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A world authority on Gnostic spirituality, TOBIAS CHURTON is Britain’s leading scholar in the field of Western Esotericism. Holding a Masters degree in Theology from Brasenose College, Oxford, he was appointed Honorary Fellow and Faculty Lecturer in Western Esotericism at Exeter University in 2005. Tobias is also a filmmaker, poet, composer, and the author of many books, including The Gnostics, The Golden Builders, Occult Paris, The Babylon Gene and acclaimed biographies of William Blake, Aleister Crowley, Elias Ashmole and G.I. Gurdjieff.
Top image: (c) Mark Bennett 2018
No decade in modern history has generated more controversy and divisiveness than the tumultuous 1960s. For some, the ‘60s were an era of free love, drugs, and social revolution. For others, the Sixties were an ungodly rejection of all that was good and holy. Embarking on a profound search for the spiritual meaning behind the massive social upheavals of the 1960s, Tobias Churton turns a kaleidoscopic lens on religious and esoteric history, industry, science, philosophy, art, and social revolution to identify the meaning behind all these diverse movements.
Born in Sutton Coldfield to an ancient Cheshire family, in 1960, Tobias Churton spent two years in Australia from 1966 to 1968 and returned to attend his fifth school, Lichfield Cathedral School. Three schools later he won an exhibition to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he studied Theology. Compelled to exchange a vocation to the priesthood for the lowlier prospect of a career in television, he first came to public notice with the 1987 Channel 4 production, GNOSTICS. The 4-part, drama-documentary went out at peak time on Saturday nights. It won the New York TV Festival Gold Award for best religious series. Churton’s Channel 4/Weidenfeld & Nicolson book accompanying the series was a best seller.
Long before Dan Brown scored a hit with The Da Vinci Code, Tobias Churton introduced a popular audience to the authentic world of esoteric mysteries. In the words of Dutch scholar, Gilles Quispel, the TV series would “change the minds of millions”. Churton presented the facts, not the fantasy. Swedish theologian Jan-Arvid Hellström hailed Churton as a “religious genius” while Amsterdam bibliophile and industrialist Joost Ritman enthusiastically greeted the appearance of a new “writing star”.
The success of The Gnostics allowed Tobias to concentrate his energies on his first love: writing. After years of voluminous reading, mystical experience and creative endeavour, Churton had much to express.
Recording "A SPELL INSIDE" album with vocalist Merovée Churton
Having completed his twenty-fourth book commission, Tobias Churton is today internationally recognized for his insightful books on esoteric, spiritual history, Art and philosophy. Accessible and scholarly, Churton’s works address believers and doubters alike and, remarkably, have stimulated spiritual experiences in some readers. He has successfully widened the appeal of so-called “esoteric” spirituality. Churton’s warm style and depth of knowledge have entertained many thousands of readers in the process. Tobias is also a filmmaker, lecturer, poet and musician. He has recently recorded his orchestrated score for his prospective dramatic project, William Blake: Love is on Fire!, while his musical about Nancy Cunard and Henry Crowder, YOU, ME AND YESTERDAY, co-written with artist and songwriter John Myatt, was performed to great acclaim at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre in 2011. He has composed and recorded six albums of original music.
Tobias Churton (born 1960) is a British scholar of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Gnosticism,  and other esoteric movements. He is lecturer at Exeter University, and author of Gnostic Philosophy, The Magus of Freemasonry, and Freemasonry and numerous other works on esotericism. 
Churton has made several television programmes, including Gnostics, a 4-part drama-documentary series made for Channel 4 (UK) by Border TV (together with an accompanying book) which was broadcast in 1987 and repeated in 1990.   Churton's studies include critique of heresiologists' perceptions on the role of women in these "unorthodox" Christian movements. 
Churton's biography of Aleister Crowley was released in 2011. Subsequently, he has published four more biographical volumes on Crowley - The Beast in Berlin, Aleister Crowley in America,, Aleister Crowley in India and Aleister Crowley in England: The Return of the Great Beast. The latter biography being due for official release on 7 December 2021.
The Esoteric Book Review
Invisibles: The True History of the Rosicrucians
by Tobias Churton
published Lewis Masonic
HB, 444pp, £19.99
reviewed by David Rankine
If you have read any of Tobias Churton’s works before, like The Gnostics or Freemasonry – the Reality, you will know he has a habit of setting himself difficult topics to cover, and then making them accessible through good scholarship and a sharp lucid explanatory style. With Invisibles he remains true to form, providing a comprehensive overview of the history and development of Rosicrucianism, one of the most significant strands of the spiritual tapestry created through the development of Western society in recent centuries. As with his other books, Churton utilises his habit of digressing down fascinating avenues of information, only to bring them back in front of the reader to illustrate the points he was making from a completely different angle! He also provides the information ina manner which allows the reader to form their own conclusions, a rare and useful quality in a work such as this.
This book could be described as the hidden or invisible history of the spiritual development of science and philanthropy over the last four centuries. It is divided into two parts, Origins and Development, both of which introduce the reader to a whole cast of historical figures, some better known and more familiar than others. Even with the better known figures, there are still details and snippets which a few produce surprises waiting to leap on the unexpecting mind and cause a re-evaluation of ideas.
Churton has produced a book which should be read over a period of time, as every chapter is full of ideas which need time to be fully explored and take seed like a strong tree. If anything, there isalmost be too much information in some chapters, hence my recommendation to take your time over this book. Like a fine wine, it has the benefit of maturity, and is best enjoyed through sips and not gulps!
So to the essence of the book – everything you would expect is included in this work, from the Fama Fraternitas and Christian Rosenkreuz to the Rose-Croix and the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. The European essence of Rosicrucianism is explored through its luminaries, of whom there are many. For me perhaps the best quality of this significant tome is that it manages to bring out the spiritual essence which pervades the history of Rosicrucianism, a major feat for which Churton is to be congratulated. This book is an excellent and worthy study which deserves to be read by anyone with the slightest interest in spirituality, history or indeed the road of the Philosopher’s Stone to personal transformation.
– “…Gnosis to me personally means receiving a gift – a gift that carries with it certain responsibilities. It’s quite a heavy thing to be lightened – or enlightened! There’s a lot we carry that prevents us from rising and growing in divine knowledge. For me, gnosis means a love of truth, a sensitivity to the magical aspects of life, and above all, a permanent struggle with material consciousness”
Gnostics, Rosicrucians &amp Alchemy, An Interview With Tobias Churton
Tobias Churton is one of today’s most lively and spirited investigators of that underground stream of the Western tradition known as Gnosticism. He first became interested in the Gnostics while reading for a degree in theology at the University of Oxford in the 1970s.
