Thunder, Perfect Mind

How did all these people get into my room?

Tony Iannotti

The text called Thunder, Perfect Mind is a composite document, composed of three distinct types of writing. These types of writing can be compared to the Isis aretalogies, Hebrew wisdom literature, and Platonic dialogue.1 The composite nature of the text is clearer when the three strands are separated and reconstructed, each by themselves. The three resultant texts can be found below.2

If the document is to be considered a Gnostic document, a definition of Gnostic must be tendered first. For now, the definition of Theodotus will be used, that "what liberates us is the knowledge of who we were, what we became; where we were, whereunto we have been thrown; whereunto we speed, wherefrom we are redeemed; what birth is, and what rebirth."3 The Thunder, Perfect Mind answers some of these questions, but not others.

The questions dealing with self-knowledge are dealt with very fully in the text. The tradition of Isis aretalogies is one of self-definition, aretalogies being strings of "I am" statements. The part of the text like an Isis aretalogy describes the speaker in paradoxical but full detail. The very first section of the aretalogy text answers the questions of where the speaker comes from, where she has come to, and where she might be found. There is a slight deviation, in that she has actively come to "those who reflect" upon her, rather than "being thrown" to them, but the idea of being removed from one's original habitation is there. In the sixth section of this part she says that she is an alien, as well as a citizen.

This brings up the question of what the point of the dichotomies in the aretalogy section is. They range from philosophical, political and social opposites to sexual and familial polarities. In each opposition of polarity, the speaker maintains that she encompasses both poles, or roles. She is "the whore and the holy one."4 She is "the barren one, and she whose sons are many."5 She is "Knowledge and ignorance."6 And she is "the one whom they call Law, and you have called Lawlessness."7

In the last dichotomy, the difference may be ascribed to the people who call her either Law or Lawlessness, either "they" or "you." Similar distinctions are made in other seemingly paradoxical statements in terms of temporal placement. The tenses change, for instance, in the fifth section in many statements, such as "I am the one who is hated everywhere, and who has been loved everywhere.", "I am the one whom you have despised, and you reflect upon me." and "I am the one whom you have hidden from, and you appear to me." These distinctions, either temporal or nominal, are subservient to the larger message that the speaker is a very diverse personality. They are also only possible to discern in a small percentage of the proffered paradoxes8 The main attempt is to define herself, not to set up distinctions in time or peoples. There is almost no cosmology or anthropology in this text, and this is a clue to the nature of the message of the text. The emphasis is on the person, not the cosmos; on the self, and not the environment.

In this aretalogy third of the text, there an attempt to transcend the intellect through intellectual paradox. By setting up identities between polar opposites the mind is set in circles, as it is by the Zen koans , until it is driven into the brick wall of impossibility. In the introduction to his translation of this text, MacRae states that "...the particular significance of the self-proclamations of Thunder, Perfect Mind may be found in their antithetical character."9 One might rather say that the significance must be found in their antithetical character. There is no other common denominator.

The second type of writing seen in this text is comparable to Hebrew wisdom literature. The excerpted and reconnected text is a series of hortatory instructions for those who would be gnostikoi , in the form of very short injunctions to "Look upon me"10 , "Hear me"11 , "Do not be arrogant to me"12 , etc. The speaker exhorts the reader to be on his guard twice, and not to be ignorant of her twice. This emphasis on care and awareness augments the intellectual exercises of the aretalogy section. One could easily skim over the polarities and not stop to reflect on them or their import, in which case their efficacy of liberation would be severely diminished. All three parts of this text work together.

The exhortations go on to impress upon the reader that he must be aware that the speaker encompasses all things, great and small, as well as left and right, male and female, royal and base, rich and poor. There is an element of the union of opposites here as well, the speaker saying she is compassionate and cruel, and obedient and self-controlled.13

In the third section of this part of the text, the instructions are to "come forward to me, you who know me...and establish the great ones among the small first creatures." Here is some evidence of an organized attempt to proselytize, or establish a group of those who know the speaker. The fourth section also calls to "you, who know me." They are told to learn the speaker's words, while those "hearers" are told simply to hear. This suggests some form of hierarchy among the "hearers" and the "knowers". The first step would seem to be that one must hear the voice, and then come to know it.

This could be a sign of the initiatory path, along which one must pass to come to gnosis As noted above, the simple act of hearing the message intellectually would not be enough. One must pay special care to the paradoxes presented, and reflect upon them until illumination comes. The process can again be compared to the effect of koans , where one perceives them first as outright nonsense, "the sound of one hand clapping," etc., until one comes to the crux of where they attempt to fix the mind.14

Where the Thunder, Perfect Mind would fix the mind is on a realization of the transcendence of the speaker, and eventually on the identification of the speaker with the hearer when that hearer becomes a knower. As it says in the sixth section of the aretalogy part, "I am the knowledge of my inquiry, and the finding of those who seek after me,...and of the spirits of every who exists with me, and of the women who dwell within me." The path to gnosis and the traveler on that path are both played here by the character of the speaker.

Another point made by this part of the text like wisdom literature is that manifestation implies duality, and that to perceive in the world implies discrimination. The nature of the speaker comprehends all things, but to appear in the world she must choose one of the two halves of all those things through which to appear. As a complete being she would be both invisible and insensible in any way, since to contain both poles of being, such as 1 and -1, would be to equal 0. This has a parallel in the way of the Tao, in which one of the aims is to do everything by doing nothing. One might hear the speaker saying "I am she who does everything, and nothing." The idea is to incorporate in oneself a balance between action and non-action, yin and yang, and by doing such one gets beyond having to struggle with the world. There will be no antagonism between the person and then environment, once that person becomes one with the environment. (Or a reflection of it, by incorporating or epitomizing all its elements.)

This shows the less ascetic nature of the text Thunder, Perfect Mind . The world is not actively evil, but rather simply distracting due to its incomplete nature. When one gets beyond this, then one has improved, but there is no shame in being merely a "hearer," and not a "knower." The only desiderata are to hear and then to know, to balance oneself according to what one comes to know, and despise nothing along the way, for every thing is part of the transcendent whole. Here one could draw Deist parallels, intensifying the impression that the writers of this text did not see the world as inherently evil.

It is our perception of the world that causes the apparent evil of the world. To perceive something is to discriminate between it and its context.

It is this separation or making of differences that allows us to operate in the world, but also that enslaves us to it by monopolizing our attention.

Thunder, Perfect Mind insists that only by seeing the larger picture of unions of all opposites can we escape this servitude to the world. In other words, what liberates us is the knowledge of into what we have been thrown, or have come.

The last section, the fifth of this part of the text, is a final exhortation to the reader to "look," "give heed" and be aware of who speaks and what that means, that by encompassing all things she is "the one who alone exists," comprising all, " one who will judge" her exists outside her. This extreme recognition of the unity of oneself with the cosmos, of subject with object, and of positive and negative, leads to an extension of the self to the limits of perception. Sometimes this continues to the point that manifestation requires a relimitation by definition of person. As the speaker has done this, the extension and then the relimitation in order to communicate, she also implies that it is an achievement attainable by all, if one will just "hear" and "know."

The third part of the text represents Greece, as the first two reflect the Egyptian and Judaic strands of the Hellenistic world.15 It consists of questions and answers, not always on philosophical subjects, but always leading to philosophical points. It is similar in many ways to the prototypical Platonic dialogue in which the interlocutor is led to the truth of the matter by way of dialectic. Another parallel would be the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna in that chariot.

There are six sections to this part of the text, as it has been cut up and fitted to the other two parts, and the first five display an elegant ring composition. Section one is a question and amplification of the question, while section five is the answer to it. Section two is another question and amplification, answered by section four. Section three is the center point, pointing out the union of the two questions and their respective answers. Section six is a conclusion of sorts, resuming that which the dialogue has attempted to draw.

The first question is why the reader, and people in general, display contradictory behavior. This is not a psychological type of inquiry, into the roots of irrationality, but rather another attempt to unveil the nature of the speaker. The contradictory behavior referred to deals with the reader's reaction to the speaker, and the nature of complete being in general.16 If complete being entails all things, then it elicits all responses, each of which will have an opposite reaction that will be elicited simultaneously (or thereabouts). Love and hate, truth and lie, knowledge and ignorance are all part of man's reactions to the world.

The answer to this problem is contained in section five. The incompleteness of things, inside and outside, judge and judged, condemning and acquitting; these distinctions elicit opposite responses to each of their halves, yet both halves are only that: halves of a whole, which elicits both love and hate, fear and confidence, and obedience and self-control. The way out of the world of appearances is again to realize the unity of opposites. that what is seen inside is what is outside also.

