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Into the Bridal Chamber

Romanticizing the Gnostics.

Ive just been watching a Youtube clip of Tim Freke speaking at a bookstore promotion in California. He was being challenged by a rather flamboyant looking Englishman who felt that Freke was romanticising the Gnostics. The Englishman was probably right. Certainly, Freke and Gandys reconstruction of early Christian history is selective, emphasising the deep spirituality of the Gnostics, whom Freke and Gandy see as being the original Christians, against what they see as the harsh dogma of literalist Christianity. In The Jesus Mysteries and Jesus and the Lost Goddess, the two writers draw on a generalised Gnostic teaching rather than on specific Gnostic texts to illustrate their own expression of a spirituality that, particularly in Frekes Lucid Living, has much in common with modern nondualism. So their historiography and exegesis could easily be seen as a romantic Gnosticism.

But What is wrong with being romantic? As Alan Moore says in the interview in this issue, I dont see what the hell is wrong with romanticism. It works. And it instils life with something that makes it worth living. It instils it with a spirit. It makes you feel that the world of ideas and spirit is a real and immediate one. Despite an insistent rationalism and scepticism, I am, deep down, a romantic.

Although I am sure that professional critics of literature, art and music might disagree with me, I see the essence of romanticism as the idealisation of a quality and the longing for the most direct experience of that ideal. Thus the Wordsworth saw ideal Nature in the landscape of the English Lake District, while for many poets the personal beloved is seen as the living paradigm of Love itself.

Romanticism falls into danger when the longed-for quality is unworthy in itself. There is obviouslu something wrong with romanticising the Nazis, and the romanticising of violence itself is a difficult issue. I can be stirred by the revolt of the fourteenth-century Welshman Owain Glyndr, or by Irish rebel songs, and perhaps these tales of the oppressed are more worthy of a romantic approach than the glories of the empires of powerful nations. But this is still the romanticisation of violence. I remember listening uneasily to Shane MacGowans song Paddy Public Enemy Number One, about the IRA and INLA man Dominic McGlinchey who was responsible for many deaths before he himself was shot dead in a telephone box. But what is the difference between MacGowans infamous song and, say, one of the beautiful and bloodthirsty Scottish border ballads? Perhaps nothing except the distance of time. Is MacGowans eulogising of an IRA man really of a different quality to the brutality of Achilles, or indeed the extraordinary slaughters of the mythic Irish hero Cuchulainn?

It is also easy to romanticise the self-destructive creative person, the addict poet, acidcasualty rock star or junkie writer, if one has not seen the direct effect of abuse on an individual or on those close to him or her. Decadent romanticism hopes that the candle that

is burnt at both ends will ignite into a brief blaze of final glory, rather than snuff itself out in a final culminatory fizzle.

The romanticizing of spirituality is somewhat different. Spirituality usually deals with ideals, with some kind of distant aim or yearned-for superior state of being, and that is a right subject for romanticising. If one has a romantic tendency, it is a good deal safer to romanticise something that lies in the distant past. Romanticising a living spiritual teacher is dangerous because teachers are human and, as we all know in these times, subject to the most human tendencies of indulgence and corruption. So if one needs to romanticise, it is best to romanticise about some far off, hazily known epoch or groupthe Knights Templar, the Cathars, the Gnostics, the original disciples of Jesus. Of course, its nice to ground your romanticism on the best available historical evidence, but the best subjects for romance have an historical vagueness to them, a quality that is plentiful in all of the above groups. The Gnostics are often upheld as worshippers of the divine feminine, through the influence of the Da Vinci Code and the sheaves of speculation on Mary Magdalne that preceded it. Despite the importance of Sophia in Gnostic myth, this has little foundation, and the pagan mystery cults, such as that devoted to Cybele, are better models for those who wish to revere the feminine. Yet surely there is little harm in an inaccurate model of a goddessbased Gnosticism. The Gnostics are also held to be free thinkers, a concept that has much

to do with the influence of Elaine Pagels The Gnostic Gospels. They were almost certainly not such by our modern standards, but surely every generation has to remake the past in its own image.

Two forms of romanticismthe idealisation of a quality and then the longing for that quality in its most perfect form. Rosy romanticism has its flip side in unappeasable longing. I have certainly felt this in my time, and In the late romantic English poets, such as Ernest Dowson or, in a different way, A. E. Houseman, ideal romanticism of Shelley or Keats has become a yearning for the unattainable, and anything that can be actualised is no longer unattainable and therefore no longer the subject of longing. Certainly W.B. Yeats seemed no happier once he had sexual fulfilment, a wife and family and Ireland had independence. Goethe romantic classical. While living in London in the 1990s I remember experiencing a constant yearning for a mythologised version of my Welsh homeland only, on moving there for six months, to discover eventually a similar longing for London. Romantic longing is unappeasable, insatiable. A longing for wholeness, perfection, for the life of the spirit, for Gnosis is among the deepest of human needs. The dream of an ideal society of Gnostics may be projected back through history and may serve as an inspiration. This kind of romanticism becomes harmful only when it is a stumbling block to real experience. We cannot grant a notion fulfilled Gnosis only to those who live in the distant past, and leave nothing for our present reality.

As Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his notebooks, Now you see that the hope and the desire of returning home and to one's former state is like the moth to the light, and that the man who with constant longing awaits with joy each new spring time, each new summer, each new month and new year deeming that the things he longs for are ever too late in coming does not perceive that he is longing for his own destruction. But this desire is the very quintessence, the spirit of the elements, which finding itself imprisoned with the soul is ever longing to return from the human body to its giver. And you must know that this same longing is that quintessence, inseparable from nature, and that man is the image of the world.