Soon after leaving, he became interested in exploring these ideas for television. “I’d got it into my head that there had never been any religious television – only programmes about religion,” he later recalled. “I had written a paper on the subject which recommended a new kind of television for this most neglected area, something on the lines of television, a kind of programme which would enter into the very nature of the religious experience and not simply observe it.” Churton got his opportunity in the mid-1980s, when he produced a series on the Gnostics for British television. To accompany his series, he wrote his first book, The Gnostics, a history of this elusive esoteric movement from early Christianity to modern manifestations in such figures as Giordano Bruno and William Blake, and even in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
In the years since then, Churton has pursued and deepened his appreciation for the Western esoteric traditions. He was the Founder Editor of Freemasonry Today magazine, and during the last year has published two new books. The Golden Builders: Alchemists, Rosicrucians, and the First Freemasons explores the background of Masonry from its antecedents in the alchemical and Hermetic traditions of antiquity through its modern manifestations. His latest book, Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times, casts an even wider net, tracing the Gnostic heritage from its roots in Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and the Essenes to the 20th century magus Aleister Crowley and manifestations of gnosis in pop culture. Churton currently makes his home in Britain – Richard Smoley
How exactly would you describe gnosis? What does it mean to you?
How would I describe gnosis? I should like to describe gnosis as the experience of knowing or having intimacy with what we call God. God, the Bible tells us, wishes to be known. The word ‘Gnostic’ – one who has experienced gnosis – was first used as a nickname by those who opposed the whole idea or thought it was all too much for human beings to claim.
In a way, it really is the most enormous act of cheek to say that one has had experience of God! John’s Gospel for example says that “no man hath seen God at any time.” Hospitals for the mentally sick are full of people who claim the most extraordinary intimacy with powers beyond themselves. In the Gnostic tradition broadly, sanity or peace of mind is a fruit of gnosis. And ‘sanity’ means becoming clean, or ‘whole’ so there is a moral as well as a physical and psychological dimension to be considered. It might be argued that one has got to share in Christ to know God. But clearly there has been gnosis outside of the Christian tradition. So God obviously wants to be known by everyone!
Gnosis to me personally means receiving a gift – a gift that carries with it certain responsibilities. It’s quite a heavy thing to be lightened – or enlightened! There’s a lot we carry that prevents us from rising and growing in divine knowledge. For me, gnosis means a love of truth, a sensitivity to the magical aspects of life, and above all, a permanent struggle with material consciousness. People would rather see a person burnt than their own money burnt. That, we would say, is only natural. Politicians are adept at appealing to us on this level. Being gnostic does involve an unusual attitude to the natural order. The merely human in us does come under scrutiny – the light shows up the shadows and darkness in us, if you like. Obviously, no one likes being ‘shown up’, so we persecute the light-bringers and hide ourselves behind images of who we think we are. Gnosis is light and, if I may say so, “my burden is light.”
Is it possible to experience gnosis for oneself?
I obviously believe it is possible to experience gnosis for oneself. One could hardly experience it for other people! But the experience changes and one might not always be aware that one is experiencing gnosis. It is not a single state. It is not the same as ‘instant satori’. The universe itself is a projection of gnosis, if limited. I should say that if one has no experience of gnosis, one can hardly say one has been truly alive.
Could you explain a little about the Gnostic schools of antiquity, and what happened to them?
There were many Gnostic schools in late antiquity, as far as we can tell, surrounding some particular teacher, or the self-proclaimed followers of such a teacher. They had visions, dreams, statements, stances and orders of followers. Some were probably charlatans and some ‘the real thing’, as one would expect.
The orthodox Christian teachers who made it their business to denigrate and destroy the Gnostic movement in the Church always tended to isolate the teacher. Naming names was a big part of the anti-Gnostic propaganda. Thanks to their efforts, we have some dim records of men like Basilides, Carpocrates, Marcus, Marcion, Valentinus, Simon Magus, Dositheos. The orthodox apologists Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius and Tertullian, for example, made it their business to present these Gnostic teachers as demented quacks leading their followers into what Irenaeus called – in about 180 CE – “an abyss of madness and blasphemy.” I don’t know how seriously one can take their presentations of the evidence. It’s a bit like asking George Bush whether he prefers Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to Revolver!
The Gnostics represented a kind of counter-culture and therefore exposed themselves to persecution and ridicule. You can’t imagine Gnostics wandering around in suits and ties with briefcases talking about real estate values! Some seem to have met in catacombs and private places. There were Gnostics in the first ever monasteries of Saint Pachom in the Thebaid of Egypt. Indeed, it is arguable that the first monastic movement was chiefly inspired by the desire for a place to get away from the world and experience God, i.e.: a Gnostic inspiration. Clearly the monasteries have always had a special role in promoting authentic spiritual life, if usually in secret. The walls had ears.
Sadly, the British and German Reformations, in attacking the monasteries in the name of the Protestant tendency, tended to throw the baby out with the bath-water, so the position of today’s Gnostic has some kinship with that of the early Christian Gnostics. Where do we go?, they might ask. San Francisco obviously didn’t work for everyone!
However, as we know from the story of the Nag Hammadi Library, even in the desert monasteries the Gnostics were not safe. Official visitations weeded out the offending literature and condemned it to the flames. Soon the offending Gnostics would meet the same fate. The Church hooked up with the State in the 4th century CE and the true Gnosis was exiled. Just one good reason to keep religion out of politics!
How did this Gnostic legacy survive after the end of the old Gnostic schools? What sort of heritage did they bestow on our civilisation?
Thanks be to God, the Gnostic experience and challenge did just survive the end of the Roman eagle’s flight. As one might expect, it survived on the fringes of the old Empire – in Syria, Iraq, Bulgaria, Turkestan and Bosnia – possibly Ireland. Even, for a while, in Mongolia and China. The flame was kept alive through untold numbers of military campaigns, massacres and violent conflicts of kings, sultans, demigods, semi-gods, dictators and emperors. It was carried into the bosom of the Islamic Empire after the 7th century in the form of Hermetic philosophy as an inspiration to science and philosophy – examining God in His works and wonders. The Sabians of Harran – who were not Muslims but Sabians and permitted by the Koran – their role is extraordinarily important in keeping the flame alive.
The appearance of Islamic mysticism – or rather, gnosis – among the so-called Sufis in the ninth and tenth centuries was highly significant. Magic, philosophy, science, mysticism – in short, human progress, were fostered by the enlightened circles of the Islamic world – always playing, it should be noted, a kind of shadow-boxing game with the hard-line authorities who cared as little for personal experience of the divine kingdom as did the Roman Church in the west.
The annihilation of the so-called ‘Cathars’ in southern France and northern Italy in the 13th century showed just how far the authorities were prepared to go in attempting to destroy spiritual existence that was not controlled by the status quo – the ever-present authorities we find in every age: the manifest powers of invisible spiritual opposition, as the Gnostic sees it. The Gnostics have been the light of the world and the leaven in the bread. A world without gnosis would be a very dark place indeed. The Gnostic greets the Sun, the ‘visible god’. He or she is first to see the dawn – first, you might say, in the garden of resurrection.
Some scholars suggest that the term “Gnostic” is too problematic to be valuable, and should be replaced by something else. Do you agree?
Some scholars, you say, suggest the term ‘Gnostic’ is too problematic and should be replaced. Well, I’m sorry for them. Gnosis itself will always be problematic in this world. The day it fits cosily into some scholar’s dictionary will be the day it has ceased to have power. No, ‘Gnostic’ – like ‘Christian’ – began as a nickname and like all such names should be borne with pride in a blind world. Yes, there are problems of definition. In 1966 there was a Colloquium of scholars at Messina intended to define the term ‘Gnosticism’, but it could not hold the term down. So I, without even the benefit of the Italian sun, cannot do it for you in this interview. The subject could fill a book. There is, however, another tack we can follow. That is, Why should it be defined? Definition – like a census – leads to control. Much better that the Gnostic tradition bears the unique quality of resisting definition! There is no doubt that the issue has been muddied by the activities of the Christian churches that dominate thinking in the West to a greater degree than we perhaps realise.
