Around the time of Christ, a cultish movement were the Gnostics. Known mainly through the Nag Hammadi Scrolls, found in Egypt in 1945, their name comes from ‘gnosis’, meaning knowledge. Some sixty schools of Gnosticism are known, including the Simonian and Valentinian.
Named after their leaders, most schools are thought to have indulged in orgies and often their beliefs included a ‘whore’, thought to be a survival of pagan fertility cults. However, their ideas are interesting.
Simon believed the world was created by thought, but thought was replaced by suffering. Valentinus believed was God was ultimate joy and truth rather than an entity.The world was created by a lesser God called ‘terror’.The world locked man in terror, from which he must escape through meditation.
These are the general themes of Gnosticism - the idea that the physical world is evil. Only the higher, spiritual realms of consciousness are real. This is the knowledge behind their practices, and this beautiful world is reached through meditation, where the person becomes Christ-like.
Such views were anathema as Christianity grew as a major religion - a religion many believe to have actually begun in the Gnostic schools. Not everyone could be Christ-like, and God who created the world had to be good God. Hence, the Gnostics were ruthlessly suppressed.
Yet in the Gnostics we find all the elements of a cult from that day to this - the worship of a person as god-like, a predilection towards behaviour that would be classed as deviant, and an acceptance that there is something wrong with the world.
(c) Anthony North, Feb 2007