Days of Future Past:
Tenth Anniversary Reflections
|by Jay Kinney|
Measured against eternity, ten years is a mere blink of an eye. In the average life span of a magazine, however, a decade is a major chunk of time. With your indulgence, I'd like to offer a few reflections about the past, present, and future of GNOSIS as a preface to this special 10th Anniversary issue.
First let's set the stage: In January 1981, having hit age 30 a few months before, I undertook a major reevaluation of my life and work. In the midst of this turmoil I read Edward Edinger's Ego and Archetype, a masterful presentation of C.G. Jung's main themes and concepts. My interest was piqued by his discussion of ancient Gnosticism, alchemy, and the depths of Christian symbolism. Fortuitously, within a week or two, I happened upon a small congregation of contemporary gnostics, and at the culmination of their lovely ritual I found myself unexpectedly moved. I began to take part in their quiet work and the whole panoply of Western esotericism and mysticism began to open up before me.
January of 1981 also marked the publication of Elaine Pagels' book, The Gnostic Gospels, in mass paperback, which I immediately picked up and read enthusiastically. Almost simultaneously in February, VALIS was published, the gripping gnostic novel by my favorite science-fiction author, Philip K. Dick. Dick had undergone his own puzzling mystical transformation nearly seven years before but VALIS was the first occasion in which he publicly discussed it in semi- fictional form.
The universe, it seemed, was conspiring that winter to rub my nose in the idea of gnosis.
It didn't take long for the realization to hit me that gnosis, i.e. mystical unfoldment and illumination, was hardly confined to the ancient Gnostics. I found the term used in discussions of Islamic Sufism and Jewish Kabbalah, and it soon became self-evident that the experience of gnosis was a thread running between mystics and seekers of all persuasions and eras. Within a year's time, the urgency of my interest in such matters led me to envision a new publication where these things could be discussed in a non-sectarian manner.
Looking back through my files, the earliest material evidence of this idea is a little thumbnail sketch of a GNOSIS cover dating back to February 1982. It appears in a black-bound sketchbook in which I was then jotting ideas for the new magazine. (See accompanying reproduction on this page.) Thirty pages later, in June 1982, there's a chart of potential GNOSIS topics lined up in five columns under the headings: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Folk & Native, and Hermetic. Farther down the page is a list of 32 potential writers, fourteen of whom have subsequently appeared in GNOSIS in one form or another.
On the following sketchbook page is a puckish quote from the poet Robert Kelly which still encapsulates something of the free-ranging spirit that I hoped GNOSIS would embody:
What these artifacts from the pre-publication history of this magazine point to, but don't quite reveal, is the rather uncanny manner in which the magazine's purpose, look, tone, and content all dropped into my mind as if they already preexisted. It may be unduly Neoplatonic to suggest that there was an archetypal GNOSIS waiting to happen, but the fact remains that throughout the thirteen years of this idea's existence I've felt more like its caretaker and guardian than its originator. It's an odd sensation and one which has often led me to follow intuitions of what is "GNOSIS-like" that have sometimes confounded other staff members and readers. Yet these intuitions are in the service of a logic, albeit one that requires explaining from time to time.
Since the beginning, GNOSIS has consciously tried to include both the mystical and the so-called occult in its pages, a policy guaranteed to set some people's teeth on edge and confuse others. This issue in your hands, where we find Seyyed Hossein Nasr elbow to elbow with H.P. Lovecraft, is no exception. Why do we do this? Sheer perversity? Eclecticism run amuck? Not exactly.
GNOSIS was founded with a specific intent: to provide a venue for well-researched and lively material about what we've rather ambiguously called "the Western Inner Traditions." This term was borrowed from William G. Gray's book, An Outlook on our Inner Western Way (Samuel Weiser, 1980). Gray was, of course, primarily speaking from a magical and occult perspective, and I took the liberty of broadening the phrase's meaning to include much more than that: GNOSIS would cover the whole gamut of approaches to inner knowledge that have arisen in Western culture. These included psychology (especially the Jungian and transpersonal kinds), the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) with special emphasis on their mystical and esoteric components, Hermeticism, and various native paganisms.
The field of focus was Western - not because of a cultural chauvinism - certainly I had no illusions about West being better than East or vice versa. But rather because the myths and material which had been stimulating my own search were those hidden away in my own heritage. I figured that there were others like me who were willing to take a second look at the traditions that we had so stridently rejected just a few years before.
Tradition is a not a popular word. Modern critics have usually linked it with unflattering adjectives such as "dying" or "unthinking." However those of us who have been palpably touched by a ritual or a story which still lives after century upon century of repetition know that such things survive for a reason and deserve our respect. GNOSIS was designated as a safe territory in which to explore traditions of wisdom and spiritual inquiry without having to fend off accusations of "irrationality" or "superstition." The presence of two notable Traditionalist scholars, Huston Smith and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in this issue is emblematic of this facet of GNOSIS's work, as are the articles on renewing and rediscovering traditional forms of prayer.
Yet it must be noted that because of its largely extroverted nature, Western culture has not always proven hospitable to its own inner paths and seekers. Sometimes cast in the role of outlaws and heretics, many proponents of direct spiritual experience have gravitated toward the occult (which originally simply meant "hidden" but has since come to imply the spooky). Not a few have become lost along the way, chasing chimeras and mistaking their egos for their Holy Guardian Angels. But others have stayed the course and crafted their own initiations amidst Tarot layouts, astrological charts, and alchemical retorts.
Such possibilities make many mystics uneasy, but it has remained part of GNOSIS's assignment to report on these more unorthodox traditions as well. If contradictions and troublesome shadows are encountered, so much the better, for nothing overcomes the fear of the unknown quite so well as meeting the Other face to face. This then may be the bridge between the Stoics and the Sacred Prostitutes, or between the Traditionalists and the magicians who also share this anniversary issue.
Because this issue has no one specific theme, it has ended up with a cross-section of articles that cover the range of GNOSIS readers' interests. This represents in microcosm the mix that we may cover in dialectical fashion in the course of a year. Typically our editorial rhythms tend to alternate between the orthodox and unorthodox, between the mystical and the occult, between the serious and the playful, and between one editor and the other. What at first glance may seem a peripetetic focus actually provides within every couple of issues a balanced investigation of the field.
What does the future hold for GNOSIS? Having firmly upheld the value of Western spiritual resources, perhaps it is time to cast our net a bit wider. Watch for more bridge-building as in our East Meets West issue this coming Spring. Similarly, though we've spent the last decade largely ignoring things New Age, it also seems time to investigate what parts of that fad-ridden milieu may be here to stay. The "Western Inner Traditions" will remain our primary interest, but it can only enrich our discussions to branch out now and then. What is certain is that wherever GNOSIS ventures in the next ten years we will keep our critical faculties intact and present you with the most accurate and intelligent writing available as an aid to your spiritual search.
(c) copyright 1995 by Jay Kinney