The following excerpt is from Phillips’ new memoir The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic courtesy of Evolver Editions/North Atlantic Books.
In December 1945, during the tail end of the most devastating war in human history, a peasant named Mohammed Ali of the al-Samman clan stumbled upon an earthenware jar near limestone caves in the deserts of Upper Egypt. He feared an evil djin (genie) resided inside, but hoping for lost riches, he still opened the jar. To his disappointment, twelve ragged leather-bound codices fell onto the ground. He didn’t realize these 1,200 weathered pages contained dozens of lost Christian gospels that had been hidden away for 1,600 years. Mohammed carried them home to his mother, who kept warm throughout the night by feeding pages of the priceless Nag Hammadi Library to her fireplace.
These fifty-two texts, with titles like The Gospel of Thomas, Secret James, The Gospel of Mary, and The Sophia of Jesus, showed that first-through-fourth century Christianity was much more varied than previously thought, comprised of diverse sects claiming “secret knowledge” of heavenly realms. Modern scholars now label these texts as “Gnostic,” since they lay out an initiatory process for candidates to overcome the “forgetfulness,” “drunkenness,” and “sleep” of the illusory world in order to access gnosis, direct experience of a divine reality.
The Nag Hammadi Library supported the popular theory that Christianity stemmed from the ancient mystery school traditions of the Mediterranean, which featured “dying and resurrecting godmen.” In Egypt they worshipped Horus; in Greece, Dionysus; in Syria, Adonis; in Asia Minor, Attis; in Persia (and later Rome), Mithras; and in Israel, Jesus (historically the most recent). The similarities among these hierophants were uncanny. Several of them, according to the legends, were born around the winter solstice to a virgin in humble surroundings with a star in the Eastern sky. Some grew up to be spiritual masters with twelve disciples (Horus, Mithras, Jesus), performing miracles, giving baptisms and communions. They all died (Dionysus dismembered by Titans, Attis and Adonis eaten by wild boars, and Horus, Mithras, and Jesus crucified) before experiencing a miraculous resurrection.
Rather than rejoicing in their similarities, “literalist” Christian leaders — those who had not experienced the secret gnosis of the highest mysteries — created dams between the diverse spiritual streams that originally flowed from the same mystical source. The parallels between Mithras and Jesus threatened the emerging “Literalist Church.” Roman bishops such as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus made the ridiculous claim that the devil had engaged in “diabolical mimicry,” “plagiarizing by anticipation” the story of Jesus before it had actually happened in order to mislead the weak-minded.
The Golden Bough’s James Frazier noted a similar contention between Attis, the mystery god from Asia Minor, and Jesus. “In point of fact it appears from the testimony of an anonymous Christian, who wrote in the fourth century of our era, that Christians and pagans alike were struck by the remarkable coincidence between the death and resurrection of their respective deities, and that the coincidence formed a theme of bitter controversy between the adherents of the rival religions, the pagans contending that the resurrection of Christ was a spurious imitation of the resurrection of Attis, and the Christians asserting with equal warmth that the resurrection of Attis was a diabolical counterfeit of Christ.” 1
Literalist Christians refused to accept that the rites of the mystery schools form the central narrative of The New Testament. But the similarities are too plentiful to ignore. Jesus encounters a baptism, a eucharist, an anointing, and the death and resurrection ritual. These mystical rites provided a rare alchemical education, unifying spiritual energies (pneuma, as the early Christians called it). In the words of The Gospel of Philip, “The Lord did everything in a mystery, a baptism and a chrism, and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber. […] he said, ‘I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like the things inside. I came to unite them in the place.”