When I was a student at Oxford University for example, it took me a long time to realise the full implications of the fact that the Theology courses were run by church leaders chiefly for their benefit. Admittedly, it would have been odd if they had been run by industrial chemists! But the point was that ‘Gnosticism’ for example dealt with a universal experience in terms only of its presence or exile from the orthodox Christian Church. Theologising it denied its root in authentic experience. If we cannot trust our deepest most personal and absolutely authentic experience, what can we trust? Anyhow, it would have been better, I think, in retrospect, to study the entire field of Gnostic philosophy, religion and so on as a stream of its own that interpenetrates – necessarily – with all of the so-called ‘great religions’ of the world.
One of the interesting things about the orthodox Church – if we may for just a second see the plethora of conflicting bodies as a broad unity – is that it finds it can eventually accommodate everything – everything, that is, except gnosis! By this I mean that Darwin was more or less accepted by the Church of England by the time of World War One. Church leaders – by no means all, I know – made accommodations with Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini and – let’s face it, the Church has pretty well made its peace with the world. Gnostic types do not find themselves in such a comfortable position with regard to the world as it is.
There are many people who are on the road to gnosis who perhaps do not realise it, who out of love of God and fear of God – and fear of themselves and others – find themselves wasting years in very unsatisfactory Church gatherings which – in the name of God – demand their sacrifice and allegiance. I’ve always found that it was the most selfish groups that preached self-abnegation.
But to get back to the point, what other tame word could replace the tattered glory and battered bread of the words Gnostic, Gnosis – even that scholars’ word ‘Gnosticism’? Mysticism is too misty. Magick has been bowdlerised and Disneyfied. Spirituality – well! It used to have meaning, now it means anything and probably nothing. It’s only a matter of time before car manufacturers come up with a car that meets your spiritual needs! I really don’t know what people mean when they talk about ‘spirituality’. It’s so vague as to be useful to every pseudo-religious charlatan and greedy politician in the world! When you say ‘Gnostic’, you always have to explain it. And when you do, people are always fascinated, whether they admit it or not! So that’s what we’ve got and we have to make the best of it. Gnosis means knowledge. Get it?
What do you make of current attempts to revive Gnosticism? What value do they have?
You ask about recent attempts to revive Gnosticism. This is a difficult question for people like myself who prefer authentic experiences with some real history attached. This is the scholar and antiquarian in me speaking. My path is not your path.
I don’t believe ‘Gnosticism’ – that word really refers to the Gnostic groups that came into conflict with Christian orthodox authorities in the first five centuries of the known life of the Christian Church – can or needs to be ‘revived’. The patient is not dead – though the world might well be. “The dead are not alive,” as the Gnostic gospel has it, “and the living will not die.” This is my personal favourite among the many great Gnostic logia. The dead are not alive and the living will not die. How true.
Besides, there are several great authentic Gnostic streams still going strong – though at least one of them is severely persecuted. The Yezidis of northern Iraq, western Iran, Georgian Armenia – that is to say Transcaucasian Kurdestan – have the most unbelievably inspiring tradition. There’s nothing to compare with it in the whole world. It is in a class of its own. The Yezidis have been persecuted cruelly by those in power about them because they are not regarded as “people of a book” as defined – there’s that word again! – in the Koran. They have long been accused of ‘Devil worship’, but that kind of cruelty has been common among oppressors since Jesus was accused of being a devil’s mouthpiece all those years ago. It’s the oldest trick in the book and works because people fear every type of evil – except their own.
Yezidis are today being attacked and killed in and around Mosul and denied police protection in Georgian Armenia. This is fact.
The second tradition I was thinking of was that of the Mandaeans of lower Iraq, who claim John the Baptist as a special prophet and have referred, interestingly, to ‘Christ the Roman’. As far as ‘Gnostics’ go, these people are undoubtedly the ‘real thing’.
When I made the TV series Gnostics in 1985-87, we wrote to the Iraqi Embassy in London, and they denied any knowledge of the Mandaeans. I was worried that they had been wiped out under the last miserable Iraqi regime, but to my delight, I now observe that they have survived – though still having to justify themselves, surrounded as they are by the various Islamic traditions. I think they qualify as Sabians in the Koran and are therefore protected. The wonderful Yezidis, on the other hand, have been persecuted for 1300 years and have no such protection.
An independent Kurdistan would probably offer these unique and admirable people a future that may otherwise be in jeopardy. This would be a very good thing to come out of the current mess in Iraq. The great powers have been screwing up the Middle East since the fall of the Roman Empire, so one may legitimately question whether the mad, bad game of sharing out the property of the vulnerable will end in our lifetimes. We must hope, have faith and love. Spare some love for the Yezidis – even though most people have probably never heard of them.
This, to answer your question, would be a good way to care for the Gnostic tradition – the tradition, I should say, of the authentic spirit of man, enslaved in, and by, the world. The love of money is the root of all evil. The way to revive Gnosis, is to be revived by Gnosis.
Why are people so interested in Gnosticism these days?
I think people are interested in Gnosticism these days because there is clearly a spiritual vacuum at the heart of our culture. Science and mass production have done much for the outside of the cup, but the inside is empty and cannot be sated by drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. The promised liberation is a brief delight followed by a swift fall. Grace looks away and the victim, must, if he or she be lucky, look within.
Even in countries which have not been so saturated by big business as we have – where washing machines, central heating and personal stereos and computers might be very welcome – there is a now well-articulated complaint that with all the money and the “promise of freedom and liberty for all” comes a great threat.
The threat is to the life of the heart and the delicate, invisible life – the thousand links with God – which have kept people alive for centuries in the face of countless dangers and privations. I don’t wish to romanticise here, but one must ask, ‘Who needs the most help?’ The East or the West? Clearly both suffer from poverty – material poverty and spiritual poverty – and, of course there is plenty of material poverty in the West and doubtless spiritual poverty in the East. But can’t we help each other? And thereby help ourselves? But how do we do this?
Well, Jesus offers a clue: “First clean the inside of the cup.” Clean it? we may cry – most of us don’t even know it’s there! Where is this ‘inside of the cup’? Where is this kingdom of heaven (a kingdom, note, not a democracy!) that is supposed to be “nigh and within” us? Well, the example and uncompromising commitment to spiritual reality is such a strong and powerful river surging through the Gnostic tradition, that it would be extraordinary if our bone-dry world did not desire to take a dip in its life-giving waters!
Until we sort ourselves out, we can only export our own confusion.
Could you say a little bit about the Western esoteric traditions as a whole? What is their situation today? What do they have to contribute to our civilisation?
