“The Secret Gnostic Roots of Feminism” – J. Adam Snyder
In the Biblical symbolic story of Genesis that most are familiar with, the deity of Eden is a powerful and authoritive father figure who provides for his creations as long as they agree never to partake in the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Along comes the sinister Serpent who beguiles the female and, in turn, beguiles the male into gaining this knowledge, causing both to be ruthlessly shunned and cursed by the deity for all eternity. From this precept came the ideology that the female should be forced to burden the guilt for bringing about the downfall of mankind, leading to her violent and dogmatic oppression throughout the ages. The idea of a strong, educated, sexual, and liberated woman was seen as being the living antithesis of the deity’s divine plan; fearing such a woman would bring only further sinful destruction upon the world, the profane concocted a doctrine to make the female feel weak, insecure, dependent, and guilt-ridden for the purpose of controlling not only her, but her inherently immoral nature, thus sparing the world from further wrathful punishment by the deity.
In Gnostic theology however, the symbolic story of Genesis tells a vastly different tale. The deity in Eden is not God, but a lesser and false deity known to the Gnostics as the Demiurge. The Demiurge was an aeon, one of many forms of life created by the true God. Aeons were spiritual beings that had been given free-will just as mankind, and as such some chose to be benevolent and others chose to be wicked (again much like mankind, the aeons were also imperfect and flawed of character). One of these wicked aeons went into the mortal plane of existence and begun trapping other higher souls into it for the egotistical purpose of having himself worshipped as the true deity.
The Demiurge is characterized in Gnostic doctrine as being highly jealous and narcissistic, manipulating mankind and keeping them ignorant of their true inner divine nature. The Demiurge seeks to ensnare souls forever in the physical plane of existence (initially created by the true God as a place for souls to mature) through an endless cycle of reincarnation. He is insecure, tyrannical, and prone to angry bursts of violence and genocide. For the Gnostics, the brutal deity of the Old Testament in the Bible was not able to be reconciled with the same loving deity that Jesus spoke of in the New Testament, and as such they concluded that they were two entirely separate beings.
Citing many blood thirsty statements in the Old Testament texts that are in direct contradiction with the merciful teachings of Jesus such as the mass destruction of the world in the flood, the dividing of a utopian society called Babel, the encouragement of slavery, the commanded order to rape women and dash their infants in half with their swords upon the rocks (Hosea 13:16), and the misogynistic treatment of women, the Gnostics painted an entirety unique theology from the contemporary religious culture of their era. According to the Gnostic Genesis account, the Demiurge imprisoned Adam (meaning “mankind” in Hebrew) and Eve (meaning “breath” or “breath of soul”) within this physical plane of existence. Here the Demiurge sought to make their lives entirely ignorant, causing Adam and Eve to worship him as the true God. In addition, he also made them physically immortal as to not allow their souls to mature and return upon death back to the realm of the true God.
Due to the Demiurge not being an actual deity however, he lacked the actual all-encompassing powers of one, and could not prevent the True God from interfering with his plan. Within the artificial paradise, according to the Gnostic account, the True God created the Tree of Knowledge and came in the form of the Serpent. Lacking the power to destroy it, the Demiurge could only attempt to frighten Adam and Eve to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge, and ultimately failed in doing so.
Throughout many ancient cultures, the Serpent was not viewed as a devious animal of vice or temptation, but instead as a symbol of divine light, wisdom, and immortality. This was especially the case in ancient Sumeria and Egypt, who had secret mystical and symbolic religions based around the worship of the Serpent. The True God, Gnostics believe, comes into the physical world through a variety of different forms, cultures, and time periods to rescue the world from mass darkness by giving mankind the Light once again. Gnostics view not only the Serpent but also Jesus, Krishna, and the Buddha as being additional physical embodiments of the Light, sent down to the mortal plane from the True God. Each speaking the same true message to different groups of people in the clearest way that each particular group will readily understand. However, Gnostics also emphasize that the True God believes entirely in free-will, and as such will never force mankind to listen, accept, or abide by his message. He also abhors all forms of violence and will not destroy the Demiurge, instead wishing to awaken mankind to their inner divinity and giving them the power to overcome the Demiurge on their own accord. Illumination, to the Gnostics, is entirely a choice that only an individual can make for themselves.
The Serpent, being the first Light-Bearer of the world, spoke to the female and offered her the Knowledge of Enlightenment, making her no longer an ignorant slave to the Demiurge and his ego, but an empowered individual who had finally become aware of her own divine nature and celestial origins. She then offered to share this enlightenment with Adam, who then also accepted. Upon discovering this, the Demiurge threw a tantrum as his deity-complex plan had been foiled, and burned Eden to the ground and corrupted the world in the process.
Adam and Eve were no longer in spiritual bondage. Mankind now had the power to sustain themselves, Illuminate their souls, and engage in romance and reproduction, thus having the ability to continue life independently without the Demiurge. The female in the Gnostic Genesis account is not the harbinger of sin and all the ills of the world, but is a liberator and bringer of enlightenment. She is independent, taking the first step to think for herself and gaining the courage to challenge the dogma that ruled over her life. She was also sexually empowered, learning how to reproduce through her enlightenment and instructing the male.
Within the various historical Gnostic circles, females and males were always treated equally. They were also in staunch opposition to the practice of slavery, beliefs that, in addition to their theology, set them at odds against the rest of the ancient world. As a result, the Gnostics were violently persecuted and forced into hiding, adopting symbols and forming secret societies to continue their teachings. One of these initiated Gnostic groups was a mystical Jewish sect called the Essenes, which Jesus and his parents belonged to. The Essenes were unique among the other Jewish groups at the time, rejecting all forms of organized religion with a focus on spiritualism. They were also egalitarian, condoned all forms of slavery, and practiced Kabbalah. Some were also vegetarians.
It is from these lost Gnostic roots that egalitarianism was birthed and secretly passed along through the ages. By presenting the female in a vastly different spiritual light, this light would then go onto influence the contemporary culture at large, eventually giving birth to feminism and human progression as a whole. Despite the historical opposition, Gnosticism not only survived but managed to thrive, becoming a hidden wave that has ultimately impacted the world for the better, and still continues to this day.
© – J. Adam Snyder