Disclaimer: While I have studied Hinduism, I am not in any way, shape, form, or fashion an expert on Hindu philosophy in general or the Shakta school in particular. Therefore, please take any interpretations that I give here with a very large grain of salt. I don’t mean to offend or spread misinformation, although I may inadvertently do one or the other (or both), for which I apologize profusely.
Ok, now, without further ado: What The Shakta School Of Hinduism Can Teach Gnostics.
You may have noticed that I often use Hindu imagery in my posts. It’s partly for superficial reasons, i.e., I think they’re pretty, and it’s hard to find “Gnostic” art. But I also think that Hinduism has a lot to teach Gnostics about Gnostic philosophy, and the symbolism in Hindu icons is an example of that.
Above is a small picture of Lord Shiva and (I think) his consort, Parvati. There are many other Goddesses in Shakta thought that are considered to be aspects of Parvati, e.g., Durga, Kali, Lalita, Tara, etc., etc., etc., which is why I’m not 100% sure that the depiction is actually Parvati herself. But regardless of which Goddess in particular is depicted, the point I’m about to (try to) make will should still stand.
Among Shaktas, the Goddess-worshipping sect of Hinduism, it is a common belief that Shiva and Parvati/Durga/Kali/etc. are one. Shiva is the entirely transcendent aspect of God, and Parvati/Durga/Kali/etc. is/are the immanent aspect, which is called “shakti.” In addition to being the transcendent one, Shiva is also the non-changing (for lack of a better word) aspect of God, while Shakti is the dynamic, energetic aspect. How literally this idea is taken depends entirely on the individual, but it is, I believe, a common belief or understanding of Shaktas.
Now, for the longest time, I had a hard time understanding the point of all the Aeons and the Light-Bearers and all the other people just dancing around the realm of God. It took my studying Hinduism, in particular Shaktism, to really get it.
Another belief that many (but not all) Hindus have is that each God or Goddess in the Hindu pantheon is simply an aspect or a facet of the one true God, or Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Shaivas tend to think the Ultimate Reality is Shiva; Shaktas tend to think it’s Shakti, the Goddess in whichever form the devotee prefers; Vaishnavas tend to think it’s Vishnu. I bring this up because I think it’s relevant to my own understanding of all the Aeons and the Light-Bearers and the Almighty Juggler In The Heavens and what-have-you. All these beings are aspects of the one God who both pervades and transcends all things (see also: panentheism).
But there’s more to it than that, I think. To my way of thinking, God the Father is the Shiva in this analogy, and Mother Barbelo is the Shakti. (Whether or not the being that Gnostics call God the Father is more or less the same as the being that Shaktas call Shiva, and whether Shakti is Barbelo, is another story altogether.) Mother Barbelo is the immanent and active force in the Universe. God the Father is the transcendent and…well, I hate to say “passive” force because that’s not exactly the right word, but it’s 3 am, and I’m struggling here, ok?
Now, I differ in beliefs from Shaktas in that I don’t believe that God is all-powerful. Certainly, he is a very powerful being who is all-knowing and all-beneficent, but I don’t believe he’s all-powerful (more on that later).
So, anyway, God the Father: He’s very much like the Shakta conception of Shiva or the Deist’s conception of God. He is entirely transcendent and does not (or rarely) interfere(s) with the goings-on of the Universe. That is Mother Barbelo’s job. He is the watcher, and she is the one who is being watched.
Mother Barbelo is not all-powerful, either, but she is the vehicle through which there is Divine intervention in the Universe, insofar as she is able to help us. Like the Father, she, too, is all-knowing and all-beneficent. She helps us out when she can, but even more importantly, she helps to empower us to help ourselves. She is the energy that pervades everything, and she and the Father are the source of the small sliver of Light within us all.
So there you have it, the way the basic Shiva/Shakti understanding in the Shakta school of Hinduism can help us understand the roles that God the Father and Mother Barbelo play.
Coming up next time: The role of Lord Jesus, the Christ.