The Patrician Lady is a much-loved and respected member of the esoteric community who, for the last two years, has shared her own perspective on the subject matter of the April workshops. She has kindly permitted us to reproduce the text of the talk that she gave at Leaf and Flame, where the central theme was the story of Gawain… a talk which, as one Companion stated, is “worthy of a workshop in itself.”
Faith, Belief or Gnosis – Did Gawain have Faith?
by The Patrician Lady for the Silent Eye workshop: Leaf and Flame: the Foliate Man, April 2016.
Today we’re going to look at the words Faith, Belief and Gnosis and to offer a perspective on Faith as used by Jesus in the gospels which has relevance to Christian Western Mysteries. After this we will look at the response of Gawain when tested by the Green Knight. Did Gawain have ‘Faith’?
I had never really thought about the difference between Faith and Belief until I read books by Maurice Nicoll, in particular The New man. This book has a chapter on Faith which gives Nicoll’s thoughts on what Jesus actually meant by Faith. I realised that, like many other people, I thought Faith and Belief were the same, or as near as makes no difference. But Nicoll told me I was wrong, they’re not the same. After reading his thoughts on the topic I had an ‘Aha!’ moment, a moment of clarity which I would like to share with you today. If you google ‘Faith, Belief and Gnosis’ you will find numerous articles and books written on the subjects, together with various dictionary definitions, many of which define one as the other; everyone seems to have their own interpretation of difference and accord. Having read many of these articles I have sifted and distilled my thoughts which I hope you will find useful.
I’ll start by saying that Psychology is not my field of expertise, so any statements I make in this area are based on what I’ve read and understood from various articles. The human mind can be divided into three types; the Sensual mind, the Mystical mind, and the Spiritual mind. I have no doubt there are other definitions and divisions but I’d like to work with these for our purposes. The Sensual mind receives information from the five senses and the three dimensions of the physical world; with the Mystical mind you can experience beyond the Sensual mind, that is beyond the experience of the five senses. The Mystical mind receives information through the five senses but the information is abstract and not physical. The Mystical mind also receives information through intuition, psychism, telepathy etc., what we might call astral input. The Spiritual mind is our Inner mind. It functions on a higher plane beyond the Sensual and the Mystical. The Spiritual mind is where it is possible to meet with Divine Unity, Godhead.
These three minds connect with the Body, Soul and Spirit. The mind holds our thoughts. It is the link between the Body and the Soul. It operates/functions via a physical organ, the brain, but its output is abstract and of a higher dimension. Spirit is our particular spark of Divinity carried within the vehicle of our Body, animated by our Soul or animus/anima. We also have three levels of consciousness or awareness: Normal consciousness, Sub or Un-consciousness and Super or Higher consciousness. These things we know and take for granted but ponder on them and they become a mystery. Having said all this, let us return to our three types of mind: Sensual, Mystical and Spiritual and consider how these relate to Belief, Faith and Gnosis.
People say ‘I believe’ and assume they have Faith but Faith is not Belief. Belief is related to the Mystical mind. There is an aspect of choice about Belief. You learn about something and then choose whether or not to believe it. You create your own Belief-system. Beliefs are mental constructs, conclusions about reality or spirituality. Beliefs continuously change over time, influenced by incoming information, thoughts, hopes, experiences. From these we create our Belief-system; we can choose to believe or not-believe. Most people who say they believe in God get no further than the Mystical mind. Before reading Nicoll’s New Man I had always thought one could have Faith even if you ‘weren’t quite sure’, that Faith was the positive side of not being quite sure – people would say ‘Have Faith’. But it isn’t. Faith is different. It requires a transformation in thought, metanoia, a re-penser, to re-think [not to repent as we use the word today – this is a mis-translation of the original French word]. Faith is pure knowledge, direct experiential wisdom, direct experience of the inner real. Faith is not a matter of choice. It is experiential, personal to you. It produces an inner knowing – Gnosis, a knowing produced from beyond the senses, whereas ordinary knowing results from sensual experience and is an intellectual occurrence. Gnosis is a one-way system; once you ‘know’ something through Faith you can’t un-know it. It is no longer based on information or choice but on inner experience. So, to believe is to intellectually accept what you hear. To believe in God is a matter of the Mystical mind. To have Faith belongs to the Spiritual mind.
