* The following article has been published with the author’s approval. The original article can be found at http://kheph777.tripod.com/art_gnosticism.html
(Diagram of the gnostic mythos, from “The Gnostic Scriptures” by Bently Layton – source)
Gnosticism: History and Mythology
The Greek word Gnosis indicates “Knowledge” of God; specifically Knowledge in the intimate (or Biblical) sense. Therefore, anyone involved in a study and practice of the Qabalah, Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, medieval Angel magick, etc is a gnostic in the technical sense- because all of these depend upon personal spiritual revelation and inspiration. Their highest Wisdom can only be received directly from God or His Angels, and each individual is responsible for his own communication therewith.
Yet, the term “Gnostic” is also applied to a certain religion, and its people, born in Egypt around the dawn of the Common Era. This religion was so named because it did, indeed, depend upon personal spiritual revelation- the Gnosis (or Knowledge) of God. Therefore, we can refer to these people both as “gnostic” and as “the Gnostics.”
When we hear the term “ancient Egypt”, it tends to bring to mind images of pyramids and sphinxes, pharaohs and tombs, powerful magickians and the Book of the Dead. Stories of the magickal power and wisdom of the Egyptian Priesthoods have long-since embedded themselves in our Western culture. More often than not, Egypt is herself considered the birthplace of Western mysticism and magick.
On the other hand, the people of modern Egypt are predominately Islamic- a faith even younger than Christianity. What, then, became of the wisdom and magick of the ancient Egyptian priesthoods? If we take Western mythology at face value, we must assume that Moses packed it up and took it with himself when he left Egypt. It is supposed to have become the basis for the Qabalah. However, when we take a look at history, it becomes clear that the bulk of what we know as Jewish mysticism actually originated in Babylon during the Hebrew captivity there in 600 BCE (quite some time after Moses did his thing).
The answer lies with the Graeco-Egyptians living after the invasion of Alexander the Great- the Copts. (More often, the name “Coptic” is used to designate the Egyptian language of the time. It consisted of the remnants of the older Egyptian tongue with the written alphabet of the Greeks.) The Copts were the last inheritors of the magickal mysteries of the fallen Egyptian empire. Yet, they were also heavily influenced by the people around them- most specifically the many Jewish mystical communities (such as the Essenes) to be found throughout the Middle East. This combination of Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish influence resulted in the Coptic faith of Gnosticism.
Simply put, Gnosticism is the earliest form of Christianity. The Nag Hammadi texts, discovered in Egypt in 1945, are written in Coptic. Modern scholars have called them the Gnostic Gosples and the Gnostic Scriptures. These ancient manuscripts allegedly contain the “secret” teachings of Jesus and the early Christians. They even provide some recognizable text from the later-compiled Scriptures, though given in an older and often surprising context.
Even one of the canonical books of the New Testament- the Gospel of John- is primarily of Gnostic origin. In it we can see a heavy Egyptian influence. The book begins with the words:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made…”
This is a reflection of the Gnostic concept of the Logos (“Word”). The Logos is an aspect of the Christos (“Anointed One”)- the Divine Spirit of Redemption that existed long before the birth of Jesus. It was with God at the very beginning, and was in fact the very Word with which all was created. (See Genesis I: “And God said…”) It is self-created, and is equated with both the Consciousness of God and the consciousness within mankind.
The concept descends quite directly from ancient Egyptian views of the God Djehuti (Thoth)- who was Himself the self-created Word of Re. Thoth stood as the redeemer between the human realm and the Divine, often shown in mythology as coming to the rescue of those in need. He was also credited with the creation of all things- as the active creative power of Re. To the later Gnostics, the Christos was a force to which all adepts must aspire. We witness the descent of the Logos into the body of Jesus at his baptism in the Gospel of Mark- and here we see another starkly Egyptian influence:
“And straightway coming up out of the water, [John] saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon [Jesus]:
And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
These lines echo the Egyptian myth of the birth of Osiris, which was accompanied by the Voice of Re from the heavens, proclaiming the birth of His Son and heir. In the Gnostic teaching, Jesus Christ then set out to teach all aspiring adepts how to make their own personal contacts with the Logos. The mysteries of exactly how to do this formed the backbone of Gnostic religion.
The mythical model for Christianity, therefore, had long existed when Jesus came onto the scene. I feel it is probable that Jesus had some contact with early Gnostic teachings. However, I have found nothing concerning his life that suggests he was himself Gnostic. Rather, Jesus was likely influenced by Essene teachings. The Essenes were a Jewish mystical group, who provided much of the Judaic influence upon Gnostic mysticism.
In the 1940s, a surprising amount of ancient mystical literature was discovered in caves near the northwest bank of the Dead Sea. Apparently, they were hidden there by Christian monks at the beginning of the Catholic aggression against “heresy” in the early Common Era. The writings were already ancient at the time they were hidden, and they remained safely concealed for another 1600 years.
Though there is much debate over the issue, these Dead Sea Scrolls possibly originated with an Essene commune that once existed at nearby Qumran. Supporting this theory are references in the scrolls to the “Sons of Light” (the good-guys, the authors of the texts), and to the “Sons of Belial” (the opposition, corrupted civilization). This suggests that the authors of the scrolls followed a separatist doctrine. The Essenes were also a separatist group, due to their strict rules regarding observance of Torah Law and ritual purity. The Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known versions of many Christian texts, and provide several clues into the religion of Gnosticism as well.
The similarities between Essene and Gnostic teaching make it easy to assume a connection between Jesus and Gnosticism. Perhaps because of this, the years after Jesus’ execution saw a commingling of the Christian political movement*, and the spiritual principals of the Gnostics. Of course, by the time the New Testament was compiled, a Gnostic work- the Book of John– was accepted as one of the four canonical Gospels.
- Remember that the Christian movement founded by Yeshua ben Joseph was a pro-Jewish and anti-Roman political faction that supported Yeshua as the rightful heir to the Throne of Israel. Therefore, at that time, one had to be a Jew in order to be Christian.
Eventually, the legends surrounding Jesus’ life were incorporated into the mythology of Gnosticism. For instance, the Nag Hammadi Gnostic literature discovered last century in Egypt purports to be the “secret teachings of Jesus.” That is, the teachings that Jesus reserved for his disciples, while he provided the masses with parables. Here we see Jesus as an Adept, one who has bonded with the Logos. His stated purpose is that of teaching the worthy to invoke the Logos as he had done, and to ascend past their basic human natures. The methods for doing this are strikingly similar to Jewish practices- such as Mekavah Mysticism.
The Gnostics incorporated a great amount of Old Testament literature into their tradition. However, as is common when new religions evolve, the Gnostics had their own peculiar interpretation of the material. The God of Judaism had become the devil of Gnosticism, the Serpent of Eden was a manifestation of the Redeemer Christ, and the being who warned Noah of the coming Deluge was working against the God who flooded the world. (We will return to all of these subjects later.)
One of the most central mythos of the Gnostic faith is the Biblical story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis 4. In the original story, Cain and Abel were the first two children of Adam and Eve. Cain made his living as a farmer, while Abel worked as a shepherd. The world’s first dispute arose between these two brothers over the subject of religion. Both brothers made offerings to God- Abel of the firstborn sheep, and Cain of the produce he grew. However, God found only Abel’s sacrifices acceptable, and his brother therefore murdered him. As punishment for this crime, Cain was marked and banished- cursed to be a “fugitive and a wanderer upon the earth.”
Cain does seem to have settled eventually- at least long enough to found an entire city in the land of Nod (eastward of Eden). Meanwhile, Adam and Eve had another son to replace the lost Abel- and they named him Seth. Seth remained pious throughout his life, and it was from him that descended Methuselah, Enoch, Lamech, Noah, and (therefore) the entire race of God’s chosen people upon the earth.
