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The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant

 
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Bloodstone11
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 5:55 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

Intentionally or not, there is a strong echo of Gnostic themes in the Chronicles, and this has only become more pronounced as the books draw to a close.

Briefly, the Gnostic vision hinges on an entirely different concept of creation, and its flaws, than the standard Judaeo-Christian idea. Far from being a perfect being, the Creator/God/Demi-Urge, is a flawed being that perpetuates his flaw in his creation. This alone strikes a resonant cord with the events in the books.

But, there are deeper shadows. In the case of Diassomer Mininderain we have an echo of the Gnostic idea of the Sophia; the feminine aspect of Divine Power. And, in her seduction and fall we have the theme reiterated. But, taking a closer look at one of the versions of the Sophia legend may lead to some more interesting ideas.

In this particular version Creation comes into being through her fall. It is said that she abode apart, in the original fullness that precedes creation; called the pleroma and that she was tempted by her own arrogance to create without the assistance of the Godhood that was inherent in the pleroma. She produces a daemonic child; a kind of living abortion, of immense power that would be called Ialdabaoth by the Gnostics.

(Continued)
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:01 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

It is this being that creates not only the Earth, but all the adjacent spiritual dimensions that are below the pleroma. His creation is synonymous with his flaws. Thus, we have a world(s) that is riven with a bewildering array of powers and traps.

In most of the versions of this legend, though the actual mechanism of it varies, the Sophia pays a price for her hubris, by being imprisoned in the world that she helped to create. In some forms this happens because she is seduced by Ialdabaoth; so here in this capacity the Demi-Urge is, at once, both her lover, and her son. (In some versions of the legend this seduction is regarded as merely the latest consequence of the original seduction by her pride; so in a sense her son/lover both precedes and follows her initial move away from the pleroma.)

Donaldson is known for taking existing myths and reinventing them for his stories; in some cases he drastically alters their original meanings; using very ancient ideas to arrive at new conclusions.

(Continued.)


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:13 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

Using this myth of the Sophia as a backdrop certain questions arise.

Is the Creator that Covenant encounters to represent the original Father that dwells in the pleroma, or is he, in fact a Demi-Urge, like Ialdabaoth? Or does he somehow straddle both characters?

If he is, to any degree, a Demi-Urge figure, then Foul is simply a different octave of the same note as the Creator; an aspect of the Creator that is bound up with self-loathing because of the essentially abortive nature of how he was created. And, his seduction and ruining of the Creator's wife is, at the same time, an act of incest against the woman who bore him

All of this is sharpened by the theme of sexual violation, unlawful power, and flawed creation that recurs through the first series. What makes Covenant powerful, (for good or ill) is that he, like the Wild Magic, precedes Law and Creation. That there is, inherent in him, something very akin to the ravaging appetite of Lord Foul. Something outside of Time, and outside Law.

This idea of a perversion, (not always in the purely sexual sense), that makes one, at once, more and less than what is lawful/healthy, is one of the central themes of the stories. Elena is made High Lord at a very young age, because she has a certain wildness, and capacity for power, that stems from the method of her creation. Lord Mhoram discovers that in order to call upon the full power of Kevin's Lore he must come dangerously close to the same well of passion that made Kevin so potent, and ruinous, to the Land. And, the characters of Linden Avery and Covenant are constant reiterations of the same ideas.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 03, 2012 6:27 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant/Fundamental Ambivalence Reply with quote

Some further comparisons invite attention...

The first appearance of the Creator is in the form of a beggar, who also seems to be a kind of Jeremiah figure; a tattered old man, who bears a sign that cries "BEWARE". (The idea of the religious fanatic who is at once, more, and less, than the fallen world that he inveighs against is another recurrent theme.) Even though his message to Covenant is there to warn him, there is a certain element of the cast-off lunatic, standing on the outside of "normal" society, that cannot be dismissed.

Interestingly enough, Foul's return in The Wounded Land, shows similar motifs. He chooses a sect of religious fanatics who are obsessed with a kind of Old Testament fervor for apocalyptic ruin. They are chosen from among the dispossessed and broken. And, the way that Foul appears, the method of the ritual, seems to echo the Old Testament vision of an unsparing God who had decided that what he has wrought is worthy only to be destroyed.

(Personally, when I read about the worshipers offering their hands to the fire to manifest Foul, I thought of the story of Abraham and Issac; it should be noted that a great number of Biblical scholars have cited the probability that the idea of God staying Abraham's hand at the last minute was a later invention. That in the original version God allowed the boy to be sacrificed...)
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fascinating.

Leave it to a new poster to bring a fresh persepective to the discussion.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think your on to something pointing out the connection between Sophia and SWMNBN. I don't have enough (or any) grounding in gnosticism to say more ... but I beg for enlightenment.

That being said ... don't look for 1-to-1 correspondences. Donaldson has a way of taking the same story and changing it so that it has all the same elements, but put together in a different way.

Consider the creation myths of the Land. They all contain the same elements: a creator, a destroyer, imprisonment, an enemy. But they are put together in different ways: in one, the enemy of the creator is the destroyer, while in another the creator is the destroyer; in one, the enemy is imprisoned, while in another, the children of the creator. "They are like fables: children’s stories about talking animals which still enforce a useful truth; you can change the animals and the story, but the truth remains."

