What The Shakta School Can Teach Gnostics

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.

shiva shakti

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.


The Reason For My Gnostic & Hindu Syncretism


Because I’m sure the question will come up eventually, I’m going to go ahead and answer it: “Bunny, why all the Gnostic/Hindu syncretism?”

The answer is quite simple, really. Most schools of Gnostic thought have really confusing cosmologies. All the aeons and the four lights and all that and not much in the way of explanations for any of it. And God help you if you try to find explanations on the Interwebz because most of what you find is more ridiculous and more outrageous than the original stories are. And I’ma be real with you–all the weird woo-woo New Age Theosophy-based bullshit makes my head hurt.

I find that a liberal dash of Hinduism helps it all go down easier.

Mind you, I’m not saying that Hindu philosophy is necessarily better than Gnostic philosophy. The truth is, I think they complement one another well. In my opinion, Hindu philosophy helps fill in a lot of the holes left by the fact that Gnostic philosophy didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of time to develop before it was more or less squashed in its tracks.

(I should probably stop here and say that I am a Perennialist. I believe that each religion has some grains of truth in it, something we can learn from it, but I don’t really subscribe to any of them in their entirety because they’ve all been created by humans, and we know how fallible humans are.)

Anyway, that’s why I see no problem combining the two. They agree on many of the major points, anyhow, minus the whole demiurge thing (more on that later).

Most Hindus believe that the Gods and Goddesses of their religion are all aspects of Brahman, the Ultimate Reality. Some say the Ultimate Reality is Vishnu, some say it’s Shiva, some say it’s Devi, the Divine Mother, and some say that the Ultimate Reality is completely formless. That’s one of those “it depends” things. But regardless, many of them see the Gods and Goddesses as aspects or facets or parts (choose your preferred term here) of the Ultimate Reality, and that’s the way that I, personally, see the aeons and the light bearers and blah, blah, blah.

God the Father, Mother Barbelo, Lord Jesus, Mother Sophia, and all the others are not the Ultimate Reality all by themselves, but they are a part of it. They all seamlessly blend together to form that Ultimate Reality, so they’re all Divine in and of themselves, since we can’t tell where their separate “personalities,” so to speak, end and where the Ultimate Reality Itself begins. Therefore, to worship any of them is to worship all of them, and to worship any or all of them is to worship the Ultimate Reality. A single facet of a diamond is certainly a diamond all by itself, but it’s also part of a larger diamond, which doesn’t at all take away from its inherent diamondness….And you know what? I’m stopping there because I’m REALLY bad at metaphors.

I think the aeons and the angels are all the same Gods and Goddesses that the Hindus have stories about and have been worshipping as aspects of the Ultimate Reality for centuries before Jesus was ever even born. The Gnostics just named them differently. And also the Hindus have a much richer mythology–and, let’s face it, way more awesome pictures and statues.

Of course, the lack of the demiurge in Hindu mythology (among other things) means that the religions are not the same. The ones we worship are essentially the same, but there are differences in philosophy and cosmology and so forth, so we’re not exactly talking one big universal world religion here. Again, more on that later.

You may have noticed a picture of Mother Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning, wisdom, the arts, science, etc., in the sidebar of this blog. Mother Saraswati is there as an inspiration to me. She watches over my blog and blesses it. She helps me think of things to write about and helps give me the kick in the ass I sometimes need to actually put my ideas down on paper.

I happen to believe that Mother Sophia of the Gnostic myths is essentially an amalgam of Mother Saraswati and Mother Lakshmi (the Hindu Goddess of material and spiritual prosperity, light, good fortune, wisdom, etc.). And, like I said, the Hindus have WAY nicer art than the Gnostics do, so Mother Saraswati (AKA, Sophia) it is!


Edit (August 13th): I have recently added Mother Lakshmi to the sidebar as well. When I first started this blog, I was just sorta meh when it came to Mother Lakshmi, but the more I learn about her, the more I like her. And since I need the wisdom that she bestows, just as I need the wisdom that Mother Saraswati bestows, I’m giving her a place in my sidebar, too. I believe that both of them are one and the same as Mother Sophia, anyway, so let’s add Mother Lakshmi as well.