The Gnostics considered themselves the Sons of Seth. However, as the Copts were not themselves Jewish, they did not make the claim of blood descent through Abraham. Instead, the Gnostics believed in the doctrine of reincarnation. They had descended spiritually from Seth and his family.
The Gnostics were much like the Essenes in their separatist views. As the Sons of Seth, they were an elite minority of adepts existing outside of mainstream society. The rest of humanity had descended from the murderous Cain- and the corruption, warfare, and general hardship associated with their civilization was the legacy they inherited from their unfortunate forefather. Note the similarity between this worldview and the Essene doctrine of the Sons of Light vs. the Sons of Belial.
So far, we have discussed the origins of the Gnostic faith in Hellenic Egypt, as well as certain points of relationship between Gnostic doctrine and those of ancient mystical Judaism. Now, I will narrate my own “harmonized” version of the Gnostic Mythos of Creation. This story is an allegorical drama in four “acts”- leading from the primordial birth of the cosmos, to the current state of the world today.
The Gnostic Mythos: Act I
The first act of the Gnostic creation saga takes place beyond not only the physical realm, but also beyond the celestial. The most primitive shamanic myths recognize no “super-celestial” place- holding that all of reality simply stops at the band of fixed stars. All of the Gods, even the Creator Himself, lived in the sky among the visible heavenly bodies. Later, after the agricultural revolution, mythologies began to incorporate a super-celestial world. Herein exists all of the archetypal spiritual forces upon which reality- including the Gods- is based. In Judaism, only God Himself lived here. Gnosticism adopted and elaborated upon this cosmic scheme, turning it into an allegorical description of the Mind of God. Their name for this realm is the Pleroma– “the Fullness” or “the Entirety.”
The classic Gnostic creation myth is recorded in The Secret Book According to John. The story does not begin with the Creator fashioning the universe, but actually well before the process outlined in Genesis I. The Creator, in fact, has not yet come into existence. Instead, the main character is the “Parent of the Entirety”- an unknowable and indescribable Primal Source of all things created and uncreated.
“It is not fitting to think of it as divine or as something of the sort, for it is superior to deity… It is unlimited because nothing exists prior to it so as to bestow limit upon it… It is immeasurable light, which is uncontaminated, holy, and pure…
It is not corporeal, it is not incorporeal, it is not large, it is not small, it is not quantifiable, nor is it a creature. Indeed, no one can think of it. […]
It is eternity as it bestows eternity. It is life as it bestows life. It is blessed as it bestows blessedness. It is gnosis as it bestows gnosis. It is good as it bestows good. It is mercy as it bestows mercy and ransom. It is grace as it bestows grace. It is all these things not as possessing attributes; rather, as bestowing them.”
This Parent of the Entirety was utterly alone. Then, as has been described earlier in this lecture, the Parent began to think. However, as there was yet nothing to think about, the Parent had only Itself to contemplate. This contemplation is personified as an entity called the “Barbelo.” The Barbelo is the “Image of the Parent”, “Forethought”, or “Thinking.” (Remember that He does not represent the first thought of the Parent so much as the Parent’s act of thinking.) Moreover, the Barbelo is described as the “Mother-Father” of all things- because it is not a distinct entity from the Parent Itself.
Once the Parent had the ability of Thinking, it began to contemplate several intangible concepts most associated with Itself. The Gnostics called each of these thoughts an “Aeon”- which indicates an “eternal realm”, an incredibly long span of time, and is personified as a being in its own right. The Barbelo, in fact, is the first of the Aeons. In John’s Secret Book… , the Barbelo requests of the Parent four more Aeons- Prognosis, Incorruptibility, Eternal Life, and Truth. These five are called androgynous- meaning they include both male and female attributes. (Again, note that the Barbelo is called “Mother-Father.”) This makes for a total of ten Aeons who stand before the Parent- with the “Image of the Parent” heading the group.
The next being to manifest was not requested of the Parent by the Barbelo, but was actually conceived between Them. Of course, this explanation is simplified at best because the Barbelo and Parent are not truly separate things. Thus, this third being descended directly through the Parent/Barbelo and is Itself a third aspect thereof. This is called the Christos (Annointed), and the Self-Originate- because it was born only of Itself. It was then glorified by the Barbelo and established as the God of the Pleroma. This is only aspect of Ultimate Divinity that the human mind can hope to comprehend- and it was the primary focus of the Gnostic sect.
The Christos then requested from the Parent three co-actors: Intellect, Will, and Word (Logos). There is an implication that these are also beings, but they are not treated as such. Instead, they are aspects of the Christos Himself, and with them (especially Word) did the Christos create the rest of the hierarchy of the Pleroma. (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and all things were made by Him.)
Thus the Christos, from His own Light, formulated four Great Luminaries: Harmozel, Oroiael, Daueithai, and Eleleth. Like the Aeons, these were both mighty beings and eternal realms. Subordinate to Them came twelve further Aeons:
Harmozel: Loveliness, Truth, and Form.
Oroiael: Afterthought, Perception, and Memory.
Daueithai: Intelligence, Love, and Ideal Form (or Idea).
Eleleth: Perfection, Peace, and Wisdom.
These are the lowest aspect of the Pleroma. Beneath Wisdom would come to exist the great veil that separates the Pleroma from all created reality.
Now, you will likely note the obvious relationship between this group of entities and the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the four Kherubic Archangels who preside over them. Although, they are not one and same- nothing physical or celestial has been created here in act I of the Gnostic creation mythos. Instead, these sixteen entities are the blueprints for what would later become the Zodiac and its Rulers.
Finally, there were four more blueprints added to this group- each one indicating something that would eventually be seen on the physical Earth. Within the realm of Harmozel was placed the Celestial Adam (blueprint for the Human Being, or Man). With Oroiael was placed the Celestial Seth (the Son of Man). With Daueithai was the Posterity of Seth (apparently the souls of all future Gnostics). And, lastly, with Eleleth was placed the Penitents (the souls of non-Gnostics who would later repent).
The Gnostic Mythos: Act II
The most important of the 12 lesser Aeons- for our purposes- is the last of the family: Sophia (Wisdom) – who exists just above the veil that separates the material realm from the Pleroma itself. Sophia is the Mother Goddess of the Gnostic creation mythos, from whom all life in the material realm ultimately descends. We now enter Act II of this fascinating plot- keeping in mind that it has always been intended as an allegorical tale describing the descent of Light into matter.
As the last engendered being in the hierarchy, Sophia felt Her own desire to procreate. However, where those Aeons above Her had made offspring only with the consent of Their polar mates, Sophia could not gain Her own mate’s cooperation. Therefore, Sophia attempted to engender a child of Her own. This child-god was named Ialdabaoth. However, due to the unbalanced circumstance of its birth, Ialdabaoth was deformed, blind (without gnosis, or ignorant), and insane. (He is described in the Secret Book… as serpentine, with a lion’s face, and eyes that flashed like lightning.) Out of shame over Her creation, Sophia cast Her son out of the Pleroma and concealed him in a cloud of darkness.
The infant Ialdabaoth, upon first opening his eyes, had seen only the smallest glimpse of the Pleroma, its principal hierarchy, and his Mother. (Some texts insist that he only saw their reflection upon the surface of the Waters of the Deep.) Yet, in that instant, he had become enamoured of Sophia, and had moved to grasp the luminous power that radiated from Her. Only after Sophia had drawn closed the veil between the Pleroma and the outer darkness did She realize that Her light had diminished, because Ialdabaoth had stolen a portion of it.
And so Ialdabaoth was alone, insane, and full of stolen divine power. His ignorance led him to believe that he was alone in the universe, and that he was the Parent of all things. This is the being the Gnostics called the Demiurgos (craftsman), the Creator of the world- the God of Genesis. He was also called Samael (blind god) and Saklas (fool).