As an energy healer, I found myself drawn to how early Christians utilized pneuma for personal transformation. Jesus baptizes with “fire and spirit,” heals with “power,” and transmits wisdom to his disciples through the “bubbling spring” drawn from a higher source. The purpose of these schools was to create Pneumatics, people full of spiritual energy. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus announces to his disciples, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”
Even common Christian terms revealed clues to this ancient transformational process. The Greek word for “sin,” hamartia, was an archery term meaning “missing the mark.” It lacked guilt and simply indicated when seekers strayed from their path and needed to get back on course. Repent (metanoia) meant to “change one’s mind” or “have a shift in consciousness,” which can occur when absorbing higher frequencies from someone connected to source-energy, like Jesus. Most surprisingly, Christ was not our Lord and “savior” but rather our “soter,” meaning “healer,” “bestower of health,” or “one who makes whole.”
I couldn’t help wonder what happened to the original meanings of these words, as well as the numerous Gnostic churches that had proliferated in the Middle East. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Second Temple in 70 AD, after the Jewish revolt, they left one-third of the population dead, and the Christian mysteries fractured into pieces. Members joined the mass exodus out of the country. Those who hadn’t been exposed to the inner mysteries started up literalist churches. The remaining Gnostics called these rigid sects “imitation churches” as they did not teach the gnosis of “Christ within.”
According to the Apocalypse of Peter, literalist church fathers were “waterless canals” bereft of consciousness-expanding pneuma who arrogantly claimed to be the sole gatekeepers of heaven. “Some who do not understand mystery speak of things which they do not understand, but they will boast that the mystery of truth is theirs alone.” These “empty” churches sprouted up across the Roman Empire. In a sad touch of historical irony, their leaders, like the infamous Bishop Irenaeus, became heretic hunters attacking those who still carried the inner teachings of their religion. “We were hated and persecuted, not only by those who are ignorant, but also by those who think they are advancing the name of Christ, since they were unknowingly empty, not knowing who they are.” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth).
As the number of Christians multiplied in Roman lands, power-hungry Constantine switched the state religion to co-opt this growing movement, uniting Rome under “one God, one religion,” and incidentally, one emperor. In 325 he oversaw the Council of Nicaea, where church fathers reduced the vast library of Christian written knowledge to a few documents that we now call The New Testament.
In 391 Emperor Theodosius passed an edict to close all “pagan” temples and burn their books. Christian hordes set out on murderous rampages across the empire smashing all traces of the mystery traditions from which their own religion had blossomed. They killed off the last of the Gnostic circles, including their libraries, churches, scrolls, and most importantly, the flame of gnosis that had been passed down throughout the ages. By 410 AD, the Roman Empire had nearly torn itself apart and the Visigoths strolled in to finish the job. Only 85 years after the Council of Nicaea, the Dark Ages had begun.
In our world today, millions of people have been wounded or mislead by literalist Christianity, robbed of their own divine spark. For more than a millennia, the Judeo-Christian tradition has supplied the underlying operating platform for our whole society — our languages, laws, mores, work ethic, sexuality, even our way of perceiving time (with the Gregorian calendar) — shaping our worldview, whether we realize it or not.
Integrating this tradition could help us come to terms with ourselves, and our history. But we’ll need an upgrade of the Protestant Revolution, one that incorporates Christ-consciousness. Imagine already established churches, the ones on your block, enhancing their services with meditation, breathwork, energy healing, and among the more radicalized churches, the ingesting of entheogenic sacraments in a safe and protected space. Why build entirely new systems for connecting us to pneuma when the institutions have already been created, whether Methodist, Lutheran, or Baptist? But these “waterless” religions would have to give up their addiction to dominating their worshippers, address the evolution of the spirit, and infuse the essence of the mysteries into their hollow edifices.
Many of the popular Eastern disciplines of today have us turning away from the world around us, meditating on our navel. But Christ wasn’t only a yogi; he was a mystical activist, carrying his message to those who most needed it. In this time of great transition, our ailing planet needs spiritual warriors to oppose the Western materialist machine, creating sustainable societies that care for their citizens, harmonize with the cycles of nature, and receive and honor the vast healing light that quietly connects us all. 1. Sir James George Frazier, The Golden Bough (New York: Macmillan, 1992), chapter 37. On Amazon: The Electric Jesus: The Healing Journey of a Contemporary Gnostic
Jonathan’s Blog: www.realitysandwich.com/blog/jonathan_phillips