An Overview of The Gnostic Movement

The Gnostic MovementThe Gnostic Movement was an international spiritual school active from 1999 to 2012 known for its popular free courses on modern Gnosis, written by British spiritual author Mark Pritchard who published under the name “Belzebuub.”

The Gnostic Movement’s teachings were based on the work of Colombian author and esotericist Samael Aun Weor, who in 1960 established a non-profit organization in Colombia called the Universal Christian Gnostic Movement (UCGM).

In his numerous books and lectures, Weor outlined a “doctrine of synthesis” – decrypting esoteric principles in many of the world’s religious and esoteric traditions and drawing upon his own mystical insights to describe a teaching called “Gnosis” (the Greek word for knowledge). At its core was unveiling a spiritual process of inner transformation Weor described as leading to spiritual liberation and awakening. His work was highly popular in the Spanish-speaking world.

The Gnostic Movement’s centers and groups worldwide
Locations of The Gnostic Movement’s centers and groups worldwide

The Gnostic Movement formed in Australia in 1999. It was instrumental in providing modern Gnosis to people in the Western world, and was a successful early pioneer in teaching spirituality on the internet. Its free courses, written by Belzebuub, were taken by more than 90,000 people. The Gnostic Movement began running online courses in 2000, and they were also offered in-person in its various centers and groups around the world, which were established across Australia, in Canada, the USA, UK, Greece, Cyprus and Malaysia. The courses were eight or nine weeks’ duration and structured to progressively guide people through learning and applying the exercises and principles of Gnosis in a practical, accessible way. The three main courses covered astral projection, self-knowledge and esotericism, and advanced courses were available for those who wished to take their studies further.

Intro Talk in the Bay Area
An intro talk at The Gnostic Movement’s flagship center in the Bay Area, USA

The courses and the entire Movement itself were structured to facilitate personal spiritual experience and development. The Gnostic Movement provided venues and services to learn the tools and techniques that enabled a person to receive their own direct metaphysical and spiritual experiences and carry out real inner change. It provided a supportive framework and environment to learn, practice and explore these exercises with like-minded people, as well as the opportunity to train to teach the same techniques to others for those interested. This practical experiential approach was taken to encourage and empower people to learn about spiritual truths directly, instead of relying on beliefs. The Gnostic Movement was highly successful at helping people to have metaphysical experiences: 67 per cent of participants surveyed in the astral travel and dreams course reported having an out-of-body experience during the course for instance.

Divine Spark Within You - Perth
At the Divine Spark Within You event in Perth, Australia

The Movement also ran retreats, workshops, drop in meditation sessions, lectures, social events and produced a documentary on the history of ancient Christian Gnosticism and its parallels with modern Gnosticism. The Gnostic Movement catered to people with wide ranges of interest – from those who attended casually now and then to those who wished to train to teach and volunteer – and its open structure enabled people to participate to whatever degree they wished.

The Gnostic Movement was a not-for-profit religious organization; all its services were offered without profit, and it was supported by donations and administered by volunteers.

The Teachings of Gnosis

Samael Aun Weor
Gnostic teacher Samael Aun Weor. Credit: Revixi5 CC BY-SA 3.0

The Greek word Gnosis literally means knowledge, but in spiritual contexts it usually refers to inner knowledge acquired through mystical insight or experience, rather than intellectual learnedness. Gnosis could be described as direct personal knowledge of spiritual reality – the wider reality of life extending beyond the corporeal world – requiring some metaphysical perception and preparation to grasp. It encompasses recognition of a spiritual aspect within oneself, perception of the broader spiritual dimensions of existence, and some understanding of one’s place and purpose in it. Gnosis is held to be acquired through direct personal experience rather than academic study and is said to enable a person to gradually awaken their spiritual potential, break free from darkness and ignorance and eventually reach enlightenment or liberation.

