For 10 years Miguel Conner has been a leading voice for Gnosticism, so why the sudden interest in his ideas?
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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Miguel Conner to Skeptiko. Miguel is the creator of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio, an entertaining and influential podcast that’s become part of this resurging interest in Gnosticism that seems to be seeping deeper and deeper into our collective consciousness. Miguel’s the author of several fine books, and he’s here today to talk about, Other Voices of Gnosticism, which is a follow-up to his acclaimed book Voices of Gnosticism, published just a few years back.
Miguel Conner: …It seems ten years ago when I was talking about how reality is an illusion, and don’t trust any sort of reality you see in front of you, and everything is ruled by powers, principalities and wickedness in high places and how paranoia actually might be a good thing and alienation is something people should accept. That was pretty radical ten years ago, but I’m finding people are just kind of nodding their heads after they after they look at their Facebook feeds, the news and saying, “You know what… the Gnostic sensibility, the Phillip K. Dick world and all that… it’s a powerful thing.”
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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Miguel Conner to Skeptiko. Miguel is the creator of Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio, an entertaining and influential podcast that’s become part of this resurging interest in Gnosticism that seems to be seeping deeper and deeper into our collective consciousness. Miguel’s also the author of several fine books, including a couple of novels that are probably ripe for a movie deal about now, I don’t know Miguel?
Miguel Conner: No, I hear you. Keep saying that!
Alex Tsakiris: But he’s here today to talk mainly about his new book Other Voices of Gnosticism, which is a follow-up to his acclaimed book Voices of Gnosticism, published just a few years back.
He’s a great friend to the show. You’ve heard me mention his show many times because I think it’s really just a top-notch podcast. It’s always on my playlist.
Miguel, it’s great to have you here. Thanks for joining me.
Miguel Conner: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be with you, Alex. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, great. Now, we’ll see how you feel at the end. I told you just a minute ago, you know, I am going to have to do a little bit of the Skeptiko thing on you because well, it’s what I do, man.
Miguel Conner: Oh, yeah. I hear you, man. I was thinking today, “God, if Alex doesn’t go off on me, then I have failed.” I mean, that’s my favorite part of the show when you go, “What are you doing?”
Alex Tsakiris: Well, I hope I don’t go too far.
You know what I really wanted to do, because the book is terrific and I really hope people check it out, especially if they’re a little bit unsure of the whole Gnosticism thing, and in particular, how Gnosticism is more than just a bunch of very old heretical Christians that were talking about weird stuff. If you kind of see the term popping up a lot and you kind of think, “Hey, maybe there’s something really behind that,” one, your show is a terrific way to jump into that, but the book is also a way to kind of springboard your way into it as well. So, Other Voices of Gnosticism, people, check it out — Aeon Byte — check out that.
But, I want to kind of take it a little bit further because when I listen to your show and read your book, which is a collection of some of those interviews, I just get the sense of someone who is on a trajectory. The show, what is really great about it to me, is that it is a moving thing. It’s not like you’re talking to the same group of people, it’s like you’re changing, you’re evolving, you’re moving with the guests, moving with the topics in a way that is from this base of Gnosticism, but is really extending beyond that. Do you feel that way? Do you feel like this show is evolving as you evolve?
Miguel Conner: I would say so. I mean, it’s evolving with the guests; it’s certainly evolving with the listeners. It’s like any endeavor — artistic endeavor — it’s a journey of self-discovery. What they say about fiction, all fiction is autobiographical, so I think I’m in a way discovering a lot about myself. I mean, those bombastic interviews that people either hate or love and the YouTube channels, it always seems to be a fine line. That is my own self-therapy into discovering insights and sharing those insights with the world.
I mean, even Gnostic studies has changed in the last ten years since I started the change. Culture has changed a lot. I mean, it seems ten years ago when I was talking about how reality is an illusion, and don’t trust any sort of reality you see in front of you, and everything is ruled by powers, principalities and wickedness in high places and how paranoia actually might be a good thing and alienation is something people should accept. That was pretty radical ten years ago, but I’m finding people are just kind of nodding their heads after they look at their Facebook feeds, the news, and saying, “You know what? Not so much Miguel, but what he’s been promoting, the Gnostic sensibility, the Philip K. Dick world and all that.” And as we can see in culture, it’s a powerful thing.
Alex Tsakiris: Absolutely. And I’ve got to feel like you and your show have been a part of that. Maybe a small part of that, we don’t know, but I think that a show like yours has a deeper impact than it might show on the immediate radar because it is so forward thinking and so edgy in so many different ways, that I think it provokes people and then it pops up in other weird ways, I think.
Miguel Conner: I don’t know about that. I mean, again, I have my show and I enjoy sharing with people and listening to people like you, Gordon [White] and so forth. I think we have our own little alternative podcasting world, including Gnostic Media. All those small podcasters, I enjoy that, but as far as impact, just sharing whatever the listeners want to share with me, that’s really all I know.
