Mani (216–276) a Persian prophet viewed himself as the final link in a group of prophets, and that his teachings would complete those of the previous religious messages issued by Zoroaster, Christ and the Buddha. Mani had many followers and they were drawn to his brand of eastern Gnosticism, known as Manichaeism. At age twelve, Mani claimed to have received revelations by a ‘Twin Spirit’ and this encounter revealed his ‘heavenly self’ called the ‘Twin’ who showed him some ‘divine truths’ on how to live his life. Twelve years later at the age of 24 this vision reappeared to him as the ‘Higher Ego’ (also called the ‘living paraclete’ the Christian Holy Spirit) and this time he was encouraged to go forth and preach his word. This divine inspiration made him travel to spread his Messianic vision throughout the world. It is said that Mani had supernatural healing powers, clairvoyance, the gift of levitation, and he exhibited miraculous locomotion over considerable distances in his travels, where he engaged in intense missionary activities that lasted for four decades.
In case you didn’t know, Gnosticism is a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Christianity and Gnosticism are actually mutually exclusive systems of the same belief. Gnosticism was perhaps the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries and it was influenced by such philosophers as Plato, who asserted that matter is inherently evil and spirit is good. As a belief, Gnosticism places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe. Gnostics were ‘people who knew’, and by acquiring this knowledge they were deemed to be a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.
Being raised in southern Mesopotamia, Mani was exposed to a broad range of religious influences, which shaped and formed his beliefs. His church was primarily based on an old Persian dualism pushed to the extreme, where he advocated his doctrine that viewed the world as a fusion of spirit and matter, spiritualizing the struggle between light and dark and good and evil. Mani felt that the creation of the world was the outcome of an invasion on the realm of light by the forces of darkness, and as a result of this, the elements of light were devoured by the demons of darkness. Man, animals, and plants were conceived by these dark demons in a desperate attempt to retain the particles of light they had swallowed. Mani felt that the universe is a machinery set up by the deities of light in order to redeem the absorbed light and return it to its original abode.
The particular one of Mani’s teachings that I enjoy the most is when he wrote, ‘The writings and the wisdom and the revelations and the parables and the psalms of all the first churches have been collected in every place. They have come down to my church. They have added to the wisdom that I have revealed, the way water might add to water and become many Waters. Again, this also is the way that the ancient books have added to my writings, and have become great wisdom; it is like was not uttered in all the ancient generations. They did not write nor did they unveil the books the way that I, I have written it.’ Mani may have been a little bit narcissistic.
Mani taught his followers to abstain from sex, and from eating all animal food, and eggs, believing all flesh was evil if begotten by copulation. However, fish was edible because fish did not propagate sexually, but came spontaneously from the ‘living waters’. This was a strongly moralistic religion, marked with severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, forbidding its elite (from whom the clergy is drawn) to marry, engage in trade, slaughter animals, or cut plants. The commoners (hearers of the word), however, are reluctantly allowed to do so. Mani was eventually arrested and he died in prison as a martyr.