Tag Archives: ineffability

Silent Hymns and the Absent Heaven

21 Mar

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.”

Still psychically floating in the eighth heavenly sphere, the father replies, “Return to praising, my son, and sing while you are silent. Ask what you want in silence.”

The initiate praises in silence; he asks for the vision in silence. (What else could he do?) And, after praising, perhaps even by praising, he obtains it at last: “We have received this light. And I myself see this same vision in you. And I see the eighth, and the souls that are in it, and the angels singing a hymn to the ninth and its powers.” His instructor quickly tells him not to speak any further about the vision (“It is advantageous from now on that we keep silent”).

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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.”

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I Am the Utterance of my Name

28 Jan

In a text called The Thunder, Perfect Mind, an enigmatic, divine female figure describes herself as a series of opposites. Beckoning her hearers to listen, know her, and be on their guard, she proclaims:

I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter…
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am the utterance of my name. It’s such a strange idea, and seems so counterintuitive. We receive (or later choose) our names. We hear our names spoken, and look around to find out who wants our attention. What would it mean to be the very sound of one’s name?

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Fire-breathing Mary

21 Dec

In the Questions of Bartholomew, Bartholomew and his fellow apostles ask Jesus profound questions, like “how many souls leave the world every day?” “what’s the worst sin?” and “can we see the abyss?” Although they often tremble while asking, they still want answers. Vacillating between encouragement and admonishment (oh, Christ: always a tease), the resurrected Jesus offers terrifying responses to their inquiries. He shows them the blinding abyss, makes Bartholomew stand on Satan’s neck, and shares with them many secrets of the cosmos. Throughout all of this, the apostles frequently fall to the ground in terror, covering their faces.

One of the most striking incidents in this text comes not from Jesus, however, but from his mother. At the apostles’ repeated request, Mary begins to speak of how “he who is hardly contained by the seven heavens was pleased to be contained” in her womb (II.12). She explains that three years before her pregnancy, she spoke with God, who fed her reappearing (!) bread and wine while disguised as an angel.

More astonishing than the story itself, however, is the circumstance of its telling. She assigns four apostles each a part of her body, so they can all hold her down while she speaks.

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