Friends, thanks for joining us as we wrap this months Talk Gnosis series on The Gospel of Mary with our amazing guest Brother Clark Aitkins who recently received his Masters Graduate Degree in New Testament and Christianity from Harvard. These are three amazing episodes and while we’re summing them up we’re not doing a straight transcript here, so we can’t emphasise enough that as soon as you’re able to you should check them out as either videocasts or podcasts (each episode is available in both formats….wow!)
We get right into it with a summation of what the Gospel of Mary (GoM) is. First the basics. GoM’s a Gnostic Coptic 2nd century text, lost until modern times, and it’s a book (well…technically it’s a codex, but lets just say book) with many fascinating features. Unlike other texts labled as gospels there’s no true narratives about the life of Jesus…in fact the name “Jesus” or “Christ” never appears in the book! This is a text that also doesn’t seem to think that the death and resurrection of Jesus is what saves people. Instead, it’s the teachings and the life example of the Saviour that saves.
Clark views the text—in a “what genre is this anyway” kind of way—as an instruction manual for those wanting to learn how to advance on the spiritual path. But there is a plot of sorts: The main character is Mary, assumed to be Mary Magdalene, and the fragmentary text opens with Mary and the apostles receiving spiritual instruction from what seems to be the resurrected (or at least a spiritual) Redeemer.
The Savior then jumps out the window onto a jet-ski (Father Tony’s theory) or otherwise departs and the apostles ask Mary for further clarification on the Savior’s teachings. Some of them refute her authority and her Gnostic teachings but as Bro. Clark puts it, “she comes out on top.”
We quickly get into one of the main focuses of the Gospel of Mary and one Talk Gnosis’ favourite topics: soul ascent! The process of the soul rising up through the rulers of the earth to the ultimate divine, changing it’s self in the very act. In GoM to ascend the soul must “talk its way” through four powers: Darkness, Desire, Ignorance, and Wrath. We discuss how this ascent tradition is in dialogue with the traditions around it such as forms of Gnostic Christianity, other schools of Christianity, Greek Philosophy, and numerous “pagan” traditions of the Mediterranean and Egyptian spheres of influence. And we touch on how these four powers are also psychological aspects and powers we must counter within ourselves.
Now it’s time for how this ancient text connects to a comic book series from the 1990s. Clark discovered the comic The Invisibles when he was a seeker and getting involved in the esoteric, and it’s become something of a spiritual text to him personally. He sees a connection between one of the narratives in the series, the plot lines about the Brazilian Trans shaman named Lord Fanny’s and her struggle, initiation, and transformation of the pain of her life into spiritual power. Clark compares this to how the Gospel of Mary calls us to work through Darkness, Wrath, and Ignorance. We all must go through the darkness of this world, we work through it and change ourselves into something more.
Dualism naturally comes up and I’m going to leave you to check out the episode to hear how we reconcile a vision of unity and divine perfection in this world with the obvious pain and suffering of life.
In Part 2 we get into what the instructions are in this spiritual instruction manual. Acquiring a measure of inner (and probably outer) peace, calmness, and focus is the first step. Discover the peace that is inside of you (the same peace that the Savior has) and bring it out from inside of you.Then the second step is guarding against outside influences—not letting the mind be overly swayed by the many distractions of the exterior world.
Strangely, the next seems to be not laying down anymore rules, as rules entangle one in politics and the ways of the world. The final step is preaching—not preaching for the sake of the world or for the ego, but living authentically with the knowledge and peace one now has.
“You start with yourself and then work your way out into the world,” is how Clark describes the process. And Clark sees this a pregnancy metaphor, one of the many in the Gospel of Mary. The soul ascent too is kind of birth, and birth symbolism is throughout the text.
We then demand that Clark tell us that the Gnostics who wrote and used the GoM were a bunch of peace loving egalitarian feminists who were much better to women then any other religious or social group. Clark does warn us we can’t properly back-read modern values into ancient books, but he does view this book and its teachings as saying men and women are equal and repudiating automatic male authority. In a measured and specific way it could be appropriate to speak of GoM as “feminist”.
Then we chat a bunch about the soul and how the ancients of many traditions viewed it. And we get into cool stuff about mystery cults and the Greek Magical Papyri and what they may say about the soul and having living mystical visions of ascent. If you watch it you will instantly rise up to the ultimate divine and become completely perfected and enlightened.
Famously, GoM has the Savior teach his followers “There is no sin.” And Clark elaborates on this mysterious statement…without really explaining what it means, but unpacks the narrative around the statement and it’s connection to the meaning of matter, and why the Savior connects sin to an adultery metaphor.
This brings us to the passions found within the human heart and mind and how GOM addresses it and how the philosophies of Plato and the ancient world addressed them. Clark goes into a fascinating explanation about how philosophy wasn’t about sitting around reading and chatting but about putting the principals into action and working one’s self through a number of spiritual practices.
In fact, many of the early Christian thinkers believed Christianity to be the ultimate heir of philosophy as it gave people the tools and world view to work on themselves and conquer the passions.
Watch Clark get controversial as he says there was no community behind the GoM. How is there a holy book and no community for it…well…we can’t reveal all of Clark’s secrets in this post, you’ll have to watch or listen to get your mind blown!
And. we save some of the best for the last as we get into how GoM is relevant to modern life and how we can use it in our spiritual practices as humans living in the 21st Century. Clark’s closing point is that this could be the one Gnostic text that is the most relevant and practical for people here and now.
Folks, that’s a wrap! As always and forever please, please, please, share your thoughts, feelings, insights, and questions in the comments below!
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The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the Gnostic Wisdom Network, the Apostolic Johannite Church, or any other organization.