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The word gnosis (from the Greek word for knowledge, γνώσις) refers to a Hellenic philosophical term for knowledge. It is also used to mean a form of spiritual knowledge that is more commonly familiar to people as enlightenment though, the Greek word for enlightenment is διαφωτισθούν which would be closer to the word informed rather than knowledge. Gnostic also refers to a follower of one of various near eastern schools of self-realisation flourishing during the early Christian era. Though again as noted above, the term has a much broader application than being exclusive to any sectarian group (see Plato's the Statesmen, Plotinus and gnosiology).

Classical meanings[]

  • Gnosis being a Greek word has its origin in Greek philosophy. See Plato (c. 427–c. 347 BC), gnostikoi’ (γνοστικοι) and gnostike episteme (γνοστικη επιστημη). Politikos (Πολιτικος) in Greek or Politicus in Latin (258e-267a). Gnostikoi which means the knowledge to influence and control. Gnostike episteme also was used to indicate one's aptitude.[1] The Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus rejected followers of gnosticism as being un-Hellenistic and anti- Plato due to their vilification of Plato's demiurge, see Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. The term is used throughout Greek philosophy as a technical term of experience knowledge in contrast to theoretical knowledge which is akin to epistemology. The term is also related to the study of knowledge retainment (see cognition).
  • Among the sectarian gnostics, gnosis was first and foremost a matter of self acquaintance which was the goal of enlightenment. Also stated as direct knowledge of God through awareness of the divine spark within. Later, Valentinius, more usually called Valentinus, taught that gnosis was the privileged "knowledge of the heart" or "insight" about the spiritual nature of the cosmos, that brought about salvation to the pneumatics - people who believed they could achieve this insight. Gnosis was distinct from the secret teachings they only revealed to initiates once they had reached a certain level of progression. Rather, these teachings were paths to obtain gnosis. Gnostic ideas of salvation were similar to Buddhist conceptions of enlightenment[How to reference and link to summary or text], hence gnosis was not expressible by words. (See e.g. ineffability, a quality of realization common to many, if not most, esoteric traditions; see also Jung on the difference between sign and symbol.)
  • Among heresiologists, gnosis denotes different Jewish, Christian or Pagan belief systems of esoteric nature such as, first and foremost, Gnosticism and other dualist systems from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., but also Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, etc.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • In early Christianity gnosis also carried over from Hellenic philosophy into Greek Orthodoxy via St Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, Hegesippus, and Origen. Gnosis meaning intuitive knowledge, an experience of God. In relation to theosis (deification) and theoria (vision of God)[2].
  • The term Gnosis is related to the Sanskrit jnana (as in Jnana Yoga) and to the Hebrew daath, which is the hidden sphere in the Kabbalah, or that knowledge which was only given to the initiated.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • In the teachings of Sri Aurobindo, the Gnostic being refers to the future supramental state of divinised humanity, living a spirit-filled existence.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Influences on contemporary culture[]

  • Millions of non-English speakers associate Gnosis with the movement started by Samael Aun Weor.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This tradition is now becoming known in English, largely through the efforts of publishers such as Thelema Press.
  • Gnosis is the name of magazine [1] published between 1985 and 1999 in California as a "Journal of the Western Inner Traditions" covering traditions of spirituality and mysticism. It was a project of the Lumen Foundation.
  • Among certain modern occult movements, esp. chaos magic, gnosis refers to an altered state of awareness in which the will is "magickally" effective.
  • Modern disciples of Aleister Crowley and his Doctrine of Thelema have also formed a number of Gnostic Religious Organizations.
  • The Gnosis is the name of ancient sorcery from the North in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing fantasy epic.
  • One of the ships in Alastair Reynolds' novel Absolution Gap is called the Gnostic Ascension.
  • The World of Darkness roleplaying game Werewolf: The Apocalypse by White Wolf Game Studio used the term gnosis to measure of how attuned to the spiritual world a character, usually a Werewolf, was (and as the primary mechanic for enabling magical effects). In the revamped World of Darkness books the term is used in the Mage: The Awakening roleplaying game, again as an overarching mechanic for measuring the magical power of a character, in this case primarily for mages and similar characters.
  • Punk rock band Bad Religion have a song titled "Billy Gnosis."
  • The Gnosis are mysterious alien attackers in the Xenosaga games for the Sony Playstation 2. The Gnosis have the ability to turn humans into salt by touching them.
  • In the game Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for the Nintendo GameCube, Gnosis is the boss at the end of the "Passageway of Souls." Baten Kaitos was created by the same company as Xenosaga, and it is likely a reference to it. Like in Xenosaga, Gnosis is a creature that exists between dimensions.
  • Though not featured, Gnosis is a hovership from Enter The Matrix and The Matrix series.
  • In the cult hit musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hedwig's protege/lover/rival takes the stage name "Tommy Gnosis".
  • The innovative KeyKOS operating system was initially dubbed GNOSIS.
  • GNOSIS are a London based trip rock band [2]
  • In the anime Fafner of the Azure, there is a mass production model Fafner called Gnosis model.

Intercultural associations[]

Gnosis has been associated and often cited as synonymous with terms from numerous cultures and religions:

The word is cognate (from Proto-Indo-European) with the Sanskrit word gnana (pronounced nyana - also spelled jnana) that has an equivalent meaning in Buddhist and Hindu spiritual treatises. In Theravada Buddhism the word for gnosis is añña (lit. 'highest knowledge')[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The knowledge to which gnosis refers is that of the unconditioned ground (and source) of phenomenal reality, variously called Brahman (The Upanisads); the Dharmakaya (Mahayana Buddhism); the Tao (Tao Te Ching)[How to reference and link to summary or text] and God (Theistic religion). One who having followed a spiritual path in order to return to the origin and arrived at this transcendental knowledge is called a gnostic (Gnani or Jnani in Sanskrit and Hindi). [How to reference and link to summary or text]


  1. Cooper, John M. & Hutchinson, D. S. (Eds.) (1997). Plato: Complete Works, Hackett Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0-87220-349-2.
  2. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 2002. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9)pg 218

See also[]

  • Plato
  • Socrates
  • Epistemology
  • Aristotle
  • Plotinus
  • Numenius of Apamea
  • Proclus
  • Iamblichus
  • Amelius
  • Enneads
  • Statesman (dialogue)
  • Neoplatonism and Gnosticism
  • First International Conference on Neoplatonism and Gnosticism
  • Gnosticism
  • History of Gnosticism
  • Samael Aun Weor Gnosis in the Age of Aquarius (our present time)
  • Michael Tsarion (Gnostic Historian)
  • Irenaeus
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