The Liberal Gnostic Church draws its teachings from a medley of influences, both ancient and modern – Western and Eastern. While no attempt is made to establish dogma – in this, as in all Gnostic traditions, personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered – certain teachings have been embraced as the core values from which the LGC as an organization derives its broad approach to spiritual issues.
Those core teachings may be summarized in the words “Gnostic, Universalist, and Esoteric.”
The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, generally meaning “knowledge” – that is a direct experiential knowing, as opposed to the more general “acquisition of information.” The term was used as a self-description by an extremely diverse and highly creative set of religious movements that pre-date the Christian era and continued for several centuries before being run to ground by political and religious persecution.
Beginning in the 19th century, the fragments of ancient Gnostic teachings helped spark a series of modern movements that borrowed the concept of gnosis and the ancient Gnostic teaching that personal experience, rather than dogmatic belief or membership in an organization, can form the heart of a spiritual path. As part of the modern Gnostic movement, the LGC affirms that individual experience is central to its own vision of spirituality.
Some of the ancient Gnostics, like the mainstream religious movements that persecuted and eventually destroyed them, taught that only an elite group of people were capable of reaching the goals of the spiritual path, while others were doomed to fail. An alternative view, actually the prevailing Christian doctrine for its first 500 years of existence, held that communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings – again, without exception – will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine. While this belief was later condemned by the established Church and classified as heretical, the LGC affirms not only the recognition of the potential for spiritual achievement in all beings, but also the ultimate universal salvation of all as central to its own vision of spirituality.
The term esoteric refers here broadly to what is commonly referred to as the Western Esoteric or Mystery Traditions – those traditions that study the natural relationships that exist between the Divine, the Universe, and Humanity through knowledge and application of Gnostic, Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, and other teachings. Esoteric also means occult, or “hidden” – not “open to the public at large” as it were. While we do not hold ourselves to be superior or somehow “elite” to the general populace, we do recognize the value and necessity in this path being largely private, and exclusive – and so, while the LGC affirms a Universalist soteriology, it holds to an esoteric, or hidden corporate application. In short – salvation is ultimately for all, however our organization is not. Fortunately, the latter is no prerequisite for the former.
As befits a church founded on the principle of individual spiritual experience, the LGC does not require its members or any person whatsoever to accept any of its teachings, but it does expect its priests and priestesses to be familiar with them, to understand their meaning and value within the LGC’s tradition, and to be able to discuss them intelligently.
Beyond these, and on the same terms, the LGC accepts certain basic principles that are common to most of the world’s religions and spiritual paths. It accepts, for example, that the universe we see is a reflection of an invisible reality we do not normally see; that there are many other beings in the universe besides humanity, some less complex and intelligent than humanity, some more so; that each human being has a dimension that transcends the physical and is capable of surviving the death of the physical body; and that a personal relationship based on respect is an appropriate way of interaction with spiritual powers and of participation in the cosmos as a whole.
It will be noticed that the LGC does not specify the number, gender, or nature of the spiritual powers its deacons, priests and priestesses, and bishops invoke. This is quite deliberate, and derives from the points already made. Human beings around the world and throughout time have encountered a rich diversity of spiritual beings and powers, and have drawn inspiration, benediction, and guidance from them all. Though it is common in today’s popular religious culture to insist that all this diversity must somehow be the expression of a single reality, there is at least as much direct evidence against as there is for such a claim, and the LGC chooses not to take a position on an issue that human beings may never be able to settle for certain. One or many, personal or impersonal, gods or goddesses or some of each – these questions are left to the free choice and the personal experience of the individual.
THE INNER CLOISTER
So personal a way of life as that defined by an independent gnosis requires a conception of the role of regular clergy that is more closely akin to that of the lone hermit than that of the monk or nun living under a collective discipline. Still, the traditional solitude of the hermit is neither easy to attain in today’s crowded world nor appropriate for the needs of many people otherwise well suited to the work of the LGC. In place of the outward trappings of the hermit’s life, therefore, the LGC proposes an inner orientation — the Inner Cloister.
The life of any person who cultivates an inner life and an orientation toward the Divine in today’s obsessively materialistic world must inevitably have important resonances with the lives of hermits in other ages. There is the same sense of standing apart from the outer world, the same embrace of a freely chosen discipline, the same provision of a place of solitude; the difference is simply that the most suitable place of solitude for the hermit of today is found within his or her own heart.
The practice of the Inner Cloister embraces the whole of life; it calls on the priest or priestess to maintain the inner clarity and the spiritual orientation of a hermit in a hermitage all through his or her daily life. Within that framework, the more specific practices that are recommended to the priests and priestesses of the Liberal Gnostic Church have their places: the practices of the home altar, morning prayer, and evening meditation, to enrich and orient the inner life; and the Qurbana to nurture the central Sacred Flame around which the rest of the Inner Cloister is built.