Pronoia is an attitude towards life that is very popular amongst spiritually developing people today. It is defined as the opposite of paranoia, and the belief that the entire universe is directed towards our good.
Is this belief correct, or does it contain something untrue?
Examining the etymology of the word ‘pronoia’ and the ancient mystery tradition from which it derives, will allow us to answer this question. Throughout history, the meaning of this word has changed. Getting to know the particular phenomena that are hidden within it, will provide us with a better understanding of the essence of the spiritual path.
This word comes from the Greek language and consists of two parts: the prefix ‘pro’ meaning before, and the word ‘nous’ meaning thought or mind. From this connection emerges the notion of a phenomenon or state of consciousness that exists above mind and thought. Pronoia in Greek, can also mean providence, prophecy, prediction, or security. The conclusion here is that someone can possess these latter qualities as attributes or levels of consciousness.
We come across the word ‘pronoia’ when we study Greek mythology. It occurs as one of the two names of the sea nymph, Hesione Pronoia, daughter of Oceanidus and wife of Prometheus. ‘Pronoia’ was also another name attributed to the goddess Athena.
This term is then found in several Gnostic apocrypha belonging to the Nag Hammadi Library, including ‘The Apocryphon of John’, ‘The Gospel of the Egyptians’, and the Neoplatonic text ‘Zostrianos’.
This word borrowed from the Greek, has also become a representation of the feudal system that has prevailed since the 11th century in the Byzantine Empire, including Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia. This system was introduced in Byzantium during the reign of Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus (1042–1055), and consisted in granting prominent citizens land or estates in exchange for military service, including the right to collect taxes from the population inhabiting those lands.
Nowadays, the term is used in psychology to describe the ‘positive’ equivalent of paranoia. It was returned to prominance in 1982 by the sociologist Fred Goldner. As a concept, it differs slightly from the currently popular use presented at the beginning of this article, because, firstly, it refers mainly to interpersonal relationships, and secondly, it includes the full spectrum of its meaning, namely as an approach that can be either constructive, or if taken to its extreme, destructive and harmful, depending on its intensity.
In this article, we will refer to the various meanings of this word in the context of the inner path, and try to address the question posed at the beginning.
Pronoia of the Gnostics
Let us start with the texts from the Nag Hammadi Library. In these Gnostic writings we find a continuation of the thought of the ancient mystery schools on the process of liberation from matter, the symbolic death of the old man and the rebirth of the new one. This process is the timeless essence of the spiritual path.
Pronoia is understood in these contexts as the female face of God, the benevolent divine force that keeps the world in order; Providence, the first revelation of the invisible Source, the reflection of Its Light and Wisdom; the womb for the Father’s thoughts, the first power from which further emanations emerge; the consciousness surpassing the mind. Together with the virgin Spirit, She creates a being called the Metropator – the Mother-Father.
In the ‘Apocryphon of John’, Pronoia is also identified with Protonoia – the first thought of the Father and Epinoia; reflection, the thought that comes after, and the divine light that was hidden in the earthly man. She is also shown as the figure of the saviour, as the power of Christ, Autogenes. It is the power that comes to free fallen man from the bondage of matter. In the world of our ancient ancestors, there was a belief that the material world was created without the participation of the Spirit, therefore it is full of suffering and imperfection.
In the ‘Apocryphon of John’ we read:
“I am the Providence of everything. I became like my own human children. I existed from the first. … I am dwelling in light. I am the memory of Providence. I entered the midst of darkness. I came to the deepest part of the underworld. I let my face light up. Thinking of the end of their time. I entered their prison. The body is that prison.
I cried out: “Anyone who hears, Rise up from your deep sleep”! And the sleeping one awoke and wept. Wiping bitter tears saying, “Who calls me? Where has my hope come from as I lie in the depths of this prison?
I am the Providence of pure light”. I replied, “I am the thought of the Virgin Spirit raising you up to an honoured place. Rise up! Remember what you have heard. Trace back your roots to me, the merciful one. Guard against the poverty demons. Guard against the chaos demons. Guard against all who would bind you. Awaken! Stay awake! Rise out of the depths of the underworld!
I raised him up. I sealed him with the light/water of the seven seals; Death had no power over him ever again. I ascend again to the perfect realm.” 
The fragment quoted above, says that the Divine Power of the beginning does not abandon the light present in man after it has been imprisoned in matter. It descends into the centre of darkness, into the prison of the physical body. It reminds man of the divinity hidden in him, instructs him, seals him with the light/water of the seven seals; rises him up to an honoured place; frees him from death and leads him to the ‘perfect realm’, to the kingdom of God.
In the old mystery schools and in the texts of the first Christians, which had a Gnostic character and traces of which we find in the Bible, the knowledge of the divine element hidden in the human heart was passed on. It was most often called a spark. In the ‘Apocryphon of John’, it is referred to as the Epinoia, or root. This divine element is located in a special place in the heart, filled with the original substance, the primal, intelligent, divine force of Light, which we can call pronoia after the ‘Apocryphon of John’. It is like a luminous seed, from which the divine ‘Pigera Adamas’ – the original perfect human being – can be reborn in the sevenfold process of liberation (“sealing with the light/water”).
Pronoia as a feudal system
In the “Apocryphon of John”, apart from Pronoia understood as Divine Power, we also find a mention of another pronoia, which was a power (the second archon) created by Yaldabaoth who is the personification, the spirit of the fallen and sinful world of matter. We can conclude that this second pronoia was an earthly imitation of Luminous Providence and Wisdom.
In pronoia, understood as the medieval feudal system in force in Byzantium and some other countries, we find such an imitation. Under this word there is material security, which man obtained from the ruler at the cost of an enormous sacrifice. We will use this example as a pretext to reflect on the social conditions that have been shaping human consciousness for centuries, or rather on the consciousness that shapes such social conditions.
