The Gnostic Celtic Church draws its teachings from a medley of influences including the Druid Revival, the Gnostic revival, the old Universalist Church, and the independent sacramental movement. While no attempt is made to dogmatize—in this, as in all Gnostic traditions, personal religious experience is the goal that is set before each aspirant and the sole basis on which questions of a religious nature can be answered—certain teachings have been embraced as the core values from which the GCC as an organization derives its broad approach to spiritual issues. Those core teachings may be summarized in the words “Gnostic, Universalist, and Pelagian.”
The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word gnosis, which means “personal knowledge” or “recognition.” The term was used as a self-description by a diverse and highly creative religious movement that began around the start of the Christian era and continued for several centuries before it was obliterated by religious persecution. Beginning in the 19th century, in an interesting parallel with the 18th century revival of Druidry, the fragments of ancient Gnostic teachings helped spark a series of modern movements that borrowed the concept of gnosis and the ancient Gnostic teaching that personal experience, rather than dogmatic belief or membership in an organization, can form the heart of a spiritual path. As part of the modern Gnostic movement, the GCC affirms that individual experience is central to its own vision of spirituality.
Some of the ancient Gnostics, like the mainstream religious movements that persecuted and eventually destroyed them, taught that certain people were capable of reaching the goals of the spiritual path but others were doomed to fail. An alternative view, taught by the great mystic Origen among others, held that communion with spiritual realities is open to every being without exception, and that all beings—again, without exception—will eventually enter into harmony with the Divine. This belief may be found in many alternative spiritual traditions in the West; it has been central to the contemporary Druid movement since the early days of the Druid Revival; and it became the foundation of the Universalist heresy, and later of the Universalist Church. As one heir of their legacy, the GCC affirms that the recognition of the potential for spiritual achievement in all beings is central to its own vision of spirituality.
Pelagius was a Christian mystic who was born in Wales in the 4th century, was ordained in the Celtic Church, and taught what later came to be called the Pelagian heresy—the teaching that the salvation of each individual is entirely the result of that individual’s own efforts, and can neither be gained through anyone else’s merits or denied on account of anyone else’s failings. This teaching, which contradicted orthodox doctrines of original sin and substituted atonement, nonetheless remained part of the teachings of the Celtic Church, and of many other alternative movements from the Middle Ages to the present. As an inheritor of a number of these traditions, the GCC affirms that the value of personal responsibility and personal freedom is central to its own vision of spirituality.
As befits a church founded on the principle of individual spiritual experience, the GCC does not require its members or any person whatsoever to accept any of these teachings, but it does expect its priests and priestesses to be familiar with them, to understand their meaning and value within the GCC’s tradition, and to be able to discuss them intelligently.
Beyond these, and on the same terms, the GCC accepts certain basic principles that are common to most of the world’s religions and spiritual paths. It accepts, for example, that the universe we see is a reflection of an invisible reality we do not normally see; that there are many other beings in the universe besides humanity, some less complex and intelligent than humanity, some more so; that each human being has a dimension that transcends the physical and is capable of surviving the death of the physical body; that the incidents of life on Earth are not merely random, but are obedient to purposes greater than those we know; and that a personal relationship based on reverence and gratitude is an appropriate way of interaction with spiritual powers and of participation in the cosmos as a whole.
It will be noticed that the GCC does not specify the number, gender, or nature of the spiritual powers its deacons, priests and priestesses, and bishops invoke. This is quite deliberate, and derives from the points already made. Human beings around the world and throughout time have encountered a rich diversity of divine beings and of impersonal spiritual powers, and have drawn inspiration, benediction, and guidance from them all. Though it is common in today’s popular religious culture to insist that all this diversity must somehow be the expression of a single reality, the jury remains out on that claim, and the GCC chooses not to take a position on an issue that human beings may never be able to settle for certain.
One or many, personal or impersonal, gods or goddesses or some of each—these questions are left to the free choice and the personal experience of the individual. Still, there is one limitation, which is that the spiritual practices of the GCC presuppose a belief in, and an orientation toward, some power or powers greater than humanity, with whom a personal relationship is possible. Those who reject such a belief and orientation are entirely free to do so, in or out of AODA, but they will not benefit from the training the GCC provides for its clergy and therefore are not eligible for training and ordination. We encourage them to seek elsewhere for a system of training better suited to their needs.