From the Editor's Desk

Printed in the  Spring 2020  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Smoley, Richard"From the Editor's Desk " Quest 108:2, pg 2

Theosophical Society - Gnosis: a Journal of the Western Inner Traditions.  Richard Smoley.  The themes covered a wide range, including the Kabbalah, magic, Gnosticism, C.G. Jung, G.I. Gurdjieff, Freemasonry, Sufism, Hermeticism, and esoteric Christianity.This issue, on Initiation, has a long article by me on the subject, so I hope you will understand if I use this space to write about something else.

Namely, Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. It was founded in San Francisco in 1985 by Jay Kinney, then known chiefly as an underground cartoonist (Young Lust and Anarchy Comics). I started writing for it in 1986, and became editor in 1990; Jay continued as editor in chief and publisher.

Each issue of the magazine covered a specific theme (much like Quest). The themes covered a wide range, including the Kabbalah, magic, Gnosticism, C.G. Jung, G.I. Gurdjieff, Freemasonry, Sufism, Hermeticism, and esoteric Christianity. Our best-selling issue was, not surprisingly, the winter 1993 issue—on psychedelics.

In 1998, things began to change. For personal reasons, I decided to move back to the East Coast after eighteen years in California. In addition, the market was getting rougher for small magazines like Gnosis. While finances had always been extremely tight, the bankruptcy of one of the magazine’s biggest distributors pushed things over the edge, and Jay reluctantly decided to close things down. The last issue, published in the spring of 1999, was, fittingly, on the Holy Grail.

As a crowning effort, Jay and I collaborated on a book on these themes: Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions. It was first published by Tarcher/Penguin in 1999. In 2006, Quest Books brought out a revised edition, which is still in print. In 2004, Mitch Horowitz, then an editor at Tarcher/Penguin publishers, brought out a Gnosis anthology, edited by Jay, called The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West.

In the thick of it back then, I didn’t totally grasp Gnosis’s power or importance. At this point, I have published eleven books and have been editor of Quest for close to twelve years. But when I meet people, the thing they most often mention is, after all these years, Gnosis.

The magazine was a remarkable effort, considering that the full-time staff never exceeded four and there was no institutional support whatsoever. Its greatest contribution—formulated by Jay at the outset—was to provide a venue for discussing the Western esoteric traditions that was intellectually serious without being academic. Although we did have some skeptical materialists writing, the basic premise was to steer a middle course between reductionism and credulity. Our contributors ranged from Eastern Orthodox priests to Sufi masters to Satanists, and I took great pride in that fact.

Legally, the publisher of Gnosis was the Lumen Foundation, a nonprofit Jay set up to publish the magazine. With rare exceptions, the foundation didn’t do anything else, so when the magazine ceased publication, the foundation went into dormancy.

So it remained for many years. Last year California’s Franchise Tax Board (the entity governing state revenue collection) decided that since the Lumen Foundation was quiescent, it was time to dissolve it. Which has been done. One condition of dissolution was that any remaining assets were to be transferred to another nonprofit.

 I’m greatly honored that the Theosophical Society in America was chosen as that organization. The chief asset to be transferred was rights to the magazine and the website (www.lumen.org). Consequently, the TSA is now the rights holder to the contents of Gnosis.

To this day, very little of the material in the magazine is available online. The Gnosis website lists all of the issues, but only has one sample article from each one. Nevertheless, print copies of all issues are available from Fields Book Store, another San Francisco legend (ordering details can be found on the www.lumen.org site).

Twenty years later, I find it rather funny to end up as editor of Quest, because even back then, under the editorship of Bill Metzger and my good friend Ray Grasse, it was one of extremely few magazines in the field I really respected. I often opened an issue of Quest and said, “Damn! I wish we’d run that!” I almost never felt that way about any of the other publications.

The circle comes around. I’m very pleased that Ray still continues to write for Quest (for example, his article in this issue). Jay too has been a regular contributor in recent years.

People often talk about the Masters, the conscious circle of humanity, or whatever term you would like to use. Much of this talk is idle. Nevertheless, I’m impelled to say that I believe these beings, whoever they are, had a hand in inspiring Gnosis. I’m glad we can help keep the impulse alive.

Richard Smoley


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