The second question is directed toward the question of the ignorance of these unions of opposites. "Why have you hated me," asks the unity, "Because I am a barbarian among barbarians?"17 Because I don't speak the language of any specific nation, not even those who don't speak you language? Because I speak of universals? The answer is that "those who are without association with me are ignorant of me, and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me."18 Those who know, know; those who don't don't. One cannot understand the nature of the speaker or the world until one becomes a part of it, and all the parts of it. The antithetical and polarized nature continues to be shown, "On the day when I am close to you, you are far away from me, and on the day when I am far away from you, I am close to you."19

The third section unites these two questions of the manifestation of opposites, and the difficulty of perception of perfection. (not to mention perfection of perception!) Both problems stem from human nature in the world of manifestation. The separation of opposites, needed for perception of manifested things, is necessary to operate in the world as humans with human limitations, as these limitations are usually counted. But the speaker here says the real need ideally is not to separate, and thus to come to a realization of the unity. This is similar to the idea of samadhi , where the subject and object of contemplation are united in a flash of illumination.

Section six concludes, saying that the worldly forms are pleasant, but numerous, disgraceful, and fleeting. When men "become sober and go up to their resting place...they will find me there, and they will live, and they will not die again." This implies the possibility of a permanent state of comprehension of the unity of opposites.

Now we can see where Theodotus' definition of gnosticism is and is not exemplified by Thunder, Perfect Mind . The writers of this text were concerned with most of Theodotus' questions, but not all. They provide answers for where we have come from, and whereunto we have been thrown. They address the question of who we were, what we have become, but not really what birth is, and what rebirth. Nor do they proffer answers to whereunto we speed, or wherefrom we are redeemed, beyond the answers to the first questions of where we were and where we are. The answers that are offered deal with personal rather than cosmological questions (if there is a difference). The issue is primarily one of self-liberation, rather than redemption, unless the reception of the "good news" of unity is to be considered redemption.

This difference of degree of activity and passivity between Theodotus and the speaker of Thunder, Perfect Mind is revealed in the answers to whereunto we have been thrown, and wherefrom we are redeemed.20 In Thunder, Perfect Mind's view we came ourselves to this world, and liberate ourselves through Hearing and Knowing. What liberates us is still the knowledge, but the knowledge of slightly different things. The lack of cosmology or theology in the text, compared to other texts in the Nag Hammadi library, suggests the comparison rather to the more psychological sect of Buddhism in contrast to the majority of Mahayana that has absorbed local religious or theological superstructure.

The path suggested by the text towards illumination is a strictly intellectual path to the transcendence of intellect. Through the mortification of the mind rather than of the flesh one may achieve gnosis. There is therefore no need for a theology on which to hang precepts of asceticism. The authors of the text say simply that when one understands the facts, one gives up the preoccupation of the world as incomplete.

The gnosticism exemplified by this text then, is transcendental, syncretic, and hortatory. It is transcendent in that it looks at the world and insists that there is a larger reality beyond what we see as separate, discrete things. It is syncretic in that it uses three distinct literary styles to get across its point. These three texts may have been actual texts on their own before incorporation into this text, or they may not. They fit so smoothly into each other in terms of subject continuity that were they originally distinct texts, they must have been revised for the purpose. The authors are hortatory as opposed to imperative in that they say that if you come to their idea of unity, then you will be less confused by the complexity of the world. If you do not, then you will stick to all those pleasant forms of passions and fleeting pleasures, and simply not achieve peace. They do not threaten any punishment for ignorance, only a perpetuation of a potentially temporary confusion.

The comparisons of the three styles of writings is profitable only in so far as it serves to conveniently categorize the material. Too strict an analog y to the three styles would be blinding as well. The content is radically different in message from the usual content of any of the borrowed forms. Again, what must be looked at to explain the meaning of the text is the antithetical nature of the "I am" statements, and their commentary in the other two styles of text. The medium (in this case) is not the message. The function of the text must be considered to be not philosophical speculation, theological or moral exhortation or religious definition, as the borrowed types were, but rather psychological revelation, buttressed by practical exhortation and logical proof.

What really qualifies the author or authors of this text for consideration as excellent and true Gnostics is their appropriation of existing forms, whether myths, ritual speeches, or philosophical methods, and turning them to their own ends.

