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Date: Sat, 02 Nov 2002 09:27:08 -0600
From: James Jordan 
Subject: Re: (urth) Gnostic Wolfe

I've been out of the country for this discussion, and have skimmed the 
posts. A few comments:
         1. Gnosticism is just "philosophy + myth." Philosophy, whether 
Greek or Buddhist, held that the "world" is corrupt in some essential way, 
and that the wise man "escapes" from the world through contemplation, 
contemplating his way out of the "cave." Gnosticism popularized this 
notion, adding myths, and various ritual and esoteric ways of escape 
(though esotericism is all over Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, if you 
read them aright). The prophets of Israel preached against all escape, and 
called the people to involve themselves with the plight of the poor, the 
oppressed, etc.; and Jesus and the (best) of the Church follows this. 
Christianity, with its sacraments of water, oil, bread, and wine, and with 
its central doctrine of physical resurrection, is very "this-worldly," 
preaching redemption and activistic good works, not escape into contemplation.
         2. Judeo-Christianity teaches creation of the world "out of 
nothing" by a Creator. Gnosticism teaches that the present world is an 
emanation out of the "substance" of the "prime mover" (plug in other titles 
as well). Somewhere down the line, the Demiurge formed the present world 
out of  part of what had emanated from the Prime Mover. The Demiurge might 
be "evil" and seeking to corrupt the emanation, or he might just be doing 
his "demurge thing" by forming and shaping it. Either way, the world is 
either evil and to be escaped, or else grossly inferior and to be transcended.
         3. Typhon is, IMO, much like the Demiurge, in that he forms his 
Whorl out of preexisting matter. Pas rules this Whorl, so he is not a 
"demiurge" but merely a "god." But the Outsider, is just that: outside of 
it all. He is the Creator, not a Prime Mover, and the cosmos is not made 
out of his substance. He is outside of it, not the highest part of it. And, 
being outside of it all, He can also by His Spirit, be intimately "inside" 
of it, but as a personal "friend," not as some kind of "essential 
substance." The Outsider can stand behind Silk/Horn and as a Friend 
encourage him to worship through bread and wine. Silk first comes to know 
the Outsider as "outside the Whorl" and above Pas, and then as "outside" 
the whole cosmos as Creator thereof.
         4. The Outsider as a minor god in Typhon's pantheon is a play on 
the "Unknown God" of Acts chapter 17. He can be understood within the 
pantheon as "every other god we don't know about," but in reality He is the 
leftover awareness of the Creator. Hence, for Wolfe, as for orthodox 
Christianity, pagan religions are a mixture of awareness of the truth of an 
Outside Creator mingled and corrupted by a "scale of being" or "gnostic" or 
"emanation-hierarchical" view of reality. Thus, Chapter religion has some 
of both in it. But what is happening is not a "baptizing" of prior 
paganism, but an extrication from it. It is a mistake to read early and 
even medieval Christianity as "baptizing" pagan forms. Rather, the leaders 
sought, with varying degress of success, to substitute Christian notions 
for pagan ones, Christmas for the feast of Sol, saints for gods, etc.
         5. Alga: yes there is a fierce bloodthirsty goddess among the 
semites: Anath, roughly like Diana or Artemis. (Maybe I misread you here.) 
Astarte/Ashteroth is more like Venus/Aphrodite -- though as always there is 
         6. Greco-Roman gods and myths were not much different from 
Semitic/Canaanite ones, and really, Nordic ones were not much different 
either. I don't think sacrificial rituals were much different either. I 
don't think we have to debate much "which" of these myths Wolfe is using. 
He's probably combining all of them, with the Greco-Roman pantheon most 
prominent in the Whorl and something like Old Testament animal sacrifices 
most prominent in the local Chapter rituals. Remember, Wolfe is also 
playing with the transition from Old Testament to New, with Typhon's 
pantheon being like the Roman rulers of Palestine, and Chapter religion 
being like the religion of the Jews at the time of Christ (that is, the 
time of Silk).
         7. Wolfe did use Qabbalah some in New Sun: Yesodh and Briahh; 
though there he merely picked up some words to use in connection with an 
essentially "Catholic" universe. Given that gnosticism was not much 
different from either philosophy or earlier polytheism, but was a kind of 
new "late and decayed-pessimistic" version of both, it is no surprise that 
what Silk is growing out of has resemblances to all three (Marcus Aurelius 
in the Chrasmological writings, a pantheon of gods, a gnostic view of 
reality, etc.).
         8. The first time I read the New Sun, I thought Wolfe had just set 
up a Gnostic universe and was playing with it. Not so, he says. And to some 
extent, I think the Long Sun was a way of making that clear. If I might put 
words in his mouth, I would suggest that he is saying that some kind of 
gnostic/polytheistic understanding of the universe is what everybody 
naturally thinks until or unless they come to a Christian "creational" view 
of the universe; and that the psychological process of moving from the 
former to the latter does not happen overnight, but takes time. Hence, a 
gnostic/polytheistic world is "real" to people who have not been 
"enlightened" like Silk. But Silk's "enlightenment" does not mean he is 
moving "up" a gnostic hierarchy into transcendence, but that he is moving 
"out" of a gnostic view of reality altogether, and can now see these "gods" 
for what they really are: mere creatures, even if powerful ones. To a 
lesser extent, and much less clearly, Severian is moving in the same 
         9. Finally, since this came up, the Calvinistic doctrine of 
predestination (speaking as a Calvinistic theologian) is not much different 
from Augustine's and Aquinas's. Whoever described the "two eye" perspective 
-- from within time and from outside of time -- pretty well described it. 
(Sorry, I can't remember who wrote what.) On all sides, the doctrine is 
regarded as a "mystery," since in order to "understand" it, you would have 
to be God Himself, and folks, we aren't God and we're never gonna be. So we 
leave it as a mystery. Somehow we are free and our actions do count, and 
yet God as Creator of time and of all "events" in time, "foreordained" it 
all. The Calvinistic confessions of faith state that this is a matter that 
should be handled very gingerly and carefully, since to try to think about 
it very much is to fall into the sin of playing god. Anyway, Wolfe is a 
conventional Thomist most of the time, so I imagine he would agree with 
this. The debates between Catholics and Protestants really lie in other areas.

         I don't know if all this helps the discussion, but I hope it helps 
a bit.

Patera Nutria


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