A Gnostic Take on Raised By Wolves

(Spoiler alert: do not read if you’ve not watched or if you intend to)

Surveying the impact of recently exhumed and rediscovered traditions and creeds upon contemporary art.

In the 1970’s, the film director Sir Ridley Scott had the opportunity to work with the visionary painter H.R. Giger on the film Alien.

Giger’s work pioneered depictions of hidden realms of consciousness, particularly the domain termed the perinatal (‘around birth’). H.R Giger’s imagery combines preoccupations with eroticism, reproduction, the occult, and  the technological, leading to a fascinating and disturbing melange of imagery which was key to creating the groundbreaking aesthetic and atmosphere of the film Alien. As time goes by, the aesthetic of Alien does not date- rather it becomes more prescient to the times we have entered. The current  Zeitgeist counter-poses a future-obsessed transhumanism with a spiritual ‘new age’ based upon fragments and facets of ancient religions.  

Scott’s encounter with Giger appears to have been career defining. Scott went on to explore many of the themes laid out explicitly in Giger’s work through number of films. Sir Ridley Scott also increasingly to reflected upon themes present in gnostic mythology, with Scott even directing an online short film called Thunder : Perfect Mind. This is the name of one of the gnostic Scriptures translated from a collection of scrolls found in a place called Nag Hammadi in the Egyptian desert in the 1940s, by a pair of treasure-seeking brothers.

The scrolls were later sold to an antique dealer in Cairo, where they decayed in the antique dealers fridge, until they were auctioned off to the Carl Jung Institute where a lengthy process of translation began. Their perculation into culture began in the late 1960’s. 

These scriptures are of great significance  to not only the study of religion and ancient culture, but also spirituality and art, because in the gnostic scriptures, we experience a kaleidoscope of familiar symbols in unfamiliar conjunctions. 

So, many of the narratives that we find depicted in the Nag Hammadi scrolls elude to very familiar features of Abrahamic religions. A creator God, a garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, tree of life, a serpent, descendants of Eve, the flood, and other hallmarks of biblical imagery. Yet in the Gnostic corpus, this familiar imagery is deployed symbolically for different imputations.

During the Renaissance, the translation of the Corpus Hermeticum, Plato and so on, caused a tremendous impact upon the Christian world. Suddenly it was revealed to Christendom that a different kind of mythological system of deep antiquity and of complexity existed. And these translations impacted the arts of people like Botticelli and Leonardo Da Vinci hugely.

One may wonder:  when these ancient caches of civilisations are exhumed and their egregores reanimate, what impact such as the Nag Hammadi Scrolls may have upon our time through the arts. 

These impacts do not occur immediately. They take time to feed through from the wizard towers of Carl Jung and his translators, to scholars of religion and history, into the field of the esoteric arts, then to creators of popular culture, who then maybe both use and are used by these powerful myths, that then percolate into popular culture.

Some salient examples of this would be the science fiction works of Philip K Dick, who uses gnostic imagery explicitly enough to assume that he had great familiarity with material. Philip K Dick, non-coincidentally being the author of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, whom Ridley Scott went on to adapt for cinema as ‘Blade Runner’

Bladerunner obviously had a huge impact upon the Wachowski’s with The Matrix, the original film being rife with gnostic metaphors (examples will be shortly given). Along with these noticeable examples, we may bundle in all the other kind of reality-questioning, through-the-looking-glass type science fiction, especially when there is involved an apocalyptic unveiling of reality. showing the protagonist that their familiar situation is infact a kind of trap – a kind of sleep that has become increasingly uncomfortable or exploitative. Gnosis is partly identified by its description of the forces of fate and control upon the human spirit as heierarchies of archons (rulers) or planetary demons. When the unfortunate situation is revealed through gnosis (knowing) light, then a hero’s journey is commenced in order to attain liberation – toward Jung’s state of ‘Abraxas‘ – the return to the Pleroma – the heavenly regions of unity, plenitude.

In gnostic scriptures, the figure of a goddess, Sophia, is depicted as having descended from the pleroma. Whether a victim or protagonist, depends on the specific gnostic tradition since gnosis is not a monolithic or singular creed but rather a connected cultural rhizome of visionary states and symbols.  

Back to this figure of Sophia. She’s often represents as a daughter of the Pleroma- she may be a poetically anthropomophisized abstract metaphysical principle, or an actual personable being, archangelic creation of God.

Sophia Is sometimes represented having been emanated as half of a divine pairing, with Christos being her counterpart. Sometimes poetically described as waking up in the arms of her twin or beloved, and coming to being and naming each other in the mutual aspect of first witnessing. As  Luis Borges said, all that, it takes to create a labyrinth is two mirrors facing each other.

From here accounts vary, but for the expediency of this essay, the Sophia figure gets seduced, perhaps, or else curiosity drives her to leave her heavenly home or heavenly spouse and venture to the edge of the known and to peer over… and fall. And this situation of falling into the outer darkness begets monsters. 

It is sometimes described by some modern commentaries that it is as if her supercharged pleromic potency interacts with another kind of material, a dark, karmically loaded material, which automatically gave rise to the emergence and solidification (hypostasis) of the ‘archons’ – the rulers. 

This description of a fallen goddess and the accidental begetting of a system of rules sets most gnosticism apart from many mythic systems, although it has some echoes in both Buddhism and Christianity. That this world is a little far from our true home,  that we are as souls a little bit estranged, because we’re subject to the influence of Samsara or in Christianity the ‘prince of this world’. 

