Day: August 3, 2007

FINDING MY RELIGION I – Tau Malachi, a Sophian Gnostic bishop, talks about Gnosticism and ‘The Da Vinci Code’

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No matter what you think about the book or the movie — love it, hate it or totally sick of hearing about it — “The Da Vinci Code” has sparked a debate about the nature of faith and the foundations of Christianity. It’s also turned a spotlight on some lesser-known religious traditions that have been operating quietly for centuries.

Among the religious groups brought blinking into the “Code”-inspired publicity glare are Gnostic Christians. The word Gnostic, from the Greek word for knowledge, expresses the central tenet of this faith — Gnostics believe Jesus’ mission was to teach people that the divine lives within each of us, and that salvation can be achieved through spiritual knowledge rather than faith and good works. Only through truly knowing God can humans transcend the sins and flaws of this world.

Gnosticism was declared a heresy in the early days of Christianity. But the religion didn’t die, and it’s flourishing in the 21st century. As in the Protestant faith, there are many separate factions within Gnosticism. Gnostics, like most initiatory mystical faiths, refer to these sects as “traditions.”

Tau Malachi is a Gnostic bishop of the Sophian tradition, which teaches that Mary Magdalene was also a savior and spiritual teacher, equal to Jesus and an embodiment of the divine. He is the author of several books, including “St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride.” He spoke with me last week by phone from his home in Nevada City.

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Gnostic ideas figure prominently in “The Da Vinci Code.” What is your take on the book’s presentation of Mary Magdalene and Gnostic beliefs? Is it on target?

Well, I think it hints at things. But I’m not sure the spiritual content that Gnosticism teaches is really present in the book. To give you an example, Magdalene is referred to in “The Da Vinci Code” as the grail and mother of the royal blood because she is a close disciple to Jesus — she is his wife and has his children. That’s kind of painting her as being similar to the Virgin Mary, simply because she has had children.

In Sophian Gnosticism, she’s viewed as a spiritual master, a close disciple to whom Jesus pours out the fullness of the light, or the Christos, and she becomes a Christ-bearer (messiah) also. She is the apostle to the first apostles, igniting what we call the Gnostic apostolic succession. And in this end she is mother to the royal blood on a spiritual level. So the issue for us wouldn’t be whether she literally had children or not. Either way, it wouldn’t make a difference.

How did you feel about the book in general?

The book didn’t have quite the same power for me that it did for other people, I think, because I’ve been practicing the tradition that honors Magdalene since I was 8 years old. Really, I felt like I was reading a thriller like any other. But I could also see that if I knew nothing about Magdalene this would be a very powerful book. To many, these are revolutionary thoughts — the idea of Magdalene being innermost disciple, wife and consort [to Jesus].

It seems like there’s no end to the controversy about the book and the movie. Do you think it’s worth all the fuss?

For some mainstream Christian churches, alternative views of Jesus, of Christ, of Christianity are very threatening. So in that sense it’s understandable.

Personally, I think it’s interesting that we are having discussions about traditions and ideas based on a novel. Not to say that there aren’t grains of truth in it, but it wasn’t written to be something other than fiction — it’s entertainment.

Your latest book, “St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride,” presents what are described as secret oral traditions concerning the Gnostic view of Mary Magdalene. Why publish those secrets now? Did the popularity of “The Da Vinci Code” have anything to do with it?

No. Actually, all this was underway before the “Da Vinci Code” phenomenon. Sophian Gnosticism has been moving away from a more private or secretive mode for some time. We’ve been progressively sharing teachings more and more openly over the years.

Why was this information kept secret in the first place?

Sophian Gnosticism has a known history that goes back to about the mid-18th century. That was a very dangerous time to hold alternative Christian beliefs — there was a great deal of persecution by mainstream Christians. So that drove a lot of Gnostics underground.

What originally drew you to Gnosticism?

As a very little boy, I guess you could say there was a propensity in me toward a spiritual life, and apparently toward a Gnostic Christian spiritual life. But when I met a Sophian teacher, whose name was Tau Elijah ben Miriam, and I started to get to know him, it just fit. It was so familiar to me. I felt like a duck in water.

Eight years old is pretty young to get started with a spiritual teacher. What was that like for you?

Elijah was a very fascinating spiritual master. When I met him, he was 81 years old but a very active gentleman. He was a brilliant man. I basically became his sidekick when I wasn’t in school. Hanging around him and his circle became much of my childhood life.

And your parents were OK with that?

Yes. My mom actually had been a student of his when she was younger, but due to illness couldn’t continue [working with him]. So she was very happy that one of her children had this interest.

Your story reminds me of the Dalai Lama and how the Buddha of Compassion is believed to reincarnate in an infant who begins his religious training as soon as he is identified as such. What are the Gnostic teachings on the afterlife?

It’s actually very similar to those found in Bhagwan or Tibetan Buddhism. We believe that one continues to go through many lifetimes until one’s soul is fully realized, or awakened.

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