I mean, as you know, it’s really all about doing our day jobs and then having enough time to put out one more podcast. If I can just get one more interview, mix it up and put it out once a week, that right there is a huge victory, isn’t it?
Alex Tsakiris: No, that’s beautifully said, it really is. I think that is so true and from the heart.
So, podcasting has become part of that journey for you, obviously, part of this seeking journey. What was it before that? I mean, when did it really start? Did you feel like you were always kind of this seeker, this kind of outside seeker really?
Miguel Conner: Yeah, I would say so. Like many people who listen to our shows, again, we were people that never fit. We were always in the counterculture. We were always weird kids, as you would, and this seemed like the perfect fit me.
I was just thinking the other day how things change. I mean, I remember, and I’m sure a lot of people are like that, I remember being in my teens and I’m listening to Megadeath, Pink Floyd, and Rage Against the Machine and I’m like yeah, yeah, yeah, fight the power. Fight the power.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. Yeah.
Miguel Conner: But that was really just a lot of hot air. I mean, there wasn’t really anything behind it. There was no like, as you say, salvific information or sensibility or action. I mean, there was some activism, but then life sort of happens. You get a job, have kids, you watch the news, you take on a political party, but it was starting Aeon Byte just seemed like a natural thing to do. Again, I didn’t have any, you might say—you know, I wanted to discover about the Gnostics, but I didn’t have any activist counterculture ideas, but as you said, as I started studying the Gnostics more, as more guests starting coming up, as the times changed I said, “Wow. This really is activism. This really is dangerous information.” I mean, that stuff I read about it is really true; this philosophy that the Gnostics have is dangerous and it was radical two thousand years ago, and it’s probably very radical now, and I hope it’s useful for people.
Alex Tsakiris: That’s excellent. That’s really interesting too, that like you say, very early on in the book a Mark Twain quote about history not repeating itself, but it rhymes.
Miguel Conner: Right.
Alex Tsakiris: I think our personal history does that, as well, in some really strange ways sometimes in that we do something and then it echoes with something from the past in a way that goes wow, you know, that’s funny, that’s kind of how I was earlier, but now I have a different, deeper way of going about it, so that’s kind of cool.
Miguel Conner: Yeah. No, you can find the tools and use them.
Alex Tsakiris: So, you know, one of the things I thought we might do as a way of introducing people to what’s going on with Other Voices of Gnosticism, and in Aeon Byte in general, is talk about some of the things that you do on the show that I think are kind of interesting in the ways that you’re just talking about right there. And the first one that comes to mind, you really dig into some pretty hardcore history, I mean, you have to. I mean, if you’re into Gnosticism, you have to, but you really dive into it. You have some top-notch history scholars, Biblical scholars, ancient language scholars, and you’re not afraid to really get in there and dig into that stuff. Do you feel like that’s been important to you and what is that important? Because history, it’s tricky in many ways, particularly, the history of the Gnostics because they were so heretical. They were the heretics. So, we don’t even know in a lot of cases, how accurate that history is because it’s so prone to be distorted. How does history play into this whole thing for you?
Miguel Conner: Well, first I’d like to say it’s not so hard to dig into the history because a lot of these scholars who do very hard work, they put in a lot of effort, and even if most of them are secular, by osmosis, they find themselves walking the walk of the Gnostics, trying to understand them culturally, and so forth, so they do have a relationship with these ghosts, if you would. So when asking them the question, they get excited because they really feel that they can express this in a way that they can’t express in the classroom or to their peers, so they get excited. In fact, some of my best supporters of the show, some of them really like my introductions are usually these like highfalutin scholars who’ll email me and say, “Hey, I love your intro and thanks for everything,” so that’s important.
And, of course, as we both know, all scholars have an agenda and that’s what’s interesting because I was at the Mythinformation Conference, the debate between Robert Price and Bart Ehrman on whether Jesus exists or not. I was the emcee, if you would. And Ehrman himself said, “Look, all scholars have an agenda. All scholars have the viewpoint and they’re going to argue from that viewpoint and they’re going to argue hard.” Nothing wrong with it. We’re human beings, we’re subjective from the beginning, so it’s impossible to be completely objective. I mean, as you say, if we are completely objective, we’ll probably turn into robots, but that’s a sticky point, right? Because history has to be viewed from a human lens and the human lens likes immediately to take us for perspective. We see something and we see a change.
So again, that’s a sticky point and that’s something that’s ongoing and changing. Gnostic studies has sort of changed in the last ten years. When I started, it was basically the vibe or the trend was to say, “Well, these guys were just alternative Christians. They might have been pro-feminist. They were just kind of part of the stew that was going on.” Now, it’s kind of changed. Now, it’s one, the pendulum, closer than it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when people thought the Gnostics were these radical existentialist, rebellious counterculture. Now, it’s sort of swinging back where some of the scholars putting out work are saying, no, these guys were subversive, they were unique. And yes, they had to go because they were just very dangerous to the world, well, at least to the secular powers and religious powers, whatever ruling empire was around.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, the other thread that I hear coming through in your shows, and you just touched on it a little bit, is diversity. So it’s even beyond that of saying oh, were they these heretic kind of wild guys or were they just ordinary Christians? Now what I hear coming through in Aeon Byte is yeah, they were all those things. There were some that we really have to say were really just kind of Christians and they had some pretty radical ideas and stuff, but they were more or less Christians. And there are some that were probably not what we’d call Christians, but were kind of trying to hide under the…avoid being totally outed so that they weren’t dragged out and killed, but had some radical ideas.