The text like an Isis Aretalogy

  1. I was sent forth from the power, and I have come to those who reflect upon me, and I have been found among those who seek after me.
  2. For I am the first and the last. I am the honored one and the scorned one. I am the whore and the holy one. I am the wife and the virgin. I am the mother and the daughter. I am the members of my mother. I am the barren one and many are her sons. I am she whose wedding is great, and I have not taken a husband. I am the midwife and she who does not bear. I am the solace of my labor pains. I am the bride and the bridegroom, and it is my husband who begot me. I am the mother of my father and the sister of my husband, and he is my offspring. I am the slave of him who prepared me. I am the ruler of my offspring. But he is the one who begot me before a time on a birthday. And he is my offspring in due time and my power is from him. I am the staff of his power in his youth, and he is the rod of my old age. And whatever he wills happens to me. I am the voice whose sound is manifold and the word whose appearance is multiple. I am the utterance of my name.
  3. For I am knowledge and ignorance. I am shame and boldness. I am shameless, I am ashamed. I am strength and I am fear. I am war and peace. Give heed to me. I am the one who is disgraced and the great one.
  4. But I am she who exists in all fears and strength in trembling. I am she who is weak, and I am well in a pleasant place. I am senseless and I am wise.
  5. For I am the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the barbarians. I am the judgment of the Greeks and the barbarians. I am the one whose image is great in Egypt and the one who as no image among the barbarians. I am the one who is hated everywhere and who has been loved everywhere. I am the one whom they call Law, and you have called Lawlessness. I am the one whom they call Life, and you have called Death. I am the one whom you have pursued, and I am the one whom you have seized. I am the one you have scattered and you have gathered me together. I am the one before whom you have been ashamed, and you have been shameless to me. I am she who does not keep festival, and I am she whose festivals are many. I, I am godless, and I am one whose God is great. I am the one whom you have reflected upon, and you have scorned me. I am unlearned, and they learn from me. I am the one whom you have despised, and you reflect upon me. I am the one whom you have hidden from, and you appear to me. But whenever you hide yourselves, I myself will appear.
  6. But I am the mind of...and the rest of...I am the knowledge of my inquiry, and the finding of those who seek after, and the command of those who ask of me, and the power of the powers in my knowledge of the angels, who have been sent at my word, and of the gods in their seasons by my counsel, and of the spirits of every man who exists with me, and of the women who dwell within me. I am the one who is honored, and who is praised, and who is despised scornfully. I am peace, and war has come because of me. I am an alien and a citizen. I am the substance and the one who has no substance.
  7. I am...within. I am...of the natures. I am...of the creation of the spirits...request of souls. I am control and the uncontrollable. I am the union and the dissolution. I am the abiding and the dissolving. I am the one below, and they come up to me. I am the judgment and the acquittal. I, I and sinless, and the root of sin derives from me. I am lust in outward appearance, and interior self-control exists within me. I am the hearing that is attainable to everyone, and the speech that cannot be grasped. I am a mute who does not speak, and great is the multitude of my words. Hear me in gentleness, and learn of me in roughness. I am she who cries out, and I am cast out on the face of the earth. I prepare the bread and my mind within. I am the knowledge of my name. I am one who cries out, and I listen. I appear and...walk in...seal of my...I am...the defense...I am the one who is called Truth, and iniquity...
  8. I am the hearing that is attainable to everything; I am the speech that can not be grasped. I am the name of the sound, and the sound of the name. I am the sign of the letter and the designation of the division. And you...the great power. And...will not move the the one who created me. And I will speak his name.

The text like a Hebrew Wisdom Text

  1. Look upon me and reflect upon me, and you hearers. hear me. You who are waiting for me, take to yourselves. And do not banish me from your sight. And do not make your voices hate me, nor your hearing. Do not be ignorant of me any where or any time. Be on your guard! Do not be ignorant of me.
  2. Give heed to my poverty and my wealth. Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth, and you will find me in those who are to come. And do not look upon me on the dung heap nor go and leave me cast out, and you will find me in the kingdoms. And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who are disgraced and in the least places, nor laugh at me. And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence. But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel. Be on your guard! Do not hate my obedience, and do not love my self-control. In my weakness do not forsake me, and do not be afraid of my power. For why do you despise my fear and curse my pride?
  3. Those who it...senselessly...Take me...understanding from grief, and take me to yourselves from understanding and grief. And take me to yourselves from places that are ugly and in ruin, and rob from those which are good, even though in ugliness. Out of shame, take me to yourselves shamelessly; and out of shamelessness and shame, upbraid my members in yourselves. And come forward to me, you who know me and who know my members, and establish the great ones among the first small creatures. Come forward to childhood, and do not despise it because it is small and it is little. And do not turn away greatnesses in some parts from the smallnesses, for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses.
  4. Hear me you hearers. and learn of my words, you who know me.
  5. Look then at his words and all the writings which have been completed. Give heed then you hearers and you also the angels and those who have been sent, and you spirits who have arisen from the dead. For I am the one who alone exists, and I have no one who will judge me.

