John Lash, a comparative mythologist who specializes in stellar lore, has spent 30 years in research and experimentation, using Signs and Constellations. He is the principal author of the Marion Institute's Web site, www.metahistory.org, an inquiry into the contemporary meaning of humanity's myths and beliefs, and is the author of a number of books, including The Seeker's Handbook, Twins and the Double, The Hero: Manhood and Power, and Not in His Image. He lives in Europe.
In an eclectic mix of mythology, deep ecology, Tibetan Buddhism, astrology, UFO research, drug mysticism, and speculative science, Lash (Quest for the Zodiac) recommends reviving the cult of the Gnostic earth goddess, Sophia, as a prop to modern environmentalism and as a spiritually healthy alternative to life-denying and oppressive Abrahamic religions. Relying on secondary sources of varying trustworthiness, Lash spins a conspiracy theory in which a rigorist, otherworldly religiosity, "the redeemer complex," was spread through an inner cabal of Jewish priests to the Essenes, where it morphed into Christianity and took over the world, destroying ecofriendly, egalitarian paganism in its wake. He also expounds at length on Gnostic cosmology, which he frankly and accurately describes as "theological science fiction." Lash's history is propagandistic and amateurish; anyone who cites D.H. Lawrence as an authority in religious history can't be taken too seriously. He oversimplifies the heterogeneous Gnostic movement, which at times could be more ascetic and contemptuous of material creation than anything in Western monotheism, and romanticizes paganism by ignoring its own record of religious persecution. Not recommended. Charles Seymour, Wayland Baptist Univ. Lib., Plainview, TX Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"John Lash's Not In His Image presents a fascinating view of meanings in a sacred history long--and wrongly--suppressed. It demands profound correction of what Western civilization has been taught to call religion. It is a book that should be read by everyone."--Barbara G. Walker, author of The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Feminist Fairy Tales, and others.
"Sometimes a book changes the world. Not In His Image is such a book. It is clear, stimulating, well-researched, and sure to outrage the experts. Take it from a scientist: the 'experts' are often wrong. In fact, a hallmark of breakthroughs is that they are usually well-researched and outrage 'experts.' Science shows the importance of trusting clear thinking about direct evidence. This book is full of both. Get it. Improve not just your own life, but civilization's chances for survival." --Roger Payne, Ph.D., MacArthur Fellow, president of Ocean Alliance, author of Among Whales
"An extraordinary and profound book. Not In His Image a blessing, and a warning that we must cease taking the terrible advice of Christianity ... and that we must instead re-inhabit our own joyful, painful, mortal, beautiful bodies and fight for our lives and for the lives of those we love. This book points the way home."--Derrick Jensen, from the afterword
"Not In His Image is a stunning book. It should cause quite a furor. Lash's historical and anthropological erudition are breathtaking." --Colin Wilson, author of Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals: 100,000 Years of Lost History and The Outsider
"John Lash's heretical book is a precious act of spiritual disobedience that seeks to save the world from Salvationism. Lash opens new ground between myth and ecology, and helps one feel what the planet feels. He proposes direct knowing and moving beyond belief, and advocates animism as a proposition to test. He leaves the future open and in need of human imagination. Humanity is implicated in the future of the living planet, but Lash exercises caution when making suppositions about our role as a species. This book is learned, courageous, and full of insights. Some may find it challenging and even shocking, but it is an important read for those interested in life on earth. It is made for readers to chew on, rather than believe."--Jeremy Narby, anthropologist, author of The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the Origins of Knowledge and Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge
"This remarkable book introduces a Gnostic approach to Sophia-Gaia, the feminine wisdom principle embodied by the earth, vividly soliciting us to embrace Her revival for our survival. When the human race revered the fertility of the earth, the perennial philosophy of human kindness and good sense, as embodied in the common laws of indigenous people the world over, was equally prominent in ancient Europe. Gyncentric societies did not know the taint of sexual apartheid; mystery cults were participatory, experiential and peaceful. The erudition and mindfulness of the Pagan world have been hugely underestimated, since the onslaught of patriarchy, symbolized by the flood, destroyed a much larger civilization than we have been lead to believe. Initiated in antediluvian times with the arrival of misogynic sky