Third Paradigm » Other Writings » Revolutionary Mystics


The Gospel of Philip is described by Isenberg1 and Barnstone2 as a "sacramental catechism", and is speculated to be a randomly-assembled collage of texts on how to perform the sacraments: a disjointed cut-and-paste from various church manuals. In my approach to Philip, I entertain the premise that it's an entirely mystical gospel and speaks exclusively in allegory. He describes another reality, and gives instruction on how to make this "aeon" like it. Although he uses vocabulary and symbols from gnostic cosmology, and cultural examples from first-century Syria, the content is startlingly here and now. It uses strange terms like archons and describes slaves and women in social roles that are not relevant in our society. For Philip, however, it's the language he has in which to express his ideas, or that revelation has to speak through. The outer forms of society and religion have changed, but the social reality is the same - our aeon certainly still struggles in "the outer darkness." The inner content of Philip is, even now, saying something we don't have words to describe; evoking "what is" through metaphor and teaching the practical mysticism of how it works. Beyond the symbols and terminology, Philip is still news about a reality that's wilder than our wildest dreams.

The Gospel of Philip says, "The lord did everything in a mystery: a baptism and a chrism and a eucharist and a redemption and a bridal chamber." So what is this mysterious bridal chamber, where slaves and animals are not allowed but the sons of the bridegroom are? Where no one can see the bride naked except a select few, including the bridegroom's buddy? Where the others yearn just to hear her voice and sniff her unction (perfume in Philip-lingo), and feed from the crumbs that fall from the table, like the dogs? Either something very kinky's going on, or Philip is speaking metaphorically.

What does it mean to do "everything in a mystery?" The word mystery means secret or hidden, with eyes shut. Its etymology derives from mýstēs, one who has been initiated, because only the initiated were permitted to open their eyes during the secret rites, which were "hidden" from everyone else.3 Philip might be saying that these were clandestine initiation rites, hidden from the larger community. This spiritual initiation would be ritualistic, and hierarchical in social structure (hierarchy is a word deriving from "the inheritance order of archons"). As the initiates progressed, they would open their eyes, maybe participate, and eventually, might become the bride or bridegroom themselves.

On the other hand, Philip could be saying that Christ's sacraments were inner processes with no outward sign or ceremony, hidden within the person practicing it. They might be described as psycho-spiritual changes, since the union of mind and spirit was the central point. The one with eyes closed to the world would be the one experiencing the mystery, and opening their eyes in the other aeon. To open the physical eyes is to let in distraction - there is no sacred union other than the one within. What, no voyeuristic reenactment of Jesus and the Magdalene doing the Da Vinci? Drat.

Are the changes less powerful because they're private? Philip says exactly the opposite, as he contrasts the strength of the hidden with the weakness of what's visible: "At the present time we have the manifest things of creation. We say, 'The strong who are held in high regard are great people. And the weak who are despised are the obscure.'" In colloquial terms, this would be like saying that the rich and famous are a lot more interesting than us losers and nobodies. David Budbill's poem says: "I want to be famous so I can be humble about being famous. What good is my humility when I am stuck in this obscurity?"4 Celebrity and success are considered proof that the person's living right, doing something that the rest of us can learn from. In obscurity, we're a step down from notoriety - at least mass-murderers did something worth writing about.

But Philip says the inverse relationship exists among the things of truth: "Contrast the manifest things of truth: they are weak and despised, while the hidden things are strong and held in high regard. The mysteries of truth are revealed, though in type and image. The bridal chamber, however, remains hidden. It is the holy in the holy." The mysteries of Christianity are traditionally revealed through the types and images of ritual and sacrament. But Philip seems to say that visible rituals and sacraments are weak and not to be given importance. It doesn't mean that they're bad and to be avoided, but the outward form is trivial - God doesn't care if you get it wrong or right, or if you drop the host, or if the one presiding has a penis. The strength is in the invisible change, and for that only should we have high regard - the unseen practice is powerful in its practical effects. Manipulating the types and images of truth, in a social or church context, changes nothing. What goes on alone, behind closed doors or eyelids, produces real and tangible effects.

