Gnosis, in its more modern definition, and the four Ecclesias, temples, or churches are a feature of much of the inner order work of the Order of the Gnostic Star. It is used in most of the ordeals and workings that span the fourth-degree through the seventh, and even beyond into the mythical eighth-degree. However, there was very little documentation that defined this archetypal structure, nor any kind of explanation as to its importance and how it fits into the Order’s symbolic correspondences.
I have written this article to help to define the four Ecclesias and to show their importance and ubiquity within the workings of the Order. I believe, however, that what has precedence in the Order can certainly be applied to other traditions and be shown to have a universal utility in the Western Mystery tradition. I will need to define the term gnosis in how it is used in modern ritual magic, and also discuss the four archetypal religious and magical philosophies that underlie nearly everything that is associated with the practice of ritual magic. Gnosis is an important key, as anyone can imagine, and it does not relate well to the gnostic beliefs of late antiquity - this is a break with the past representing a uniquely modern approach.
Since the pattern of four and five in occult correspondences has a wide association with nearly every aspect of occult philosophy and magic, extending it to qualified philosophical approaches and developing liturgical and magical rites and rituals to accommodate them has been the approach that the Order had taken to best represent the full spectrum of its ordeals and practices. This body of lore, grouped under each of the four Ecclesias, are called sacramentaries, which is the name used by the early Christian church to designate the book of rites and liturgies used to celebrate the full practical application of the clerical elite. The Order has picked this definition for the works associated with the four Ecclesias, and an extensive body of lore was developed to support them.
Introduction - What is Gnosis to Ritual Magicians?
The academic study of Gnosticism examines the beliefs and practices of the various groups and institutions in late antiquity that were based on the tenets of Neoplatonism and Neopythagorianism, which later produced the medieval philosophical systems of the Jewish Kabbalah, Christian and Islamic Hermeticism, practical and esoteric astrology, ceremonial magic, alchemy and occultism. Those who practice these arts today owe a great debt to the brilliant minds who built and developed them, although many of their names and identities are obscured or lost in the passage of time. However, classical Gnosticism, as practiced by the Sethians, the students of Valentinus, Marcion, Simon Magus, or a myriad of others, proposed that nature was corrupt and the source of evil in the world because it was formulated by a flawed and deluded godhead who was not the originator of the perfect spiritual creation called the Pleroma or Fullness. The myths of the Hebrew Bible were turned upside down in an antinomian exposition that was both startling and bizarre to later accepted orthodox theologies.
This antinomian perspective produced a kind of dualistic theology that promoted spirit over matter and thereby rejected the material world and its predicaments. The spiritual nature of humanity was believed to be trapped in the material world and needed to be redeemed so that it could escape the material world and the tyranny of the Demiurge, the deluded godhead who kept it imprisoned. While we can understand and perhaps appreciate the perspectives of the Gnostics of antiquity and realize that Neoplatonic Christianity, which produced these variations, had many different theologies and spiritual perspectives in its genesis, in our modern world occultists need a completely different approach that is more in tune with our post modern world. This is particularly true for those who espouse an earth-based spirituality. It is also important to subscribe to an occult philosophy that is ultimately non-dual, positive, constructive and life-affirming.
A question that must be answered, however, is whether the concept of gnosis, as it was defined in late antiquity is still relevant today. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word gnosis in the following manner.
Gnosis - “esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation”
The Greek definition of the word gnosis is ‘knowledge’ yet it was defined as a special kind of knowledge, and it was considered a mystical knowledge based on direct experience with the divine. I believe that this definition is still relevant, especially if we understand that mystical or esoteric knowledge is something that a person must fully experience in order to realize it. This is not the kind of knowledge that can be conveyed by books or teachers. It must be experienced by the individual, and therefore, it is very subjective, individual, intimate, and inexplicable. Perhaps this is why the writings of the Gnostics were so difficult to understand or unusual, since they were based on individual visionary experiences of divine revelations.
I would define gnosis in the following manner. Gnosis is defined as the intuitive apperception of Spirit and its Mystery. While it is based on the beliefs, training, and prior experiences that the individual undergoing gnosis possesses, it is also characterized by new insights, visions and revelations that ultimately instruct one with newly acquired ideas and translations of existing knowledge. While gnosis might seem to be the proclivity of the mystic or the spiritual seeker, it is also within the purview of the ritual magician who is practicing any kind of theurgistic magic involving Deity. A magical engagement of Deity will produce the realization of gnosis in the experiential field of the ritual magician. In fact, for any kind of progressive initiatory process that a ritual magician might be engaged in, whether traditional or extemporaneous, gnosis will be a key part of their practice and spiritual process.
