The Gnostic Sense

If the practical teaching of the first Arcanum is “concentration without effort”, the practical teaching of the second Arcanum is the development of the gnostic sense. And like the first, it sounds easy, yet is difficult. Nevertheless, paradoxically we are told it should be like play, effortless. Tomberg explains what he means by the gnostic sense.

The gnostic sense is the same as the contemplative sense. Contemplation follows concentration and meditation; it begins as soon as logical and discursive thought is suspended. Typically, our minds are flooded with thoughts throughout the day, so the discursive and logical mind cannot conceive what it means to suspend itself. Yet, that is what the contemplative sense requires.

Discursive thought wants to reach a conclusion, actually many conclusions. It is satisfied when it has many statements at its disposal, which it can repeat in various situations. It assumes it “knows” something, when it can repeat a conclusion.

The gnostic sense begins at that point. Its method is “depth”, so it seeks to understand the conclusion at a deeper layer, beyond words and thoughts. For example, I may learn the proof that “God exists” in a philosophy class and be convinced; that is at the logical and discursive level. However, I do not yet “know” the God who exists; that is a different “knowing”, or “gnosis”.

While the mystical sense is analogous to the sense of touch, the gnostic sense is analogous to the sense of hearing. A person cannot hear his or her depths if all he can hear is the sound of his own thoughts echoing in consciousness. Hence, the thinking faculty must learn to slow down and even stop; it must do that to leave a “clearing” where the truth can reveal itself in its fullness. In the silence, the conclusion reached by the discursive mind “sinks in”. The gnostic sense connects, in this way, the discursive mind to the mystical sense.

Two Kinds of Memory

Tomberg next makes the interesting point that “knowing” is like “remembering”. I am sure everyone has had the frustrating experience of trying to remember something, or to say something that is “on the tip of the tongue”. There is no way to “try” to remember, no effort that will help. In my experience, the better path is to “let go”, relax, and the memory will appear in consciousness without effort. That is “horizontal memory” in time, which brings the past experience into the present. One then knows that experience again. This is related to archetypes or mythological memory.

Gnosis, on the other hand, is the recall of the vertical, that which is “above” which is then reflected in consciousness. Hence, gnosis is a form of recall, but from the higher to the lower, rather than from the past to the present. Tomberg provides us with the necessary conditions to reflect that which is above; they are related to the Arcanum.

  • It is necessary “to be seated”, i.e., to establish an active-passive state of consciousness or state of soul which listens attentively
  • It is necessary to be “woman”, i.e., to be in the state of silent expectation rather than in chattering activity
  • It is necessary to “cover with a veil” the intermediate planes between the expected reflection and the plane where the reflection is actualized.
  • It is necessary to “wear a three-layered tiara”, i.e., to apply to a problem or question of a gravity that it bears on the three worlds
  • It is necessary to “keep one’s eyes on the open book” in order to objectify one’s result in order to continue and add to the tradition.

It should be perfectly clear at this point that Tomberg is not teaching us conclusions that we can repeat to our friends, nor retelling marvelous stories about some spirit world. On the contrary, he is providing us with practical tools to follow a path that will lead to gnosis. These practices can, and should, be tried at home.

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