Bob Dylan And Christian Gnosticism
by Larry Fyffe
Gnosticism seeks to understand the purpose of mankind’s existence through the study of magic, alchemy, mythology, and astrology: ie, according to some practitioners, to create an awareness of the Oneness of the Universe, physical intercourse between the two sexes is a method of connecting the individual body to the spirituality that exists within the mind, and in the external world of nature. Another method is to magically mix, down in the basement, musical medicine with metaphorical lyrics..
Like an injured wolf unable to chase down a deer or a raven unable to land, most Earth-bound human beings are incapable of comprehending the future of the Universe that has been mapped out by the mysterious Spirit. Encased in a physical body, mankind, he got no wings – a Gnostic view that remains in segments of the Judeo-Christian Bible:
But it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard
Neither have entered into the heart of man
The things which God hath prepared
For them that that love him.
(Corinthians I, 2:9)
According to the Christian form of Gnosticism, Jesus cannot be physically injured because he is an emanation from that Spirit, symbolized by the Morning Star and the Sun. Individual humans can kindle the spiritual spark that’s lies dormant within their dark hearts by getting in touch with Jesus; they are ‘reborn’ when the hidden meanings within the parables spoken by Jesus dawn upon them:
Night after night, day after day
They strip your useless hopes away
The more I take, the more I give
The more I die, the more I live
(Bob Dylan: Pay In Blood)
In short, for human beings to have an awareness of light, there must be darkness also:
And Jesus said, ‘Who ever finds the interpretation
Of these sayings, will not experience death’
(The Gospel Of Thomas 1)
The High Priests of orthodox religion do not like those who fear not death.
Thinkers with a anti-establishment bent, like Saint Paul, Emanual Swedenborg, poet William Blake, Joseph Smith, and singer/songwriter Bob Dylan lay claim to at least one epithany or spiritual vision of Christ.
Orthodox Christian churches have omitted most Gnostic writings from their canon. Specifically omitted are the writings that through parables indicate that all earthly humans, including the female of the species, to one extent or another, be fragmented emanations from the One Spirit of Light:
Jesus said, ‘Recognize what is in your sight
And that which is hidden will become plain to you
For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest’
(The Gospel Of Thomas 5)
At times, but not all the time, Bob Dylan writes male-oriented parables that suggest the ‘other’ within himself, and without, has less potential for a spiritual awakening – the Moon-guided female:
Stay, lady stay, stay with your man for awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you?
(Bob Dylan: Lay, Lady, Lay)
Mary Magdalene is a Gnostic Christian symbol of a ‘fallen’ spirit that gets redeemed, gets in touch with the Spiritual Oneness of the Universe, through her role as a reflector of the male Sun.
Speaking to disciples:
Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her
In order to make her male so that she too
May become a living spirit resembling you males
For every woman who will make herself male
Will enter the kingdom of heaven’
(The Gospel Of Thomas 114)
Birds too, like the dark raven and the white swan, are Gnostic symbols of man’s attempt to free his imagination from the confines of what political and social authorites in modern society consider to be the rational right way to live:
Let the bird sing, let the bird fly
One day the man in the moon went home
And the river went dry
(Bob Dylan: Under The Red Sky)
Bringing it all back home to Bob Dylan’s namesake, a Gnostic-influenced poet:
Children of darkness got no wings
This we know, we got no wings
Stay in a circle chalked upon the floor
Waiting all vainly this we know
(Dylan Thomas: Children Of Darkness)
According to Christian Gnostics, such is the paradox, the enigma, the mystery of human existence:
Jesus said, ‘If the flesh came into being because of the spirit
It is a wonder
But if the spirit came into being because of the body
It is a wonder of wonders’
(The Gospel Of Thomas 29)
What else is on the site
1: Over 450 reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order at the foot of the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken all the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also recently started to produce overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here. A second index lists the articles under the poets and poetic themes cited – you can find that here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews.