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Cyclic, Historical, and Dramaturgic Time

A good way to understand Gnosticism is to look at it as a symbolic or metaphorical account of the nature of cosmic time.

To put it very simplistically, one could say that there are two ways to consider the temporal nature of the Cosmos: Cyclically, and Historically.

Cyclic time means, obviously, that the same patterns repeat themselves, and there is no absolute progress.  Tribal peoples, living close to the rhythms of nature, see time as cyclic, as expressed for example the alternation of day and night and of the seasons.  The same applies to more urban civilisations as well: the Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, Chinese, and Mesoamericans, for example.  With them, the agricultural and "pagan" cycles of nature are replaced by the celestial and at times fatalistic cycles revealed through Astrology.

At times overlapping with the Cyclic position, the Historical perspective sees creation as a linear and temporal process ("in the beginning...").  Historical time can be conceived of as a Fall, as an Ascent, and as a Descent and an Ascent.

The idea of a Fall from an original Perfect State is extremely widespread, perhaps even universal, among Tribal peoples, who speak of a time in which there was no death, and humans and animals spoke with each other (obviously there are many variants on this basic theme).  Similiarily in Hesiod and in Hinduism we find the idea of a series of Ages, each one of which is successively worse than the preceeding, until we find ourselves today in the Iron Age (Hesiod) or Kali Yuga (Hinduism).

The opposite to the Fall idea is evolutionism; the so-called "myth of progress", according to which view things can only get better and better.  One feels that many advocates of this view (usually Marxist and humanistic materialists), must have lost some of their optimism in the face of humanity's utter stupidity when confronted with the present global problems.

A more complex historical position - advocated by Gnosticism for example - sees "history" as a catastrophic sequence of events, beginning with a "Fall" from an original Perfect State, and finishing in a yet to be consummated cosmic Restitution, whereby the original perfection will be re-established.  Other examples of this can be found in Zoroastrianism, later Judaism and Pauline Christianity, and even present-day Marxism, which add to the Fall from the state of original perfection (Marx: "Original Communism") a coming Restitution or Paradisical state (Marx: "Socialist Utopia").  The Gnostic position the Fall is not something which occurs within the creation, but rather prior to it.  This catastrophic pre-creation Crisis then sets the milieu in which the creation of the physical world, occurs.  As with exoteric Judaeo-Christian religion, the universe is seen as moving in a specific direction: towards the resolution of the original Fault.

The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 28 June 1998, last modified 6 June 2004