I believe that gnosis is an important key in the practice of ritual magic because it is revelatory, instructive, progressive, and leads to the development of new lore and expanded practices. It is for this reason that all my magical workings, initiations, philosophy and foundational beliefs are involved with forms of personal gnosis that are used to stimulate growth and produce a greater understanding of oneself and the world at large. It is important to experience gnosis in magical workings and ordeals, but it is also important to analyze, examine, and where possible, corroborate those revelations and insights with what is already known, whether in books, traditional teachings, or the affirmation of peer review.
Revelation of the Four Gnostic Philosophies
My own repeated gnostic experiences engaging with Deity in my magical workings have revealed to me a simple philosophy that has allowed me to organize the various religious and occult perspectives of the Western Mystery tradition into a simple set of binary structures. All of these are based on the fundamental modern Pagan perspective that existence on this planet represents the interaction and confluence of light and darkness, life and death. It is also determined by the idea of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. It is the joining of the archetypal masculine and feminine to produce both the offspring of creation and the essence of union, however brief, to emulate the greater mystery. All polarities resolve themselves into union, and union is the source of all polarities. There is the One, there is the None, and there are the Many, and they are connected in a web of conscious meaning and significance. It is the nature of the process of material nature and spirit, which both emanate from a common source.
This process is known as the way of all things, and it is called the Tao (path or way) in Chinese philosophy, whose origins can be traced to religious philosophies of Darshan (insight into the nature of reality) in India. This is analogous to the concept of the Prisca Theologica that developed out of the study of Hermeticism during the Renaissance. What these different perspectives have in common is that there is a source to everything that is intrinsic, essential to nature and spirit, and that it is found where all things converge in union into a singular One, which is changeless, immutable and all pervading. It is the particular phenomenon of the material and spiritual universes, and it is invested in the consciousness of all sentience.
With these basic principles in mind, the domains of religion, mysticism, and magic can be seen as a simple four-fold distinction. These are exemplified as polarities, even dualities, although they are ultimately dissolved into the One.
Therefore, Life is contrasted to Death. Individual Will is contrasted to Sodality, and these four ideas represent four distinct spiritual perspectives that are archetypal and occur in combination in the religions of the West, and perhaps also in the World.
I have given the name to the religious philosophy of Life as Eros, representing the elements of procreation, ecstasy, material bounty, and the mystery of creation and birth. Eros is the philosophical and religious celebration of life in all its manifestation, thus making the occurrence of life sacred and the act of creation a religious rite. Life affirmation, joy, ecstasy, creation, agriculture and its bounty, renewal, the healing arts and the Hippocratic oath are the religious beliefs and practices of this religious philosophy. The sacralization of sexual union and its holy products would represent the core practice of this magical and religious philosophy. The hieros gamos would be the apex rite, and the visions of healing wisdom, and the fertility rites of agriculture and animal husbandry would round out the practices of this religious philosophy. The religious Deities of Eros would be Aphrodite, Eros, Demeter, Artemis, Dionysus, Zeus (as progenitor), Asclepius, Hygeia, Priapuis, Pan and Plutus.
Correspondingly, I have given the name to the religious philosophy of Death as Thanatos, representing the truth and sobering realization that all life must end in death, and that preparation for that event, and its requirement for balance, abstinence, atonement, forgiveness, material renunciation, redemption, and sobriety is significantly important. Thanatos also represents transformation, charity, humility, asceticism, self-denial, temperance and compassion for the widow and the orphan. While requiem rites are to aid the living to deal with the loss caused by death, the Bardo aids and assists the individual in making the transition from life to death more acceptable and less traumatic. The Elusian Mysteries were a way that the living could accommodate the reality of death, but also the domain of dreams, sleep, and even ecstasy (little death) could be considered elements of this religious philosophy. The religious Deities of Thanatos would be Hades, Poseidon, Thanatos, Persephone, Ker, Nyx, Hypnos, Erebus, and Morpheus.
Different than either Life or Death are the antipodal religious philosophies of Individual Will and Sodality. These are humanistic activities that occur in the social domain of humanity, but they are represented by opposing and polarized religious and philosophical perspectives. These different perspectives represent the belief in the destiny and the outcome of the individual, shown as the Hero, Warrior, Great Statesman, King, Teacher, Artisan, Poet, or Philosopher, and the belief in the collective accomplishments of the social organization, the promotion of collective action, projects, and the social forces of democracy, justice, equality, government institutions, and law enforcement. We see this polarity not only in religious philosophy, but also in local and collective politics, media and cultural phenomena.
The destiny of individuals and the celebration of the will to power I have given the name Thelema, which means ‘will’ in Greek. This represents the fact that all sentient beings are given the freedom to choose their path and forge their own destiny, with certain material, social and psychological limitations. This is the religious philosophy of the mythic Hero who has a myriad of faces and roles in the history of the human race. Despite the collective nature of human existence, there have been and will likely always be individuals who will powerfully shape the world in which we live, for good or ill. Tied to this religious philosophy is the transformative cycle of the Hero, and its association with the initiation and apotheosis of the individual. Awards, recognition, election, fame, infamy, and the development of personal power and wealth are very much a part of this pathway. It is the temple of the individual genius, and immortalizing of mortal men and women. The religious Deities of Thelema would be Ares and Nike at one extreme, and Hermes at the other, populated by Heros, some of whom became Gods, such as Heracles, Achilles, Perseus, Bellerophon, Odysseus, Theseus, Orpheus and Atalanta.
Contrasted to Thelema is the religious philosophy of the masses, the social organizations that have helped humanity survive and thrive. From this perspective, the individual is not as important as the group, and that the greatest achievements produced by humanity have been done through the social organization and the combined efforts of many individuals. It is the sodality of human kind that have made the most collective and constructive changes in the world, from the most distant times in our history to today.
Along with this ideal of collective effort is also collective support, which functions as the humanizing and social equality that proposes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual. While collective actions have accomplished the construction of great cities and edifices of note over the ages, like the seven wonders of the ancient world, they have also accomplished great destruction through conquest and war. However, the religious philosophy of Sodality, which I have called Agape, is a fundamental constructive force of good and progress, relying on group consensus, democracy, justice, equality to achieve a harmonious union and cooperative action. This religious philosophy is driven by compassion for the needy and the bereft, and seeks to uplift everyone to a better level of existence, leaving none to fall behind. Agape, which is the Greek word for ‘love’, represents the power that unites individuals into groups, nations and ultimately, planetary species and beyond. It’s ultimate goal is Utopia for everyone, where all human needs and wants, within limits, can be uniformly achieved. The religious Deities of Agape would be Apollo, Zeus, Hera, Athena, Eunomia, Themis, Eleos, Epiphron and Hestia.
These four religious philosophies, Eros, Thanatos, Thelema and Agape, as defined, represent the archetypal systems present in the various religions of the West. These archetypal philosophies have their own religious systems and practices, and their own particular magical systems as well. However, no actual religious institution functions with only one of these pure archetypal perspectives, since they have many complex interacting attributes, some of which are contradictory. Thus, Christianity would ideally function as a combination of Agape and Thanatos, having placed restrictions on the acceptable associations of Eros and Thelema. Judaism would function as a combination of Agape and Eros, and Islam would be considered a combination of Agape and Thelema, where Mohammed would be considered the ideal intermediary of Allah, but where compassion, mercy and the guardianship of the religious warrior would establish its foundation. Modern Witchcraft and Paganism has brought back Eros into a religious faction, but has also taken attributes from Thelema and even Thanatos to establish its religious and magical works. Even Crowley’s Thelema actually incorporates Thelema and Agape together into a practical synthesis, heavily adding attributes of Eros as well.
Therefore, these four religious philosophies that I have outlined here are pure archetypal models that can be used to define the attributes of a practiced religion or philosophy that has occurred in the past or exists in the world today. However, as models they can also be useful to organize and structure magical workings, and this is what I have chosen to do with them. I have developed four systems of gnostic magic based on the sacramental theurgy produced by the model Ecclesias or churches, and I have named this system a tetra-sacramentary (four liturgical ritual systems in books or grimoires), consisting of the rituals of a mass, benediction excerpts, seasonal calendar rites, initiations and holy orders, the invocation rites for the associated demigods or avatars, and an ordeal for the generating of a magical relic housed within a consecrated crystal. The stages of holy orders for each of these sacramental systems begins with the Deacon, then proceeds to Priest or Pontifex, to the Sacred King or Queen, and from there to the Bishop or Hierophant. These stages represent the four degrees of fourth-degree through seventh in the Order, straddling the threshold of the outer to the inner order; but they are magical and liturgical initiation degrees. Each system has its own book of liturgical and magical workings, representing the sacramentary established for each one.