Samael Aun Weor described spiritual liberation as a process of inner transformation where a person’s consciousness gradually awakened, developed and progressively merged with higher spiritual principles before eventually reaching total enlightenment or liberation – which involved becoming an awakened being and returning to the light of the absolute, from where it is said all consciousness originated before descending into the world to learn and acquire self-awareness.

Samael Aun Weor explained that the mysteries of the spiritual path were encoded in religious teachings and mythology, yet because these references are obscure, fragmented and difficult to understand today, he sought to present a clear picture illustrating the process in a way modern people could understand and utilize. He described spiritual exercises people could use to gain insight and metaphysical experience, such as meditation and astral projection, and specified other more esoteric practices needed for fundamental change within.

In 1977 when Samael Aun Weor passed away, the role of coordinating the Universal Christian Gnostic Movement (UCGM) was given to his disciple Rabolu, who oversaw the spread of Gnosis throughout Latin America, the UK and Europe.

Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) studied Gnosis in the UK under Weor’s successor Rabolu. He began teaching Gnosis in the UCGM in 1990, founding study centers and teaching classes in many UK cities, before eventually moving to Australia in 1994 where he established a center in Sydney.

A few months before Rabolu passed away, Belzebuub founded a new organization in 1999 in Sydney called The Gnostic Movement. This organization was amalgamated with the UCGM Australia branch in 2000, and Belzebuub was elected by the members of The Gnostic Movement to coordinate it.

Toronto Astral Course Intro Talk - July 2007
An intro talk in Toronto, Canada, in July 2007

Under Belzebuub’s direction, The Gnostic Movement was dedicated to helping people understand, apply and experience the teachings of Gnosis in their own lives, and thereby gain their own spiritual knowledge, experience and inner guidance. Its services were geared towards outlining the procedure for inner change and explaining the exercises and methods to acquire Gnosis, and running activities where people could practice these with others.

Course Structure

The first course ever run in Perth - Astral Travel and Dreams
The first course ever run in the last center opened in Australia, in Perth, on Astral Travel and Dreams

The later works of Samael Aun Weor (those he recommended the UCGM to use in 1976 or wrote subsequently) were made free for download on The Gnostic Movement’s website. These explained Gnostic theology and exercises comprehensively. However, Belzebuub wanted to present the teachings of Gnosis in a way that made it easier for people unfamiliar with it to grasp and apply it.

For this purpose, Belzebuub wrote a series of practical courses to introduce Weor’s teachings in an accessible way that encouraged people to explore the subject matter by seeking firsthand spiritual experience through applied practice. The courses were eight or nine weeks duration and guided people through the teachings and techniques of Gnosis progressively and methodically, encouraging students to develop their knowledge and skills and use the various exercises Weor presented to gain personal insight and metaphysical experience. Belzebuub divided the study of Gnosis into three practical streams – astral travel and dreams, self-knowledge and esotericism. These were covered in three separate courses, to allow students to concentrate on these aspects in a more structured way that encouraged them to search and explore the subject in-depth and gain insight and spiritual experience through focused practice. Each week a new topic and exercise was explained, and students were encouraged to try the practice in their own time throughout the week to see what they could experience and discover, and the courses were arranged to help people increase their skills as the course progressed.

In the online format, Belzebuub’s weekly written course material was distributed in PDF documents that were freely downloadable, and participants could ask questions and interact with others in the course’s web forums. In the centres, a teacher explained weekly topic and exercise, conducted a guided practice, and took questions during the class, and the week’s course PDFs were made available for download after the class.

Due to rampant plagiarism and copyright infringement, after about five years Belzebuub’s course PDFs had to be taken out of circulation. The written course material was compiled into books sold at production cost, to better protect it. Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) derived no royalties from his book sales as he wanted to make his work available for publication for free. The course topics he wrote continued to be explained by teachers in course lectures; for the online format new course videos were produced for this purpose.

