Reincarnation in Gnosticism, Let the Gnostics Be Gnostic, by James Bean

Reincarnation in Gnosticism (According to Gnostics)

Reincarnation in Pistis Sophia:

Of the incarnation of John the Baptizer… That John was Elias in a former birth: “And when I knew that ye had not understood that I had discoursed with you concerning the soul of Elias which is bound into John the Baptizer, I answered you in the discourse in openness face to face: ‘If ye like to accept John the Baptizer: he is Elias, of whom I have said that he will come.’”

Reincarnation in the Secret Book of John (Apocryphon of John):

“When they come forth from the body, such a soul is given over to the powers created by the rulers, bound in chains, and cast into prison again. Around and around it goes until it manages to become free from forgetfulness through knowledge. And so, eventually, it becomes perfect and is saved.’”

Reincarnation in the Book of Thomas the Contender:

“In it the Saviour tells his disciple Thomas that after death those who were once believers but have remained attached to things of ‘transitory beauty’ will be consumed ‘in their concern about life’ and ‘will be brought back to the visible realm.’[1] At the end of the Book of Thomas, Jesus says: ‘Watch and pray that you may not be born in the flesh, but that you may leave the bitter bondage of this life.’[2] In other words, pray that you are not reborn on earth but that you return to higher realms.”

[1] Book of Thomas 4:7, 18, 17, in Marvin W. Meyer, trans., The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels (1984; reprint, New York: Random house, Vintage Books, 1986), pp. 44, 45
[2] Book of Thomas 9:5, in Meyer, The Secret Teachings of Jesus, p. 50

— See, “Christian Reincarnation”, and it includes Gnostic sources on reincarnation:

Reincarnation According to Basilides of Alexandria:

“Men suffer from their deeds in former lives”.

Note: Though the classic Gnostics of antiquity believed that reincarnation was a reality (like Pythagoreanism, Platonism, and Kabbalah), but their goal was to be liberated from it and return back the true spiritual realm (Pleroma, Fullness).

Pistis Sophia, that same Gnostic text describing the fall of Sophia, is expounding upon an already established understanding that was articulated in the New Testament about John the Baptist being Elijah, Matthew 11:14. Of course John is described as having exited the womb same as everybody else …in other words, an example of re-incarnation (as opposed to resurrection or beaming down from above). As for Thomas the Spiritual Athlete and The Apocryphon of John, these are straight out of the Nag Hammadi Library. The Secret Book of John is considered to be one of greatest of Gnostic texts with multiple copies of it being discovered, an indication of popularity and wide usage, and most definitely essential reading for those curious about the real gnostics of antiquity. The Apocryphon of John includes reincarnation. That’s not surprising really given the obvious influences upon gnosticism such as Platonism and especially the teachings of Pythagoras (who believed in reincarnation).

My approach with this topic is coming from a different place and a different time. Mystics may have a sense of their own past lives as something real. Others have beliefs absent any perception, inner revelation or insight. Countless are the belief systems. Reincarnation is not my passion. After all, the goal of Gnosticism and the Enlightened is to not remain on the Wheel of Transmigration anyway. The goal is to NOT do it, not reincarnate. Empirically objectively proving reincarnation scientifically, or the existence of the soul for that matter, is still in its infancy however. I have high hopes for both, but it may be a long wait. One might have to… wait for it… *reincarnate* a few more times before that ‘quantum spirit-scope’ gets invented and someone can start taking measurements. My take is simply to see clearly something far less subtle than the activities of souls in other realms or the beyond. It is to let the gnostics be gnostic, treating them equally like any other world religion and understand just what exactly the original spiritual movements labeled “Gnostic” actually taught based on what they themselves have to say about that, and not what other esoteric groups coming into being many centuries or millennia later assume they taught cooking in their own particular theological and cultural cauldron of biases in Europe or the US.

The Saga of the Gnostics

Athanasius forbids the reading of their scriptures.
Constantine and his allies attempt to eliminate them from the planet.
Gleeful bishops in Egypt engaged in Gnostic cleansing driving gnostics out of villages.
Irenaeus slanders them for centuries to come, kicking at the dust of their bones.
Most forget about them, which is quite poetic in this world of forgetfulness.
Others usurp, impersonate, and redefine what they call gnostic, the ultimate indignity.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Samael Weor published an alleged gnostic cookbook with meat recipes in it!
(The various gnostic groups of antiquity were vegetarians.)

“…And with this sword so-called ‘heresy’ was painfully cut from the Christian body. Gnosticism, which had perhaps already passed its prime, was eradicated, its remaining teachers murdered or driven into exile, and its sacred books destroyed. All that remained for scholars seeking to understand Gnosticism in later centuries were the denunciations and fragments preserved in the patristic heresiologies — or so it seem, until until a day in 1945…” (James M. Robinson, The Nag Hammadi Library in English)

“Gnostic” is Such an Abused Word — Let the Gnostics Define Their Own Beliefs

So, as I view the saga of the gnostics, the treatment of the true classic gnostics of antiquity, the only solution is to let the gnostics be gnostic, truly hear their voice embedded in the surviving texts that come directly from them, and allow them to speak for themselves, define their own beliefs, diet, and spiritual practices. Then others may benefit from their wisdom, and in that sense Gnosticism as a spiritual path can potentially reincarnate into the world again, or far more likely, help some to recognize those who already seem to be following something equivalent to a Living Gnosis Now in the modern age.



This Living School of Spirituality called Sant Mat is also known as: The Way of the Saints and Poet-Mystics, Radhasoami, and, The Path of the Masters. The meditation practice is Surat Shabd Yoga: "Union (Yoga) of the Soul (Surat) with the Inner Light and Sound of God (Shabd).”

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This is a Living School of Spirituality: Sant Mat & Radhasoami: Meditation on the Inner Light & Sound of God: