Gnosticism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Gnosticism (from Greek gnosis, knowledge) refers to a diverse, religious movement consisting of various belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect spirit, the demiurge, who is frequently identified with the Abrahamic God. The demiurge, who is often depicted as an embodiment of evil, at other times as simply imperfect and as benevolent as its inadequacy allows, exists alongside another remote and unknowable supreme being that embodies good. In order to free oneself from the inferior material world, one needs gnosis, or esoteric spiritual knowledge available only to a learned elite. Jesus of Nazareth is identified by some (though not all) Gnostic sects as an embodiment of the supreme being who became incarnate to bring gnosis to the Earth.

Gnosticism was popular in the Mediterranean and middle eastern regions in the first centuries CE, but it was suppressed as a dualistic heresy in areas controlled by the Roman Empire when Christianity became its official religion in the fourth century. Conversion to Islam greatly reduced the remaining number of Gnostics throughout the middle ages, though a few isolated communities continue to exist to the present. 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.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Gnosticism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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