Apocryphon Asceticism

If you’ve been listening to Talk Gnosis After Dark for a while, you know that I’ve been doing a lot of work with the Apocryphon of John lately. The Gnostic Ascent project is an attempt to develop a visionary ascent working based on the Apocryphon. I think this was clearly a very important part of the early Gnostic spiritual practices that has been, pretty much, entirely lost. If we want to have a full Gnostic experience in the 21st century, I think it’s essential to recover an ascent practice.

As part of that work, I’ve been thinking about what kind of ascetic practice the Apocryphon of John community (generally called “Sethians” by scholars) would have practiced. This community had a sort of love/hate relationship with the human body. They saw it as an imperfect creation by flawed and evil beings, a material prison in which our Divine Spirit was trapped, but they also saw it as something created in the image and likeness of the First Human, Barbelo. The body is…

“a map of the substance and structure of reality with all its tensions and conflicts. Simultaneously, it is the territory on which the struggle for truth is waged.”
Dr. Karen L. King, The Secret Revelation of John

The Apocryphon details the beginning of everything, from the emanations of the Divine realm, to the creation of the material universe, to the creation of human beings. The one theme that pervades the text is the role of the Proper Divine Order™. The beings of the Pleroma are all created through a process of first asking permission of the Invisible Father, the Monad, and then working in conjunction with the proper partner to bring forth another being or set of beings into existence. Everything is all neat and tidy, following the PDO™, until Wisdom, Sophia, decides to act on her own, without consent or her partner, resulting in the creation of the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth. This upsetting of the PDO™ represents the beginning of a whole heap of trouble. Not the least of which is the creation of evil, the loss of her own Divine Spirit, and the road that eventually leads to death. Sophia is thoroughly sad about this.

Yaldabaoth goes on to create his own set of flunkies, the archons, out of the soul material he possesses, who represent the signs of the zodiac and the planets. They collectively they go about their business doing whatever it is that soul beings do, until they see the reflection of the First Human in the waters of the firmament. They find the First Human very pleasing to behold, and decide to make thier own. Their first attempt fails, because they only create using soul material, and the human being doesn’t move. Sophia, in an attempt to correct her error, asks Barbelo for help, and Barbelo sends Autogenes/Christ and the four luminaries to trick Yaldbaoth into blowing his mother’s (Sophia’s) spirit into the human being. That does the trick, the Divine Spirit now residing in the human, and Adam is now sentient.

This also creates an inversion of the PDO™. As Adam now contains the Divine Spark that once belonged to Sophia, he is now higher than the Demiurge and his archons in the Divine hierarchy. This drives the archons into a bit of a jealous rage, and they create a material body out of the four elements and stick Adam into it. They bind humanity under the rulership of the fates, and introduce earthly temptations, “the passions of the soul and enticements of the body” (also King, The Secret Revelation of John) to prevent humans from becoming aware of their actual place in the PDO™.

A lot of other stuff happens in the story, including a Q&A session with Jesus and the world’s first cases of god-on-human rape, but you can read all that on your own.

The Four Temptations

There are four particular things about the world that bother the authors of the Apocryphon, and those are food, beauty, wealth, and lust. These four worldly temptations are specifically mentioned in the Apocryphon as created by the archons to continue to entrap the Divine Spirit in material humanity, and thus allowing the continuing rule of the archons over humans, who, by right, should be higher than the Demiurge in the celestial pecking order. Another relevant quote from Dr. King:

Christ’s revelation exposes transient beauty, food, material wealth, and lust for what they are: imitations of divine creativity and spiritual nourishment intended to lead humanity astray by keeping them tied to the ignorance and moral evils of bodily passions. Their “life” is, in fact, death. their “pleasures” are the spirit-destroying bonds of passion and suffering.

My assumption, then, is that the Apocryphon community would have paid special attention to these temptations, and developed a set of proscriptions around them. In furtherance of the visionary ascent work I’m trying to develop (linked above), I’ve found the need to have some sort of ascetic practice in line with the morality of the Apocryphon. I’ve been working on some ideas for a few weeks, and started to put some of it in practice, but it’s now time to formalize it. I find that the timing is perfect, coming, as we are, into the Lenten season. Lent being the traditional time of spiritual preparation for the resurrection (which I read as “ascent,” see the Gospel of Philip about achieving the resurrection while alive, for example).

Here, then, is the ascetic practice, which I am calling “The Rule of the Apocryphon of John” until I come p with something better. I hope I have the fortitude to stick to it for as long as I need it, and I’m sharing it here in public so that whoever reads it may hold me accountable and shame me tremendously if I go far astray, for I am weak and I need all the help I can get. I’m also going to write this out as if it was meant to be followed by another person, simply for my own ease of use, but I want to point out that I have no expectation that anyone else will want to follow this rule. If you do find it useful, however, you may use it at your own risk, consult a doctor, and all the rest of that legal mubmo jumbo that seems to be required these days.

The Rule of the Apocryphon of John

A note about the strictness of this rule: Just as the early Apocryphon community had a love/hate relationship with the body, so, too, should you. If you find yourself unable to follow one or more of these rules, either temporarily or long-term, you should not feel the slightest guilt about ignoring it. Replace it instead with the awareness of the rule as you break it. Concentrate on the influence of the temptation on your body and soul, and participate in the temptation knowing that its influence is both false and transitory, and does not affect the Divine Spirit within you. So if you are out with friends and find a need to indulge in something on this list, be aware, and be moderate.

(Please note that this list is just bare bones for the moment, for the sake of getting it out on Ash Wednesday. I will fill this out with notes and commentary very soon. A lot of this needs more explanation, so stay tuned.)


  •  yes simple food
  • yes homemade food
  • yes fruit, nuts, and vegetables
  • less meat
  • no mass-produced food
  • no expensive food
  • no unhealthy snacks, sugary and salty especially
  • no overeating, stop eating before you feel full.


  • vanity
    • simple clothing, nothing very flashy
    • don’t intentionally draw attention to your appearance
  • distraction
    • info diet
      • educational media okay for projects, but don’t read/watch “educational” stuff just because it’s there and interesting
      • it’s always okay to consume media that furthers your spiritual growth
      • entertainment media only rarely
    • social media fast, once a day only
    • video games rarely
    • notification anxiety, shut off most things that send you pointless notifications
    • books, audiobooks, music, podcasts, all you want
    • avoid things that advertize at you excessively, like terrestrial TV and radio, distraction-based websites


  • anti-materialism – don’t buy anything that isn’t essential to your life
  • Mustachianism


  • “proper” procreation, recognizing the true likeness in another, not creating counterfeit spirits
  • sex only within romantic relationship, no casual sex
  • no commercially produced porn

Photo credit: “Thoreau’s cabin inside” by Namlhots – [1]. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

P.S. The “TM” thing is a joke, please don’t send me nasty comments.