Astral Travel and Dreams Course
Astral Travel and Dreams course poster

Astral Travel and Dreams

The course in astral travel in dreams was the most popular offered by The Gnostic Movement. It taught techniques to help with dream recall and clarity, lucid dreaming and astral projection, and provided tips and guidance on how to use dream and astral experiences for personal spiritual guidance. 67% of people surveyed who took the course reported they had an out-of-body experience during it.

Self-Knowledge

The self-knowledge course explained how to activate and perceive life through consciousness, the spiritual, eternal part within. It outlined how to increase clarity, wisdom and inner peace by learning to observe, understand and

Self-Knowledge Course
Self-Knowledge course poster

detach from the aspects in one’s psychology that cloud and dampen the expression of consciousness and lead to suffering – such as anger, fear and compulsive emotions (inner states known as “egos” in modern Gnosticism).

Esoteric Wisdom

This explained the more esoteric aspects of Gnostic cosmology, including creation, the wheel of samsara, karma, the path to enlightenment and the techniques for inner transformation: alchemy and the disintegration of egos. This course could be taken after a person had done the previous two courses.

Other Introductory Courses

Aside from the three main courses, which were a staple of the Movement’s curriculum, there were other introductory courses offered at various times, including a course on meditation, mantras and a course on Christian Gnosticism which introduced its history, explained what it was about, and compared its similarities with modern Gnosticism. This subject matter was also explored in a three part documentary produced by The Gnostic Movement called Secret Quest, which was released in part online and fully on DVD.

Advanced Courses

Teacher's Course Edinburgh
A group of teachers and Teacher’s Course students in Edinburgh

Many repeated the courses a number of times as a lot of people found they continued to gain benefits from practicing the exercises with other people, and also enjoyed the friendly positive atmosphere at the movement’s centres or in the online course forums. However, there were advanced courses on offer for those who wished to take their studies further.

With the theological aspects of Gnosticism already explained in earlier courses, the advanced investigation course focused exclusively on honing the practices students had already been introduced to. This was the first course that had any attendance requirements – students had to be active participants in each weekly session to remain in it. Each week they were given a practice and self-knowledge objective to explore in the coming week, after sharing feedback on what they learned from the previous week’s assignment.

Those who had an interest in teaching Gnosis, and showed that they understood and were able to apply the exercises well, were invited to take part in the teacher’s training course after completing the advanced investigation course.

Other Center Activities

Bay Area Cafe
In the cafe after a course at the Bay Area center

Centers were thriving places with a range of events taking place that people could attend. In addition to courses, there were other events like drop in meditation sessions and weekend workshops. People did not need to be doing a course to attend these, although many people taking courses often choose to attend these events as well to take part in the group practices. Workshops were usually focussed on practice rather than theory, and allowed people to experience the benefits of various spiritual exercises and get a taste of what Gnosis was about without having to do a multi week course. The centers also had cafes where people could stay back for a cup of tea or coffee after a class, get a bite to eat, and chat with others. There were also fundraising events organized like movie nights and quiz nights, often accompanied by dinner, which were well attended.

Retreats

Spiritual retreats were also organised at hired venues in pleasant natural settings. Centers would sometimes hold local retreats for their attendees, however usually each region – Australia, Europe and North America – held a larger international retreat each year during the holiday period. These were open to students from all over the world and usually ran for about a week. Retreats gave people the opportunity to explore spiritual practices in a more focussed way in an uplifting setting. They included plenty of time to socialize at mealtimes in the dining hall or around the campfire at night, and meet and talk to new likeminded people from other centers and countries. Belzebuub attended a number of these retreats to give talks and guide practices; it also gave him the opportunity to meet and chat with people who had come from around the world.

USA Retreat 2008
Belzebuub guiding an awareness walk at a retreat in 2008

Being Part of The Gnostic Movement

People from all walks of life took part in The Gnostic Movement, as its open structure enabled people to participate in some way whatever their level of interest or background was. Of the more than 90,000 people who took part in The Gnostic Movement’s courses, only a small number undertook the teacher’s course and became volunteers. Most regular attendees choose to repeat the earlier courses multiple times, finding they continued to gain benefits from doing so.