And I think that’s reflected in some of the people you’re talking to today, some of the modern people. You have Richard Carrier who comes on your show and he has some deep Biblical knowledge, but is pretty much a hardcore biological robot kind of Atheist kind of guy.
Miguel Conner: Right.
Alex Tsakiris: And then you have people inside the Aeon Byte big tent that are Christian, the progressive Christians and are able to integrate in some of the Gnostic sensibility stuff. Tell me about that, tell me about the range of people and am I getting that right? Is there that diversity?
Miguel Conner: Oh, there is a diversity. I think one thing to understand, or two things, and I’m using again a lot of the latest scholarship from Dylan Burns and his book The Apocalypse of the Alien God and April DeConick’s, The Gnostic New Age, some of the newer stuff. One, is that there was never you might say, a normative Judaism or a normative Christianity. Like Dylan Burns likes to say it’s more of the Judeo-Christian matrix or stew. It was always there, it was fluid, it was moving around and again, it was never normative in any sense. I mean, there are countries, I think, like Lithuania that didn’t become Christian until the Fifteenth Century. The Catholic Church was never really centralized until the late Middle Ages, so there was always diversity, Christianity and certainly, Judaism. I mean, if you read Margaret Barker’s The Great Angel, Judaism was polytheistic probably in the First Century, probably beyond that, especially with the resurgence of Kabbalah.
But to understand the Gnostics, and this is from April DeConick, you can’t really see it as a religion, but as a metaphysical orientation. That’s when it begins to make sense and you can start classifying these groups instead of saying well, these guys were Christian or this because she points out there were four ways of worshiping in the ancient times, or four spiritualities, if you would; you can’t really call them religions.
One was okay, I exist and the Gods rule me and that’s it. There was a second one which is sort of the covenant one, I’m going to make a deal with the God like the Jews and others, and the God will take care of me and I’ll take care of the God. There was a third one, which is the mystical one, which says the God’s going to take care of me, but I get a chance to sort of commune with the God or connect with the God and be one with the God, but at the end of the day, I still have to come back to Earth and the Gods still rule me.
You have the fourth one, which is completely unique until the Gnostics came around, and that is the one that no, I am not sharing and I am not in any essence with this God. I am not obedient to this God or the spirits or the demons. I belong beyond the stars. I belong with this eternal source, which is pure supreme information, supreme good. And I can make contact with this God, but the lower Gods, the rulers, the spirits, and the representatives on Earth are all false and they’ve got us all trapped.
So, when you see it that way, a) you see the Gnostics as being very unique; and b) you can start really classifying these groups like the Hermetics, the Sethians, the Valentinians, the Cathars and all that. And, of course, they had differences and they had arguments and their view on reality and how negative or positive change, but ultimately, it was all about I don’t belong here. This world is false. I need to touch upon this greater higher source and this will transform me and I’m going to spread this Gnosis. So, when you see it that way, I feel it becomes a lot clearer to understand the Gnostics and why Gnosticism can be so diverse and have such a big tent, if you would.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of like the catch-22 of it is that if there is a truth to that, if there is a reality to that, then it has to crop up everywhere and really, you can’t even categorize it into those four because that spark, as you say of Gnosis, has to emerge over and over again, because it is the ultimate truth that’s behind the veil. So no matter how you veil it, it comes through, so it’s kind of paradoxical.
Miguel Conner: Yeah. Yeah, it is very paradoxical, but I think it’s a good working model and again, you can include the Kabbalists, the Sufis, and others and, of course, there’s a lot of big overlap; there always will be in religions, it’s just the way it is. Platinus in the what, Fourth Century, he’s complaining about the Gnostics, how crazy they are and how they’re making trouble because of social issues and their strange beliefs. They go completely against Plato and against the Hellenic model of spirituality, but he shares a lot of the things with the Gnostics. Even the Orthodox Christians in the First and Second Century, they believed in Gnosis. Irenaeus talks about [how] the Gnostics had the false Gnosis and he had the right Gnosis. He had the right experience with the divine except experience would be with Yahweh or Jehovah. Clement of Alexandria always thought any good Christian must have Gnosis, must have a divine knowledge. But as time went, when you’re trying to make franchises and corporations out of this religion, the idea of a direct contact with the divinity, well, it doesn’t work.
Alex Tsakiris: And how do you square that with the guests that you have now? Like I was just saying, you have this diversity of opinions that come onto the show and you do a nice job of kind of making it fit, but it almost in some ways, seems like it wouldn’t quite fit with what you’re laying out there. I mean, how does a Richard Carrier fit with a progressive Christian?
