Several years ago I taught a class on ancient Gnosticism from the viewpoint of what I termed “Apostolic Gnosis.” Inevitably, after I introduced students to the ancient Gnostic texts and some of the teachings, I would be asked where one could turn to find a modern movement or school that can transmit the “ancient Gnostic teachings” to them in a deeper way, without the Christian gloss that I tried to emphasize. In particular, these seekers were searching for a revived Gnosticism that would be both ancient (making use of the Nag Hammadi texts for instance) and especially practical.
Unfortunately, I had to inform them that there really is no Gnostic tradition of spiritual praxis that has survived. There are only the practices that have been utilized in those spiritual currents that succeeded the ancient Gnostics – such as insight, mantra, and visualization meditation techniques, etc. In terms of “schools” there is the Kabbalah that can be found by taking classes with most Chabad centers (as opposed to the quasi-Kabbalah-cum-occultism that most of my students were familiar with). Or there are Pure Land Buddhist temples which teach a form of Gnostic praxis, as do several of the Sant Mat groups. Nonetheless, many of these students would persist in their desire for something more. It is precisely in this desire for more, as the genuine seekers that I encounter inform me that they think “they just might be Gnostics,” that I have to reply to them: “Good luck with that.”
Perhaps the most publicly-accessible group that claims to offer ‘Gnostic” teachings in the United States is known variously as The Universal Gnostic Association (or as the Universal Gnostic Movement, the Gnostic Institute of Anthropology. etc.) founded by Samael Aun Weor. There are several offshoots or branches of Aun Weor’s movement (he died in 1977), but an internet search under the topic “Gnostic” or “Gnostic School” or “Gnostic Group” will most likely lead one to a group affiliated in some way with Aun Weor’s writings and teachings – the most prominent being gnosticteachings.org, gnosticawakening.com, americangnosticassociation.com, and gnosis-mgi.org.
Victor Manuel Gomez Rodriguez was born in 1917 in Colombia. As a young man he studied the occultism represented by Eliphas Levi and the Theosophical Society. Sometime around the age of thirty he undertook an extensive period of meditation, during which he claimed to have discovered his past lives, the most important being his existence as a Christ figure on the moon who had been crucified to prepare the coming of the “fifth root race” [a Theosophical concept]. In 1949, after taking the initiatic name of Samael Aun Weor and having been awakened to his prophetic status, he founded the Universal Christian Gnostic Church in Mexico City, and proceeded to publish dozens of esoteric works over the next few decades that revealed what he called the “Doctrine of Synthesis” of all the religions and spiritual paths.
Aun Weor was quite adept at synthesizing a wide variety of spiritual sources (the world religions, occult philosophy, ancient pagan and indigenous teachings, etc.) in his writings, describing himself as the “Master of Synthesis.” However, for all of his eclecticism, his synthesis focused primarily on blending the cosmology and anthropology of G.I. Gurdjieff (i.e. the basic human problem is that we are “asleep,” the human being is composed of many “I’s” or egos, etc.) with the “sex magic” teachings and techniques of Arnoldo Krumm Heller (which had been largely cribbed from the Indian Tantric tradition). Heller had founded the Fraternitas Rosicruciana Antiqua, an occult order which had spread across South America in the 1920s, and Rodriguez had joined it as a young man.
The Aun Weor “synthesis” is summed up in what is described as the “Three Factors for the Revolution of Consciousness:”
1) the death of the individual’s negative interior universe and the disintegration of all the psychological aggregates that prevent free circulation of energies and the reawakening of the ‘objective consciousness’;
2) the birth of internal bodies or higher existential bodies of being, indispensable vehicles for dimensions higher than the physical dimension, thanks to the transmutation of creative energies by means of the practice of ‘Arcane AZF’ i.e., the practice of sexual excitation without orgasm [emphasis mine], and elimination of psychological aggregates;
3) sacrifice for the benefit of humanity in spreading eternal wisdom.
In so much as Aun Weor was advising seekers to confront and eliminate their “false I’s,” or transmitting techniques for meditation or engaging in astral travel or out-of-body-experiences, he was passing on fairly standard teachings in the occult milieu. However, what separated him from his fellow esotericists was the means by which Aun Weor counseled the reintegration or reorientation of the self.
The unique insight of Aun Weor, stated throughout his foundational text, The Perfect Matrimony, is that in order to become as God, one must not ejaculate the semen. His system considers sexuality to be the primary means of forming a relationship with God (the transcendent), and it is the dispersal of sexual energy outside of the proper usage of sexuality that is the cause of the loss of all of the divine energy inherent within human beings; resulting in ignorance, unhappiness, illness, aging, and finally death. In other words, Aun Weor had divined the “problem” with the world, and it was the “spilling of the seed,” i.e. normative or traditional human sexuality.
Following Gurdjieff’s thought to a great degree, Aun Weor teaches that humans do not possess a mortal soul, but must create one by a means of a transmutation:
“In those moments of sexual union, we are really in the Laboratorium-Oratorium of Holy Alchemy. With these dreadfully divine forces, we can disintegrate the devil we carry within and transform ourselves into great hierophants. As the sexual act is prolonged … We are then charging ourselves with universal electricity and magnetism; terrifying cosmic forces accumulate in the depths of the soul; the chakras of the Astral Body sparkle; the mysterious forces of the great cosmic Mother flow through all the channels of our organism. The serpent of fire [i.e. kundalini] is agitated; the fires of the heart are enlivened … If the man and woman would know how to withdraw without the spasm, if … they would have the willpower to control the animal ego, and if at that point they would retire from the sexual act without ejaculating the semen … they would have then performed an act of Sexual Magic.” [Perfect Matrimony, 15-16]
As it turns out, there is another side to this “synthesis” of the world’s spiritual paths: “However, when we ejaculate the semen, the cosmic currents merge with the universal currents and then penetrate the souls of the two beings with a bloody light, the luciferic forces of evil, fatal magnetism.” [same, 16]
Problematically, Aun Weor asserts that his “sexual yoga” (which he states is the pinnacle of all schools of yoga) is the only legitimate spiritual path. All others are said to be under diabolic control and delusion. His sexual alchemy is only to be used by married couples who have been properly instructed, and all other sex, including masturbation and homosexuality, is said to be under the power of the Evil One. In a sense he is agreeing with some of the ancient Gnostics who taught that the physical world is a trap set for humanity by evil Beings (the Archons), and who were said to have instituted sexual procreation as a means of perpetuating the prison-house that is human existence – though he seldom references these Gnostics in his writings.
When encountering the Aun Weor writings one is immersed in a world of cosmic paranoia that has seldom been seen since the days of the Cathars or their ancient Gnostic forebears. He begins the introduction to the 1961 edition of his foundational writing (which was originally written in 1950) by noting that many “false brethren” had left the movement when they encountered other teachings, noting ominously that these “traitors” had even “swore loyalty at the altar of Gnosis.” [Perfect Matrimony, p. 1]. This paranoia, and focus on inter-group betrayals and “dark forces” working against the group from without, has continued on for today’s disciples of Aun Weor. Message boards on their websites warn those who study “other” paths about them being controlled by “the Dark Lodge.”
It is this focus on the metaphysical uniqueness of Aun Weor’s message (and the corresponding focus on the evil nature of all other systems) that gives it its cult-ish nature. When most people try to imagine what a “sex cult” would look like, they no doubt visualize something like a Charles Manson-type of group, with a charismatic figure manipulating his followers into sexual promiscuity and orgies. However, the Aun Weor groups use sex as the primary tool in their program for enlightenment and transformation in an anti-natural and anti-traditional way. They are not a cult of the sexual libertine variety (obviously), nor are they ascetic in the usual sense of the word (though un-married practitioners do become, in essence, sexual celibates and therefore are ascetics in some sense). No, the Aun Weor groups give the impression of being sexual manipulators. They take the Tantric tradition, which views the non-ejaculatory sexual ritual as simply one of the paths of yoga, as one of the tools to be used in order to deepen ones’ spiritual perception and experience, and they twist it into something negative, dark, and basically nasty. The Tantric practice is distorted into something that was never claimed for it in the traditional teachings – i.e. the sole path to transformation and enlightenment.
This distortion most probably descends from Aun Weor’s own self-understanding regarding the “revolutionary” uniqueness of his prophetic mission as the “Avatar of the Aquarian Age” and so forth. Generally speaking, groups that teach that the vast majority of human beings are not only lost, but under evil influence, are as close to the definition of “cult” as one can get. When one adds the focus of the group on controlling human sexual behavior as the penultimate means of achieving enlightenment, and realizes that such absolutist control over sexual behavior is a hallmark of authoritarian movements (such as cults), it is easy to see why the group has drawn such strong criticism from former members and family members of those who have joined many of the Aun Weor groups. And this is the sense in which Aun Weor’s groups take on the form of negative religion – they attempt to control people by manipulating their sexual behavior, and basing their separation from the rest of humanity on these teachings regarding sexuality.
I can contrast the teachings of the Aun Weor groups with some discussions I had a few years ago with one of my students who was investigating what the ancient Christians (the so-called Church Fathers) wrote about the nature of human beings, and especially within their teaching regarding the Incarnation of Christ and what this teaching (i.e. of the image of God within man) entails for an understanding of human nature. I was looking up some explanations of this doctrine in order to better discuss the concepts with her, when I came across these observations by Constantine N. Tsirpanlis:
“… the Greek Fathers, and especially Gregory of Nyssa, declare that the soul and the body have a single beginning; that the body, as originally created by God, was “good” and full of all goods, since it is part of the image of God in man.” [p. 48]
The same author later notes that, for the same Greek Fathers, sex appears (after the “Fall” in Paradise) “not as the cause of mortality, but as its relative antidote.” [p. 49]. I hadn’t revisited Tsirpanlis’ text in a few years, and this positive statement regarding the goodness of God’s creation, with the accompanying reflection that sex serves, in some way, a redemptive function within God’s creation (as an “antidote” to the “Fall” of humanity soon thereafter) struck me with its measured wisdom in comparison to much of what passes for “deep wisdom” in today’s esoteric landscape – or should it rather be described as the esoteric marketplace?
And what is the source of this divide between the more traditional paths, such as Catholic/Eastern Orthodox Christianity or one of the world religions, and those “newer” movements that seek to more forcibly or totally transform human beings by distorting those traditional teachings, such as is found in the Aun Weor teachings? And where does this notion come from that leads men (such as Aun Weor) to think that they have seen into the nature of reality in ways that transcend the reflections of nearly all those who have preceded them? As I reflect on the problematic nature of Samael Aun Weor’s claims, and most especially his self-understanding as having received a message of enlightenment for the very few in a time of near total darkness for the rest of humanity, I am reminded of one of the sayings of the Desert Fathers:
“The angel Lucifer fell from heaven solely on account of one passion, his pride. It makes me wonder whether it is possible to rise up to heaven solely on the strength of humility.”
Samael Aun Weor. The Perfect Matrimony. 1961. Thelema Press English Edition 2006.
Constantine N. Tsirpanlis. Introduction to Eastern Patristic Thought and Orthodox Theology. 1991.