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Observing Inner States – an Excerpt from the Teachings of Silvanus

The Exhortation to the Apostles by James Tissot. Public domain image found here.

Below is a passage related to self-knowledge that comes from The Teachings of Silvanus — one of many Gnostic Christian texts found in the Nag Hammadi Library.

The Nag Hammadi Library is a collection of ancient texts discovered buried together in the sands of an Egyptian desert last century. They had been hidden away there nearly 2000 years ago after being labelled heretical by the early Church. The texts were uncovered by chance in 1945, and found to contain the esoteric and more hidden teachings of Jesus and his disciples which were excluded from the Bible.

The Teachings of Silvanus, in particular, is a text that uses allegories to explore different inner states that are likely to arise within a person in reaction to the events and relationships of life. The particular extract below discusses observing and overcoming the power of the egos — inner states like anger, jealousy, greed, negativity and so on — through self-observation and an active, investigative internal approach.

It also describes the negative impact the egos have on a person (referring to them as “robbers,” “enemies,” and “wild beasts”) and how internal peace can be gained if they were to be removed.

Abolish every childish time of life, acquire for yourself strength of mind and soul, and intensify the struggle against every folly of the passions of love and base wickedness, and love of praise, and fondness of contention, and tiresome jealousy and wrath, and anger and the desire of avarice. Guard your (pl.) camp and weapons and spears. Arm yourself and all the soldiers, which are the words, and the commanders, which are the counsels, and your mind as a guiding principle.

My son, throw every robber out of your gates. Guard all your gates with torches, which are the words, and you will acquire through all these things a quiet life. But he who will not guard these things will become like a city which is desolate, since it has been captured. All kinds of wild beasts have trampled upon it, for thoughts which are not good are evil wild beasts. And your city will be filled with robbers, and you will not be able to acquire peace, but only all kinds of savage wild beasts. The Wicked One, who is a tyrant, is lord over these. While directing this, he (the Wicked One) is beneath the great mire. The whole city, which is your soul, will perish.

Remove yourself from these things, O wretched soul! Bring your guide and your teacher. The mind is the guide, but reason is the teacher. They will bring you out of destruction and dangers.

Listen, my son, to my advice! Do not show your back to enemies and flee, but rather, pursue them as a strong one. Be not an animal, with men pursuing you; but rather, be a man, with you pursuing the evil wild beasts, lest somehow they become victorious over you and trample upon you as on a dead man, and you perish due to their wickedness.

Oh wretched man, what will you do if you fall into their hands? Protect yourself, lest you be delivered into the hands of your enemies. Entrust yourself to this pair of friends, reason and mind, and no one will be victorious over you. May God dwell in your camp, may his Spirit protect your gates, and may the mind of Divinity protect the walls. Let holy reason become a torch in your mind, burning the wood which is the whole of sin.1

This excerpt allegorically describes something that can be practised in daily life: observing and studying the various negative and harmful inner states that come up within a person (egos) throughout the events of the day.2

As the text puts it, a person doing this would be “pursuing the enemies” (the egos) and thereby actively gaining an understanding of how these various inner states work, which helps in not being overcome by them, and to experience inner peace and quietude instead.

This practice can also be combined with the elimination of the egos practice. As negative inner states are observed within, a prayer can be made to the Spiritual Mother, the higher feminine spiritual part of one’s consciousness  to ask her to remove them.3

  1. The Teachings of Silvanus, translated by by Malcolm L. Peel and Jan Zandee, from The Nag Hammadi Library published by The Gnostic Society Library: 

  2. The practice of self observation is described in-depth by Belsebuub in his book The Peace of the Spirit Within, Mystical Life Publications. 

  3. The Mother Goddess who is referred to in many ancient texts from all around the world, is a higher feminine spiritual part of each person’s individual being whose role is to help a person understand and remove difficult and undesirable inner states permanently. More information on this subject can be found in The Path of the Spiritual Sun: A Guide to the Solstices and Equinoxes , by Belsebuub and Angela Pritchard (Mystical Life Publications, 2016), p. 99-105 


  • Many valuable insights to read in this passage. A timely reminder for me to throw out any robber that steals my awareness and keep on guard.
    Many thanks for sharing.

  • This is very powerfull excerpts describing the war we are up against (our egos ) It certainly inspires you to want to change and over come the egos Thanks Vida

  • Thank you.
    Some very direct words and meaning there – straight to the essence of things.

    I also like the analogy of the internal weapons we need to be able to guard off these inner thieves.
    Another great discovery, Vida. 🙂

  • I do really appreciate how this excerpt so strongly depicts an inner war. Not only is it very accurate, but to me it has the effect of kind of being like a very direct pep talk. No fluff, just reality. What to expect and how to defend.

    I liked the line “He who will not guard these things will become like a city which is desolate, since it has been captured” and how darkness has driven out and diminished the presence of light, leaving this strange emptiness, although we are still filled with the “beasts.” Powerful depiction of how the soul is seized and how we allow that to happen.

    I had a pretty crappy day yesterday – no other way to put it. And the part about being pursued by beasts instead of being the one to pursue them succinctly depicted a part of my day. It was exactly how it felt. Took a while to gather the will to flip that around — to regain lost ground in a way. I’m so glad this was shared. Good timing, Vida 😉

    • Hey Zorana,

      I also found it really helpful to reflect on how I approach the fight with the egos after reading this text. Am I always fighting from the back foot, fighting defense, or am I actually actively looking to overcome my weaknesses actively and ‘abolish every childish time of life’.

      I really loved this text – Silvanus doesn’t mince his words. Incredible to think it had to be buried in the desert to save it from destruction!

  • Really appreciate the way this passage describes the inner states as wild beasts, and uses that to illustrate that it’s either you hunting down and getting rid of them, or them hunting down you. It’s such an accurate illustration of what happens when you actually practice self-observation — so easy to drift and lose what you’re “watching” for and all of a sudden, that’s it… those inner states have turned around and now have you.

    I find descriptions like this really inspiring too, it provides another way of understanding the mechanics of how to experience these ancient practices. Thanks for sharing.

    • It also stood out to me how inner states are described as wild beasts.

      I also want to recommend The Flight of the Feathered Serpent, Chapter 15 (particularly the diagram there) as a resource on what the mind is, and its connection to the heart.

  • This gave me a bit of a boost to have a strong attitude towards the things that kept trying to bring me down today, sometimes it seems life brings wave after wave. 🙂 It can be so easy for something to happen which has a burdening effect within on us, but it just sort of goes under the radar of our awareness. Only to later think why am I feeling so low. This excerpt helped me to be more watchful to catch these things more quickly and work my way out.

    Furthermore this text and its allegories are very nice!

  • This is such a powerful excerpt. Thank you for sharing Vida.

    I especially like:

    ”Do not show your back to your enemies and flee, but pursue them like a strong one. Be not an animal, with men pursuing you; but rather, be a man, with you pursuing the evil wild beasts lest somehow they become victorious over you and trample upon you as on a dead man, and you perish due to their wickedness.”

    as well as the final passage.

    There is something extremely obvious when you see the direct teaching in ancient texts like this one, that show how to make no excuses for inner states that may bring you down when you are not aware of their movements and forces upon you.

    • So many gems in this one, but yes that part stood out for me too. They really don’t allow for excuses in the way they describe working on overcoming egos!

      But it’s for good reason as experience shows it is a real inner war going on, so the analogy of guarding/defending and weapons fits perfectly.

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