Free Men and Virgins

If Philip is seen as a mystical psychology or psychological mysticism, rather than as a composite of internal church documents, its meaning becomes personal rather than social. The various roles of animal, slave, defiled woman, bride, and bridegroom - all of these describe aspects of our self, in the same way that Jung would analyze all the figures in a dream as our self. "A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins." What are the parts of our self that must be left outside if we are to enter the bridal chamber? The animal may be our body, when it's driven by mindless impulse. The slave is called slave to sin elsewhere in Philip, which might mean captive to illusion and ignorance. The defiled woman is one who consorts with "the powers" or archons who rule this world, which can be seen as servicing the ego. So if we are to enter the chamber, check your impulses, illusions and ego at the door.

What parts of our self are the free man and the virgin? The free man is perhaps free will - the choosing mind. It's the active component of who we are, our purpose. Our choice is all we have to call our own. Elizabeth Howes entitles one of her books, "Man, the Choicemaker."5 As an aside, we have no genderless term for humanity as a single entity. Rather than dividing ourselves by gender lines, we can use our choicemaking ability to read an inclusive interpretation to the word "man".

Free will is also the purpose for which we choose to live, which is another translation of Logos or Word.6 The word made flesh is purpose brought into conscious choice. The mind is like the "Room of Requirement" in Harry Potter - it becomes whatever we "need" it to be.7 If our intention is to serve our own interests, the room becomes a brothel, slave quarters or a pigsty. If our intention includes the whole of humanity, it will become the Bridal Chamber - because our will has joined with the will of God. What parent doesn't answer when their child finally asks for the thing they really need?

The word "virgin" is defined regarding Mary: "Mary is the virgin whom no power defiled. She is a great anathema to the Hebrews, who are the apostles and [the] apostolic men. This virgin whom no power defiled [made] the powers defile themselves." If the powers or archons are illusions, they only have power over one who thinks them real. By neither recognizing nor resisting them, the illusions can only fool themselves. I suspect that the term "apostolic men" is used here to indicate the Hebrew patriarchy. They have no power over Mary, because she doesn't recognize them - either to follow or go against. Either movement would detain her in their power.

In other translations of Philip8, Mary is called "the virgin silence." The feminine is the receptive, the intuitive, the waiting. Mary is free of misconceptions, from its origin "to conceive wrongly." Mary, perhaps, exemplifies the practice of meditation, which is the form of prayer that emphasizes listening rather than talking, and provides an empty space for revelation free of words or images. I can only conclude that Mary was a Buddhist, and perhaps we should picture her sitting with a lotus in hand instead of standing with her foot on a snake. In the same century, the Bodhisattvas had made their vow not to enter nirvana until all of humanity did. They asked the "room of requirement" to include all. By asking for something that was already reality - that salvation be inclusive or not at all - they joined their free will to the will of God, which is simply a personified word for Reality. If minds are joined as one, the Bodhisattvas created the Bridal Chamber with Mary, making the Christ an idea whose time had come.

Light Crosses Fire

"Indeed, one must utter a mystery. The father of everything united with the virgin who came down, and a fire shone for him on that day. He appeared in the great bridal chamber. Therefore, his body came into being on that very day. It left the bridal chamber as one who came into being from the bridegroom and the bride." The father unites with the virgin who came down, which doesn't seem to indicate Mary. It might be the fire of the holy spirit. Mary is not the bride but the Bridal Chamber, who creates the space within herself where male and female unite. Her unity allows the divine unity to be present in the world, where what's above can be seen inside the mirror of unity below, with the masculine right inside the mirror of the feminine left, and the left inside the mirror of the right. Swirl it, and you have the symbol of the yin-yang.

This might make sense of the startling phrase, "Jesus came to crucify the world." The actual cross exists, not in the extremes, but in the place where one line crosses over the other. The Christ unifies the human dichotomy, which is the horizontal bar of the cross. When the male and female - both equally present within every personality - are brought together, it creates the androgynous child. The divine unity is the vertical bar of the cross. Until our split, our dualism, is reconciled, we can't join heaven with earth.

Mary's role, I feel, has been greatly underestimated. She was the one who offered no resistance to the truth. Mary isn't a random choice by a God who had withheld favor until then. Instead, she provided the only door through which God could enter. She actively chose to be receptive, which could also be called "obedient". God had always offered, but Mary accepted. Joining purpose with virgin silence, she created the Bridal Chamber and the bed where light could play with fire. Mary experienced the mystery, but it would have ended with her if nothing had come of it. "Indeed, one must utter a mystery" for it to be effective in the world. The active, masculine element joined to the holy feminine spirit in the space provided by Mary, and "the body of the Word" came into being on that day.