gods, it took the three monotheistic religions to achieve the undoing of the sophisticated way of life of our forebears. In Gnostic terms, evil came from outside of the matrix of the earth, from another dimension or parallel universe. Entities of this parallel dimension managed to insinuate themselves into our world. It may come as a shock to many, that the Gnostics held Yahweh to be such an entity, facilitating the promotion of the perpetrator-victim ethos of Salvationism, held to be an abomination and a fateful error. John Lash presents the stark contrast between the tenets of retribution and exploitation - of the feminine -, and the ethos of illuminism, with its emphasis on personal experience and communion with nature, within the framework of a vast body of knowledge, reaching from the classic authors of antiquity to present-day proponents of eco-science and eco-spirituality. A fascinating read."--Susanne G. Seiler, Gaia Media News. Basel, Switzerland
"John Lamb Lash's Not in His Image is a rare achievement, combining impeccable scholarship with remarkable visionary insight. In a breathtaking tour de force, the author provides a profound analysis of the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and their connections to the patriarchal system. He identifies the deep roots of the intrinsic problems of these three religions-- perpetrator-victim emphasis and salvationist ideology--and points out their relationship to the alienation and agony of modern humanity. This book is a must for everybody who is trying to understand the psychospiritual currents underlying the present global crisis." --Stanislav Grof, M.D., author of Psychology of the Future and The Cosmic Game
"Not In His Image is a brilliantly subversive and provocative work of scholarship and passion that overturns everything you ever believed about Christianity. The gnostic mysteries have found a new and eloquent champion in John Lash." --Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods
"What we know about the divine comes by way of three paths--through the spectacle of nature, through the testimony of spiritual seekers, and through our own inner experience, as in meditation and mystical communion. John Lamb Lash seeks to renew our understanding of all three paths, and thus to renew our sense of the divine. In particular, he challenges the otherworldly creeds that have come down to us in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and to recover the earth-based religions that preceded them. Those ecologically wise religions flourished, he reminds us, not only among the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere but also in ancient Europe. By reclaiming this pagan heritage, he argues, we can begin to cure the pathologies of genocide, war, and environmental degradation that afflict the modern world." --Scott Russell Sanders, author of A Private History of Awe
Los Angeles Times Sunday Book
Gnosticism is a label applied to a collection of religious ideas that has long exerted a certain appeal to public intellectuals and controversialists, ranging from the theologian Marcion in the 2nd century AD to literary critic Harold Bloom in our time. What attracts them, I suppose, is the conviction that the highest truths are available only to a small circle of initiates -- the Greek term gnostokoi can be translated as "those who understand divine matters, knowing what the gods know."
The latest to unfurl the banner of Gnosticism is John Lamb Lash, who describes the Gnostics of the ancient world as "the elite of Pagan intellectuals" and declares that their writings are "the explosive charge that can blow the institution of the Faith off its foundations, for good and all." By "the Faith," he means the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition in its entirety, and he intends to do nothing less than convert his readers into latter-day Gnostics.
Lash, whose publisher describes him as "an exponent of the practice of mythology," rejects much of the contemporary scholarship on Gnosticism. For example, he dismisses the work of Princeton historian Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels, because she places the texts discovered at the Egyptian archeological site of Nag Hammadi within the context of early Christianity. Such an approach, he insists, "has hampered understanding of who the Gnostics were, and why they protest so vehemently against the rise of Christianity."
Lash seeks to rescue Gnosticism from the dustbin of Christian history and restore it to its rightful place amid the splendors of pagan antiquity. To signal his admiration for the fecund religious imagination of paganism, he capitalizes the word "Pagan" as if it were a single faith rather than a phantasmagorical assortment of beliefs and practices. But he does point out that Gnosticism itself shouldn't be described as a religion or even a sect, if only because gnostokos was "the generic term for any person learned in divine matters." Above all, he insists that Gnosticism represents the path toward "spiritual deep ecology," symbolized by today's adherents of the Greek earth goddess Gaia.