His glimpse of the Pleroma had seeded his mind with the idea of a pattern for creation- an idea he thought to be his own. He thus fashioned the heavens and the earth within the abyss of darkness. Further, he populated his universe with angelic rulers (called Archons) in order to have worshippers who believed him to be the Highest God. (It is thus we call him “Ialdabaoth”- begetter of the hosts.) There were twelve great Archons:
-Belias (who presides over Hades)
And there were seven Archons who directly govern the world:
-Athoth, with the face of a sheep or lion. (Kindness)
-Eloaios, with a Typhonian face. (Forethought)
-Astaphaios, with the face of a hyena. (Divinity)
-Iao, with the face of a serpent, and seven heads. (Lordship)
-Sabaoth, with the face of a dragon or snake. (Kingship)
-Adonin, with the face of an ape. (Zeal)
-Sabbataios, with a glowing face of fire. (Intelligence)
Each of these seven are given dual names. Through the first name, given by Ialdabaoth, each Archon exercises power over the world. The second name (Kindness, etc) was given to each- without Ialdabaoth’s knowledge- by the glory of the heavenly realm (the Pleroma). By these secondary names are the Archons overthrown and rendered powerless.
Further, more Archons were created, subservient to these 19, so the number of Archons equaled either 360 (degrees in the celestial circle) or 365 (days in a year). Ialdabaoth created these celestial hosts from his own natural fire, but did not share with them any of the life-giving Light he had stolen from his Mother.
Thus did the Demiurgos create his universe in the chaotic depths outside the Pleroma. He believed himself to be the One True God- though he secretly knew about the existence of his Mother Sophia. He became drunk and stupefied by his own power and arrogance.
As for Sophia, She repented for her deed and for the loss of the portion of Her Light. She cried out, and was heard by the hierarchies of Aeons within the Pleroma. They pitied Her, and raised Their voices with Hers- so that the Parent of the Entirety took notice and consented to help. It poured forth its divine spirit upon Her, and elevated Her to the ninth of the twelve lower Aeons (called Afterthought) until She could rectify the problem of the stolen Light.
The Gnostic Mythos: Act III
Act III of the Gnostic creation begins with the arrogant proclamation of Ialdabaoth- taken from the scripture of Judasim- to his hosts of Archons: “For my part, I am a jealous God. And, there is no other God apart from me.” Because of this, the Archons themselves became suspicious. If Ialdabaoth were truly the only God, then what other God could exist to arouse his jealousy?
The Demiurge’s faulty declaration also brought a response from the Pleroma. This was, in fact, the first step taken by the Aeons in a plan to regain Sophia’s stolen light. From behind the great barrier veil, a voice rang out through the abyss of darkness: “Not true Ialdabaoth! The Human Being exists, and the Child of the Human Being!” (That is to say, Man- the Celestial Adam- and the Son of Man- Seth; both of whom exist within the Great Luminaries of the Pleroma.) With this, the Celestial Adam was brought to the edge of the veil so that his luminous image was reflected into the waters of the deep. Ialdabaoth’s realm trembled, the foundations of the abyss shook, and the Archons were dumfounded.
Even the Deumiurgos himself did not know from where the voice or the image had come. Thinking quickly, Ialdabaoth took credit for these things himself. He said to his Archons: “Come, let us make a human being after the image of God and after our own images, so that the human being’s image might serve as a light for us. Let us call him Adam, so that we might have his name as a luminous power.” (The biblical student will recognize these words as adapted from the Judaic scripture of Genesis II.)
Therefore, all of the Archons came together to build Adam- each adding something of himself to the new soul. However, this was not yet the physical Adam. This original version was more like an Angel or Archon himself. Yet, even after the efforts of each and every Ruler, Adam remained a lifeless construct, and he lay immobile. Without the power to bring Adam to life, Ialdabaoth faced having his status as a lesser God revealed.
This, too, was part of the divine plan initiated by the Aeons of the Pleroma. The Barbelo dispatched the Christos and the Four Luminaries to consult Ialdabaoth in his predicament. They whispered into his ear that he should breath the Breath of Life into Adam. The Demiurgos followed this advice, as seen in Genesis II, and miraculously brought Adam to vibrant life. However, Ialdabaoth realized too late that he had been tricked into relinquishing all of his stolen power to Adam. The human being grew strong and shone with the divine light of Sophia.
Adam was now more powerful than Ialdabaoth himself, and this made the Archons angry. In fear and retaliation, they cast Adam into the lowest pit of matter. The Barbelo, out of compassion for the human being, dispatched Mother Sophia to reside within Adam- to suffer with him and to raise his thinking beyond his material prison. Some versions of this story hold that it was merely an aspect (or daughter) of Sophia that descended to the material realm- called Zoe (Life).
Meanwhile, the Archons completed their prison for Adam. A body of matter was created from the dust of the earth, into which Adam’s soul was imprisoned. Furthermore, the Garden of Eden was created as a place of leisure and earthly delight- so that Adam might become complacent, unperceptive, and “asleep”- and so have no clue of his true inner power. The only rule Ialdabaoth gave him was that he should never touch the Tree of Knowledge (or Tree of Gnosis)- else he might discover his godhood and defeat the Demiurgos and his hosts of Rulers. (Note that some texts suggest that even this Adam was not a physical man such as you or I. In these cases, the human race would not materialize on earth until Adam was expelled from Eden.)
As a further step toward keeping Adam asleep, Ialdabaoth succeeded in taking from him the power of Zoe. Another body was fashioned- this one female- and Zoe was imprisoned within it. This is the Gnostic interpretation of the creation of Eve seen in Genesis II. Here, it was Zoe rather than a rib that was removed from the sleeping Adam. Thus, the divine power stolen and then lost by Ialdabaoth became divided between Adam and Eve. (Note that Eve, in Hebrew, means “Life” just as does the Coptic Zoe.)
According to the text The Hypostasis of the Archons (“The Reality of the Rulers”), it was then that the Christos descended to the Garden of Eden in the form of the serpent. Where the serpent had been the antagonist of the Judaic Eden story, he became the hero of the Gnostic mythos. It was the serpent who convinced Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of Gnosis, and therefore moved them closer to the realization of their own power and liberation from the material darkness.
For this, Ialdabaoth expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden and cursed the Earth, woman, and serpent. (The Christos, however, had withdrawn from the serpent before the curse could be declared.) The two humans were given the waters of forgetfulness, so they would not remember whom they were, and the man was set to dominate the woman. They were thus blinded to their own sins, and to the existence of the God above Ialdabaoth and the Archons.
Now, Ialdabaoth set his eyes upon the power of Zoe, which still resided within Eve. He pursued Eve with the intention of raping her to reclaim his lost power. However, before this could happen, Zoe was caught up once more into the Pleroma. It was therefore a mere earthly shell- the body of Eve- that was attacked and defiled by Ialdabaoth. The result of this union was the corrupted child Cain.
(The Secret Book According to John states that both Cain and Abel were fathered in this way, though other texts insist it was only Cain. In the Revelation of Adam, it is said that the divine glory left both Eve and Adam after their expulsion, and did not return again until it entered Seth and- thus- his descendants. In The Hypostasis… it was all of the Archons together who chased Eve. At the last moment, however, Zoe left Eve behind and transformed Herself into the Tree of Life. This same text also suggests that Eve later had a daughter (by Adam) named Norea- the wife of Seth. Norea was supposed to be the rebirth of Zoe into the world, so that Norea and Seth together gave birth to the Gnostic race.)
It is thus that humanity had its beginning as a lost people unaware of their divine origin. Those among us who awaken and remember (“upon whom the spirit of life will descend and dwell with power”) will, upon death, return to the Pleroma. In this way, they will return their small portion of the stolen Light of Sophia to its rightful home. Those souls who fail will, upon death, be seized by the Archons, bound, and cast back into the prison of physical incarnation. This cycle will continue forever until the soul awakens and escapes the Wheel of Fate.