The Intimacy of Solitude

A friend writes, "You must have felt very alone growing up," and I have the physical sensation of a hand reaching into my chest. I feel something being held - not as large or as trite as a heart, but like a quivering mouse that's quieted by a still hand. Does the soul reside under the edge of the lung? Is that why it's hard to breathe when it's touched?

In a flash, his comment caught the years of profound aloneness I felt as a child and adolescent. Not social isolation, as something that was done to me, and not loneliness, as in a lack or unfulfilled need. Just a deep awareness of being alone. I'm certain now, from adult conversations, that everyone feels this growing up - even the "popular" kids, the prom queens and the quarterbacks. There's a sense that you're the only one who's real, and everything that goes on inside you is hugely important. On the other hand, there's also a hyper-attention given to what other people are saying and thinking about you. In the end, the social animal wins out - we find our pack to run with, a group with whom we're comfortable and accepted. But does it leave the real self quivering under an edge of the lung?

Perhaps the only reason I became myself and not someone else is that books found me before I found a social group to "lose" myself in. In particular, the up-close and personal language of poetry sucked me in. Metaphors are interactive, like a coded message on a paper airplane thrown across a chasm. Not just anyone can catch them and decode them. By virtue of "getting" it, whether or not you can put that into words, you become the person it's written to. There's an intimacy that isn't possible in any other way.

A book is a one-to-one relationship that jumps over social barriers. At this moment, I've gained access to your house or your room. I share your chair or your bed. I sit on your lap. You're as comfortable with me as you would be with yourself. And I've gone where no-body can go - inside your head. You'll continue to talk to me there, after the book has been set aside. I live with you now, for as long as you want to entertain me. You can kick me out, and I won't resent it. You can keep me as a secret, or share me with your friends. Leave now if you want, but I'll be waiting when you come back.

This intimate condition of aloneness, from which one person writes and one person reads, is the prerequisite for connection. I don't think it's possible to ever find intimacy through purely social relationships, although the mouse of the soul continually makes end-runs around them to connect. It's possible that social success gets more in our way than failure. The ego is our social animal, and when the ego is well-fed, it takes up a lot of room. It's in the crisis or the dark night of the soul that the mouse comes out of hiding: in the sweat of the foxhole, the AA meeting, the drug overdose, the homeless shelter, the deathbed - the times when we're weakest and filled with self-doubt. Culturally, we celebrate the return to being socially "well-adjusted". But those who've been on the outside often find that society rings hollow on their return. They've seen behind the mask, their own and others, and it's hard to pretend that it's real. Maybe what we call social adjustment is adjusting to insanity, and the breakdown is the beginning of breaking through. There might be, as a song says, "beauty in the breakdown."9 Sanity could be on the other side, calling us to emerge into it. Maybe intimacy is the hinge that joins the social world and the real aeon, but aloneness is the pin that it turns on, holding it together.

The Wedding Night

John Fowles writes, "I have always believed that history is horizontal in terms of the ratio between understanding and available knowledge, and (far more important) horizontal in terms of the happiness the individual gets from being alive."10 Within any era, under any social constraints, couples have managed to fall in love and be happy. Imagine what a Bridal Chamber would be like for such a couple in Philip's era:

The betrothal is years in the making, with months of preparation. Prior to the wedding, even conversation is precious, metered out by the chaperone. How many nights would they have wanted to kiss, if only the matron would just walk ahead? Closer to the date, watchful eyes turn away and what's stolen always tastes better. The long-anticipated night would combine the politeness of strangers with the fearlessness of certainly-reciprocated passion, an intoxicating mix. Within passion is kindness, knotting the double-stranded history and the intertwined future into the present moment.

In the relationships of our overtly-sexual culture, does the parallel of the Bridal Chamber exist? Is it possible to make love like Thich Nhat Hanh drinks tea11 - both eager and unrushed, full of anticipation, tasting something new each sip, even through long acquaintance with the cup and the brand? With the person you've been given to love, can you search back to the time when a brush of the hand was electric, sparking erratically through your blood for days? I don't know, but I think that the obvious can't be ignored. I think that Philip is making a statement for monogamy. Making the bed where light can play with fire seems to start at home.

But the mindset of the Bridal Chamber doesn't end there, it just finds expression in the way appropriate to each relationship. With a child, it's the focused attention that David Spangler describes as "making a lap" - creating a still place where you're unconditionally, intimately accessible and open-hearted.12 With a friend, it might be hearing the subtext rather than getting caught up in the script. Along with the shoes and ego on the doormat, I suspect that it helps to leave context outside - comparisons and baggage. Can you make an empty, virginal space within yourself to meet anyone? Cleverness and need for approval won't sweep the floor. I'm not very good at this, but I think that deep listening is key. And if you make the space, I think they will come.

How can you know if it's a bridal chamber in your heart, or if the defiled woman is decking out a brothel to consort with some archons? I don't mean sexual relationships, but defilement the way that Philip means it - the soul hooking in the service of the ego, who is its archon and pimp. If there's a definitive answer to this question, I haven't found it (and would have to pay my pimp if I had), but I have some suspicions. I think that the Bridal Chamber is self-contained and keeps its own counsel. "When the wanton women see a male sitting alone, they leap down on him and play with him and defile him. So also the lecherous men, when they see a beautiful woman sitting alone, they persuade her and compel her, wishing to defile her. But if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come in to the man, nor can the male come in to the woman. So if the image and the angel are united with one another, neither can any venture to go in to the man or the woman."

Our soul-mate, this implies, can't be found in the world, only within our self. Once we have that soul-mate in our self, we can love in the world because we're already complete. No one can give themselves completely unless they already have themselves completely, and so keep what they give. The male and female - reason and intuition, action and passion, motion and stillness - unite the right and the left. Action is the body: the Word or purpose that moves to connect in the world. Passion is the spirit or the blood that moves to connect within. Their union enables the image - the body/soul or individuated self in the world - to unite with the angel - the inclusive self in the real aeon. "And so he said, 'I came to make [the things below] like the things [above, and the things] outside like those [inside. I came to unite] them in the place.'"

The Mirror that Makes Clearer

Another broad hint to distinguish between the brothel and the bridal chamber is that the latter is completely indiscriminate. What? The reason is that the guest is to be neither bride nor bridegroom, both of whom exist already within the person. "One receives them (the male or female power, the bridegroom and the bride) from the mirrored bridal chamber." A mirror is reflective, and the mirrored bridal chamber is a place of inner reflection, not a social place. The process of union happens through meditation, through private contemplation. From this deep, active listening - the male and female joining - a new being emerges into the world, free to love indiscriminately.

Who is the new being, the son of the Bridal Chamber? The four-fold union - right/left (male/female), upper/lower (angel/image or reality/reflection) - produces the children of the bridal chamber. The son of the Bridal Chamber, then, is the Christ child - not a unique event in history but brought into the world each time intention and listening join. Philip says that the children of the bridal chamber have one name, which is "rest." "It left the bridal chamber as one who came into being from the bridegroom and the bride. So Christ established everything in it through these. It is fitting for each of the disciples to enter into his rest." "It" is the Word made flesh or purpose given body, with the holy spirit running through its veins. A historical person could never have contained the body of Christ, but can send forth the body of Christ - whose name is rest, which might be translated peace.

Michael Bacon13 suggests that "rest is the opposite of peace - 'living' or more importantly 'becoming.' It is peace in the sense that One knows more surely what matters." This fits with Isaiah's definition of the Sabbath as a day to rest from oppression, by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, not a day to be indolent.14 Rest is knowing who you are and acting without conflict by responding to what's needed. This inversion implies that shutting out the needs of others is the illusory work that fills our meaningless days. To do something useful, something you can do well, is a great joy, even when it requires a lot of energy. Conflict saps your energy without using it. The Sabbath or the Bridal Chamber is a time when we rest our conflict, and let go of our objections for why we can't care about everyone.

