Thunder, Perfect Mind, is the second tractate of Codex VI discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945. There are parallels with the Secret Book of John (Codex II, III & IV) and Three forms of First Thought (Codex XIII).
The Gospel of Mary is not the only Gnostic text to champion the position and wisdom of women within the Gnostic community; in Thunder, Perfect Mind, the speaker is feminine –more than likely the divine being Sophia, whose opening statement is:-
“I was sent from the power and have come to those who contemplate me and am found among those who seek me.”
The discourse is in the form of a poem full of paradoxical statements:-
“For I am the first and the last. I am the honoured and the scorned.
I am the whore and the holy. I am the wife and the virgin
I am the mother and the daughter..
I am silence that is incomprehensible and insight* whose memory is great. I am the voice whose sounds are many and the word whose appearances are many. I am the utterance of my own name.
* ‘Insight’, Epinoia, is an emanation of the divine and a heavenly aeon in the Secret Book of John.
The emphasis on the ‘I am’ is on the person, not the cosmos; on the self, and not the environment.
The use of polar opposites is an attempt to transcend the intellect through paradox. By identifying polar opposites the mind is driven in circles, until it surrenders. Manifestation of matter implies duality, and to perceive in the world implies discrimination. The nature of the speaker comprehends all things, but to appear in the world she must choose one of the two halves of all those things through which to appear. As a complete being she would be both invisible and insensible in any way, since to contain both poles of being, such as 1 and -1, would be equal to 0. This has a parallel in the way of the Tao, in which one of the main aims is to do everything by doing nothing. This idea is to achieve a balance between action and non-action, yin and yang, and by so doing one gets beyond having to struggle with the world.
The world is not actively evil; it is our incomplete perception of the world that causes the apparent evil of the world. It is this separation or discrimination that allows us to operate in a 3D world, but also enslaves us to it.
Only by seeing the larger picture of unions of all opposites can we escape this servitude to the world. What is seen outside is inside also, and vice versa.
What liberates us is knowledge or gnosis . When one realizes this is the path, one becomes a ‘hearer’ and then a ‘knower’; to despise nothing along the way, for everything is part of the whole.
The text ends optimistically:-
“For there are many sorts of seductive sins..
and fleeting pleasures that people embrace, until they become sober and rise up to their place of rest.
They will find me there,
and they will live and not die again.”
Thunder, Perfect Mind presents an educated, powerful woman to the reader, an early instance of complete female empowerment, without apology or compromise.
Religious scholar Elaine Pagels says works like Thunder, Perfect Mind reflect the fact that in gnostic communities women were considered equal to men; some were revered as prophets; others acted as teachers, travelling evangelists, healers, priests, even bishops.
Academics believe it was written in Egypt, possibly Alexandria, at the end of the 2nd century.
Next blog: Pistis Sophia – the most significant text discovered before the Nag Hammadi Library in the 18th century, with Mary Magdalene playing a prominent role.
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