Finally, the Hypostasis… claims that Zoe dispatched a fiery Angel to banish the Demiurgos to Tartarus. Here, he became the “Satan” we most commonly know, and populated the created world with demons such as Envy, Death, etc.
Meanwhile, one of Ialdabaoth’s seven sons- Sabaoth- eventually repented and condemned the ways of his father. He sang praises to Sophia/Zoe, and was therefore caught up to the seventh heaven (the highest of the heavens outside of the Pleroma). Here, Sabaoth became the God of the Jews:
“Now when these events had come to pass, it made itself a huge four-faced chariot of kherubim, and infinitely many angels to render assistance and also harps and lyres. And Sophia took Her daughter Zoe and had Her sit at its right to teach it about the things that exist in the eighth heaven; and the Angel of Anger she placed at its left. Since that day, its right has been called Life, and the left has come to represent the injustice of the realm of absolute power above.”
Sabaoth was the Gnostics’ way of explaining contradictions between their mythos and their Judaic sources. The God of the Old Testament was not always unjust or arrogant, and thus these instances of mercy or wisdom were credited to Sabaoth rather than Ialdabaoth. As an example, the Gnostics saw two beings at work in the story of Noah and the Deluge: Ialdabaoth who wished to rid the world of the offspring of Adam, and Sabaoth who acted secretly against his father by warning Noah of the coming disaster.
The Gnostic Mythos: Act IV
The final act of the Gnostic creation mythos does not differ greatly from the already well-known Christian Gospels- the story of Jesus. In fact, by reading the Gospel of John one will have read the standard Gnostic telling of the tale. What sets the Gnostic story apart from other versions of the Gospel is the peculiar manner in which the details of the story are interpreted. This is very similar to Gnostic interpretations of passages from Genesis and elsewhere in the Bible.
Unfortunately, much of the information about the Gnostic interpretation of Jesus’ life comes from an untrustworthy source- St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, who wrote his Against Heresies in about 180 C.E. As the title of his work suggests, St. Irenaeus was set firmly against the beliefs of the Gnostics, and presented their mythos with an aim toward discrediting it entirely. His information is trusted to some degree because his presentation of already-familiar Gnostic material (such as the creation mythos) appears accurate. (Plus, what he presents concerning Gnostic thought and practice is not nearly so fantastical as that found in other anti-Gnostic writings; such as those by St. Epiphanius- who described many horrifying and unlikely practices among the Gnostics. Such as ritual abortion, etc.)
The first point of contention between the Gnostic and Catholic views of Jesus is over the origin of the man himself. The Gnostics viewed Jesus and the Christ as two separate entities. They did not see Jesus as merely an ordinary human, but neither did they feel that Jesus was “with the father in the beginning.” Instead, Jesus was engendered by the Holy Spirit as a perfect vessel for the containment of the true God of the Pleroma and Redeemer of mankind- the Christos. Jesus the man would not obtain the Christos until his baptism, and he would lose it again just before his death.
St. Irenaeus tells us that- after the first three acts of the Gnostic creation mythology- the “vulgar Wisdom” (perhaps meaning Zoe- the Lower Wisdom) had no resting place upon earth or in the heavens. Therefore, she called upon her mother (presumably Sophia, referred to as the Holy Spirit in this text) for help. If we place this into the context of the previous acts of the mythos, then we should assume this as another step in the divine plan formulated by the Aeons to retrieve the stolen light. In response to the plea of vulgar Wisdom, the Holy Spirit engendered two humans: one was John the Baptist, born of a barren woman, and the other was Jesus ben Joseph, born of a virgin. John was intended to proclaim the coming of the Anointed, and to baptize Jesus so that he (Jesus) would be a pure vessel when the Christos finally descended.
Earlier in this lecture, you heard a bit about the baptism of Jesus, and mention was made of the descent of the Christos as witnessed by John. The form it took was that of a white dove- a common symbol of the Holy Spirit even in modern Christianity. In the Gnostic interpretation, this dove symbolizes a combination of Sophia and the Christos- and thus the true Holy Spirit of God. It was in response to the plea of the “vulgar Wisdom” that the Christos was dispatched to the physical earth. During its journey hence, it descended through the seven heavens, emptying each sphere (and thus the Archons) of power along the way. Then, it joined itself to Sophia, so that the Christos is called the Bridegroom and Sophia the Bride. It was this unified divine force that descended into Jesus at his baptism, and to which the voice of God proclaimed His pleasure from the sky. Thus was created Jesus the Anointed, or Jesus Christ.
Of course, even Jesus the man was not an original creation by the Holy Spirit. Like most aspects of the Gnostic mythos, anything that appears on earth must necessarily have its counterpart (or blueprint) in the Pleroma. (Later Hermetic schools would comprehend this in the phrase “As Above, So Below.”) In this light, there is indication that Jesus was a reincarnation of the father of all Gnostics- Seth. (Remember that Seth was himself modeled upon the super-celestial Seth.) According to the Gnostics, this explains why Jesus often referred to himself as the “Son of Man”- a title generally reserved for Seth, the Son of Adam. We can see how this would secure the entire Jesus story as an acceptable Gnostic mythology. While the first Seth fathered the Gnostic race- preserving the precious divine light in his line of descendants- the second Seth came to teach his children the secrets of bringing the light back to the Pleroma, thus bringing the divine plan to completion.
Of course, Ialdabaoth and his Archons were angry over the advent of Jesus Christ, the miracles he performed, and (especially) the message he delivered. Therefore, it was these forces of darkness that orchestrated the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus. (In the Gospel according to John 8:44, Jesus outright accuses the Pharisees of serving Satan. In the Gnostic interpretation, this is where Jesus affirms that the Jews were serving Ialdabaoth.)
Another Gnostic angle on Bible interpretation helps explain one of the most curious scenes in the Gospel- found (for instance) at Mathew 27:46. Here, Jesus has already been crucified and is painfully drifting toward death. Of all the things the Son of God might possibly have said at that particular moment, Jesus was recorded as uttering, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” In and of itself, it simply makes no sense if one follows the standard Christian dogma concerning God and Jesus. Thereby, God could not have forsaken Jesus, for the two were either one and the same, or were at least of the same substance. Yet, according to Gnostic dogma, God and Jesus were always separate entities- and there is precedent already set in the mythology for the desertion of the physical by the Christos.
Remember that the Annointed, as a Force of the Pleroma, is perfect and cannot be defiled in any way. It descended once into the Serpent of Eden to rescue Adam and Eve from their prison, but had to withdraw again before the Demiurgos could pronounce his curse against it. In like manner did the Divine Light flee from Adam before he could be similarly cursed, from Eve before she could be raped by the Archons, and yet again from Able before his murder at the hands of Cain.
Thus, once his worldly ministry was complete, and Jesus was brought before the Roman governor Pilate to begin his trial and suffering, the force of Christ/Sophia left him. Allegorically, it was only the perishable aspects of the Master that suffered and died- particularly his body and earthly spirit. The incorruptible light of God within him could experience no such thing, and was thus caught up into the heavens again. Therefore, the passions and crucifixion of Jesus were intended to separate the pure from within him and to destroy the impure. To this very day, this remains the mystical and hermetic interpretation of the Crucifixion.
Continuing this allegory, Jesus was resurrected after three days as a perfect being. Having been purified of all earthy materials and passions, he no longer existed in a physical human body. He was then caught up into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of Ialdabaoth (or Sabaoth, depending on the text). As the souls of departed humans raise themselves naturally toward the throne of the seventh heaven, Jesus gathers the Gnostic souls to himself without Ialdabaoth’s knowledge. Non-Gnostics, however, are seized by the Demiurgos and forced back to incarnation upon earth- where they will continue to feed the Archons with their suffering. Eventually, Jesus will have gathered all of the enlightened souls, finally recovering the entirety of the light stolen by the Creator, and thus bringing created reality to a final end.
This is part two of a longer lecture dedicated to the subject of historical Gnosticism. Part one dealt with a simple overview of Gnostic history and philosophy, and a “harmonized” telling of the classical Gnostic creation mythos- taken from such texts as the Secret Book According to John, and the Hypostasis of the Archons.
Here in part two, we shall discuss a later, yet equally important, school of Gnosticism. This school arose independently of the most ancient Gnostic sects, and within the boundaries of the Pauline Christian Church. It is known today as “Valentinian” Gnosticism- so named after the founder of the movement. It would appear, in fact, that the bulk of Gnostic influence upon Western culture- especially within the Qabalah, Hermeticism, and Magick- was handed down almost exclusively from the Valentinian school. (Remember that the Nag Hammadi texts, containing what we know of classical Gnosticism, were not discovered until the 1940s CE.)
Much as I have done previously, I will begin this exploration with an historical overview of the Valentinian movement and some of the people involved in it. Then, I will present the Valentinian recension of the Gnostic Creation mythology.
Valentinus (ca 100 – 175 CE) was born in the city of Phrebonis in the Egyptian delta. He is said to have received a Greek education in Alexandria, and became a Neoplatonic philosopher and teacher. Around 140 CE, he moved to Rome in order to take an active role in the Roman Catholic Church as a teacher and leader. We also know that he once hoped to be appointed the Bishop of Rome, but he did not receive the position (possibly due to his heretical spiritual views?).
Valentinus and his students accepted traditional Roman (that is, Pauline) Christian doctrine. The teacher himself claimed to have learned the mysteries from a disciple of St. Paul’s named Theudas. Theudas, as a member of Paul’s inner circle, was supposed to have learned a deeper allegorical interpretation of Scripture than was taught to common men. This he passed on to Valentinus, who then taught the same mysteries to his inner circle of students at private meetings in Rome. (Note the similarity here to the classical Gnostic claim of receiving the “secret teachings of Jesus”- revealed only to his inner circle of disciples.)
Now, I find it incredibly unlikely that Paul (who was nothing more than a Roman infiltrator and pretender within Christian ranks) could have ever taught such insightful things as we see from the school of Valentinian Gnosticism. Yet, it was this claimed apostolic succession from Paul, through Theudas, to Valentinus that formed the foundational spiritual authority upon which Valentinus stood. (Such claims of apostolic succession were important to many early Christian teachers.)
As it turns out, these “deeper allegorical interpretations” of Scripture were actually a version of the classical Gnostic mythos. It was certainly much more Christian- or at least more Roman- than the original Gnostic myth, but it retained most of the same basic elements.
The surviving teachings of Valentinus (such as in the Gospel of Truth) depict a formula of salvation through personal gnosis of God. The Gospel of Truth is not classical Gnosticism at all, but it seems to apply the same principles on an individual scale as the Gnostics applied to their entire people. (By reason of this individual focus, Valentinian teachings are considered a form of mysticism.) The text describes the human soul as a spark of Divinity lost in ignorance and in need of a redeemer to ransom it from the darkness. That redeemer leads the soul back to gnosis with God. This “fullness-loss-recapture” pattern has resulted in the labeling of the Gospel… as “gnostic rhetoric.”
Valentinus also taught that God contains all things (much as we see in the concept of the heavenly spheres- where God is the largest sphere encompassing all others)- rather than the principally linear pattern espoused by the classical Gnostics, wherein reality is outside of and far removed from God. He also taught that physical reality is an illusion- and that the illusion of distinction and structure dissolves once gnosis of God is achieved. The ignorant- who are blind to the reality behind perceived reality- are literally trapped in a waking nightmare, while the elect are to be awakened and called home. (To be “called home”, in this sense, is to enter a state of “repose” or “rest.” This, like much of the Valentinian philosophy, is of Neoplatonic origin- where a distinction is made between the “volatile” and the “fixed.” All of imperfect reality is the result of motion, while perfection can only exist in a fixed state.)
Valentinus was attacked viciously for his teachings and Biblical interpretations. Later Church fathers claimed that he was forced to leave Rome because of this, though there does not seem to be any evidence to support it. His public career effectively ended in 165 CE, when he did not receive the position as the Bishop of Rome.
Influences upon Valentinus
The groundwork for Valentinian Gnosticism appears to have been laid while its creator was still studying in Alexandria. For instance, we know there was an active sect of classical Gnostics in Alexandria at the time, and it is obvious that Valentinus learned much from them (either directly or, at least, via their writings or public speeches). At the same time, the Hermetic sciences were flourishing throughout Hellenic Egypt, and it is likely that much was drawn from this school into the Valentinian form of mysticism. Also in Alexandria was the School of Basilides. Basilides was a Christian philosopher who was, himself, affected by classical Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Stoicism, and Pythagorean theories (all of which are likewise very important to the Valentinian school.) It is doubtless that Valentinus would have interacted freely with this particular group.
Yet, upon reading the Valentinian philosophy and mythos, it becomes apparent that one school had an even greater impact upon Valentinus than the Alexandrian Gnostics or the disciples of Basilides. This was the School of St. Thomas- and it was so intimately connected with the Gnostic philosophies that it is nearly impossible to consider it non-Gnostic in and of itself. (Like the Valentinian Gospel of Truth, it is not classical Gnosticism, but can be considered “gnostic rhetoric.”) The principal surviving texts of the school are: The Gospel According to Thomas, The Book of Thomas, and The Acts of Thomas (which latter includes the powerful and highly significant poem entitled The Hymn of the Pearl).
The School of St. Thomas was founded in Mesopotamia and then disseminated throughout the known Christian world. Valentinus probably met with an Egyptian branch of the school during his formative years in Alexandria. Because the philosophies of St. Thomas are so vital to our own current exploration, I’ll take a moment here to outline some of the history and teachings of the school.
The full name of its founder is St. Didymus Jude Thomas, Apostle of the East. He is said to have been no one less than Jesus’ twin brother. After the messiah was executed, it was Thomas who inherited the leadership of the fledgling Christian movement. (Thus, his description as Jesus’ twin [if it is not literal] may have simply been an acknowledgement of his equal status with Jesus as the movement’s leader and teacher. It was Thomas’ group, by the way, that referred to itself as “the meek” or “the humble” [etc]- which throws great light upon New Testament statements such as “the meek shall inherit the earth.”) St. Thomas was officially credited with the conversion of northern Mesopotamia and India to Christianity.
As previously stated, the School of St. Thomas is not historically related (as far as we know) to classical Gnosticism, but it did teach a mysticism of spiritual gnosis. It focused upon one’s personal relationship with God, and the existence of God and His Divine Kingdom within the hearts of all believers. The philosophy teaches one to find the “living Jesus” (i.e.- Divine Light) within, and thus to gain knowledge of both oneself and one’s divine double (i.e.- Higher Self).
The St. Thomas mythos can be summed up in this succinct manner: The True Self (or soul) of an individual has been sent from the “Kingdom of Light in the East” (or spiritual realm). It now lives in the material realm- a place of “sleep, drunkenness, darkness, and death”- where it has forgotten its true nature and origin. This land of outer darkness is often metaphorically termed “Egypt” or “Babylon”, and is ruled by malevolent authorities termed “Pharisees”, “Babylonians”, etc. The King- or Father- of the Kingdom of Light then sends a savior (Jesus) or a “personified message” (what we might call a Holy Guardian Angel) to awaken and sober the soul- teaching it to recognize itself (and where it comes from) and to distinguish between Light and darkness. This ultimately causes the soul to return to its home in the Kingdom of Light- a place described as partly elsewhere and partly within the self. The Hymn of the Pearl is based entirely upon this mytho-mystical outline.
The Valentinian School
It must be understood that Valentinian Gnosticism was a philosophical school rather than a sect of Christianity. They were Pauline Christians, and followed the doctrines of Rome. As a school, they felt they had apostolic succession from St. Paul himself- and they claimed him as their principal authority. Two branches of the school eventually developed, each distinguished by its particular views upon the origin of Jesus Christ. One was the “Italic” (or Western) branch started by Ptolemy and Heracleon. This group believed that Jesus had been an animate being who joined with the Christos at his baptism- very similar to the classical Gnostic belief. The other was the Eastern branch started by Theodotus and Mark. This group believed that Jesus was a divine being from his very birth, engendered by the Holy Spirit- a view more in holding with the contemporary Catholic doctrine.
At first, Valentinian Gnostics were accepted within the Church (i.e.- Valentinian scholars could hold official positions as late as 200 CE) and they were therefore allowed to spread throughout the Roman Empire. Eventually, however, the Valentinians were distanced from the Roman Church. Because they first existed within the ranks of the official Church, their enemies often referred them to as “wolves in sheeps’ clothing.” By the 4th century (Constantine’s time) the Roman government was in the act of consuming the Church (or vice-versa). In 326 CE, Constantine officially listed Gnosticism among heretical movements- all of which were ordered to immediately shut down. (Note that this is the same century in which a group of clever monks hid the Coptic manuscripts in a cave near Nag Hammadi.) A mention of a “Valentinian Chapel” was made in 388 CE- when it was burned down by Christians. In 428 CE, the Roman Emperor Theodosius included the Valentinians in another law passed against heretical sects. In 692, the Trullan Synod (a meeting of Church and Roman officials) discussed how to receive a “repentant Valentinian” into the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, St. Irenaeus (the declared anti-Gnostic) is our primary source for the writings and teachings of the Valentinian school. He only gives us a sketchy account of the Gnostic myth as told by Valentinus himself. However, he gives a complete account of the story as told by Ptolemy- one of Valentinus’ first and greatest students. The mythos is likely Ptolemy’s own recension of the story, but (because it is the most complete) it is considered the definitive Valentinian Gnostic creation myth.
Very little is known of Ptolemy. He lived roughly between 136-180 CE. Some have suggested that he was one ‘Ptolemy the Martyr” (died ca 152 CE), but we can’t know if this is indeed the case. We do have some of Ptolemy’s teachings- as quoted or described by St. Irenaeus and St. Epiphanius in their anti-heretical works. Epiphanius, in particular, quotes an Epistle to Flora written by Ptolemy.
The Epistle to Flora concerns interpretation of the Old Testament- both the Law contained within it and the God(s) who delivered it. First, Ptolemy explains, the God of the Old Testament could not be the Parent of the Entirety, or else its Law would have been as perfect as Itself. Yet, the Law of the Old Testament is not perfect, needed fulfillment by another (a reference to Jesus, who said he came to fulfill the Law rather than break it), and often contradicts the very nature of the Parent. (Examples given of the latter are the Mosaic Law allowing for divorce, or the injunction to take an “eye for an eye”, etc.)
At the same time, Ptolemy continues, the God of the Old Testament could not have been the Devil- as claimed by the classical Gnostics- because the craftsmanship of the world reflects the work of a God who hates evil. Any work of a true Devil would necessarily run counter to anything of heavenly origin.
In fact, the nature of the various Laws of the Old Testament indicate that there must have been three different authors:
1) The Creator. (That is, the Demiurgos, not the highest Parent of All.)
3) The Hebrew Elders.
Further, those Laws given by the Creator are divided into three:
1a) Pure but Imperfect. (These are the Laws that are just, but were in need of later “fulfillment”- that is to say completion- by Jesus.)
1b) Interwoven with Injustice. (These are the “eye for an eye”-style Laws mentioned previously- that were later abolished by Jesus).
1c) Symbolic. (These were originally Jewish ritual laws. As such, they were abolished by Jesus- but the scripture that describes the rituals were given a higher allegorical meaning.)
Ptolemy asserts that this proves the God of the Old Testament is intermediate between perfection and evil. Thus, the Demirugos is called “Just”- and he is often referred to by Ptolemy in the Epistle… as the “God of Righteousness” or “God of Justice”. (“Being a judge of the Justice (Righteousness) that is his.”) He was made in the image of the Parent of All.
Ptolemy’s version of the Gnostic myth (contained in St. Irenaeus’ Against Heresies) was the best-known account of the Gnostic creation before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library in the 1940s CE. This is likely the very text that most affected the development of the Hermeticism, Qabalah, and Western occultism of later centuries. John Dee almost certainly owned and/or studied a copy.
The return to repose- from volatile to fixed- is the theme of Ptolemy’s telling of the Gnostic creation. The fixed nature of spiritual perfection is symbolized in the text by androgyny (the permanent union of sexual opposites, the return of “male” and “female” to a single body). Thus, the True Self that resides within each of us (the Divine Spark) has its own counterpart (or Angel) in the spiritual realm with which it must re-unite. Thus, as we shall see, there exists a deeply sexual tone to Ptolemy’s myth- as it attempts to relate the spiritual “mystery of the bridal chamber.”
(NOTE: This “counterpart (or Angel) in the Pleroma” is NOT equivalent to our own concept of the Holy Guardian Angel. The Redeemer of the Valentinian mythos represents the Guardian Angel- who is dispatched to the physical realm to awaken the sleeping soul. The spiritual counterpart (or Higher Self) of the True Self remains always in the Pleroma waiting for the reunion.)
Valentinian Gnostic Mythos
(Note: For convenience, I have attempted to divide this story into four principal “acts”- so as to reflect the same division made within the classical Gnostic creation tale. This should make a comparative study of both myths somewhat easier.)
Act I: Formation of the Pleroma
In the beginning was the Prior Source- also called the Ancestor, the Deep, and several further descriptive titles. This is identical with the classical Gnostic “Parent of the Entirety” and it is likewise described as “uncontained, invisible, unengendered”, etc. As usual, the Source is utterly alone in the universe- the original unit, or monad. However, the Valentinians also recognized a pseudo-Aeon called “Silence” as the consort of the Ancestor. While the Source must be described as singular in a technical sense, Silence is counted as an Aeon when the number of Aeons is expressed as a Pythagorean mystery. (See the Tetraktys below.)
Therefore is it said that the Source and Silence together engendered the next two Aeons- Intellect and his consort Truth. Intellect is the Valentinian version of the classical Gnostic Barbelo. It is called the “Only Begotten”, and is the only being to comprehend the magnitude (or have gnosis) of the Source. These four primal Aeons (including Silence) are called the “Root of the Pleroma”, and compose together the Pythagorean Tetraktys:
Source (1) *
Silence (2) * *
Intellect (3) * * *
Truth (4) * * * *
= 10 (the perfect number)
The process of emanation continued when Intellect (and his consort) produced the next pair of Aeons: the Word (Logos) and Life (Zoe). This completed the principal hierarchy of the Pleroma. The Source, Intellect, and the Logos are all called “Parent”, because they are individual aspects of a single Divine Force. (We saw much the same previously with the classical Gnostic Parent, Barbelo, and Christos.) The Valentinian Logos is considered the Parent of all beings created after it.
The Logos and Zoe, then, gave birth to two further Aeons- each serving as a blueprint of sorts for things that would later appear upon earth. The first was the Human Being, and its consort was the Church. (Remember that the word “church” in this case indicates a body of believers, or the presence of God among His believers, and is not a reference to either the Catholic Church or any building of worship.) The inclusion of these Aeons brings the total to eight, and this forms what the Valentinians called the “Primal Octet” of the Pleroma.
The Source – Silence
Intellect – Truth
The Word (Logos) – Zoe
Human Being – Church
Ptolemy states that each of these Aeons were naturally produced to the glorification of the Prior Source. What followed this, however, were creative actions taken independently by the Aeons in the hopes of further glorifying the Source. Thus, the Logos and Zoe decided to engender ten further Aeons in five pairs:
The Deep-Sunken – Intercourse
The Un-ageing – Union
The Self-Produced – Pleasure
The Motionless – Mixture
The Only-Begotten* – The Blessed
(*- Not to be confused with Intellect, who bears “Only-Begotten” as a title.)
The Human Being and the Church, then, emitted twelve final Aeons:
The Intercessor – Faith
The Fatherly – Hope
The Motherly – Love
The Ever-Flowing – Intelligence
The Ecclesiastical – Blessedness
The Wished-For – Wisdom (Sophia)
(Note that, as within classical Gnosticism, Sophia is again the lowest of the twelve final Aeons.)
This seems to represent the basic structure of the Mind of God. All of the Aeons taken together- the 8, 10, and 12- compose the “30 Silent and Unrecognizable Aeons”- the Valentinian version of the classical Gnostic Pleroma.
Act II: The Suffering of Sophia
As before stated, only Intellect had gnosis of the Prior Source. To those Aeons below Intellect, the Source was both invisible and incomprehensible. For this reason, Intellect intended to arouse the other Aeons into longing and searching for the Source- in order to elevate them to its own position, and allow them to share in the gnosis of the Ancestor. However, had it accomplished this, the Aeons would have been consumed by the Source and dissolved back to their universal essence. (Imagine a drop of water falling into the ocean.) Therefore, Intellect’s hasty passion was restrained by Silence.
Now, the lower Aeons did feel Intellect’s passion and did indeed wish to seek out the Ancestor. However, thanks to Silence, they were never incited to move and remained still. Intellect’s restrained passion, however, filtered down through the Pleroma and collected within the lowest Aeon- Sophia.
This was the beginning of the suffering of Sophia. Filled with a passion to search out the Ancestor, She recklessly charged forth without her consort. She wished to comprehend the magnitude of the Source, but this was not possible without resulting in Her dissolution. So it became a struggle for Her as she pushed her way ever higher toward the Immeasurable Magnitude.
The Ancestor, meanwhile, was aware of the approaching Sophia as well as the consequences. Therefore, it directed Intellect to create a Great Barrier and set it between the Source and everything else in the Pleroma. This Barrier is sometimes considered “hexagonal”, because it has six names: Boundary, Cross, Redeemer, Emancipator, Boundary-Setter, and Conveyor. Usually, however, it is considered a Great Cross (which will become important later in this story).
This Barrier has two functions: one is to stabilize, and one is to divide. As Ptolemy tells us: “In stabilizing and establishing, it is the Cross. In dividing and bounding, it is the Boundary.” John the Baptist, continues Ptolemy, spoke of the Boundary when he said, “The Cross is a winnowing fork, and consumes all material elements as fire does chaff. And winnows the saved as the fork winnows wheat.” (You can read the original quotes in Mt. 3:12, or Lk 3:17.)
When Sophia finally struck this Barrier, it caused Her to realize that the Source truly was incomprehensible. The Barrier restrained her, purified her, and restored her to her consort and her proper place within the Pleroma. Sophia was therefore at rest again, because the Barrier had separated (or winnowed) the passion from Her.
Of course, there is nothing within the Pleroma that cannot be personified, and the same can be said of Sophia’s reckless and unfulfilled passion. Once separated by the Barrier, the passion was removed entirely from the Pleroma, and bounded outside in a region of shadow. In this state, it is called Achamoth– probably from the Hebrew word Chockmah, meaning Wisdom. To the Valentinian Gnostics, she was the Lower Wisdom (or daughter of Sophia). At first, Achamoth was little more than a misshapen essence- because she was an unfulfilled passion (or a Thought that had never comprehended its subject).
Because of Sophia’s reckless actions and the resultant production of Achamoth, Intellect- acting again under the Ancestor’s foresight- emitted another pair of Aeons: The Anointed (Christ), and The Holy Spirit. These two Aeons were to “fix and establish” the Pleroma so another incident like Sophia’s could not occur.
First, Christ taught the Aeons the importance of remaining in pairs to maintain equilibrium. It also taught them that the Source is incomprehensible, and cannot be seen or heard but through the Only-Begotten (Intellect). While the eternal permanence of the Pleroma is due to the incomprehensible aspect of the Source, its origination and forming is due to the Source’s comprehensible aspect (or its child- which I assume to mean Intellect).
Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit equalized all of the Aeons- bringing them to “true repose” (or motionlessness, the Neoplatonic concept of perfection). Because of this, all the Aeons became as one. (Ptolemy states they “…became equal in form and intention.”). Thus, each male Aeon was equally an Intellect, Word, Human Being, and Christ; and each female Aeon was Truth, Life, Church, and Holy Spirit.
Now all in the Pleroma existed in a state of perfection and happiness. Christ and the Holy Spirit, acting with approval of the Source, had each of the Aeons offer up the most beautiful and splendid it had within itself. These elements were woven together to produce “…a kind of perfect beauty and star of the Pleroma.” This was Jesus (the 2nd Anointed). After his parent (Christ) was Jesus named Savior, Anointed, and Word. At the same time, Angels were produced in the same manner- so as to be bodyguards (or an entourage) for Jesus.
Act III: Achamoth and The God of Justice
At this point in the mythos (which I have personally labeled Act III), we leave the Pleroma behind and focus instead upon the outer region of shadow into which Achamoth was bound. She was herself of the same spiritual substance as the higher Aeons, and thus her expulsion from the Pleroma represented a loss of a portion of its Light. Achamoth herself, as I hinted at before, is described as “like an aborted fetus” because she had never comprehended anything.
Christ (the Redeemer) took pity upon her, and so reached across the Great Cross Barrier and used his power to give her a more concrete form. He placed within her some of the essence of himself and the Holy Spirit. Then he left her and hastened back to the Pleroma, so that she would begin to yearn for and seek out the superior realm. Thus Achamoth was given two names: Wisdom (Sophia) after her mother, and Holy Spirit after the essence left within her by Christ.
Achamoth, then, did yearn for the Light that had left her. However, she was still a creature of passion (and thus had no repose)- so she could not enter the now fixed and established Pleroma. She was turned back and left alone in the darkness, still having comprehended nothing. Because of this, Achamoth experienced more passions. St. Irenaeus records:
“Sometimes…she cried and felt grief because of being left alone in the darkness and emptiness; sometimes she… thought about the Light that had left her, and she relaxed and laughed; sometimes she was afraid; and yet other times she became uncertain and distraught.”
As we will see later, this is the origin of the essence of all matter- because the entire Soul of the World was created from the passions Achamoth suffered at being turned away from the Pleroma. All moist essences came from her tears, all luminous essences from her laughter, and the essences of the bodily elements of the world from her grief and terror.
After suffering all of these passions, Achamoth turned to supplicate the Light that had left her (Christ). In response, Christ and the rest of the Aeons dispatched the Intercessor (Jesus)- endowing him with the Source’s power, and putting all under his authority. So Jesus came to Achamoth with his guard of Angels.
Achamoth was at first ashamed of her condition, and covered her face with a veil. Finally, however, she came to Jesus. The savior separated Achamoth’s passions from her, and was able to give her a final concrete form because she finally had gnosis of something- Jesus himself. Thus was she cured of her many passions.
However, something had yet to be done with the removed passions themselves. So, the Savior “set them apart, poured them together, fixed them, and transformed them from incorporeal passions into incorporeal matter.” He endowed them with properties that caused them to form compounds and bodies. Two universal essences were thereby created- a bad one formed of Sophia’s passions, and a mixed one (tainted with passion) formed when Achamoth was turned away from the Pleroma. Now free of the passions, Achamoth was filled with joy and the contemplation of the Savior’s Angels (apparently a sexually-charged reference)- and she thus gave birth to a third universal essence, generated after the likeness of the Angels.
