A Vicarious Mystic

15 Mar

“My father, yesterday you promised me that you would bring my mind into the eighth and afterwards you would bring me into the ninth. You said that this is the order of the tradition.” – Initiate, The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth

For having such a dull title, The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth might be one of the most exciting texts in the Nag Hammadi Library; it offers an intimate glimpse into third-century mystical practice. The only version of its kind, it describes a conversation between a mystagogue (instructor of transcendental teachings and excursions–think Jedi Master) and an initiate (eager young Padawan). The mystagogue guides the initiate into an experience of eighth and ninth heavenly spheres by experiencing them first himself, and then describing to his pupil what he sees. (They’ve already taken the trip to “the seventh sphere” together, apparently, “since [they] are pious and walk in [God’s] law.”) The mystagogue tells his spiritual “son,” “Your part, then, is to understand; my own is to be able to deliver the discourse from the fountain that flows to me.”

What a ritual. Presumably, there were groups that actually practiced this kind of vision-transference. The mystagogue prays, as one might expect, “give [me] the spirit of eloquence,” and “Lord, grant us the truth in the image.” The novice’s heavenly ascent hinges on the words of his instructor, on the accurate reflection of the highest cosmic realms in the description and very body of his spiritual “father.” (No pressure, though.)

And we readers luck out this time: rather than have the vision occur off-stage, merely be described as “ineffable,” or reside in a conveniently missing page (like most of the vision in the Gospel of Mary) we actually get to hear about it in detail. Once his mind (soul? spirit?) ascends, the mystagogue exclaims to his pupil:

How shall I describe the universe? I am Mind, and I see another Mind, the one that moves the soul! I see the one that moves me from pure forgetfulness. You give me power! I see myself! I want to speak! Fear restrains me. I have found the beginning of the power that is above all powers, the one that has no beginning. I see a fountain bubbling with life. I have said, my son, that I am Mind. I have seen! Language is not able to reveal this. For the entire eighth, my son, and the souls that are in it, and the angels, sing a hymn in silence. And I, Mind, understand.

Whoa. Tell me this isn’t powerful, that he says, “I see the one that moves me from pure forgetfulness.” And the reservation–“Fear restrains me”–just feels like such a human response. And, well, okay: so there’s a little bit of “it’s ineffable” tossed in, but how else might you begin to approximate ascending to the fountainhead of all life while becoming capital-M mind?

In response to his instructor’s description of the eighth heaven, carrying out his mission to understand, the initiate asks: “What is the way to sing a hymn through silence?”

His spiritual father replies: “Have you become such that you cannot be spoken to?” A layered answer. Singing a hymn through silence is actually the speaking of the addressed; Mind sings its own praise through its worshippers, perhaps.

The initiate follows up sweetly: “I am silent, my father. I want to sing a hymn to you while I am silent.”

“Then sing it, for I am Mind,” the mystagogue enigmatically replies.

Will the initiate understand enough to be pulled into the eighth sphere? Will he see the ninth? Stay tuned, dear readers!


One Response to “A Vicarious Mystic”


  1. Silent Hymns and the Absent Heaven « The Apocryphal Devotional - March 21, 2012

    […] Continuing with the conversation in The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, the initiate persists in his quest to reach the eighth and ninth heavenly spheres. He tells his spiritual father (and, simultaneously, the thrice great God), “Trismegistus, let not my soul be deprived of the great divine vision.” […]

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