The question is drawn from the Greenhaven Tradition; the YaaD course is not published on the Greenhaven Tradition website, but is made available on a person-to-person basis. Material that is not so closely held is available at http://greenhaventradition.weebly.com/
Class 1, Paper 2a, after being told, "Janet, you were supposed to choose a Pagan path to research." This was considered a disappointing, barely passing, paper because there was no synthesis of the material I read and no discussion of personal applicability.
Choose a specific religion or path that appeals to you, study it, and write a one-page summary of its characteristics.
Assignment submitted July 29, 2011.
Writing Assignment: Gnostic Pagan Paths reaction / response paper
It didn't initially occur to me to research "Gnostic" + "Pagan," probably because the article on Gnosticism at Religious Tolerance was about Christian Gnosticism, and time pressures discouraged me from looking at other sources. At your request, I've done that search and found some interesting articles and some puzzling ones.
Starweaver (Starweaver's Corner) argues that Gnosticism and NeoPaganism share some traditions and influences, such as the Great Work of the alchemists, but that modern Pagans are essentially "anti-gnostic," because Gnostics see the physical world as lesser than the spiritual one whereas most Pagans view the physical and spiritual worlds as having equal merit. I did not get that impression of Gnosticism in my own reading, but my reading was limited by time and access.
Tristram Burden (Suite 101) classifies Gnosticism as New Age rather than Pagan. "New Age is a predominantly Gnostic movement, seeking improvement of the human condition, while Paganism remains largely a venerative gesture towards things as they already are." I'm not sure I agree that Paganism is more "venerative" than "seeking improvement"; my perception is that the emphasis most Pagans place on personal study and understanding is a very Gnostic trait.
Sunfell (House Sunfell) distinguishes between "Christian Pagans" and "Pagan Christians." She defines Christian Pagans as those who are "hedging their bets by incorporating Christian elements into their spiritual worship" (see also your experiences with the SOMA group), and Pagan Christians as those who have "laid aside their Christian upbringing and are thoroughly Pagan, but through careful study of Christian history, reclaim[ed] elements of Christianity." I quite like that distinction; it echoes one of my favorite quotes from Philip the Foole:
Take the best parts from each religion. The Christians have some absolutely first-rate Christmas carols. The Jews have some very tasty deli products. Zen Buddhists have that neat whack-with-a-stick tradition. Goddess worship will improve your chances of getting laid by dominant hippie chicks. The Whirling Dervishes can spin to ecstacy without drugs (only if absolutely necessary, of course). If you're going to take up Shiva worship, bring plenty of extra wrist cuffs.
It also rings true to me because I still think of myself as Jewish (by culture) even as I consider myself Pagan (by choice, adult commitment, and practice). When I read Edain McCoy's suggested ritual for Cakes and Ale – she recommends a blessing for the Goddess, rather than the bread or the wine – I heard echoes of the prayers I learned as a child, and wondered just how blasphemous it would be to modify the Hebrew phrases to begin, "Blessed art thou, Lady, Mother of the universe," rather than "Blessed art Thou, o Lord our God, King of the Universe." After some consideration, I decided it would probably not be a good idea, and that I would stick with English until further notice.
Beyond those four authors, I found that the online references seemed to split into two primary categories: those which have so much available information that I would need several months to fully understand them, and those which are just plain strange.
In the first group are the websites at Gnostics.com and Gnosticteachings.org. Gnostics.com offers a Gnostic Pagan Pantheon with correspondences between the Gnostic Archons and the Gods / Goddesses of a wide variety of pantheons. It also maintains a Gnostic Pagan School, "features a complete online Initiation School of New Aeon Philosophy." The school curriculum includes but is not limited to "Pagan Theology & Ritual," "Critical Thinking & Dialectical Analysis," and "Unified Awareness & The Theory of Everything (TOE)."
Gnosticteachings.org is another huge, diverse site, offering books, online study guides, articles, and blog posts with Gnostic perspectives on everything from Runes to Hindu scriptures to Kabbalah to maintaining a home altar. Clearly, the authors and editors of this site are very comfortable merging Gnosticism with religions and practices outside the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. It's a wonderful site, and I hope to find time to explore it more thoroughly.
In the latter group, the just plain weird, I found an article from a Canadian newspaper talking about one John Lash, who claims modern Western religions are a cover-up created by Extraterrestrial Biological Entities (EBEs), and that Christianity in particular is a mind-control device designed to hide God Within from humans, in favor of a God Above. It's certainly an interesting hypothesis, but honestly, I'm not buying it, for two reasons. First, I can't imagine EBEs wanting to bother with that kind of project, and second, I can't imagine a conspiracy that vast never slipping up.
Finally, Gavin Finley, at End Time Pilgrim, makes a detailed argument that "gnostic paganism" has corrupted and seduced the true church, and that "Rome" (he never quite comes out and says "The Catholic Church") weakened in times of peace to compromise with secular entities. He uses the phrase "gnostic paganism" repeatedly, to describe aspects of the Catholic church such as elaborate vestments, the Latin Mass, and transubstantiation. I have to admire his tenacity, but based on my limited observations, the Catholic Church seems to be one of the least Gnostic entities around.
Overall, researching Gnostic Paganism has led me back to the truism "Ask three Pagans, get five answers." My final (final in terms of the materials I read to write this short paper; it could change given new information) impression is that many Pagan paths can be complemented by a Gnostic approach, but that Gnosticism is not necessarily Pagan.