So I bet that if you take the important demi-urges in the Sophia story, you can maybe discover that Donaldson has worked them all into his story, but they may not all have the same relationships with each other.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Just where is Esmer..?
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 8:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wouldn't wait up for Esmer to come home, if I were you.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

True dat.

However, the Gnostic idea of the Sophia is not all that different from the Judaic idea of the Shechina, is it not? Although there is no "fallen" aspect to HaShem and Shechina.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2012 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

......and as with the Thomas Covenant Chronicles, an alternative to Prometheus -

Promethea the alterego of Sophie Bangs.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2012 8:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Menolly wrote:
True dat.

However, the Gnostic idea of the Sophia is not all that different from the Judaic idea of the Shechina, is it not? Although there is no "fallen" aspect to HaShem and Shechina.

Not a path/issue I've been exposed to/studied in detail...but in the smattering/overlapping of other ones: it seems highly unlikely you'll find ANY moral/religious tradition/system born in that part of the world that doesn't have Sophia living in its roots. And not just in the "oh, every culture has a mother goddess somewhere," but in the particulars of original aspects/attributes regardless of how the story evolved afterwards [neither of the Sophia stories I was acquainted with before this thread popped up involved a fallen Sophia, either...and in one it was the male who fell by failing to meet the perfection of Sophia whom he loved...hmmm...now that seems SRD-ish, in its way]
Though it never occurred to me before, considering SRD's bio as a whole there almost HAS to be a relationship, even if subconscious.
Nice perspective, B-stone.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:27 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

To all of you who replied so kindly, and with interest, on the above topic, my heartfelt thanks. This is my first time back in these discussions since Runes of the Earth was first published, but I first encountered the Covenant books when I was 12 years old, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is not possible to put into words, how much of an effect that they have had on me, both creatively and emotionally.

For those of you who expressed some curiosity about the Gnostic themes I referenced, there is a surplus of great books out there on this topic. One that is dated, but still one that I recommend to anyone interested in these themes. It's called "The Gnostic Religion" by Hans Jonas. And, obviously there are countless books on the topic. Just check amazon.com and you will find what you need.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:42 pm    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

"However, the Gnostic idea of the Sophia is not all that different from the Judaic idea of the Shechina, is it not? Although there is no "fallen" aspect to HaShem and Shechina."

Replying to the above...Yes, it seems that the Sophia is probably derived from the same myth/concept. What is fascinating about the Gnostic legends, versus the Judaeo-Christian, is that they seem to draw most of their myths and symbols from the common pool of cultures that were in place at the time. Consequently, what varies is the interpretation of them. So, in that sense, like S.R.D. himself, who has a penchant for taking existing archetypes, and reinventing them for his stories...
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 4:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Menolly wrote:
True dat.

However, the Gnostic idea of the Sophia is not all that different from the Judaic idea of the Shechina, is it not? Although there is no "fallen" aspect to HaShem and Shechina.
A lot of gnosticism, occultism, alchemy, rosacrusism, etc. are based, in part at least, on Kabbalah writings and symbolism.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2012 12:48 am    Post subject: The Gnosis of Thomas Covenant Reply with quote

"A lot of gnosticism, occultism, alchemy, rosacrusism, etc. are based, in part at least, on Kabbalah writings and symbolism."

Yes, there are all kinds of connections in that pool of symbols and knowledge. I would like to point out, though, that Gnosticism, as such, in the forms that appeared in the late Roman Empire, predate the established Kabbalah.

The fist extant works that we have on the Kabbalah, (i.e. the Sefir Yetzeriah, etc.) date from the late middle ages to early Renaissance. That is not to say, that the information itself, (which owes some debt to Graeco-Roman Neo-platonism, and may also have some Egyptian origins), did not exist earlier, merely that the link between it and Gnosticism is one, again, of drawing from a common pool of symbols and archetypes.

I think that S.R.D.s genius lies in the fact that he is so innovative in the way he recasts these things. For instance, I am still fascinated by the fact that the Ravers derive three of their names form Hindu/Buddhist terms for exalted states of consciousness. (And, of course Herem, Jehannum, and Sheol are all derived from Aramaic root words that link them to dark themes..)

But, the fact that he was able/willing to assign these elevated names to the Ravers has always intrigued me. I know that he commented that this was because this was how the Ravers perceived themselves. But, every lore has its genuine wisdom; even if we refuse to accept the underlying morality, or lack thereof, of its practices.

Contentious as it may sound, there is Gnosis/wisdom in Despite. I am not saying that it is a Gnosis that I would embrace; merely commenting that to dismiss it as lacking in profundity is an error; (and indeed one of themes of the Covenant books is that ignorance, willful or otherwise, of evil does not makes us immune to it.)

Even in the Hindu religions there is the Left-Hand Path; which contrary to popular misconception, is not merely "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll", or evil for the sake of evil. Contained within it is a very profound set of perceptions that are constellated around dark themes.
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 07, 2013 4:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Considering SRD's acknowledged Jung studies and his neo-Platonic metaphysics of the Land itself, the chances of Gnostic ideas being directly or indirectly represented in the Covenant series is extremely high, and I'm personally amazed that I didn't make the SWMNBN-Sophia connection while I've been delving into unorthodox Christian theology out there on the rest of the Internet... Very, very good catch.
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