The feedback from course participants was very positive overall with numerous people relaying that they helped them to gain personal insights and experience mystical phenomenon first-hand. Many people commented on how uplifting the group practices could be; for example many enjoyed pronouncing mantras, which resonated powerfully when vocalised by a group of people together indoors. However, people were even more inspired to find that they could have firsthand metaphysical experiences from the practices they learned, and experience phenomenon such as astral projection and lucid dreaming, or remember their dreams more often and more clearly, and derive spiritual guidance and insight from them. Others expressed appreciation at discovering a way to overcome emotional problems they had struggled with, and experience more inner peace and clarity, or empathy for those around them.

Group Discussion USA Retreat 2005
A group discussion on the USA Retreat in 2005

For example, 67 per cent of participants surveyed in the astral travel and dreams course, the most popular of all, reported they had an out-of-body experience while taking it. People remarked how the sensation of floating and perceiving outside their body changed their whole perspective on life, as they realised there was so much more going on than what is normally seen physically – and for many the direct realization they existed beyond their body was life-changing. Some participants reported meeting each other in the astral plane at a designated meeting point – which was usually a goal in the last week of the astral course – and they were able to discuss and confirm their experiences excitedly in the course forums. People in the self-knowledge course described overcoming major emotional problems they had struggled with, such as phobias and anxieties like fear of flying, while others said it helped them to feel more care for those around them and strengthen love in their relationships. Those who took the Esoteric Wisdom course, available after the previous two, relayed how they were able to experience states of inner peace they had not thought possible, from practicing the exercises for inner transformation.

Naturally, not everyone who participated became committed to practicing Gnosis, but nevertheless, casual attendees often took part in workshops and courses frequently even though they may not have agreed with all aspects of the teaching, simply because they enjoyed the positive environment, participating in group sessions of spiritual exercises and being part of the vibrant social scene. A friendly and respectful atmosphere was cultivated in The Gnostic Movement, and anyone could attend so long as they showed basic courtesy to others and were not disruptive or antagonistic.

Volunteers

It was the volunteers who made all events and activities possible. They maintained the centers, ran the websites and distributed flyers promoting events. Those who passed the teachers course became trainee teachers and official volunteers of the organization. Aside from helping out with various tasks, they began to guide practices or classes under the supervision of a qualified teacher. When they were ready and had gained enough experience, they were made qualified teachers.

NY Book Expo 2010
A volunteer signing copies of the Secret Quest DVD at a Book Expo in New York, 2010

Teachers who demonstrated ongoing commitment were invited to become members of the organization. In each country, it was the members who administered the organization. They had voting rights and elected from among themselves those who would take positions on the national board. They dealt with all administrative matters such as insurance and accounts, and organized retreats and other projects.

Mark Pritchard (Belzebuub) was elected to act as the international coordinator, a role in which oversaw the various organizations in each country, providing the course syllabus and coming up with new projects and initiatives. Mark Pritchard worked with members on various international projects, for instance helping to develop and plan websites that were used to promote Gnosis internationally. The members worked with teachers and trainee teachers on developing various international projects such as websites, videos and promotional materials.

Conclusion

Bay Area Retreat, 2011
A mini-retreat at Tilden Regional Park, California, USA in 2011

Close to a hundred thousand people participated in The Gnostic Movement over the decade it was active and the vast majority reported having a positive experience. Whether people attended casually, or became highly involved volunteers, the Movement helped thousands of people to gain their own mystical experiences, tap into the spiritual within, receive their own inner guidance, and learn to see and overcome inner obstacles to peace and happiness. In the online course forums, and in the centers, countless people shared positive feedback about what they had gained from taking part.

Many people also made lifelong friends, and those who volunteered also gained various interpersonal and technical skills and experience which in many cases helped to bolster their careers.

On this website, you can read or watch firsthand accounts shared by people who were directly involved, relating how The Gnostic Movement helped and benefited them.