Not in His Image is perhaps best compared to Robert Graves' The White Goddess, an earlier and only slightly less eccentric effort to find and explain the linkages among the fantastic variety of religious experiences in the ancient world. Like Graves, Lash is a self-invented scholar who has read widely and thought deeply. (He is the author of Quest for the Zodiac, The Hero and The Seeker's Handbook, and the co-founder of metahistory.org with a former wife, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, who lived with Timothy Leary in the 1970s. And he is general executor of the estate of Jack Kerouac's daughter, Jan, to whom he also was once married.) He confidently issues pronouncements about what he calls "the wholesale genocide of Pagan culture" and prescriptions for the spiritual salvation of the world.
Lash offers this work as a corrective to the "scholarly specialization" that condemns the Gnostics to "an obscure and uncertain place on the margins of the history of religion." Along the way, he seeks to repudiate what he sees as the pigheadedness of the academic establishment. Thus, for example, he condemns biblical scholars who do not see the continuities that Lash detects between the early Christians and the religious community at Qumran. He calls them "Zaddikites," but they are better known to the lay reader as the custodians of the Dead Sea Scrolls: "They fail to realize that the message of love in the charming miracle tales of the New Testament is a sugar coating on the bitter cyanide of Zaddikite ravings."
But Lash is not concerned merely with scolding biblical scholars. His goal is to melt down the religious and philosophical ideas of antiquity and recast them as a serviceable faith for our world. In place of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, which he links to "the religious schizophrenia of the ancient Hebrews" and which he flatly condemns as "annihilation theology," he proposes that we embrace Gnosticism and what he dubs "Gaian ethics," which he describes as "not a call to faith in God, but faith in the human species."
Lash is capable of explaining the mind-bending concepts of Gnosticism and pagan mystery cults with bracing clarity and startling insight. At moments, however, he slips into a kind of New Age rant as baffling as any mystical text. "What we seek in 'Gaia theory' is a live imaginal dimension," he writes in one such passage, "not a scaffolding of cybernetic general systems cogitation." Or: "Gnosis, taken as a path of experimental mysticism, and the Sophianic vision, taken as a guiding narrative for co-evolution, can provide the spiritual dimension for deep ecology independently of the three mainstream religions derived from the Abrahamic tradition."
Even he acknowledges that his book can be "a long haul and a lot to follow" and that his line of reasoning "demands exceptional concentration from the likes of us, many of whom cannot stay in the moment for three minutes at a time."
Lash's arguments are often lively and entertaining, even when they aren't convincing. When he contends that Celtic civilization spread to the far corners of the ancient world -- "An apocryphal legend claims that John the Baptist was a Celt," he writes, "and Mary Magdalene was Circassian, half Celt, half Jewish" -- he is reduced to citing the film "Lawrence of Arabia" to support the proposition that "Celtic half-breeds survived in the Levant down into the early twentieth century."
And when he considers what he calls the "sci-fi theology" of the ancient Gnostics, he comes uncomfortably close to affirming that the otherworldly "Archons" of Gnostic myth were authentic extraterrestrials.
"It is worth noting that the first great UFO wave of the twentieth century occurred in the summer and fall of 1947 when Jean Doresse was in Cairo examining the Nag Hammadi Codices, at the very moment the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found," Lash writes. "This was also the year that the CIA was founded, with the dual intention (according to UFO conspiracy buffs) to co-opt alien technology and cut a deal with the aliens, allowing them to experiment covertly on human subjects.... In fact, a CIA agent named Miles Copeland was dispatched to Damascus to examine and photograph some of the first scroll fragments to be unearthed."
At one telling moment at the outset of his book, Lash describes how his life was transformed when, in early adolescence, he was reading a copy of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra in the back seat of the family car on the way back from an orthodontist's appointment in upstate New York. "I swore to finish what Nietzsche had begun," he declares. "I vowed to think through and live out his critique of Christianity to the end."
With Not in His Image he keeps that vow. But when Lash invites us to embrace the "high strangeness" of what he calls the "ET/Archon" hypothesis "with the Gnostic theory of alien intrusion" -- "the stranger it gets, the more sense it makes," he insists -- he passes wholly through the looking glass.