"The demiurge may be depicted as an embodiment of evil, or in other instances as merely imperfect and benevolent as its inadequacy permits". Along with the demiurge exists a good supreme being, however remote and distant. In order to free oneself from the material world, one must find gnosis or "spiritual knowledge available to all through direct experience or knowledge".
Some sects of Gnostics believe Jesus of Nazareth was sent to earth to bring gnosis, some believe he was sent to teach gnosis, and still others believe that he was just a man. In the first centuries before Christ, Gnosticism was popular in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean areas. It was, however, suppressed in the fourth century by the Roman Empire. In the middle ages, many converted to Islam. "Gnostic ideas became influential in the philosophies of various esoteric mystical movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries in Europe and North America, including some that explicitly identify themselves as revivals or even continuations of earlier gnostic groups".
Unlike Judaism, Christianity, and a lot of Pagan systems, the soul is not held by a Supreme Power. Gnosticism places, "the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge. Gnostics were "people who knew", and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know (Arendzen, 2007)."
The Catholic Encyclopedia offers that "A more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism would be":
A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheistic-idealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.
There are essentially two great components that comprise the basis of Gnostic thought. The first is astrology. Astrology involved the power and influence of certain planetary bodies or symbols. "The greatness of the Seven -- the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn -- the sacred Hebdomad, symbolized for millenniums by the staged towers of Babylonia, remained undiminished. They ceased, indeed, to be worshipped as deities, but they remained archontes and dynameis, rules and powers whose almost irresistible force was dreaded by man. Practically, they were changed from gods to devas, or evil spirits" (Arendzen, 2007). The second major component is magic, or "the power ex opere operato of weird names, sounds, gestures, and actions, as also the mixture of elements to produce effects totally disproportionate to the cause" (Arendzen, 2007).
Various doctrines to Gnostic theories exist. These included Cosmogony, Sophia-Myth, Soteriology, Eschatology, Doctrine of the Primeval Man, and the Barbelo. Various rites also exist, including Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, the