You have asked me to say a little bit about the Western esoteric traditions as a whole and what they may contribute to our civilisation. The second part of that question is simple. What they have to contribute is civilisation. What is civilisation? It is clearly not power and might or the ability to force change. Otherwise we must rank Attila the Hun and Chingiz Khan as leaders of civilisation! Civilisation really boils down to the ability of a range of people to live in a city, organise themselves and get on with each other without falling into chaos. That which promotes the life of the busy hive may be described as a civilising influence. Civilisation is not then an arbiter of truth but of what works well. However, wise men and women have tended – against the odds – to the ancient conviction that nothing works quite as well as the truth, and that a rotten branch – rotten with corruption – will not even support itself for very long – never mind the burden of civilisation. Truth is good.
When I think of Western civilisation with all its inequalities of ability and social status, its wide variety of racial and religious types, its sheer density of pulsating human existence, its vulnerability to natural forces, disease, despair, hysteria, false expectation, boredom and so on, I can’t help thinking that organisations like Freemasonry and discreet societies of personal development are important. While corrupting forces always aim to work within the carcass, the healing agents must also work within the fabric of the human hive – not in fearful secrecy but with a modesty and love that is suspicious of fame, vainglory and social attention. The cool breeze works well unseen. This is perennial wisdom. I think the best of the masonic tradition has contributed hugely to understanding of tolerance and barrier-breaking social idealism. Occasionally, we even find a spiritual insight occurring in some of the most stubborn mental material!
Whatever good men and women try to achieve with this floppy idiot called man, the sincere busy bee is always up against our biological and moral heritage. This inheritance is surely dark enough to make strong men and women weep and give ample reason to despair or take refuge in a cynical stoicism of the type that Gore Vidal, for example, exemplifies with such taste and class.
There is much to be said for contemporary Rosicrucian societies for introducing people to the world of imaginative spiritual development. Many find insight in the worlds of Theosophy, Thelema and Anthroposophy, for example. This is all well and good, as far as it goes, but human society can be corrosive – even destructive.
Human beings really aren’t very nice – unless they’re in some kind of love with one another – and even then… well! The divorce rates with all their sad tales of acrimony and greed testify to the fragility of oaths built on enthusiasm and a lottery win. The Psalmist was being simply realistic when he uttered the words: “None is righteous. No, not one.” Involving oneself in groups may stifle the creative and divine spirit. But aloneness can be hard, and loneliness is, as Jimi Hendrix sang, “a drag.” Perhaps we need to revive in some adapted way the concept of the monastery – not, may I stress, that sad alternative, the ‘commune’. The hippies were hip to everything but their own depravity. Peter Coyote and the Diggers would doubtless tell me I just never saw the real hippies. He would be right. Maybe I was one of them – and how often do we see ourselves?
I suppose in the life of a person, one will, as one puts one’s hand into the hand of God – as much as we may know of Him – for guidance, one will find oneself encountering all kinds of groups and people. No one way works for all people or all occasions. That is how it must be. Those who require absolute certainties will be prepared to believe anything. The One is always present, if unseen.
Experience shows that there are many hidden veins to the cosmic life of humanity and I – for one – am glad – and have reason to be glad – that they exist. Gnosis is, as I said earlier, a gift. One has to be in the right place to receive it. No organisation can do that for anyone. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth. Heed the Spirit above all – and keep the powder dry!
Could you talk a little bit about your own background, how you came to be interested in this area, and what meaning it has for you personally?
You ask about my background. I am an Englishman born in Birmingham – the English Midlands – in 1960, who grew up to believe that something was seriously ‘out of kilter’ in my own dear country and in the world at large. This was something I found in myself as I grew older and travelled about the busy world. I had no special financial or educational advantages, but my father – a railwayman by choice in his later years – said “Seek and ye shall find.” I loved the past and had great respect for the ancients. I was always suspicious of words like ‘modern’ and ‘new’. No one knows the future and if, as someone once said, “the future is a poor place to store our dreams,” then I should say that a dream stored is a dream over. King Arthur will sleep so long as we do.
I cannot remember when I first became interested in the authentic tradition of spiritual life. It seems to have always been with me. I suppose studying the Gnostics at Oxford in the late 70s made me realise that I was not alone, but there were always shadows and intimations of gnosis in books, films – especially old films (the new stuff is generally too cocksure, superficial and loud to have anything to say worth hearing) – and in music.
I have often tried to ‘get away’ from Gnosis, rather like Jonah sailing to sea to avoid Nineveh, but I keep coming back to port, whether I like it or not. Often, I don’t like it at all. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the cold belly of the whale. The world, however, needs this insight, even if for me it now seems an old story. Somehow, it comes alive afresh again with each telling. And I discover so many new aspects to it, each time I willingly return to its study. It makes us wise and makes fools of us. Gnosis means creation because we do what we know. Creation is the fiery dragon whose scolding breath burns away the void and leaves the golden tree. We pick its fruit and create nothing.
I was lucky (by modern standards) to have both parents and that both parents believed in the individual and believed in the mystery and magick of life, and that they were plain speaking, virtuous and down to earth as well as being receptive to higher influence. That was a gift too. Come to think of it – it’s all been a gift. I’ve done little to deserve such a theatre of sorrow and joy! There’s so much more to do and life is really both too long and too short. We’re here and we’d better make the best of it. Long may She reign over us.
Could you tell us about your recent books, The Golden Builders and Gnostic Philosophy? What are they about?
My books The Golden Builders and Gnostic Philosophy took me ten years to write and were continuations of a work begun in 1986 when I wrote my first book, The Gnostics, at the age of 25. You could say that the new books are the considered works of research and experience – an attempt to bring readers of the first book into deeper acquaintance with the extraordinary Gnostic tradition. I was very aware that some terrible books have appeared in the last 20 years which have exploited the whole subject area and confused people with a lot of journalistic twaddle and conspiracy tales. Some have inspired a recent best-selling novel that suggested Leonardo Da Vinci worked with a code that could be understood by an idiot demented by marijuana.
I wanted to put the record straight. The truth is stranger than fiction and a good deal more interesting. The trouble with fiction is that you can’t live on it you always want more. Perhaps if you wanted to define the Truth, you might – with tongue in cheek – call it NON FICTION. There is NON FICTION in magick, Gnosis, mysticism and spiritual understanding – but then, I suppose, your readers know this already, or they would not be suffering this interview with a distant star..
The Lost Pillars of Enoch, by Tobias Churton
Although I was excited to dive into The Lost Pillars of Enoch: When Science & Religion Were One by Tobias Churton, I will also admit to feeling slightly intimidated by the subject matter. Religious history is interesting to me, but this book was denser than my usual reading for review fare and certainly not my area of expertise. It is, however, the author’s area of expertise, and he skillfully presented an enormous amount of information in these 325 pages.
Tobias Churton, a British scholar, author, and lecturer at Exeter University, has authored an impressive number of books regarding history and esoteric belief systems including Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and Gnosticism, as well as biographies of those involved in these studies and systems, including several biographies of Aleister Crowley, and at least two titles that are now on my wish-list (Occult Paris: The Lost Magic of the Belle Epoque and The Spiritual Meaning of the Sixties). The more pages I turned, the more comfortable I became with the idea that I would indeed be able to understand the imposing subject matter at hand and the main premise of the book: the idea that once upon a time science and religion were one.
Our journey begins in antiquity with an explanation of how information was carved into pillars (stele) as a way of record keeping. One example given was Herodotus’ (ca. 484-425 BCE) account of conqueror Sesostris’s pillars that included this passage:
“When those that he met were valiant men and strove hard for freedom, he set up pillars in their land whereon the inscription showed his own name and his country’s, and how he had overcome them with his own power but when the cities had made no resistance and had been easily taken, then he put an inscription on the pillars even as he had done where the nations were brave but he drew on them the privy parts of a woman, wishing to show clearly that the people were cowardly.” 1
This passage seemed to present much more than just an example of how history was recorded, and it is an example of how far back we can trace certain mindsets and attitudes as well.
Of the many pillars carved, inscribed, and painted to preserve history, the pillars in question — the pillars of Enoch — were supposedly carved with information so important to our survival that it was inscribed upon pillars made of brick and marble because these would survive should the world be destroyed by flood or by fire.
The book is divided into three parts and moves quickly through a compact history of religion, which then proceeds into part two, the bulk of the book, which deals with Hermetic philosophy. Being very interested in Hermeticism, I found this entire section highly illuminating. And although this section covers an extensive history of “believers” and supporters of both science and Hermeticism, from the Medici family, Copernicus, Giordano Bruno, to famed court magician John Dee, and even on to Aleister Crowley in the relatively recent past, the thing that stood out to me the most was what the belief they all had in common. This belief is basically that something has gone wrong, in that we have lost touch with something our species once knew and understood. This results in an idea that we have to look to the past in order to move forward into a better future.
The passages on Isaac Newton were particularly eye-opening for me, especially considering the premise of the book (that these pillars were inscribed to withstand flood and fire) and the discovery that Newton’s notes (millions of words sold at auction in 1936, now in the process of being revealed by The Newton Project, Canada) suggest a diluvium ignis, or deluge of fire, in 2060. 2 I found myself certainly hoping that Newton was not a prophet.
Churton touches on the current popular archaeology portrayed on websites and documentary television and how there seems to be a basic spin from the explosion of alternative life theories associated with the 1960s, along with millions of adherents that find today’s science to be less friendly and more likely to be prone to government manipulation, politicization, and to being bought and sold.
One of Churton’s proposals that I found to be quite profound is the idea that although we have been taught over and over, that the “ascent” of man is a progressive, generally upward affair, perhaps man has devolved and may yet evolve from a state that is now latent, or partially accessible within us. I find that thought very refreshing in the light of so much current talk within spiritual communities of “ascension” – an idea that does not seem congruent with so much societal behavior today. Part Three of the book is titled “Paradise Regained?” and the author once again makes some very thoughtful statements about our future as human beings and why the thoughts and ideas presented in esotericism are important to how we navigate it.
Overall, I enjoyed The Lost Pillars of Enoch very much. The author presented a large amount of historical information in a balanced and insightful way, along with an occasional dose of humor that lightened the otherwise heavy subject matter. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in esoteric history and hermeticism. I’ve gained insight into how many of our current day ideas about spirituality, prophecy, and science have developed over time, and I’m encouraged that many of the myths we hold dear still have an important message for us.
Cindie Chavez, “The Love & Magic Coach”, is a certified life and relationship coach as well as an author, speaker, and teacher. She has a reputation for bringing astounding clarity and having a wicked sense of intuition. She has a widely diverse range of other proficiencies and interests including astrology, kabbalah, tarot, magic, and spirituality. She also loves painting, knitting, gaming, and enjoying belly laughs with her husband and family.
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This definitive biography of Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), the most notorious and controversial spiritual figure of the 20th century, brings together a life of world-shaking ‘magick’, sexual and psychological experimentation at the outer limits, world-record-beating mountaineering and startling prophetic power – as well as poetry, adventure, espionage, wisdom, excess, and intellectual brilliance. The book reveals the man behind the appalling reputation, demolishing a century of scandalmongering that persuaded the world that Crowley was a black magician, a traitor and a sexual wastrel, addicted to drugs and antisocial posing, rather than the mind-blowing truth that Crowley was a genius as significant as Jung, Freud or Einstein.
Churton has enjoyed the full co-operation of the world’s Crowley scholars to ensure the accuracy and plausibility of his riveting narrative. The author has also been in contact with Crowley’s grandson, who has vouchsafed rare, previously untold accounts of family relationships. The result is an intimate portrait that has never before been shown, and one that has great emotional impact.
The book contains the first ever complete investigation of Crowley’s astonishing family background – including facts he concealed in his lifetime for fear of social prejudice.
Tobias Churton also gives us a detailed account of Crowley’s work as a British spy during World War I in Berlin during the early 1930s and during World War II. This information has not been available to any previous biographer.
Follow Aleister Crowley through his mystical travels in India, which profoundly influenced his magical system as well as the larger occult world
• Shares excerpts from Crowley’s unpublished diaries and details his travels in India, Burma, and Sri Lanka from 1901 to 1906
• Reveals how Crowley incorporated what he learned in India--jnana yoga, Vedantist, Tantric, and Buddhist philosophy--into his own school of Magick
• Explores the world of Theosophy, yogis, Hindu traditions, and the first Buddhist sangha to the West as well as the first pioneering expeditions to K2 and Kangchenjunga in 1901 and 1905
Early in life, Aleister Crowley’s dissociation from fundamentalist Christianity led him toward esoteric and magical spirituality. In 1901, he made the first of three voyages to the Indian subcontinent, searching for deeper knowledge and experience. His religious and magical system, Thelema, shows clear influence of his thorough experimental absorption in Indian mystical practices.
Sharing excerpts from Crowley’s unpublished diaries, Tobias Churton tells the true story of Crowley’s adventures in India from 1901 to 1906, culminating in his first experience of the supreme trance of jnana (“gnostic”) yoga, Samadhi: divine union. Churton shows how Vedantist and Advaitist philosophies, Hindu religious practices, yoga, and Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism informed Crowley’s spiritual system and reveals how he built on Madame Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott’s prior work in India. Churton illuminates links between these beliefs and ancient Gnostic systems and shows how they informed the O.T.O. system through Franz Hartmann and Theodor Reuss.
Churton explores Crowley’s early breakthrough in consciousness research with a Dhyana trance in Sri Lanka, becoming a devotee of Shiva and Bhavani, fierce avatar of the goddess Parvati. Recounting Crowley’s travels to the temples of Madurai, Anuradhapura, and Benares, Churton looks at the gurus of yoga and astrology Crowley met, while revealing his adventures with British architect, Edward Thornton. Churton also details Crowley’s mountaineering feats in India, including the record-breaking attempt on Chogo Ri (K2) in 1902 and the Kangchenjunga disaster of 1905.
Revealing how Crowley incorporated what he learned in India into his own school of Magick, including an extensive look at his theory of correspondences, the symbology of 777, and the Thelemic synthesis, Churton sheds light on one of the most profoundly mystical periods in Crowley’s life as well as how it influenced the larger occult world.