In the world we live in, there has been a division into the ruling, and the oppressed classes since the beginning of time, which can be described with a powerful statement from the film ‘Cloud Atlas’: “The Weak are Meat, the Strong do Eat.” The matrix of the socio-economic order of earthly reality seems to be based on the concept of scarcity (“there are not enough resources on earth for everyone”), from which such behaviours as the struggle for survival, competition, and the exploitation of the weaker by the stronger, emerge. It is a social ‘food chain’ where wealth is unequally distributed, where some are rich beyond measure, while others, despite their hard work, barely have enough to eat.
When we refer to pronoia with the old social system in mind, we see a ruling class who, as alleged owners of the state, divided among its favoured subjects, its lands, in exchange for war services, i.e. for risking their lives. The latter, when they had earned it, received ownership of the land and often the right to manage the people living on it, profiting from their energy and work.
So here we have a social pyramid composed of masters and slaves, in which the masters of some were the slaves of others. And those who were masters of all masters, were they not also slaves? Isn’t a master the one who, for survival or well-being, has to feed off the energy of others, conquer new countries and nations, and rob them by force? What lack must there be in the consciousness of a being who never has enough, and lives off the misery of others? And how dependent must he be on his donors?
So, it can be concluded that those at the very top of the pyramid were as much enslaved as those at the bottom. So, we have two poles, the material pole and the consciousness pole, both expressing the one fundamental sense of poverty, of ‘lack’. Here we see that in this consciousness there is an absence of Spirit – the principle that combines Wisdom, Love and Life.
When we look at the history of the world, we notice that despite social upheavals and apparent changes in political systems, this pyramid-based order has always existed. We see how attempts to create a perfect world, happy and free from exploitation, fail over and over again.
Paranoia and Pronoia
Why, despite the efforts of the best human minds, and the efforts of almost all of humanity over so many centuries, have we failed to create a good and just world? Is it because our consciousness lacks Spirit?
Nowadays, in the Age of Aquarius, a lot of new information about the beings who rule our world and their actions comes to light. This knowledge gained the general name of ‘conspiracy theories’, due to its belief that the real, invisible rulers of this world have conspired and plotted for centuries to keep humanity in ignorance and slavery. No matter what the truth, the fact is that everything that surrounds us, was created by ourselves.
Focusing on the threats created by others, the so-called ‘them’ – perceived as the black architects of the modern world – can lead us into paranoia and an overwhelming fear of their next moves. On the other hand, ignoring the fact that we live in an imperfect world, in which, apart from benevolent and life-supporting forces, forces promoting degeneration and destruction also act through people, favours a certain form of denial, which can be described as an extreme form of pronoia.
Pronoia in this sense refers to the exaggerated belief that others wish us well, think well of us, love us, admire us, marvel at us. It can be a form of denial that is a strategy for the survival of the human ego. Its basis is growing up and living in an environment that is characterized by treating people as objects and considering their values only on the basis of the ability to enter socially desirable roles, perform tasks required of them, and supply the system with energy. Pronoia is understood here as an inability to accurately assess the situation, which may be a variant of the narcissistic belief in one’s own uniqueness.
The starting point of paranoia and extreme pronoia is placing oneself in a position of dependence on others. While the paranoid person believes that others are to blame for his unhappiness, the narcissistic pronoiac feels that others are the source of his happiness. Both reject, in an extreme way, their participation in creating their own reality, and taking responsibility for the quality of their own lives. This unconscious tendency is conducive to strengthening the ego, which is understood as a false identity. In the paranoid, the ego feeds on the energies of being a victim. And in the case of the pronoiac, it feeds on the idea of another’s admiration for him.
The knowledge of paranoia is common and has been known for a very long time, unlike pronoia, which was identified by Fred Goldner in the early 1980s, as a psychological determinant. To further explain what science means by this phenomenon, we will use an example given by Laurence J. Kirmayer of McGill University. In his study entitled “Paranoia and Pronoia: The Visionary and the Banal”  he quotes an example from W. Bonime (1979), where a woman was absolutely convinced of her irresistible attractiveness to the opposite sex. Wanting to prove it to her psychiatrist, she described a situation in which she was ‘hit on’ by a handsome man. Upon seeing her, the man would follow her a good distance, then catch up with her, compliment her on her appearance, and invite her for a drink. When asked by the psychiatrist how she had known the man had been following her, she replied that she had kept turning around and stealing glances at him. Completely unaware that her behaviour could be perceived as seductive, she persisted in the belief that she possessed the power of attraction.
In the 1997 film ‘Fierce Creatures’, Jamie Lee Curtis’s character describes Kevin Kline’s character as excessively ‘pronoid’, saying: “It means that despite all the available evidence, you actually think that people like you. Your perception of life is that it is one long benefit dinner in your honour, with everyone cheering you on and wanting you to win everything. You think you’re the prince, Vince.”
Pronoia in the psychological sense is an attitude that, if it occurs in a lesser intensity, is sometimes constructive. It becomes pathological when it consists of fearfully denying the fact that there is evil in the world. Or when a person, completely devoid of an ability to discriminate, fails to perceive the hostile intentions of others, and takes everything at face value. Or when a person with very low self-esteem and narcissistic traits, uses their belief in their own uniqueness for compensatory purposes.
What narcissistic paranoids and pronoids have in common is the inability to empathize with another human being. This involves a lack of self-awareness, an inability to take responsibility for one’s actions, and projecting one’s entire perspective onto others.
When we look carefully at ourselves, we may discover in our psyche, tendencies and behaviours that can be subsumed under the definition of mild shades of paranoia or pronoia. We will come back to this topic later in the article.
(To be continued in Part 2)