Intent: Return to the Light
The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, always on a Thursday. The Feast celebrates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, which is described in the Acts of the Apostles 1:6-11:
"When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
The Gnostic book Pistis Sophia gives another description of the Ascension:
“So it was that when the Light-Power came down on Jesus it gradually surrounded him altogether. Then Jesus ascended on high, shining most exceedingly with an unmeasured light; and the disciples were gazing after him, not one of them speaking until he went up to heaven, but they were all in great silence. When Jesus went up to heaven, after three hours, all the powers of the heavens trembled, and the whole earth with those who dwell thereon shook until the ninth hour of the next day. Then were all the powers of the height singing hymns to the Inmost of the Inmosts so that the whole world heard their ceaseless voices. But the disciples sat close together, being afraid. Then the heavens opened, and they saw Jesus coming down, shining most exceedingly, for he shone more than at the time he had gone up to the Heavens, so that no man of earth can speak of the light that was on him.”
Stories of Ascension to the heavens were common in the ancient world and represented the means by which a great prophet or exceptionally righteous person could become immortal or deified. Among the Jews, Enoch, Ezra, Baruch, Levi, Elijah, Moses, and the children of Job were all said to have ascended. Also, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Adonis, Hercules, Romulus, and even the emperor Augustus were said to have ascended to Heaven. One could regard stories of resurrection and ascension as representing the universal solar myth, depicted as the journey of a mythological hero through phases of separation, transformation (initiation), and return, mirroring the cycle of birth-growth-decline-death-rebirth that is present throughout nature. In this sense, the lesson of the solar myth is the Law of Nature, which suggests immortality.
Beyond this mere symbolic interpretation, let us consider more closely the implications of ascension in the ancient world. In writes Jesus the Magician(1978), Morton Smith writes:
“Of the miracles that followed Jesus’ death, his post-mortem appearances to his followers, making himself unrecognizable or invisible, going through locked doors, empowering his followers to handle serpents and drink poison without being harmed, and breathing into them the holy spirit… Ascent into the heavens is particularly important since it was a major concern of the time – Apollonius is made to declare it the true test of deification (the goal of magic) and we find it in the magical papyri as the means of immortalization…
“It was also the claim of the Jewish magician who put together The Book of Secrets. Listing in his preface the things to be learned from his book he put first, how to do miracles, second, general wisdom, and third:
" 'To know what is necessary for ascent to the heavens; to travel through all that is in the seven heavens, to behold all the signs of the zodiac, and . . . sun . . . moon and (stars); to learn the names of the [angelic] guards of each firmament and their work and how they manage everything, and what are the names of their servants, and what libations are to be made to them, and what is the time [in which each of them] will consent to do whatever is asked by anyone who approaches them in purity.' "
Whether the Ascension of Christ is regarded as a symbolic allegory, or as an actual event of a magical nature, as Gnostics we must be careful not to get caught up in debate over the historicity of these events. The Gnostic is concerned with the inner Christ, the Divine spark, which is trapped within the prisons of the body and the cosmos, and is completely alien to this world. To assist us in drawing closer to the Divine and innermost self, let us consider these words taken from the Chaldean Oracles:
"Let the immortal depths of the soul be opened, and open all thy eyes at once to the Above, for if the mortal draw near to the fire he shall have light from God. Thou shouldst speed to the light and to the rays of the Father. And when thou beholdest the most holy fire, flashing formless with dancing radiance through the depths of all the worlds, then listen to the voice of fire. Believe thyself to be out of body and so thou art; for divine things are not accessible to mortals who fix their minds on body; it is for those who strip themselves naked, who speed aloft to the height."
- The Most Reverend John Mongiovi (Tau Apollonius), Ep.Gn.