Explores the unified science-religion of early humanity and the impact of Hermetic philosophy on religion and spirituality
• Investigates the Jewish and Egyptian origins of Josephus’s famous story that Seth’s descendants inscribed knowledge on two pillars to save it from global catastrophe
• Reveals how this original knowledge has influenced civilization through Hermetic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic, Masonic, Hindu, and Islamic mystical knowledge
• Examines how “Enoch’s Pillars” relate to the origins of Hermeticism, Freemasonry, Newtonian science, William Blake, and Theosophy
Esoteric tradition has long maintained that at the dawn of human civilization there existed a unified science-religion, a spiritual grasp of the universe and our place in it. The biblical Enoch--also known as Hermes Trismegistus, Thoth, or Idris--was seen as the guardian of this sacred knowledge, which was inscribed on pillars known as Enoch’s or Seth’s pillars.
Examining the idea of the lost pillars of pure knowledge, the sacred science behind Hermetic philosophy, Tobias Churton investigates the controversial Jewish and Egyptian origins of Josephus’s famous story that Seth’s descendants inscribed knowledge on two pillars to save it from global catastrophe. He traces the fragments of this sacred knowledge as it descended through the ages into initiated circles, influencing civilization through Hermetic, Gnostic, Kabbalistic, Masonic, Hindu, and Islamic mystical knowledge. He follows the path of the pillars’ fragments through Egyptian alchemy and the Gnostic Sethites, the Kabbalah, and medieval mystic Ramon Llull. He explores the arrival of the Hermetic manuscripts in Renaissance Florence, the philosophy of Copernicus, Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, and the origins of Freemasonry, including the “revival” of Enoch in Masonry’s Scottish Rite. He reveals the centrality of primal knowledge to Isaac Newton, William Stukeley, John Dee, and William Blake, resurfacing as the tradition of Martinism, Theosophy, and Thelema. Churton also unravels what Josephus meant when he asserted one Sethite pillar still stood in the “Seiriadic” land: land of Sirius worshippers.
Showing how the lost pillars stand as a twenty-first century symbol for reattaining our heritage, Churton ultimately reveals how the esoteric strands of all religions unite in a gnosis that could offer a basis for reuniting religion and science.
• Reveals Crowley’s sex magick relations in London and his contacts with important figures, including Dion Fortune, Gerald Gardner, Jack Parsons, Dylan Thomas, and black equality activist Nancy Cunard
• Explores Crowley’s nick-of-time escape from the Nazi takeover in Germany and offers extensive confirmation of Crowley’s work for British intelligence
• Examines the development of Crowley’s later publications and his articles in reaction to the Nazi Gestapo actively persecuting his followers in Germany
After an extraordinary life of magical workings, occult fame, and artistic pursuits around the globe, Aleister Crowley was forced to spend the last fifteen years of his life in his native England, nearly penniless. Much less examined than his early years, this final period of the Beast’s life was just as filled with sex magick, espionage, romance, transatlantic conflict, and extreme behavior.
Drawing on previously unpublished diaries and letters, Tobias Churton provides the first detailed treatment of the final years of Crowley’s life, from 1932 to 1947. He opens with Crowley’s nick-of-time escape from the Nazi takeover in Germany and his return home to England, flat broke. Churton offers extensive confirmation of Crowley’s work as a secret operative for MI5 and explores how Crowley saw World War II as the turning point for the “New Aeon.” He examines Crowley’s notorious 1934 London trial, which resulted in his bankruptcy, and shares inside stories of Crowley’s relations with Californian O.T.O. followers, including rocket-fuel specialist Jack Parsons, and his attempt to take over H. Spencer Lewis’s Rosicrucian Order. The author reveals Crowley’s sex magick relations in London and his contacts with spiritual leaders of the time, including Dion Fortune and Wicca founder Gerald Gardner. He examines Crowley’s dealings with artists such as Dylan Thomas, Alfred Hitchcock, Augustus John, Peter Warlock, and Peter Brooks and dispels the accusations that Crowley was racist, exploring his work with lifelong friend, black equality activist Nancy Cunard.
Churton also examines the development of Crowley’s later publications such as Magick without Tears as well as his articles in reaction to the Nazi Gestapo who was actively persecuting his remaining followers in Germany. Presenting an intimate and compelling study of Crowley in middle and old age, Churton shows how the Beast still wields a wand-like power to delight and astonish.
An extensive examination of the history of gnosticism and how its philosophy has influenced the Western esoteric tradition
• Explains how the Gnostic understanding of self-realization is embodied in the esoteric traditions of the Rosicrucians and Freemasons
• Explores how gnosticism continues to influence contemporary spirituality
• Shows gnosticism to be a philosophical key that helps spiritual seekers "remember" their higher selves
Gnosticism was a contemporary of early Christianity, and its demise can be traced to Christianity's efforts to silence its teachings. The Gnostic message, however, was not destroyed but simply went underground. Starting with the first emergence of Gnosticism, the author shows how its influence extended from the teachings of neo-Platonists and the magical traditions of the Middle Ages to the beliefs and ideas of the Sufis, Jacob Böhme, Carl Jung, Rudolf Steiner, and the Rosicrucians and Freemasons. In the language of spiritual freemasonry, gnosis is the rejected stone necessary for the completion of the Temple, a Temple of a new cosmic understanding that today's heirs to Gnosticism continue to strive to create.
The Gnostics believed that the universe embodies a ceaseless contest between opposing principles. Terrestrial life exhibits the struggle between good and evil, life and death, beauty and ugliness, and enlightenment and ignorance: gnosis and agnosis. The very nature of physical space and time are obstacles to humanity's ability to remember its divine origins and recover its original unity with God. Thus the preeminent gnostic secret is that we are God in potential and the purpose of bona fide gnostic teaching is to return us to our godlike nature.
Tobias Churton is a filmmaker and the founding editor of the magazine Freemasonry Today. He studied theology at Oxford University and created the award-winning documentary series and accompanying book The Gnostics, as well as several other films on Christian doctrine, mysticism, and magical folklore. He lives in England.
An exploration of Crowley’s relationship with the United States
• Details Crowley’s travels, passions, literary and artistic endeavors, sex magick, and psychedelic experimentation
• Investigates Crowley’s undercover intelligence adventures that actively promoted U.S. involvement in WWI
• Includes an abundance of previously unpublished letters and diaries
Occultist, magician, poet, painter, and writer Aleister Crowley’s three sojourns in America sealed both his notoriety and his lasting influence. Using previously unpublished diaries and letters, Tobias Churton traces Crowley’s extensive travels through America and his quest to implant a new magical and spiritual consciousness in the United States, while working to undermine Germany’s propaganda campaign to keep the United States out of World War I.
The Missing Family of Jesus – by Tobias Churton
An Inconvenient Truth – How the Church erased Jesus’s brothers and sisters from history
–by Tobias Churton
Published in The Watkins Review, Issue 26, Spring 2011
Some time ago, I sat down with my family to watch the movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. After a good dose of Tom Hanks’s adventures as symbol sleuth Robert Langdon, I began asking myself the question, ‘Why are people so involved in this story?’ I concluded that the root of the fascination lies in a single straightforward question: Whatever happened to Jesus’s family?
It occurred to me that such a question might serve as the launching-pad for a book-length investigation. Fortunately, Michael Mann at Watkins Publishing shared this opinion and The Missing Family of Jesus was born.
We’ve all seen paintings of ‘The Holy Family’. It’s a pretty nuclear affair. We might see Joseph leading a donkey on which Mary sits, holding the baby Jesus. Otherwise, we might see Mother Mary and baby Jesus – but no daddy at all.