"In this world the slaves serve the free. In the kingdom of heaven the free will minister to the slaves: the children of the bridal chamber will minister to the children of the marriage." Who are the children of the marriage? In the parable of the wise householder, Philip writes, "There are many animals in the world which are in human form. When he identifies them, to the swine he will throw acorns, to the cattle he will throw barley and chaff and grass, to the dogs he will throw bones. To the slaves he will give only castor oil and meal, to the children he will give meat and bread."

Again, one needs to beat down the unruly archon that wants to say we're the children and start naming swine. Every one of us has an inner swine. Mine go around snorting remarks that are mean and brutish, but really funny. The acorns are to help them grow out of their insecurity. When we invite the other to the bridal feast, we don't invite our swine or theirs. All the manifestations which insecurity takes get left to grunt outside.

Chamber Music

With a little willingness, I think that each of us can bring the children of the bridal chamber into existence. It doesn't matter how well you make the bed or sweep the floor. The intention is enough, whenever intention is present. But then what? The children of the bridal chamber attend to the children of the marriage. It's necessary to bring others into that place of rest and peace. How is that possible without disrupting it? We exist in the between-world of images and grocery stores, archons and highway traffic. Are we supposed to rush into the Bridal Chamber like a late groom before every business meeting? I think there are small steps that can change our habits of interacting. Within every person is a child who deserves to be loved. No matter how gruff and demanding, or superficial and petty, this was once a wondering child, and someday, this person will be on their death bed, wondering again. No one escapes these twin pillars of vulnerability. Walking the tightrope strung between them, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt that we're doing the best we can.

There's a song by John Ondrasik of "Five for Fighting" which seems to address someone who's dying. It starts with "Hey kid," and describes the kind of relationship

Something inside me is breaking
something inside says there's somewhere better than this...
Sunset sailing on April skies
Bloodshot fire clouds in her eyes
I can't say what I might believe
But if God made you he's in love with me.

To the grief-stricken woman (mother?) with fire clouds in her eyes, the speaker's thoughts would be of no comfort and he has the sense not to say them. But in his own anguish there's a paradox. It isn't anger at a God who could do this. It isn't despair or helplessness. It's an overwhelming gratitude for the child's existence, which is felt in the exact degree of his heartbreak. The pain is equal to the love for the child, but the love came first. That the child exists in the first place brings with it a shaky conviction - a God who doesn't just love, but is in love with him. A God whose unbearable tenderness for the speaker can be seen in the mirror of the speaker's love for the child. It's a powerful message.

If you were able to keep your heart always as the Bridal Chamber, I think that it's possible to feel this way about every person you meet. If we saw anyone the way they really are, I suspect that we would be knocked out, again and again, by the wonder that this person exists. But what we reflect back isn't their beloved child; it's the swine or slave that makes us better than they are. What we reflect shows not who they are but where we are at the time - in the mirrored house of illusions or in the shattered disco ball rather than in the bridal chamber. The mirrors of illusion are judgment, envy, fear, and superiority. The mirrors of the Bridal Chamber are wonder, gratitude, appreciation, and understanding. The mirrors we choose determine what we'll see, both in others and in ourselves. Close your eyes and become the Bridal Chamber. Open your eyes and greet your Beloved, again and again and again.

1 Nag Hammadi Library.
2 Barnstone, Willis. The Gnostic Bible. Boston & London: Shambhala, 2003. p. 257.
3 Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, p.690.
4 Budbill, David. Moment to Moment?
5 Howes, Elizabeth Boyden and Moon, Sheila. Man, the Choicemaker. Westminster Press, 1973. Reprinted as The Choicemaker, Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1977.
6 George, Susan. Another World is Possible, If... London/New York:Verso. 2004. p. 30.
7 Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Scholastic Press: 2003. p. 389
8 Leloup, Jean-Yves. The Gospel of Philip and the Sacred Union. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2003. p. 51
9 "Let Go" by Frou Frou. Imogen Heap and Guy Sigsworth, Universal Island Records, 2002.
10 Fowles, John. Wormholes. "Notes on an Unfinished Novel". New York: Harry Holt. 1998.
11 Amy Uyematsu, "Tea", Stone Bow Prayer.
12 Spangler, David. Parent as Mystic, Mystic as Parent. Riverhead Books: New York, 1998. pp. 51-57
13 Bacon, Michael Elliot. Not a Christian but a Christ. Unpublished.
14 Isaiah 58:2-14