Looking further at Gnosis, many languages have two words for knowing. German has wissen and kennen; French has savoir and connâitre distinguishing between outward, objective knowledge and inward, subjective knowledge. The easy way to remember this is to think of knowing a thing or a fact and knowing a person. In English we only have one word to know both a thing and a person, even though one is objective and the other is abstract, subjective. To ‘know’ oneself at the deepest level is the secret of Gnosis – Know Thyself- Gnothi Sauton (Gr) was inscribed into the temple at Delphi and over the door to Plato’s academy; in Latin Nosce te ipsum was adopted by the Romans. This inner knowing belongs to the Spiritual mind.
Also, Belief has a touch of hope but is not necessarily certainty. Faith is certainty projected forward. Gnosis is deep, inner knowing, it is static. Remember this differentiation as I’ll use it later.
Faith and Gnosis are related to this other inner mind, the Spiritual mind which is neither Sensual nor Mystical. Unfortunately this mind does not exist empirically within each one of us, which means it isn’t part of our basic construction but it is only present in potential, it has to be created by us in our life-time. In order to create this mind we need transformation, alchemy. It requires work, effort. But the great thing is that we only have to do half of the work needed.
The Intention to find the inner mind is the first step. Then we have to develop positivity, to lose the negative mind-set. Meditation and contemplation are effective tools for developing the inner mind but on their own they are not enough. Having stated your mental intention and put in the hard work, somehow a change in ‘mind’ happens, a metanoia takes place. Having reached up your hand, Divinity reaches down to meet you half way and pulls you up into the inner Spiritual mind dimension. This process is not as fantastic as it may at first appear; it already exists in nature as quanta of energy at the quantum level in physics. There has to be enough energy present to form a quantum or package; below this level nothing is formed, nothing happens. At and above this level energy is manifested; for example – Light travels in packets called photons. Each photon carries a certain amount of energy. Below this ‘certain amount’, no photon is created, which is why it’s called Quantum physics. So, back to our review of Faith, Belief and Gnosis; having put in enough work (effort) there is a quantum leap from Belief to Faith. All of this can be found in Ouspenky’s book on Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way. The seed of Faith is created with God’s help and that’s all it takes, just the smallest seed. Read the parable of the mustard seed in the New Testament. A single spiritual experience the size of a mustard seed (which is very small) is enough to know God. Once you have experienced it, it sits within you as a seed of Faith; from this it can grow like the mustard tree (which is very large). You can read descriptions of Faith and possibly think you know what it would be like but until you experience it, until it happens to you, you cannot know what it feels like, what it is. It has to happen to you. It is an individual experience. Yet Faith is not an emotional response, it is a conviction. Remember our earlier definitions in which I said Belief has a touch of hope but is not necessarily certainty, whereas Faith is certainty. Let’s look at this a little further.
Looking again at words, the Greek word for Faith, pistis, comes from the verb peitho to persuade, make obey. Thus Faith (pistis) carries with it a certain power (dunamis) dynamism. So it’s not passive Belief but dynamic Faith; it transforms man to a higher level (I use the word ‘man’ meaning the species man-kind). The result is alchemy, transmutation, the creation of a new mind, a metanoia, which obeys the laws of a new level. Faith occurs on another level from Belief, an inner, higher level of being.
To gain Faith you must will to have it. You cannot move to a level above the ordinary level by any outer means, by anything seen or heard from the senses. In Aramaic the word for Faith is haimanuta. This word carries the implication of a person’s confidence, firmness, integrity of being in Sacred Unity (Divinity): haimanuta is the word for Faith that Jesus would have used.
