“I grew up on Star Trek. I believe in the final frontier.”- Barack Obama
ABSTRACT: As Star Trek makes its grand re-entry into the forefront of pop culture this year, it's a good time to take a look at the Gnostic themes in the franchise's long history, in particular the astro-Gnostic themes. It seems clear that this meme was hard-wired into the concept from the very beginning, and I'm certainly not the first to say so.
THE CAGE, or THE MENAGERIE, parts I and II
The show's unaired pilot, “The Cage,” is Gnostic to the bone. The Enterprise (NCC-1701) finds itself orbiting Talos IV, a planet run as a zoo-slash-laboratory by trio of androgynous aliens. The Talosians are telepaths, masters of illusion who use their powers to create alternate realities in order to observe the habits and rituals of primitive species like man (this theme would later be recycled for Dark City and in The Matrix films)
The Gnosticism in "The Cage" is decidely of the Caprocratian variety. The plot revolves around the Talosians' attempts to "interest" Captain Christopher Pike in Vina, a survivor of a downed spaceship called the Columbia played by the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Susan Oliver. Given that Gene Roddenberry was described by former associates as being completely sex-obsessed, we can safely assume that Pike's name is implicitly phallic and that "Vina" is short for "Vagina."
RETURN OF THE ARCHONS (spoilers galore)
Even more explicit Gnostic themes were also tackled in one of Roddenberry’s earliest Star Trek stories. “Return of the Archons” is essentially a Space Age update of the ancient Gnostic text, Hypostasis of the Archons. In this episode, the U.S.S. Enterprise is investigating the situation on Beta III, where the Federation ship the U.S.S. Archon disappeared over 100 years before.
The crew discover that Beta III is a prison planet inhabited by a cult-like population who refer to themselves as "The Body." Strangely, the people of Beta III seem to live in a world remarkably like late-19th Century America. Somewhere in the west, to be exact.
This puts us in the middle of the "Third Great Awakening," which saw the rise of Protestant sects such as the Pentecostals and the Jehovah's Witnesses. As with these sects, The Body preach and practice blissful submission to a totalizing paternal and corporate authority. In this case, the supreme being is called Landru, who uses hooded monks called the "Lawgivers" as his secret police. From the Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha:
The Body of Landru is the name inhabitants of Beta III used to describe all those under the control of Landru. Six thousand years ago, the original Landru built and programmed a mechanical replacement to carry on his work. This machine managed the affairs of the entire planetary population....Landru allows the Body a regular festival called “the Red Hour,” in which they erupt into mayhem and violence (rape seems to be the most popular activity for the menfolk), not unlike the “Two Minute Hate” in George Orwell’s 1984. Or any given Calvinist precinct in the Old West on a Saturday night, for that matter. Interesting how "Return of the Archons" ties all of these various historical strands together.
...to meet Landru's goals, his machine was given the ability to control the attitude and conduct of individuals, through a process called absorption. Once absorbed, a living being's individuality and free will were largely subordinated to the instructions and ideas supplied telepathically by Landru.
PURE, UNADULTERATED GNOSTIC THEOLOGY
Given the fact that this story began 6000 years ago, it's safe to assume that Landru and the Lawgivers are stand-ins for the Gnostic demiurge (meaning "creator of the people"), Yaldaboath and the Archons, the earthly rulers of Gnostic theology.
First, Landru as Yaldaboath:
Their chief is blind; because of his power and his ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his power, "It is I who am God; there is none apart from me." When he said this, he sinned against the entirety. And this speech got up to incorruptibility; then there was a voice that came forth from incorruptibility, saying, "You are mistaken, Samael" - which is, "god of the blind."And the Lawgivers as Yaldaboath's enforcers have their parallel in Gnostic scripture:
Hypostasis of the Archons
"This is the first archon who took a great power from his mother. And he removed himself from her and moved away from the places in which he was born. He became strong and created for himself other aeons with a flame of luminous fire which (still) exists now. And he joined with his arrogance which is in him and begot authorities for himself.As it happens, Landru neglected to program his computer with the gift of human wisdom (or perhaps, the gift of “Gnosis”) so it became a tyrannical force, ruling not by the spirit, but by a literalistic reading of Landru’s commands. Kirk shows Landru the error of its ways (saying "the fault is yours") and realizing it has harmed its subjects, Landru self-destructs. This closely parallels the fate of Yaldaboath in Gnostic theology.
And Zoe (Life), the daughter of Pistis Sophia, cried out and said to him, "You are mistaken, Sakla!" - for which the alternative name is Yaltabaoth. She breathed into his face, and her breath became a fiery angel for her; and that angel bound Yaldabaoth and cast him down into Tartaros below the abyss.Spock notes that the Body now has no guidance - in other words, they are now blind.
Hypostasis of the Archons
Pretty heady stuff for TV. For a guy who ran around claiming to be a rationalist and an atheist, Roddenberry certainly toyed with some pretty heavy esoteric concepts (and kept some pretty strange company, as well). Moreover, the Nag Hammadi texts weren't widely circulated until well after Roddenberry wrote the early Trek scripts, so I'm a bit puzzled as to where he would accessed them, if in fact he'd done so.
ANCIENT ARCHON THEORY
I've been thinking a lot about Gnosticism and the myth of the Archons and how it may tie into Ancient Astronaut Theory. I'm not alone in that either. Writer John Lash also sees a connection the Archons with ETs, though he seems to reverse my more materialist equation:
The Nag Hammadi material contains reports of visionary experiences of the initiates, including first-hand encounters with inorganic beings called Archons. Gnostic teaching explains that these entities arose in the early stage of formation of the solar system, before the Earth was formed...You have to admit, Lash's Archon theory certainly explains a lot, especially when you're looking at Synchromysticism and conspiracy theory. The more you look into all of it, the less you are able to assign human agency to it- or at least the familiar definition of human. I just can't shake the feeling that all of the big boys and fat cats are no less puppets than you or I, they just have better retirement plans.
Interestingly, this Gnostic insight accords closely with the view of Jacques Vallee, who maintains that ET/cyborgs probably belong to the local planetary realm. Vallee also proposes that the ET/UFO enigma is a “spiritual control system,” a phenomenon that “behaves like a conditioning process.” (Messengers of Deception). This is exactly what Gnostics said about the Archons: they can affect our minds by subliminal conditioning techniques.
And how funny that Star Trek, with its vision of an interplanetary Masonic empire, should reemerge just as the hypercapitalist binge of the past 25 years is entering its teeth-grinding stage. Or emerge as a young Star Trek fan takes the highest office in the land, thanks in large part to a scandal involving a Star Trek superstar....
It all starts to make such terrible sense, if you're willing to make a leap or two.