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Manichaeism: A Dualistic Cosmology

A quick overview of Manichaeism, with links to more detailed information. Provided to accompany the study of L’Immoraliste by André Gide.

(Disclaimer: A lot of this info is paraphrased, I made this to help me remember the key points. If you find it useful, that’s great. I tried to link everything to its source.)

What is Manichaeism?

MAN-AY-KEE-ISM? Is that right? (/ˌmænɨˈkɪzəm/😉

Manechaeism is/was one of the huge heresies against Christianity, and it came from  an Iranian prophet named Mani who live from 216–276 AD. He – of course – brought the universally correct message from god, to straighten out everything once and for all. (This sounds familiar already, does it not?) At 24 years old, he started preaching and taught dualistic cosmology, a belief that the world is split in two with good/light/order versus bad/dark/chaos. It’s based on Mesopotamian gnosticism.) [Source: Wikipedia: Manicheaism]

By my limited understanding, gnostic religions are founded on a belief in wisdom or knowledge, which – to me – means that it’s very much an internal, personalized spiritual journey based on almost a worship of knowledge. But maybe I’m just a softy for animistic intellectuals.

Manchaeism was obviously persecuted by both Christians and Muslims, so that more or less drove it out of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. It cropped up here and there as it made its way to China, then had a resurgence in Europe during the Middle Ages. [Source: Brittanica: Manicheaism]

It also apparently got popular in the late twenties and early thirties, too, according to this nifty chart from an English corpus that a Google search yielded. Figured I’d mention it because I found it interesting.

Anyway, Mani’s religion really pushed the idea that knowledge of your true self allows you to rise above the filth of the world. On one hand, you have the material/evil/chaotic/dark/bad side and then there’s the spiritual/holy/ordered/light/good side. [Source: Brittanica: Manicheaism]

So, it’s like the Force in Star Wars. I realize how foolish that sounds, but it brings us back to my huge belief in mnemonic tricks, so let’s take a moment to picture Mani, in flowing robes (à la Doré’s Moses Breaking the Tablets), swinging around a light saber, preaching about enlightenment through knowledge and wisdom. That’s what’s gonna stick with you about this article – Jedi Mani. Here he is fighting Jedi Jesus:

Manichaeism believes in a dichotomous universe
A visualization to remember Jedi Mani was persecuted by the Christians because he believed in the Force. (More or less.)

     When I studied Spanish literature, I learned about Manichaeism, but then I didn’t hear the word again for almost a decade. Naturally, I forgot it. I really wanted it to stick in my head this time, so I worked on a visualization to help me remember. Usually, I just picture things in my head, but this one tickled me, so I thought I’d share it. It also breaks down into two words – Jedi Mani – that easily trigger recall for related concepts. So, that’s Bernardino Mei’s Christ Cleansing the Temple having a light saber battle with Gustav Dore’s Moses Breaking the Tablets in Mos Espa. It’s silly, but that’s all the more reason you’ll remember it.

On a side note of a side note: Mancheaism also had a system of both ascetics (who begged for alms) and laymen (who provided alms and lived less strictly). It reminded me of the difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

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