Faith is always a gift from God, and never something that can be produced by people. Jesus spent a lot of time and effort trying to explain Faith to his followers. They thought because they gave up their families and followed him that they had Faith but he, on several occasions, accused them of having no Faith (as in Mark: ch 4,). Often the gospels translate this as having little Faith (as in Matt: ch 16) but experts are of the opinion that the original word was No Faith. You cannot have little Faith, just as a woman can’t be a bit pregnant, she either is or she isn’t. Haimanuta implies conviction. You either have Faith or you don’t. The disciples of Jesus gave up everything yet several times were told they had No Faith. One example comes after the transfiguration of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where He can be seen as ‘going beyond himself’. He demonstrated that a higher form of man exists and Faith leads to transformation. Why else were Peter, James and John allowed to be present? But they were asleep, weighed down with sleep. They had to wake up. To be awake is to comprehend meaning beyond the ordinary, to be conscious of things which are more than ordinary life, extra-ordinary. They needed to have a change of consciousness, a raised consciousness – up to another level. All this happens within your mind. When your consciousness moves to this other level you enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is inside you. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven refers to a quality of understanding that results in inner knowing (Gnosis). You have metanoia, become born again at a higher level. This higher level of ‘being’ is the Kingdom of Heaven and it lies within you.
Once you ‘know’ this then you have ‘Faith’. You become aware of higher levels of being. Faith denotes a certainty that a higher interpretation of life exists and as a consequence that the transformation of man is a possibility. The peculiar quality of Faith is that life can only be understood by a sense of something higher than man as he is and that man has the possibility to become transformed and understand new meanings in relation to life on earth. This peculiar quality makes Faith different from Belief. It is interesting that John the Baptist was a very sincere man, described as the best prophet up to then. John and his followers fasted and prayed but they still held beliefs that the messiah was come to save this world. They had not moved to the inner level, did not have metanoia, new thinking and so could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus was telling us that we cannot graft new thoughts on top of old thought patterns. He used the analogy of not putting new wine into old bottles, or a new patch on an old garment. We need a new way of thinking. Also we need to accept that Faith gives us this dynamic capacity to change things. Remember peitho, the power of persuasion, to make things obey. The centurion who asked Jesus to cure his servant was aware of levels of authority. He understood the levels of power; he said ‘Just say the word and my servant will be healed’ and so was told he had great Faith. Faith (pistis) in the New Testament means more than mere Belief. It means understanding on a level other than literal. We need to understand life in a new way.
So, with Belief you may hope, desire and expect that a certain thing is true or will happen but when Faith happens you stand firmly, with conviction that a thing is true. Only this mindset will get you into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Gospel tells you Faith is the Key to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now, what the intellect thinks may contradict what the heart believes; so there is a dichotomy between believing and ordinary knowing. Thinking by itself cannot change human nature. Something else is required. Tradition tells us there is within us a force that draws us towards truth and this force is neither thinking nor emotion. Faith is not simple emotional conviction. It puts the intellect in possession of truth which reason itself cannot grasp.
To reach the state of mind required for Faith to happen you must love with no thought of reward and approach life in a positive manner. All this takes effort. All the negatives have to go, jealousy, anger, ‘me’-ness. The woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears had this kind of love and Faith. This kind of love is necessary for knowledge to grow into inner understanding via a seed of Faith. For this to happen most of us need ‘metanoia’ a new way of thinking. By this means we reach the Kingdom of Heaven within ourselves for it exists nowhere else. If everyone did this the world would take a step up in evolution but the step can only be taken by each individual. This is why man was created. Jesus came to teach us that this is the goal of life; an inner state of development that man can reach, yet remember this – John the Baptist was no ordinary man. He had teaching and knowledge, followers and fasting; yet Jesus said he had not attained the lowest level of the Kingdom of Heaven. One would have said that he believed, how else could he continue with his task, yet he was told he had no Faith. In Matt: ch 11 John is told that he belonged to the highest degree of earth but not to the lowest degree of the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, to pass from one level to another is not automatic; it requires transformation, a change in habitual ways of thought, of habitual reactions. Christianity promotes Faith as an end in itself. If you have Faith you will attain the Kingdom of Heaven which is within. Other religions such as Gnostics place Gnosis as the objective, with Belief as the lowest rung and Faith as an intermediate stage. Faith undermines all our natural beliefs because it leads away from earthly thought in a direction that can no longer be confirmed by the five senses. Faith is defined as a seed in the mind, with potential for growth which cannot exist in us as long as we believe that life is the end of human endeavour and not the means for something else.