Miguel Conner: Well, I mean, let’s put it this way, the Gnostics, of course, they saw themselves from the platonic worldview, were major myth makers. They believe Plato and some of the Greeks that the myths of Zeus and all that probably weren’t real, but they were great stories, they drew upon the world of the unconscious, behind them were powerful archetypes, and this sort of mythology itself was a spiritual exercise and it was very valuable, very sublime and very wonderful. So, you have somebody like Richard Carrier, who has a great passion for mythology because he’s a scholar of Greco-Roman religion, so that’s the point and he’s a mythicist. And, of course, very few Gnostics thought that Jesus ever came in the flesh; they thought he was real as a force, as a spiritual principle, so then you have that overlay. Again, it’s that love of mythology.
Alex Tsakiris: But that’s a pretty thin overlay, isn’t it? I mean, because it’s that double talk that really drives me nuts with the Atheists. It’s like I get the same thing when I talk to neuroscientists about near-death experience and whenever somebody leads with, “Oh, it’s important to people, and I realize that…” What they’re really saying is people are delusional, but I’m not going to call them on it. I kind of feel like that’s where the Atheists are coming at it too with “I love myths” is code speak for “stupid people believe weird things.”
Miguel Conner: Yeah, I think in Richard Carrier’s case that might be, but I definitely have to ask him, but then you look at somebody like Robert Price, he’s an Atheist, but he says he is 100% union. He does believe in the collective unconscious. He believes there is this well of information, this well of symbols and archetypes that are very valuable and inspire men to be the best version of themselves, so again, it really depends.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, he doesn’t know it, but he’s not an Atheist. Really, you can call yourself an Atheist, but you’re not really.
Miguel Conner: An Agnostic Atheist perhaps.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. And I think that Agnostic thing has really got to go too. Bart Ehrman has worn that to death.
So, the question that really everyone wants to know and they should know, if they listen to your show because you say it a bunch, but where do you come down on the historical Jesus question? You hosted the debate, the debate won’t go away, where do you come down on it?
Miguel Conner: Well, I think it’s no secret that I am a mythicist. I’ve been a mythicist since probably before I heard of the Gnostics back when I was more of a liberal Catholic and somebody handed me these photocopies of Acharya S’ The Christ Conspiracy, and then suddenly everything just clicked, but it’s certainly not my dogma. To me, again, I see it as a very useful thing, again, coming from a world of Jung and mythology and all that. But I would say yes, I think I would fall in the camp of the mythicists, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night or something that I worry about.
I mean, even tonight I was reading Chris Knowles, The Secret Sun blog spot and he has come out of the closet as a historicist. And I was like okay, I guess he’s made his stance and he’s going to make his arguments and I think that’s great because as we exchange information, these things are very useful and these things change. I mean, at the conference, for example, Bart Ehrman, of course, he’s making a stand on Jesus being historical, but he’s certainly changed some things.
Alex Tsakiris: Yes.
Miguel Conner: He used to think that there was a tomb and Jesus was buried in the tomb, but as he’s doing more research he’s like no, if there was a historical Jesus, they probably took him out of the cross and tossed him in a pile with the other bodies and burned him. So again, these things change and I think the more you look into things, there’s very little man and there’s more myth.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, Bart Ehrman is an interesting character in the mix because he’s stripped away—I love when Christians put forth Bart Ehrman and they hold him up as see, Jesus really did exist. He was a historical figure. I’m like, that’s the Jesus you want? You want Bart Ehrman’s Jesus? I don’t think you do. You better go read who he’s leaving you with and I don’t think you want that.
Miguel Conner: Yeah. Sometimes I think I’m overcompensating because I’m like okay, if Jesus was this failed revolutionary guy, then what’s the point? I mean, that’s kind of pathetic. And even then, the problem is that Bart Ehrman’s version of a historical Jesus is different than other scholars who see him as a stoic, as a wise philosopher, as a pacifist, all these things. So even there’s like a thousand versions of the historical Jesus.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, that gets back to maybe to the original question, your point I was trying to bring up is that I love history, I love the way you approach it with bringing these top, top-notch scholars on to talk about these subjects, but I also feel like there’s this question of does the history from the mystical, from the esoteric, there is this tug back and forth. And then when we add to it that it is so fragmented, it’s flawed and it’s just politicized beyond belief, we don’t know how much we’re being played by the history except every time we find out oh, well, that just was an ancient PSYOP that was played on us. So, how do you struggle with that part of it?
Miguel Conner: I really don’t. I mean, it seems that I’ve been tested. My gut on the Gnostics has been right. I mean, first of all, I think history is important. I mean, as the ancient Gnostics, reason is very important, the Greek philosophers believed in history, they were confident about it. And again, science and reason are very important, but as far as who the Gnostics were, it seems to be—again, I think my gut is right. I remember I had Joe Atwill for the second time and he’s going off, you know, the Romans invented Christianity. The Romans invented Jesus. I mean, you can’t get a more radical mythicist than Atwill in a thousand years, maybe Acharya S, but they disagreed.
And then I asked, “Well, Joe, what about the Gnostics, were they part of this conspiracy? Were they part of this brotherhood, this Roman machine to control the Jews and the world?” And he turned around—well, he didn’t turn around, he answered on the microphone, he said, “Nope, the Gnostics were the rebels. They’re the only ones who stood up to the machinery of this world.” And I was like, okay, well there you go and that seems to be confirmed over and over by different scholars and guests. It seems unmistakable, as of now, that that’s where the Gnostics were and that’s their place in history. I don’t think you could say they were part of a franchise or corporation or any sort of mainstream dispensation.
Alex Tsakiris: That’s great. It’s interesting to hear you say that, particularly about Atwill because folks who have listened to Skeptiko don’t know this, but you are to blame for my many references to Atwell and I think the importance of what he’s done. I think he, as you were maybe alluding to, I think he takes it a little bit too far, but I think he changes the paradigm in just a fundamental way in saying, “Hey, clearly there’s evidence for a PSYOP, so before we can go any further, we have to keep asking ourselves is that a PSYOP? Is that a PSYOP?”
Miguel Conner: Exactly.
Alex Tsakiris: One of the things that you say off and on the show and maybe you can elaborate on this which would put you in a good seat to evaluate that is I’ve often heard you say that the Gnostics were the first conspiracy theorists that we really know about. Talk about that a little bit.
Miguel Conner: Well again, they were the first ones in history to stand up to the Gods. I mean, that took quite a bit of kahunas to do that, if you don’t mind me saying that, and say these Gods are false or they’re inferior, they’re deficient; there has to be something beyond that. These Gods and all their—I mean, in ancient times, the political machine, the temples were the great chain of being. It was all connected, as above, so below, so all the structures, the structures of man, political structures were part of the Gods, the priests and the prophet.
So they were the ones who started producing this literature that seemed very paranoid, very existentialist, sometimes close to nihilistic, who basically said no, no, no. This is wrong. There has to be something else. There’s something beyond this Old Testament God. There’s something that started. We’re going to work it out. We’re going to go on our mystical flights, we’re going to get information, we’re going to write these texts as a form of self-therapy. We’re going to make Jesus a theoretical Jesus, our own personal Jesus, where we can find insights about ourselves. We are basically going to make the logos our own logos. And they started putting out this stuff that obviously freaked out the church fathers. It was unbelievable to the church fathers, it was unbelievable to a lot of the Greek Greco-Roman philosophers like Plotinus. It would later be very unbelievable to Muslim powers, Asian powers, Persian powers.
So there was certainly the first conspiracy theories because they thought all of reality was one big machine to keep us down; I mean, every part of reality. And again, sometimes you have to look at the way people do myth. Myth can be very intense. I mean, when you read even beyond the Gnostic myths, it can be very rated-R, it can be very gory, it can be very dark and everything else, but it’s sort of a way of really hitting you in the face with these truths so you can see, again, the insights behind them, and that’s what the Gnostics were doing.
When you look at them historically, they were always seen as very kind, very educated, very beloved by their communities, for the most part. They were artistic. For example, the Cathars were beloved by the Catholic populations around them, same with the Manichaeans. They walked a very good walk, a very kind Christian walk. In fact, some people even in Medieval times say the Cathars were really the true representatives of how a Christian should act and behave. But I think it came from the stance, and I always like to say with experience, is like when you’re an alcoholic, the only way you’re going to get better is if you finally stop and say look, I have dug a hole. I am in a huge hole. I am in a terrible position, and that’s going to be my default position every day of my life because I want to fight for something. An alcoholic, he’s fighting for sobriety, but the Gnostics were fighting for enlightenment, for spiritual clarity. This is my default stance, this is where I’m going to draw the line. And, of course, alcoholics have again…every day is a problem, every day is a terrible disease and a terrible fight; but they do find peace, they do find happiness and they are productive. I think in a spiritual way, that’s what the Gnostics were saying. They were saying our default position is that things are really, really bad. If we don’t stop saying things are really bad, if we drop our gaze, well, we’re going to end up looking at our iPhones or we’re going to end up going playing ping-pong or something like that instead of doing this very important work.
Alex Tsakiris: That’s an interesting, interesting point. I want to return to that in a minute, but I’m going to kind of get there in a little bit of a roundabout way because there’s another guy that I’ve referenced a lot on Skeptiko, and you’re to blame for this guy too. It’s Biblical scholar and really religious scholar, Richard Smoley, who I should mention is also featured in the book Other Voices of Gnosticism that we’ve been talking about. Tell us a little bit about Smoley and why you think he’s important, why he’s included in the book. He’s obviously a super smart guy — degrees from Harvard, Oxford, has done all sorts of different research — but tell us a little bit about him and why you included him in the book.
