Gnostic RitualsQUESTION: What are Gnostic rituals?ANSWER:
There is really not much information on Gnostic rituals nor their organizational structure, or practices. Almost all of the Gnostic texts were destroyed over the years to suppress the movement. Although some of their writings do exist, there is little information about how the groups actually functioned; however, some historians do have some of their own ideas. I am going to list here some of those here.
- Many were solidarty practitioners while others were members of mainline Christian congregations forming a clique within each church.
- There was NO agreement on a "canon of Gnostic scripture," so many books were circulated in different versions. Various schools had their own preferred rendition.
- Many of their texts were written by (or attributed to) women. Mary Magdalene played an important role in writings, often second only to Jesus in status. Male and female images were used for the Supreme God. It is speculated that women were held in equal status with men in the communities.
- If a member had died, or was in the stages of dying, a substance was poured over their head and other members recited ritual phrases which were to help the individual's soul ascend through the dangerous heavens of the Archons towards God.
- Some rituals were conducted during baptism of a new member in which was said, "In the name of the Father unknown to all, in the Truth, Mother of All, in the One who came down upon Jesus, in the union, redemption and communion of powers."
In 1913, someone wrote about a Gnostic Mass, which, in many ways, resembles the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, however, it ends there. The ritual is a celebration of the principles of Thelema, which means a deeper understanding of one's true self and one's true will.
The ceremony calls for five officers: a priest, a priestess, a deacon, and two acolytes called "children." The end of the ritual culminates in the consummation of the Eucharist, which is a glass of wine and the host called a Cake of Light, after which the congregate proclaims, "There is no part of me that is not of the gods."
Also, the temple in a Gnostic Mass is quite unusual, and quite different from the traditional church structure. It consists of The High Altar with the dimensions 7 feet long by 3 feet wide by 44 inches high, covered with a crimson cloth. It is situated in the East, or faces Boleskine in Scotland. The two-tiered super-altar sits on top of the High Altar. It holds 22 candles, the Stele of Revealing (an Egyptian religious wooden tablet overlaid with stucco and painted with mythological scenes and hieroglyphic writings commemorating the death of a Theban priest of the god Mentu), the Book of the Law, and two bunches of roses.
There is room for the Cup, the Paten (brightly colored baptismal saucer surrounded by gold and semiprecious stones), and the Priestess to sit. The High Altar is contained within a great Veil, and sits on a dais with three steps. On either side of the High Altar are two pillars in black and white. The Altar of Incense: To the West of the Dais (raised platform) is a black altar made of superimposed cubes. The Font: This is a small circular item, which is able to contain or hold water. The Tomb: This is shaped like an upright coffin, but it is essential that it be a small, enclosing space with an entrance that is covered by a veil.