Families just weren’t like that in those days.
Even the canonical gospels give us some hints. Mark 6,v.3 tells us that Jesus (Yeshua or ‘Joshua’) had brothers: James (properly ‘Jacob’), Joses (Joseph), Simon and Juda (called ‘Judas’ in Matthew). But after the establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire, 300 years later, believers were discouraged from dwelling on questions like: ‘Whatever happened to Jesus’s Family?’ Even today, in Catholic encyclopaedias of the Saints, ‘Saint James the Just’ – universally regarded as Jesus’s brother by the earliest Church Fathers – is called the ‘son of Alphaeus’, deliberately obscuring any theologically compromising family relationship.
The Jesus of the Church jumps out as an ‘only child’ from the pages of dogma. He is God’s ‘only begotten son’. This is a theological point, but we know now that Jesus was a part of history, and like everyone else, he came from a family. Indeed, his family was important to his work. The first ‘bishop’ of the ‘Church’ in Jerusalem after the Crucifixion was James the Righteous (‘Zaddik’), brother of Jesus. James continued his more famous brother’s hostility to the governing priests, scribes and pharisees. According to Eusebius, they had James clubbed to death in AD 62. Brother James was succeeded as second ‘bishop’ of Jerusalem by Jesus’s cousin, Symeon, son of Klopa. According to Hegesippus, Symeon, though a man of exceptional age, was also martyred, like his kinsman James, in AD 106 or 107. Furthermore, according to Church historian Eusebius, the grandsons of Jesus’s brother Judas survived until the reign of the Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) when they were interrogated on grounds of being of the House of David, and therefore politically suspect.
The earliest ‘Church’ in Jerusalem was to a significant extent, a family affair. Like all families, there would have been problems. Jesus did not need children of his own his family provided man (and woman) power.
Why are these facts so little known? Why for so many people is Jesus an ‘unreal’ character? The answer is simple. The Roman Church did not want a ‘real’ character. The Roman Church wanted a super-real character, preferably with no character at all, as we understand the term. By the late fourth century, the Jewish Christians, who followed the old tradition first established in Jerusalem (and who were nicknamed ‘the Poor’), were regarded as heretics – outside of the care of ‘the Church’. The Roman Church had effectively usurped the Family and become self-appointed executors of Jesus’s Will and Testament. How could they do this? After Emperor Constantine gave ‘Christianity’ imperial sanction, the Roman Church had the power and might and muscle of the state of Rome behind it.
The Missing Family Of Jesus constitutes the first systematic, historical investigation into all of the evidence surrounding the questions ‘Who belonged to Jesus’s family?’ ‘What do we know about their relationships to one another?’ ‘What happened to Jesus’s Family?’
What do we have to go on? There is some historical evidence, disparate, sometimes obscure, but sufficient to build a picture of reasonable probability, without recourse to wild speculation. There is legendary material, of which much has been made for conspiracy-style narratives. This material is examined rationally. The Missing Family of Jesus scrutinizes the historical basis, such as it is, for the ‘Holy Blood Holy Grail’ narrative. Good history is at last liberated from storytelling.
The book includes in its sweep a thorough search into what orthodox authorities have called ‘apocryphal material’, accounts not included in the official canon of the Churches, but from an historical perspective, of value. For example, in several apocryphal gospels, the figures of James the Righteous and of a possible twin (‘Didymos’ or ‘Thomas’) brother, called Judas, are given special – and fascinating – prominence. James and Judas/ Thomas were important to some Jewish Christians living in Syria in the 2 nd and 3 rd centuries. We cannot dismiss evidence simply because the Churches do not like it. The shortcomings of evidence are highlighted.
We also possess an abundance of historical and archaeological knowledge which helps us to establish real conditions and real possibilities as regards social and political conditions relevant to the story.
It must be the case that behind both the historical and the legendary evidence, there exists a missing, truthful picture of the family of Jesus. The task of the book has been to establish as much of that truth as is historically possible within the bounds of reasonable probability.
I am delighted to announce that the project has succeeded in bringing our picture of Jesus back home, for while I suspected at the start that such an examination might help us to get back to Jesus’s historical family, I had no idea that the search would take me directly to the ‘historical Jesus’. This, for me, was an astonishing experience, one in which I must confess I felt a guiding hand from above I can find no other words to describe the experience.
The final chapter is subtitled ‘The Mystery of Christianity Solved’. I admit this sounds extremely bold, even rash, but I can convey to you in all sobriety that that is precisely what has been achieved. How I came to this momentous conclusion, I shall leave, naturally to the book itself, but I can say this: it is my belief that sooner or later, this book’s conclusion will have to be addressed by the highest religious authorities and, as a US contact has recently informed me, the results should be ‘world-changing’. Well, I don’t know about that, but it might be person-changing, and we can all do with a spiritual wake-up call. It all seems a long way from an evening in watching a filmed novel on TV. But does not the Lord move in mysterious ways?
For those who like bullet-points, here are some key points explored in The Missing Family of Jesus:
"Tobias Churton is the perfect candidate to explore Gnosticism with an insightful gaze and a solid grip on history. In 1987 he was involved in the acclaimed British Channel Four series The Gnostics and wrote the companion volume. Many of us interested in Gnosticism were first exposed to the Gnostic tradition through these early works.
Churton breaks out of the Christian ghetto mentality and explores Gnosticism as a wider phenomenon meandering through history. His depth of coverage is impressive, from early Vedic and Zoroastrian traditions through Judaism, Christianity and medieval sects, to modern neo-Gnostics, including the infamous Aleister Crowley. He offers an excellent summary of various Gnostic streams, with lucid commentary and lots of quotes from primary sources.Churton shows his background in Freemasonic history with a superb exploration of the Gnostic elements in Hermeticism and Freemasonry. Churton sees Gnosticism as a playful exploration of the spiritual verities, a praxis (i.e. practical spirituality) based on a direct perception of the spiritual world (gnosis = to know), rather than as a purely speculative form and this is the key to understand his work."
Churton separates the wheat from the chaff and disposes of unnecessary speculations and fantasy. To get a good handle on what Gnosticism is really all about (and isn’t), a great place to start is with Gnostic Philosophy by Tobias Churton."
Robert Burns, NEW DAWN magazine
"For the last 2000 years or more, Gnosticism has been persecuted and wilfully misunderstood by those who prefer to control human freedom. In this magisterial work Churton explores the origins of Gnosticism, its growth and development and along the way setting right not a few myths which have developed. This is not really a book to be read through in one sitting, it is rather a work to be dipped into in order to elucidate some important episode in our history which has hitherto been ignored or misused. The section on Jesus and the relationship of his words with the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls is particularly important. Churton writes: ‘Had Jesus visited the supposed "Qumran Sect" he would I think have looked at the community, with their hopes for changing the nature of the world from without, with pity.’ Churton bravely seeks to rescue the eighteenth century Illuminati and the later Aleister Crowley from the hell to which they have been consigned by historians. He sees the rise of the radical Illuminati as the consequence of the replacement of pro-masonic and benevolent enlightenment rulers with narrow-minded successors. The exploration of Crowley’s thought is fascinating and, one assumes, seminal."