Jesus was also hard on his followers. He called them a faithless and perverse generation. Perverse in its etymological meaning is ‘turning in all directions’. He meant that we need to be pointing and moving in one direction. Here Jesus gives the description of the mustard seed. A seed has inside itself organisation to grow into something more. Take an acorn for example. If I were to tell you that this acorn contains a great tree 50 feet tall you can choose to believe it or not. But once you have planted an acorn and watched it grow into an oak tree this becomes Gnosis. You can look at an acorn and know it contains a great tree, an inner knowing, a confidant conviction which doesn’t require further proof and your ‘Faith’ in this phenomenon cannot be shaken. An acorn can become an oak tree. Once you have the acorn, the seed, you have the possibility for it to become an oak tree. The oak tree is already there within the acorn, it just needs an input of energy and planting in fertile soil. To become an oak tree the acorn must cease being an acorn and no longer obey the laws of an acorn, it must obey the laws of an oak tree; but Faith is knowing that the oak tree is already there without having seen it grow. Not easy for one of a rational and logical disposition.
The problem is that we can’t ever see the Kingdom of Heaven without having Faith and this is where the effort comes in plus the will-power and the metanoia. Now we get to the nub of the process. Part way through writing this article I had what I call a download of information. It happened whilst I was relaxed and reading a novel but I’d relaxed even further into a day-dream. I’ve had similar episodes before, always with a significant realisation at the end. It brings to mind the way the 6-carbon benzene ring construction came through to Friedrich August Kekulé on waking from a day-dream. It’s as if information coming in from the inner planes can’t get through in normal consciousness but gets through between the thoughts if the mind is ready to receive it. I became aware that Faith is not Belief; it’s all to do with intention and will-power. Now, where have I heard that before? Intention and Willpower – Of course, its Magic! Jesus was trying to teach them Magic. Faith is Magic! And here’s the quote to prove it:
‘and verily I say unto you, If ye have Faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain: Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you.’ (Matt: ch 17).
I’ve heard it said before that Jesus was a magician, not a sleight of hand manipulator but one who works on changing things by means of changes in consciousness, but I had never thought about the magic he was trying to teach. Dion Fortune and others of the Western Mystery Tradition describe magic in words like intention, focus and changing levels of consciousness but we can miss this in the teachings of Jesus because he used different words: tilling the ground; planting a seed; Faith; Kingdom of Heaven within. He never once used the word Magic but that’s what it was and his methods of achieving the Kingdom of Heaven were the same as those generally known to Adepts, those who are adept at changing levels of consciousness. We can learn about such changes in consciousness. We can learn about contacting higher planes. Those who wish can attempt to experience unity with the Divine like Teresa of Avila in her Interior Castle. In the gospels it’s all there in the words; pistis, peitho, to make things obey, move mountains, Magic! Suddenly I got it. Read the gospels with new eyes. And read not only the established Gospels but the Gnostic Gospels, Thomas, Philip etc. It’s all there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. At this point I realised why Jesus the man was also Christ the Saviour. It is this aspect of him that we work with in our Christian approach to the Mysteries. And I began to see that the Gospels aren’t just the story of a man’s life and teaching, they are also an allegory. The life of Jesus Christ was an allegory for the alchemical process of transformation, a process that we can all go through in this life. Jesus was trying to change the world by raising consciousness. So Jesus was an alchemist as well as a magician, not a practical alchemist changing physical metals into physical gold but a spiritual alchemist changing the lead of humanity into spiritual silver of the soul and gold of the spirit. The alchemist is part of the alchemy process and during the process is changed themselves. His teaching shows us the way to change ourselves. Once we have been given the gift of Faith, we too are empowered.