The text like a Platonic Dialogue

  1. Why, you who hate me, do you love me, and you hate those who love me? You who deny me, confess me, and you who confess me deny me. You who tell the truth about me lie about me, and you who have lied about me tell the truth about me. You who know me, be ignorant of me, and those who have not known me, let them know me.
  2. Why have you hated me in your counsels? For I shall be silent among those who are silent, and I shall appear and speak. Why then have you hated me, you Greeks? Because I am a barbarian among the barbarians?
  3. Why do you curse me and honor me? You have wounded and you have had mercy. Do not separate me from the first ones whom you have known. And do not cast anyone out nor turn anyone away...turn you away and...know him not...him. What is mine...I know the first one and those after know me.
  4. Those who are without association with me are ignorant of me, and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me. Those who are close to me have been ignorant of me, and those who are far away from me are the ones who have known me. On the day when I am close to you, you are far away from me, and on the day when I am far away from you, I am close to you.
  5. You honor me...and you whisper against me...victorious over them. Judge then before they give judgment against you, because the judge and the partiality exist within you. If you are condemned by this one, who will acquit you? Or if you are acquitted by him who will be able to detain you. For what is in side of you is what is outside of you, and the one who fashions you on the outside of you is the one who shaped the inside of you. And what you see inside of you, you see outside of you; it is visible and it is your garment.
  6. For many are the pleasant forms which exist in numerous sins, and incontinences, and disgraceful passions, and fleeting pleasures, which men embrace until they become sober and go up to their resting place. And they will find me there, and they will live, and they will not die again.
  7. For examples of aretalogies see Grant, F.C.; Hellenistic Religions: The Age of Syncretism.
  8. The text Thunder, Perfect Mind is CG VI, 2.

The aretalogy-like material's sections are;

  1. 13,1-13,6
  2. 13,16-14,15
  3. 14,25-15,1
  4. 15,25-15,30
  5. 16,5-17,1
  6. 18,10-18,30
  7. 19,5-20,10
  8. 20,29-21,12

The wisdom literature styled section are;

  1. 13,6-13,15
  2. 15,1-15,25
  3. 17,1-17,32
  4. 20,26-20,28
  5. 21,12-21,20

The dialogue material comes from;

  1. 14,15-14,25
  2. 15,30-16,5
  3. 17,32-18,10
  4. 18,30-19,5
  5. 20,10-20,25
  6. 21,20-21,32


  1. This definition of Theodotus is cited in Clemens Alexandrinus, Excerpta ex Theodoto 78.2.
  2. IA 2(Sections will be referred to by their section number prefixed by IA for aretalogy sections, WT for wisdom sections, and PD for the dialogue sections.)
  3. IA 2
  4. IA 2
  5. IA 5
  6. Only in 9 out of 68 complete paradox statements does there occur temporal or nominal changes along with alteration of description. (Interestingly, all occur in sections IA 2 & IA 5, two sections of 8)
  7. Robinson, James M., ed.; The Nag Hamadi Library in English, (Harper &
  8. Row: San Fransisco) 1977/81, p. 271
  9. WT 1
  10. WT 1
  11. WT 2
  12. WT 2. In the sentence regarding obedience and self-control, the point is also to have no reactive emotions to these things, as the emotions form attachment to objects. This advice towards detachment, reminiscent of Eastern philosophies more often than Western, shows up in the dialogue sections more obviously.
  13. i.e., where the subject of the knowledge they are designed to impart lies.
  14. The Macedonian, Seleucid, and Ptolomaic Kingdoms made up the Hellenistic world, per se, though external contact with Europe, Asia, and Africa was constant. Of course, all three nations were also assimilating parts of each other's cultures, creating the international and cosmopolitan atmosphere necessary for the creation of our text, and the sources are named after the originating national culture for convenience only.
  15. "Complete being" refers to the unified speaker and world. (1)+(-1)=(0).
  16. PD 2
  17. PD 4
  18. PD 4
  19. These two questions presuppose a passive role on our part, which may or may not refer to the Gnostic Redeemer as well as us regular joes, the recipients of the redeeming message. In this text, however, there is no strong distinction between the speakers and the hearers on the basis of origin; only on the level of knowledge. We may be assumed to have the same genesis as she, and she states that she had an active role in coming into the world. This only difference is that she knows this, and presumably we do not.

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