In Gnosticism the creator of earth and the god of most monotheistic systems is a blind, jealous, proud and narcissistic demiurge, the king of the archons, a leonine Serpent known as Yaldabaoth. This serpent was produced in the interaction between the goddess and dark matter, and it believes itself to be the summit of creation. It is a god that jealously smites with plagues and floods the little humans under its dominion. 

Meanwhile, the power of Sophia wisdom is entrapped within the systems of archons and sometimes depicted as being prostituted by these powers or else is in a situation of self-forgetting.  Like Neo in The Matrix, the Sophianic soul is wandering around in a simulation, but that Sophianic soul, whilst under thrall of illusion, is yet more powerful than the simulation itself! This indwelling secret power, higher than the archons that keep it in bondage to date, is a metaphor for the gnostic soul –  every human, every anthropos retains a spark of the Pleroma, the heavenly home, even though it is is under the duress of the archons.

It should be probably mentioned here that Gnosticism was not dependent entirely upon the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library to reappear in civilisation. Whilst the Nag Hammadi contributed deeply to the understanding of gnostic thought and added a vast body of primary material, strains of its imagery and themes have appeared and reappeared throughout western culture across the centuries via the writings of Valentinius and the heresiologist Irineus. This made gnostic themes or memes crop up in various places, within the works of William Blake, and in the ideas of ancient malevolent gods sleeping yet still living in vast and dizzying abyss of primal time, that was a hallmark of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, early fantasy and science fiction authors who’s influence has rippled through twentieth century culture.

This brings us to the work Raised by Wolves, produced by Ridley Scott and written by Aaron Guzikowski. I will assume some familiarity with the show. If not, one may wish to watch the show before continuing. 

Raised by Wolves represents an exciting and visionary science fiction riff upon the Gnostic Mythos. It is the most explicitly gnostic work of cinematic fiction since The Matrix. Much kudos has to be given to the actors, the sound designers, and the visual designers and artists who appear to have relished the richness of their mythological source material, and where every frame and scene seems to be treated with extreme attention to detail. The perinatal themes that it prods and probes may well be triggering and disturbing for many people, as is the use of uncomfortable textures that seem to be willingly attempting to trigger triptophobia (a fear of honeycomb type lattices and hollows).

In RBW we can see a very strongly polarised, religious conflict, depicted by the war between the Mithraics (solar monotheists) and atheists. At first it appears the Mithraics are particularly deluded. Later, it turns out that both the atheists and the mithraics are both under the thrall of artificial or non-biological  intelligences.  These beings, like gods, rule over and control through systems of belief. 

The atheists say they believe in the perfection and potential of the human being but have essentially handed over the reins to an a.i to manage them. The Mithraics believe in a holy solar deity who can speak through visions and prayer. Yet both camps at the end of the day seemed to be controlled by external inhuman forces.

There’s also some yin in yang in that the so-called necromancers (artificial cyborg beings that are very much like flying angels of death) have been brought about, not by technocratic atheists but recreated from the formulae of ancient mithraic texts. As is mentioned in some exposition in season 1, the necromancers have been composed without any real understanding of the underlying logic behind how they function.

The most senior of the Mithraic engineers  involved in putting together necromancers has defected to the atheist cause, and wishes to reform his creation, a captured necromancer, into a more maternal being that can protect and raise humanity from infancy.

Yet this engineer is also responsible for a governance system that rules like a synthetic king over the atheists, self-organizing, the entire atheist population.

Both the Mithraic and atheists have reduced the earth to wasteland, and must travel to a new world, Kepler, in order to repopulate and begin again. 

The series depicts who shall control this new world and the threats they find there. The world they’ve landed on is a place where much of the conflict has happened before long ago.  It emerges that humans came from this planet originally with their mithraic texts. The atheists and mithraic are doomed to repeat the cycle again. The underlying reason for the continual conflict – the manipulation of humans by archons – hasn’t changed by arriving in Kepler.

The very heart of Kepler appears sentient, an ancient Lovecraftian A.I archon. In a striking sci-fi transfiguration of the myth of the fall of Sophia, the archon of Kepler tricks the maternal necromancer, Mother, into begetting a monsterous serpent that the remaining humans of Kepler will now need to deal with. The ‘voice of Sol’ (the a.i planet core of Kepler) wishes to  devolve or distort the human population to it’s favoured archetype, which seems to be that of serpents. 

It is ambiguous whether the figure of Mother is a Sophianic saviour redeemer or if she herself constitutes a kind of archon upon humanity. She has shown herself to be willing to kill thousands of humans. Her relationship to the serpent she begot was at first antagonistic but she develops maternal instincts for her monsterous offspring. It is the shows willingness to play with ambiguity that makes the unfolding of events all the more intriguing than a simple good vs evil narrative. The narrative appears to be more centred around knowledge vs ignorance, freedom vs control, faith vs doubt – gnostic themes.

This show will resonate with people on exoteric layers through its play upon Bible imagery, Lovecraftian vibes, and its treatment of the contemporary schisms between tradition and transhumanism-  yet it’s genes are Gnostic. It represents an unofficial heir to a psychological and cultural process plumbed deeply through Alien, and represents a high watermark for the ingress of Gnostic themes and symbols into popular culture; as a ‘mission of art’ a process that is still young and in the process of becoming.



This great piece of mythogenic art has been stopped in its tracks by a lilliputian studio decision. Follow https://twitter.com/saveRBWofficial to keep up to date with the initiative to keep this great art alive and bring it to the attention of more people, hopefully for its future renewal!

Daniel Mirante is a painter, historian, scholar, teacher and writer.

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