Christianity as we know it today has changed in many ways from the original simple teachings of Jesus. The same applies to most other religions, yet all have the same objectives and the same core of spirituality because by definition of the word religion (re-ligio meaning to re-unite) all lead to the Universal Creator by the path of faith. If many people had Faith it would change the world but it has to be individual achievement. Raised consciousness has a combined effect but is based on individual effort. Jesus, during his ministry, was teaching us how to do this. Many of you may already have made this leap of awareness but for me this difference between Faith and Belief and the objectives of Jesus’ teachings were a revelation. When we understand something we say ‘I get it!’ but the getting has to be yours alone. I can only indicate the way but I cannot take you there. Only by thinking about it, contemplating whatever it is, will you ‘get it’. This is your effort (work) in reaching up your hand, and Higher Consciousness as God will reach down and pull you up to another level, so that Faith becomes an inner knowing (Gnosis) and you can say ‘I GET IT!’ Then you will have Faith as Jesus the Christ taught it and if you work hard enough you can find your Heaven on Earth, your magical inner world where all things are possible, even union with the Divine.
– I wrote that in May 2015 and today we are asked to look at the actions of Gawain in his encounter with the Green Knight. Part of our story this weekend is based on the medieval poem Gawain and the Green Knight. There are some slight differences between the Silent Eye version and the original poem but such dramatic license, as with poetic licence is allowed. Essentially, in both, Gawain is tested. The medieval poem has two main themes, the Beheading Challenge and the Test. I think for this talk I have to try to minimise any confusion between the two versions. In the poem Gawain was offered a green silk ‘girdle’ by the Lord Bertilak’s wife. (A girdle and a garter are essentially the same, they come from the same word for encircling – to girt or gird as in our word girth). She said this girdle held magic and would protect him in any circumstances, it would save his life. Now Gawain was a deeply Christian Knight, as were all the Knights of the Round Table and Arthur and Gweneviere. We are previously given clues that Gawain might have been hedging his bets, backing both sides, because although he had an image of the Virgin Mary on the inside of his shield, he had a pentangle as his outward emblem, the five sided cross or pentacle, also known as the endless knot. This emblem can be interpreted as portraying both Christianity as the five wounds of Christ or as a pagan sigil of protection. It only appears in this one poem, in other references to his shield he has other usual heraldic creatures but the objective of this medieval poem is to test his Faith. As a Christian Knight he was supposed to shun anything with pagan connections, this included magic. He was supposed to place all his Faith in Destiny and accept his death if that was his lot. But when offered a ‘magical’ talisman he took it. However he had also made a pact with Bertilak to exchange anything he received during the day with Bertilak’s spoils from the day’s hunt. He revealed the kisses he had exchanged with Lady Bertilak but he did not reveal that he had accepted her girdle (or garter). He placed his Faith in the magical talisman and not in his Christian beliefs. This girdle was richly made with golden edgings but that was not what swayed him, it was the promise of magical protection.
During the encounter in the Green Chapel the Green Knight made as if to chop off Gawain’s head. Twice he brought down the axe and stopped before it touched his neck. On the 3rd stroke the Axe drew blood as it grazed a slight cut into Gawain’s neck but it did not remove his head. Gawain’s debt was paid by accepting the blows.
Hear the words of the Green Knight after the event as translated by Brian Stone:
For that braided belt you wear belongs to me.
I am well aware that my own wife gave it to you.
Your conduct and your kissings are completely known to me,
And the wooing of my wife – my work set it on.
I sent her to essay (try) you, and you certainly seem
To be the most perfect paladin ever to pace the earth.
As the pearl to the white pea in precious worth,
So in good faith is Gawain to other gay knights.
But here your faith* failed you, you flagged somewhat, sir.
[*In this line Tolkien translates faith as loyalty. But for me it was always a matter of faith and I was pleased as punch when I found the Brian Stone translation: And I have looked at the medieval English original and can find no word in that line that translates as loyalty].
And so we see that in the final testing, when push came to shove as we say on the borders of Lancashire and Cheshire, which is where this poem is thought to have originated, Gawain had No Faith in prayers and Christianity but he put his Faith into the old ways of Magic.
©The Patrician Lady – April 2016
 The son of a celebrated Free Church minister in Scotland, Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953) studied at Cambridge, where he gained a ‘First’ in science. He qualified as a doctor at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London and then travelled to Paris, Vienna, Berlin and finally Zurich where he became a colleague of Carl Jung. The psychological insights of Jung left a lasting impression on the young Nicoll. (Amazon)