faith his version of absolute truth is directly analogous to the religious zealot’s obdurate faith in an absolute God. This lead to a conversation about gnosis and human ways of “knowing.”
Yeah. He’s a cool kid. And, eh, it’s what he and I do when we are waiting in line at Wendy’s.
This made me think about some Heathen perspectives and Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG). Some Heathens, like those in the Northern Tradition Shamanism Tradition, believe in it wholeheartedly and some think UPGs are a crock of—something.
I, for one, am a believer in UPG. After all, “unverified” is not the same as “unsubstantiated.” Having had a close relationship with The Divine since childhood and having been raised in a tradition that encouraged a personal relationship with divinity, I have experienced moments of divine knowing that I just dare anyone else to call into question. If I might take the liberty of paraphrasing: We must acknowledge personal gnosis if we employ it successfully to discover functional truth. If you deny the power of personal gnosis after having called upon it with success, you will lose all you have obtained. And, from my perspective, I think it would be really pompous for me to interfere with another’s experience with divinity. I mean, I don’t presume to tell god how it can and can’t communicate with its creation.
The problem seems to be for others—and for me as well—that others might be tempted to force their own gnosis on others. The trick with UPG is the P-part: it’s personal.
Considering a conversation I recently had: Religious leaders have to be a charismatic and inspiring person, and charisma comes when the leader absolutely believes their pretenses; this generates an infectious sense of enthusiasm. That’s all well and good. But what happens when that enthusiasm goes toward intolerance and malice? Religious extremism comes in all shapes and sizes and can even be found in our Pagan communities. Fundamentalists, yes.
But when charismatic leaders take a path toward destruction, does that mean that their experience with the divine was wrong?
I can’t help but tell you about one of the more traumatic minutia of my childhood. I was seven-going-on-eight. It was a weekend just before Thanksgiving and my mother was teaching one of her Ladies Auxiliary-friends how to make deviled eggs. I remember the vaguely sulfuric smell of boiled eggs and mustard and the texture of the kinky high-twist jacquard carpet in which I had been tracing the pattern and pulling the pile. I was conveniently parked in front of the TV for the evening where I was expected to leave everyone alone for a few hours; I had been watching CHiPs but it had already ended and something else was on. I’m not sure how it started, if it was a news break-in or if it was already 10:00, but I remember all the bodies lined up like tiles. It was a good long time before I understood that what ended in the death of just under 1000 men, women, children, and infants started out as a very positive spiritual movement, free of racial bigotry where everyone worked together for a common good.
The Peoples Temple, even in retrospect, seems founded in idealistic communal values. Jim Jones was, at first, a visionary. Unfortunately, once they moved to Guyana, resources were in short demand and newcomers to The Peoples Temple required more than Jones and his organization could provide. The situation quickly went from merely controlling totalitarianism to mass suicide; Jones called this a “revolutionary act,” telling the people, “If these people land out here, they’ll torture some of our children here. They’ll torture our people, they’ll torture our seniors. We cannot have this.” Under the artifice of “protection,” “resistance,” and “making a political stand,” 918 good-intentioned folks lost their lives.
So, because of the way it ended, does that mean that Jones’ original vision of fairness and equality, justice and love was wrong?
It makes me wonder how many organizations are currently in operation that, once threatened, will cause their members to sacrifice themselves for the charisma they “bought into” as gnostic revelation. It makes me wonder how many groups are not receivers of group gnosis but rather group hypnosis. And then I wonder how many valid gnostic revelations go unheaded for fear that the receiver is cuckoo? I also wonder how many valid gnostic revelations go unexpressed for fear of being perceived as cuckoo?
So we are back to the idea of personal gnosis.
Of course, personal gnosis does not preclude a shared gnostic experiences that reveals itself to each individual of a group personally without being controlled (as in hypnosis). I’ve experienced it and, therefore, fully believe that this is true.
But don’t take my word for it.
We are also back to the idea of absolutism, extremism, fundamentalism.
I don’t know about you, but I like everything with just a grain of salt.
 I don’t agree with all LeVeyan philosophy but some of the “rules” are appealing. Plus, to me, magic and gnosis go hand in hand.
 It would only be a month later that I would watch another line of bodies come out of a DesPlaines crawlspace. (Man, I hate clowns.) This could be why I was so traumatized by the two events happening in such quick succession.
Much like I would remember all the bodies that paved the Kigali streets in the spring of 1994, just about the time I found out I was pregnant with my oldest. Just a year before more bodies would come out of a building in Oklahoma.
Seriously, from The Division Street Riots to Katrina to 9/11, I have always found the news traumatizing. Who wouldn’t?
 How about Marshall Applewhite? His ideology was a little more “out there”—literally—but could anyone ever predict that they too would willingly “drink the Kool-Aid”?
Heaven’s Gaters also took cyanide like The People—but they apparently added arsenic.