Michael Baigent, FREEMASONRY TODAY
"A wonderful book. I've felt happy since I read it yesterday. The breadth of coverage is great: over 2000 years of Gnostic groups and individuals, among them Cathars, Sufis, Jacob Bohme, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Carl Jung, and Rudolf Steiner.
Within each topic, there’s suprising depth of coverage. The coverage of the Sufis is beautiful writing. The coverage of Aleister Crowley is enthusiastic and complex. This is in no way a dry survey. Nevertheless, the writing is backed up with 42 pages of footnotes and a 7 page bibliography. Altogether, many pointers to further reading on Gnosticism. There were some surprises for me about who could be considered Gnostic: for example, the coverage of the Troubadours and, more recently, Jimi Hendrix. Churton is able to define Gnosticism through those he has selected to represent it. It's a long way from Valentinus to Hendrix, to be sure, but Churton quite capably threads together the many individuals and groups he considers Gnostic. In doing so, he moves from history to presence, so that he may, as if he did for me, provide you a vital sense of how Gnosticism may be relevant today for you.
Gnostic Philosophy may inform and entertain, but, due to the deep care and warmth with which Churton has written it, it may also call to you. This book is a brilliant presentation of why Gnosticism matters."
Everpresence of Gnosis, by ‘calmly’ May 7, 2005 ***** (Amazon Review)
"Churton, founding editor of Freemasonry Today, is an authority on the subject and comprehensively chronicles Gnostic History to its earliest origins. What is more, he does this in a highly readable format, his journalistic experience shining through in each chapter. If your curiosity of Western esoterica has been piqued of late, and you're looking to get the low-down on what it is actually all about, there is probably no better place to start."
The Real McCoy, August 11, 2005 **** by’ BPG’ (Amazon Review)
"I read every word of this book. First, it is not about some slightly interesting “idea” circulating in the development of Christianity. It’s about gnosis which is the full realization of being. It’s about the ancient and eternal quest for the Meaning of Existence. It's the history of a philosophical search based on the illusion of separation from source that's become entangled over the long years in complex literalism. And it’s made thrillingly clear to a careful reader because it's well understood by its own writer. This one will always have space on my bookshelves, shelves that get smaller as the years pass rather than larger. I seem to be getting very picky as I go along."
Not everyone greeted the Invisible Ones with the salivating relish of a yellow journalist in a vulgar Sunday newspaper. Another anonymous writer of 1623 penned a document entitled Recherches sur les Rose-Croix (Researchers into the Rose Cross), now in the Bibliothèque Nationale:
The Rose Cross is an imaginative invention of a group of persons who use it as their symbol and mark. Besides this it means nothing. They claim that an ancient wisdom has been transmitted from Adam through Seth, Noah and Moses to Solomon, and that this wisdom was revealed by the Arabs to the foreigners in 1413. . . . It has seen been preserved in obscure terms by the alchemists Basilius Valentinus, Theophrastus, Isaac the Hollander, Severinus Danus, Paracelsus, Raymond Lull, Valentin Conrad, and Robert Fludd. . . .
Their religion is drawn exclusively from Genesis, from the book of Wisdom, and the Psalms of David, but they approach them with a formal conception to create a semblance that these great personalities wrote only to justify their own belief. In this endeavour they are greatly assisted by their knowledge of the roots of languages.
Whether the Brethren of the Rose Cross were in fact devil worshippers or, as the author of the above study maintained, “Protestant monks, formerly of the Cistercian order, who live on a rock on the shores of the Danube in an almost inaccessible place,” fraternization with their beliefs or literature incurred dire consequences.
Three years before the Invisibles were supposed to have floated about Paris, two students of Marburg University in Hessen, Philipp Homagius and Georg Zimmerman, were tried by the university. Homagius was accused of burning all his books except his Rosicrucian works and a magical textbook attributed to “Arbatel.” Homagius was sentenced to “eternal imprisonment” in a frontier fort.
Meanwhile, the University of Paris condemned all works by, or inspired by, Paracelsus--and that included “Rosicrucian” works as a matter of course.
In the same year as the Paris scare, “Rosicrucian” defender and mathematician Heinrich Nollius was expelled from the University of Giessen for his professional interests in sacred magic and Hermetic philosophy. Two years later he would try to form a new group “the keepers of the celestial wheel.”
In 1624, a year after the Paris scare, catholic authorities at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands set up a tribunal to try Rosicrucian writings. The Leiden trials would be followed in Haarlem in 1627 by the trial, torture, and imprisonment of a sometime-pornographic artist, Jan Symonsz van der Beek. According to Susanna Åkerman, the Leiden judges “correctly saw that the Rosicrucian fiction stemmed from Arabic magic, from Hebrew wisdom, and from dangerously subversive Paracelsian themes.”
That is quite a case for the prosecution. So the Rosicrucian beliefs were a fiction? Why then were people all over northern Europe and elsewhere getting into trouble for paying attention to a fiction? It is not as if they did not have novels in the seventeenth century. They knew the difference between a novel and a serious book. What was it about this fiction that was causing so much trouble?
Were the Invisibles real, or were they . . . invisible, that is to say, imaginary?
Who were they? Would one of them stand up and be counted? People were, after all, suffering in their name. Even where it was not physically dangerous, mere rumor of association with the Brothers of the Rose Cross could make life very inconvenient.
Take the case of (now) world-famous philosopher, René Descartes. According to Adrien Baillet’s biography, Descartes returned to Paris from his travels with the Duke of Bavaria’s army in 1623, only to find the Rosicrucian scare in full force. In fact, Descartes had vainly sought the Brothers of the Rose Cross in the winter of 1619, hoping for help with his internal struggles and obscure mathematical studies. (The Brothers of the Rose Cross had promised a new mathematics.)
A year later, Descartes had met up with an excellent mathematician, Johann Faulhaber, whose less advanced ideas inspired Descartes to new heights of original genius. Faulhaber had been an early defender of the mysterious Brothers, having responded eagerly to their promise of a reformed science.
Descartes was unlikely to have swallowed the calumnies about satanic brethren invisibly subverting the capital, but he took seriously the advice given him that he was a potential suspect, having appeared alone, and from Germany--and doubtless being a mathematician and philosopher too. Should he hide? No, he concluded. He made himself visible about town. How, he reasoned, could anyone suspect he was a Brother of the Rose Cross? Had not everyone heard? The infernal brethren were invisible!
Furthermore, he reasoned, having sport with the credulous inquiries of friends, it was that very invisibility that must have prevented his finding the fraternity in Germany!
It is good to know the philosopher had a sense of humor there are not many laughs in his Discourse on Method.
What were people afraid of? Why were even the more enlightened writers, such as Descartes’ mentor Father Marin Mersenne and well-informed commentator Gabriel Naudé, so suspicious? What had the Brothers of the Rose Cross done?
In order to find out how such a powerfully subversive group of conspirators had come out of nowhere, only to manifest themselves without manifesting themselves, only to be seen in the imagination while remaining distinctly and indistinctly invisible--only to be dismissed as harmless by some, yet perceived by others as a threat to the stability of the whole catholic world (and all in the space between two celestial conjunctions), we need to go back to the beginning of what Simon Studion thought (in 1604) was the end.