Miguel Conner: Well obviously, for all the reasons you just mentioned. And it should be noted, Richard is such an intelligent guy. I mean, he can go anywhere with his mind, but he is far from being, you might say, secular, an Atheist. He is a very spiritual man. He’s a theosophist. He’s, I believe, a follower of Gurdjieff. I mean, he has been knee deep in all these different spiritual practices, even the Course in Miracles he’s embraced.
Alex Tsakiris: Right.
Miguel Conner: So, he’s traveled in all these spiritual paths, he’s had experiences and, of course, he’s very interested in consciousness. If you read his book The Dice Game of Shiva, that’s just sort of spiritual religious exploration of the concept of consciousness. So I think Richard becomes, you might say, a Renaissance man of the occult, but he’s also very friendly to the Gnostics. He used to be one of the writers and editors of the fame Gnosis magazine that included Gary Lachman and David Fiedler and all. So, he’s very friendly to the Gnostics and he’s very friendly to their trajectory or overall history from ancient times to today, so I think Richard has done great work and he continues to do great work.
Alex Tsakiris: So here’s the way that I think it weaves back into the question I wanted to ask about the point you were just raising. The show that you did with him, and it’s a little bit different than the one that’s in the book but it just totally blew me away, his book on the history of God. I can’t do it justice to kind of recount his work, but two things that I took out of that, that I think are really important to me: One is he really draws a better picture of who this Yahweh character is. Him being this thunder God that is appointed to look over Israel and somehow winds up as the God above God kind of thing, but really is kind of an accident.
But the other thing that really kind of blew me away is his understanding of Satan. He goes through the Old Testament and he says wow, here Yahweh is both good and bad. Now, we have a little change in the scene and a little Zoroastrianism and the next thing you know we have this other character, Satan, and Satan is doing all the same things, so the story is just being rewritten and now we’re putting Satan in the picture.
So, I think that that launches us into another conversation about this reality and this veiled reality and to what extent are we creating this reality? Because to just take that with kind of a simple minded—I hate to pick on Richard Carrier but I’ve had some run-ins with him so I’m going to pick on him—but the simple-minded Richard Carrier oh, then that means Satan isn’t real. No, that doesn’t mean Satan isn’t real because Satan pops up and sure as hell seems to be real, if you’ll pardon the pun, but he’s real in the same way it is that—you know, I talk to these near-death experience people and they experience Christ consciousness. They experience Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is there and he takes their finger and puts it in the wound of their hand that was crucified. There is a spiritual reality to that, that from my point of view, is undeniable, but it raises this huge question that I think is right with the cusp of what we’re talking about, this spiritual reality may be so different and layered in so many different ways that we can’t really be sure when we say what’s really real. In that other reality, Satan seems to be very real, Christ seems to be very real, whether he’s historically real or not.
Miguel Conner: Yeah, I would agree. I think a lot of it is, of course, a journey of discovery. I mean, how our consciousness evolves and how we explore these other realms, we are going to find things and, of course, human concept on how it goes, it’s going to vary and it’s going to change. Like you said, it used to be well, this is Yahweh, he’s in charge. Everything that happens is because of him. And then, of course, Theodyssey comes in well, the nature of evil, how can a good God do that? And before you know it, yes, we have Satan and we have God, but that starts the branching out. Suddenly, it’s like well, maybe it’s just not Satan, maybe there’s other demons. We’ve got Azazel, we got all these other demons and they’re different levels of malevolence or different levels of benign intentions and the universe starts to get very crowded very quickly.
And then, of course, these experiences, people start realizing well, our ancestors, they’re still around, they’re still alive, there’s still in other realms. I mean, when the Jews started, it was a terrible universe. You had God, who was basically immortal as long as he ate the fruit, but when humans died, that was it, it was over. It was a realty terrible nihilistic universe and they started realizing well, maybe we’re obviously having evidence that there is something after people die. So as human consciousness starts to develop and it starts to discover things then we start realizing there are different models and people start to gravitate to these models.
So, I would say that yeah, there’s probably no doubt that there is probably evil spirits out there or evil entities, just as there are good ones and there’s different levels of them and a lot of these things overlap, but again, it’s still quite a journey and we’re still learning a lot.
Alex Tsakiris: But to what extent are we co-creating that reality, I guess, is my question which is something that’s come up again and again and many wisdom traditions have said that. And the Gnostics, depending on how you read them, can be interpreted as saying the same thing, that we’re creating that reality. You did an awesome interview just a few months ago with Jeffrey Kripal and he’s picked upon that theme, you know, we need better sci-fi and because we’re…
Miguel Conner: Right.
Alex Tsakiris: And I think you pulled that back in a way that I thought was really effective, but the question still lingers out there in that are we looking at this whole idea of time being this linear kind of era moving forward or is that the wrong way? Are we somehow co-creators of this realty? And what do you think about that personally, from your journey, and then what do you lean on from your Gnostic friends for guidance on that question?
