Gnosticism and Neo-Gnosticism
The basic worldview of the Western Occult Tradition is Gnostic, or more precisely Neo-Gnostic. Thus an understanding of this diverse system of metaphysics is indispensible in the understanding of Magick. Gnosticism has a mysterious origin and a multitude of interpretations and schools this entry attempts to clarify this.
It is thought that there is are at least three and probably more foundational currents to Gnosticism.
The central current of Western Gnosticism (covering Asia Minor, the Eastern Mediterranean and Northern Egypt, chiefly Alexandria) is thought to be Orphism. This was a Pagan Mystery School that grew out of the fusion of the Dionysian and Eleusinian Mysteries with Greek Philosophy (particularly the Pythagorean and Heraclitean Schools). It revered Dionysos, Persephone and Apollo, as well as Orpheus as their ambivalent intermediator. It thought that both Heaven (Uranus) and Earth (Gaia) had emerged from Night (Nyx) and had to be seperated by Chronus, a deity of agriculture and human cycles and culture, giving birth to dualism the Titans, that were defeated by Zeus and the Olympians creating the ordered world (in some versions of the myth the Solar Apollo is the chief agent of Zeus in maintaining the Harmony of this Order). These were in turn to be overthrown by Dionysos, son of Zeus and Persephone. The cult believed in the Divinity of Mankind, Reincarnation and escape from the Wheel of Rebirth, through both Catharsis and Asceticism. With increasing emphasis on the latter, Soma Sema, 'the Body is a Tomb' being their motto.
The second current in Western Gnosticism being the Alexandrian systematisation of the Egyptian Mysteries, with a special emphasis on the Hermopolitean School of Thoth (and formely Hathor-Nuit) as well as the primal Ogdoad they emerged from (whose imbalence also produces their offspring Ra-Herakty and the Gods). Also important was the Alexandrian incorporation of Judeo-Christian imagery into this scheme. The Serpent being the unifying principle present in both myths.
The central current of the Eastern or Syrian School is thought to be Syrian Manicheanism, or the moral dualism of Good and Evil, merged with various local cults. There is also an element of Buddhism and Hindu Tantra found within the Eastern School.
Gnosticism emerges where these currents overlap in an historical moment of dispair, adopting a Judaeo-Christian framework, the only theology incorporating the possibility of radical change in Mankind and the World.
An abridged and annotated version of the well researched Wikepedia account of Gnosticism can be found here.
In brief, Gnosticism generally regarded the World as imperfect, if not outright evil, and believed it ruled by a Tyrannical Demiurge and his Archons. In contrast their existed a higher transcendental realm ruled by a perfect, but ineffable, Godhead and his Aeons. The most common idea was to achieve liberation from the World and attempt Transcendence. An intermediary between the two worlds, Sophia, Christ or Seth, was thought to assist this process. Though there were many variations on this theme. The basic idea being of personal revelation of 'spiritual truth' via direct experience of it. Though only a few tended to achieve this and became teachers, setting up various Schools of Thought. These ranged from authoritarian, elite Sethians, through Church minded, liberal Valentinians, to anarchic communitarians such as the Ophites and Cainites.