All this lore has been developed into three major magical workings and represent the practices of four distinct archetypal gnostic religious and magical systems. The first of these is known in the Order as Ordeal XV, which introduces the seeker to the four sacramentaries and their specific liturgical and magical practices. The second ordeal is known as the Tessarenoi, or Four Ecclesias working, which seeks to produce a sacramental relic containing a talismanically charged crystal for each of the sacramental systems. The third ordeal is known as the Stellar Seven-Rayed Gnosis, which presents the fifth foundational aspect of the four sacramentaries, which is their unified synthesis.
As I have stated previously, the many are dissolved into the One, and in the case of the four Ecclesias, these four different gnostic sacramentaries are resolved into a fifth, which I have called Astris, or the Star. Thus, life and death, will and sodality are unified into a system of sacramental theurgy that is beyond all Deities and Spirit itself, although it is the source of Spirit, and therefore aligned with it. The sacrament of Astris is spiritual union or enlightenment, a full conscious realization of the One. This specially achieved sacrament is called by me Stellar Gnosis, or the intuitive apperception of the One, and the magical order that I founded is based on this achievement as the ultimate experience in the process of conscious evolution through the art of magic.
These four sacramentaries and the fifth, which is their union, are also represented by the five attributes of the Grail, which is a foundational symbol in the Order. Thus, the sacred sword is the grail of the warrior or Thelema, the sacred spear is the grail of the warden or Thanatos, the sacred chalice is the grail of the priestess or Agape, and the sacred dish is the grail of the bachae or Eros. The fifth grail is the diamond crystal, dragon’s eye or diadem of Lucifer, it is the grail of the shadow or Astris. These grails represent the emblems of the four different sacramentaries, but the fifth contains them and is the synthesis of them all.
The five grails are also symbolized by the five mysteries of the sun, moon, seasons, life-cycle and the all-pervading mystery of spirit and the unity that lies beyond it. These are associated with Eros, Thanatos, Agape, Thelema and Astris, respectively. This five-fold system is the foundation for all of the ritual magic and liturgy of the inner order, or that state of religion and magic that lies above the lesser veil between initiate and adept. It’s mastery represents the mastery of life and death, light and darkness, and the necessity of integrating them into a wholeness that reveals the inner state of all beings, which is the One. These five stages are also attributed to the cosmogonic cycle, representing the eternal cycle of creation and dissolution, and the unchanging source from which these emanations proceed and to which they ultimately return.
The four grails are also known as the Tetrapatron powers, the sacramental energies that are an integral part of the mysteries of the Undecigram, or eleven-pointed star. There are also seven virtues of the Goddess known as the heptamatrons, which are aligned to the seven planetary rays and those Sephirah of the Qabalah that reside above the base of Malkuth. The four powers of the Tetrapatron, united with the seven virtues of the Hepamatrons produce the overall pattern of the Undecigram, which is the conduit for the crossing of the Greater Abyss, uniting the Solar virtues of Tiphareth with the Saturnine virtues of Binah. There are two ordeals that work with these attributes, and these are the Seven-Rayed Star and Cross, and the Portae Lucis working. There is also the Abramelin Lunar Ordeal to assist with the spiritual transfiguration. There is the work of Archeaomancy, for both the 40 Qabalistic Worlds and the 18 Spiritual Dimensions, but these ordeals can be presented and discussed in isolation, since they do not use the tetrasacramentary. All of these ordeals, however, represent the mechanism to achieving full mastery of one’s spiritual and magical process.
Yet above and beyond this mystical structure arises the veils of the uncreated, the emptiness beyond the One, which I have named the Nought, which appears in our world of manifestation as the Goddess of Wisdom, Sophia, which is the attainment of wisdom through the establishment of a more permanent state of enlightenment. This is the core of the non-dual world, where emptiness pervades as the primal state and the final end of all emanations, since it is the mother and genetrix of the One. Yet of this mystery we can only wonder and be amazed, since in our limited minds and souls, we can realize the light and magnificence of Sophia, which is the final state of all magical transformations that stand before the dissolution of our mortal coil.
The Gnostic Tetrasacramentary is the four-fold foundation for the workings and ordeals of the Inner Order of the Gnostic Star. It is the starting place for all initiates who have achieved the fourth-degree and seek to achieve a three-fold transformation that will lead them ultimately to mastery. This is the road map to the higher degrees of the Order, and it is also the pathway for ritual magicians to progress to the highest levels of consciousness, whatever their traditional base.