Miguel Conner: Well first, how I lean on my Gnostic friends, again, there’s a saying in the Gospel of Philip that I like to say a lot that said truth did not come into the world naked, it came in types and images. We cannot know the truth except through the type and images. So we’re still stuck in a world of images, even if the great good comes up. I mean, there is a distortion in it.
And also I think you hit it on the nail, unfortunately, as I talked about in our last show, for the most part we are programmed robots and you and I, we are sort of stuck in that linear Darwinistic model. Everything has to move forward, there’s a reaction and an action, but as you see the ancients, they had a much more holistic way of looking at things. And this is from John Lundwall, who’s done a lot of work in mythology and other guests, but people in oral societies had a completely view of reality. I mean if they saw, for example, a bear, the bear was many things at once, it wasn’t linear. The bear was a God, the bear was food, the bear was danger, the bear was love, the bear was an animal.
The mind worked in a different way where they could immediately see everything, I wouldn’t say connected in a new age, but they definitely had a completely different experience where everything was again, I don’t want to say more cyclical, but it wasn’t in this linear fashion where we’re just sort of moving forward and discovering things at once. And it’s very hard to see the world like that because you and I, we see a world a certain way. The only way to get back is again, to do some old-fashioned shamanistic meditation regression and sort of try to find that worldview again and that’s, of course, part of the spiritual work. I think people like Richard Smoley and others certainly practice it and it definitely has some benefits.
Alex Tsakiris: Then let me just approach that same topic from a slightly different angle. I’ve been drawn for a long time, in some ways I don’t even know why, to some of the nondual teachers, especially folks from the Yogic tradition and I see some parallels with the Gnostic ideals that you’re talking about, but I see some differences too and I wanted to kind of explore those.
First, to transcend the illusion is really what it’s all about and that everything is illusionary, but the difference, I think, the main one comes from this idea that we don’t have to fight and that as soon as we give up the fight, that’s kind of when we move forward. There isn’t that sense of agitation that in some ways, I relate to and I think a lot of people who are drawn to Gnosticism relate to because we do seem to be engaged in this battle. But for the nondual person, the quip I like is the spiritual path is easy for one with no preferences. If you really have no preferences, if you can really transcend this idea of good and bad playing out, that we have to overcome something, then the illusion goes away that way too. Do you have any thoughts on that kind of more nondual Buddhist, Yogic, you can get there from a number of different ways kind of sensibility?
Miguel Conner: Yeah, it seems very attractive, but then I start wondering maybe Joe Atwill will be in the background saying that’s part of the machinery trying to destroy you.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, right.
Miguel Conner: I mean, it sort of takes away the whole idea of human vitality, which is one of the great gifts we have. That passion to steal fire from the Gods and use that fire to create and build better things; I mean, I don’t know if I like that.
I remember it was somebody I really like, I like to read Krishnamurti, I love his work and he would just start bitching about people in the east meditating because he said it made them as limp as asparagus. They lost again, their human vitality, their élan vital. So that’s what worries me about a lot of these practices because again, I don’t want to be there. I know I’m a being of divine fire, I know I’m a creator, I’m a seeker. I can’t just sit there and just sort of melt away like a wallflower, so I would say that’s where the Gnostics would disagree, although the Gnostics were again, about breaking out. They were an ecstatic movement, a very powerful ecstatic movement that believed in shamanistic mystical ecstatic experiences that could be very wild and crazy at times, so, I think that’s where the separation is. I mean, to be a human being is to be a human being.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Let’s talk about another Gnostic-related topic, the simulation hypothesis, something that you mentioned early on and it seems to be cropping up everywhere. Neil deGrasse Tyson, you hear him talking about it, famous astrophysicist; billionaire, entrepreneur Elon Musk talking about it. Actually, I have to read this, this is a great quote from Elon—or it’s a headline referring to the interest of these people like Elon Musk in the simulation experience. Here’s the headline, “Some of the world’s richest and most powerful people are convinced that we’re living in a computer simulation and now they’re trying to do something about it. Investing billions, pouring money into efforts to break humans out of the simulation they believe that they’re living in.”
Question, first off, you’ve already explained it but recap why this is a Gnostic kind of idea in the first place.
Miguel Conner: Well first of all, again, the Gnostics posited that reality was false. It wasn’t some—really not a benign illusion or a playful illusion. Again, it was a synthetic matrix or machinery that kept us trapped, so that was their position.
Alex Tsakiris: Literally or metaphorically? That’s the part that I kind of get hung up on. And you’re saying yes, yes, they meant literally, like arcons are real, physically real. You really are trapped, you really can, not on some spiritual dimension, but on a physical dimension or on both in some way?
Miguel Conner: I would say both. I mean, I would say yeah, literally, we are trapped in an illusion. I think there’s no doubt that’s what they were saying. I mean, metaphorically, it’s neither here nor there. Again, liberation is the goal. Your mental and spiritual liberation is the goal. Your body’s lost, your body is what it is. But it cracks me up that these people are just figuring out now—of course, I have complete distrust. I think as author Sam Kriss, what they want, they already have enough power and wealth in this world, they want to hack into reality itself or get a trademark because the Gnostics wanted to break out, but also touch upon this great source. Bring this wonderful information and wake up others.
You know, people like Elon Musk, if he got ahold of this code or anything, he would love to destroy it because obviously, the leak really are self-loathing haters when it comes down to it.
Alex Tsakiris: See, I have a different take on it. I think that especially in the case of Neil deGrasse Tyson and the people who just kind of listen to people like that, like Elon Musk, are missing the mark completely with this simulation hypothesis being this big computer cloud in the sky. It begs the question of simulation of what? I mean, these guys kind of jump from one dopey materialistic idea to another without really defining what they’re simulating. What is consciousness? What is the divine spark, if you even wanted to get more spiritual about it? They’ve shelved that whole question and said oh no, it’s all reduced to computer circuitry.
I think it really misses the point in a fundamental way that I think to me, is different than what the Gnostics are talking about. The Gnostics are always allegorical and metaphorical and literal. If you say they’re literal too, which I guess they are too, but they’re all those things at once because we are all those things at once.
Miguel Conner: Exactly.
Alex Tsakiris: I don’t think Elon sees it that way.
Miguel Conner: No. No. Again, there’s no metaphysical orientation, which means something for the greater good are seeing it. They’re just sort of jumping right there because they need something else to hack or they’ve realized that they’ve found a very cool narrative and they’re going to exploit it or something like that.
Alex Tsakiris: I think a lot of it has to do with just that the strictly materialistic paradigm is absurd and it isn’t playing well. It isn’t fitting with even some of the science; I mean, it hasn’t fit with a lot of the science for a long time.
Miguel Conner: No. No.
Alex Tsakiris: But it has become more and more obvious and I think they need another way to go, so they look at…
Miguel Conner: Yeah. I mean, we both had Gordon White and how they’ve embraced panpsychism or whatever it’s called.
Alex Tsakiris: Exactly.
Miguel Conner: They realize they’re in trouble, so they got to find something that works before the emperor has no clothes for sure forever.
Alex Tsakiris: Right. Right. Let me try another one on you kind of related in that vein. Demiurge equals deep state, can we make that leap? Can we say beyond the spiritual realm of this thing that’s playing out, this illusion that’s playing out, this matrix that’s being played out, it’s also being played out in this geopolitical game that we’re messed up with that is the deep state. Would you go that far or do you think when people try and stretch Gnosticism into some of these places that it doesn’t belong, it kind of dilutes it down to just another meaningless kind of trick pony?
Miguel Conner: No. No, I think it works. I mean, I don’t think you should just base it down to arcons equals alien lizards are controlling it, that stops the narrative. I mean, like you said, we are metaphysical, we are physical. But from a philosophical thrust, it’s a very useful thing because after all, philosophically, it’s that there are shadowy powers, that’s what the Gnostics say, that are controlling us, behind the shadowy powers there are probably bigger shadowy powers and we need to find a way to discover them and expose them and hopefully disarm them through information. And it seems these days that seems to be the big move today is to expose deep state and try to find out who are the people at the top who are pulling the strings? And I wouldn’t be surprised and in fact, there’s evidence that some of these players are very much into some strange occultism and probably have some dark spiritual powers behind them; it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Alex Tsakiris: That definitely seems to be what’s happening. That’s what’s being played out.
Miguel Conner: I think that’s where we’re heading, Alex.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah.
Miguel Conner: I think that’s reality. The man behind the curtain.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, you know, and really as we look back, can we really point to any time in history when that wasn’t the case? I mean, you mentioned Chris Knowles and I think that’s the other path that he’s going down. He’s saying hey, every point in history we look back, we see the same kind of thing merging. I think this latest thing with the whole Pizzagate and the pedophile thing, people are shocked. It’s like oh, my God, just look back 20, 30 years with the Franklin scandal was the same damn thing.
Miguel Conner: Oh, yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: I mean, it was on the Republican side, so if you’re a Dem, go back there and study that and you’ll feel good that it was at the highest levels of the Republican Party.
And then look at Graham Hancock, here’s one guy, the conquistador, and he’s got an angel on his shoulder—or the devil on his shoulder saying go kill hundreds of thousands of people, that’s your goal in life. And Montezuma is in direct contact with a spirit being that is just guiding him through this kind of psychopathic mass murder of people and this whole blood cult kind of thing. There you go again, you have two kind of psychopathic kind of spiritual entities that are kind of facing off.
I kind of look at that and I go, you know, this Pizzagate thing, really, you think is just kind of a new thing that just happened, in terms of these entities influencing these people in some very negative dark ways?
Miguel Conner: Yeah. This is like Moloch 2,000 years ago. And as we go through history, like you said, this is coming up again and again and again.
Alex Tsakiris: Right.
Miguel Conner: This is a darkness to keep humanity obedient, asleep, ignorant and subconsciously terrified, but now, hopefully, we’ve opened our eyes more and…
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