1) Material Essence = From Achamoth’s passion
2) Animate Essence (part divine, but tainted with earthly passion) = From her turning back
3) Spiritual Essence = From her joy
Now, Achamoth began to form these essences. But she could do nothing with the spiritual because it was of the same divine substance as herself. So she turned to the animate, over which she did have creative control, and there-from formed the Craftsman (Demiurgos– the Valentinian version of Ialdabaoth).
Achamoth then set her son as God and King of all that was composed of two of the three essences: all animate substance (of which he was himself composed), and of all that derive from passion and matter. (The former are called “those on the right” while the latter are called “those on the left.”) He was placed in this kingly position because it was he- inspired secretly by Achamoth- who formed all who came after him. Thus he is called Mother-Father, Parentless, Craftsman, and Parent. (He is the Parent of animate things, the Craftsman of material things, and he is King of all creation.) Yet, he is unacquainted with his Mother (Achamoth), the Pleroma, or the spiritual universal essence.
It is important to remember that Achamoth was the anonymous inspiration behind the Craftsman’s actions. It was her wish to honor the Pleroma by having the physical universe modeled upon it. The correspondences between the higher and lower realms are given:
The Invisible Source = Achamoth
Intellect = The Craftsman
The Aeons = Archangels and Angels of the Craftsman
And so the Demiurgos became Parent and God of all things outside of the Pleroma- the maker of all things animate and material. He constructed the seven heavens- each of which is intelligent and is thus an Archangel. The Craftsman rests at their summit- so that he is the 7th and Achamoth is the 8th- thus preserving the number of the Pleroma’s Primal Octet. (Achamoth rests at what the Valentinians called the Midpoint or the Supercelestial Palace- between Creation below and the Pleroma above. She is called the Eighth, Lower Wisdom, Jerusalem, and Holy Spirit.) Because the Craftsman did not know that Achamoth was moving him- and he did not have gnosis with the spiritual forces- he truly believed that he was the one and only God. He grew arrogant, and told his Angels “It is I who am God, apart from me there is no one.”
Meanwhile, remember that the material essence was formed from Achamoth’s grief. From this come all wicked spirits and the Devil. To the Valentinians, the Devil is a world-ruler in direct control of earthly affairs. This fits Pauline Christian dogma, wherein Satan has supposedly been given rulership of Earth until Christ returns a second time to overthrow him by force. However, it is also explained by Ptolemy as a continuation of the process of reflection we have seen at every level of creation so far: the Mother resides in the Supercelestial Palace, the Demiurgos mirrors her by ruling in the 7th Heaven, and the Devil mirrors him as lord of the Earth.
However, the scheming of the denizens of the Pleroma is not yet done, for there is still the matter of the Spiritual Light (the third universal essence) missing from the higher realm. This spiritual essence is called “the seed” and was placed as such within the Craftsman by Achamoth- without his knowing. Therefore, when the time came, the Demiurgos would breath it into Adam (and thus into the Gnostic race). There it would gestate, grow, and become ready for the reception of the Logos. In this way was the spiritual seed sewn into mankind. The seed is also called the Church- the earthly counterpart to the Aeon called “Church”- for it is the presence of God among humanity.
Of the ultimate fate of the three essences, the Valentinians tell us:
1) Material is wholly mortal and will perish.
2) Animate is intermediate between material and spiritual- and can either be saved (ascend to the eighth heaven) or perish with the material depending on its own nature.
3) Spiritual is bound to the Animate (because it was sewn into the Demiurgos, and then breathed into mankind). It is to learn and experience with the animate while physically incarnate, until it has grown to readiness and returns to the Pleroma.
There are also three distinct “species” of humans in this philosophy- based upon the essences they carry and illustrated by the mythos of Cain, Able, and Seth:
Seth = Material + Animate + Spiritual (the Gnostics- who will all be saved)
Abel = Material + Animate (might be saved, or might perish)
Cain = Only Material (will perish).
By this model, we can see that animate essence that is good by nature (“just”) can receive the seed, while animate essence that is wicked by nature cannot. Interestingly, I see no indication in this philosophy that one must be born a Gnostic- or any idea of reincarnation from Seth. Achamoth “down to this day” continues to sew the spiritual essence into just souls. They come into the world as infants to learn and grow. Once deemed mature, they ascend and are given as brides to the Angels of the Savior. (These Angels are the Pleroma doubles of the spiritual essences themselves. So each Gnostic is eventually wedded to his own Angelic double- his Higher Self, as we would call it today.) So, apparently, one can receive the seed- which would fit with the Pauline Christian doctrine of conversion, saving souls, etc.
The Valentinians regarded themselves as composed of material, animate, and spiritual essences- and because they posses the spiritual they are automatically saved (redeemed) upon death. They put off their material and animate essences, enter the Pleroma, and become brides to the Angels. The animate essence they leave behind must remain in the eighth heaven, while the material will perish in the grave upon Earth.
Other humans are composed of material and animate essences alone- and thus they must be on good behavior (following the rules of the official Church, etc) so they can make it to the Eighth heaven upon death.
The End of All will come when all of the spiritual essence has evolved and been initiated into the mysteries of Achamoth. She will then leave the Midpoint, re-enter the Pleroma, and be married to the Savior. (This is the Bride and Bridegroom of mysticism- Wisdom and the Redeemer.) The entire Pleroma will be their bridal chamber. The Craftsman, at that time, will move into the Supercelestial Palace vacated by Achamoth. Animate humans (“The Just” or non-Valentinian Christians) will move into the eighth heaven with the Craftsman and the animate essences cast off by the Gnostics. This is called the Final Repose of the Just. Finally, the Earth will consume itself with fire. (Note that the Demiurgos was unaware of all of this until the advent of the Savior.)
Act IV: Advent of the Savior
Unknowingly moved by Achamoth (once again), the Demiurgos himself begot the earthly Jesus upon Mary. Thus did Jesus take of the animate essence of the Demiurgos and mixed it with the spiritual essence of Achamoth to form his earthly body. However, there was nothing material in his form- because the material essence cannot be saved. (The Valentinians supposed Jesus appeared physical by some miracle- that his body was apparent and not actual.) It was this earthly Jesus of whom the Craftsman spoke through the Old Testament prophets- the coming of his son.
Upon Jesus’ baptism, the Christos (Anointed) descended into him in the form of a white dove. However, both the Christos and the spiritual seed he took from Achamoth left him when he was arrested and brought before governor Pilate – because the Christos cannot experience suffering or any passion). So it was only the animate Jesus that suffered. He was crucified as a representation of the Christos stretching out along the Great Cross Barrier and forming Achamoth. (And- as described earlier concerning the Barrier- it represents the Cross as winnowing the impure from the soul, while the spiritual essence ascends beyond it to the Pleroma.)
As part of his ministry on Earth, Jesus educated the Craftsman about Achamoth, the Pleroma, and the reward awaiting him at the end of all things (viz.- to move into Achamoth’s place in the eighth heaven.) So the Demiurgos was happy to defect to Jesus’ cause (symbolized in the New Testament by the encounter between Jesus and the Roman Centurion in Mat. 8 and Lk 7). So the Craftsman became the “God of Righteousness (or Justice)”, and was left in charge of creation to “bring about a providential arrangement of events in the world until the appropriate time.” (That is, until the end of all things, or the final coming of Christ.) Especially, he is to oversee his Church here on earth. Unlike the classical Gnostics, who saw Ialdabaoth (or Sabaoth) as the God of the Jews, the Valentinians saw the God of Righteousness as the God of the official Catholic Church. We can see here, as it was described by Ptolemy in his Epistle to Flora that the Creator is not an enemy of mankind- but merely another force of nature under the direct employ of the Highest Divinity.
Here, at long last, I will bring this dissertation to an end. Now you know the basic story of Gnosticism, and its many allegorical implications for the spiritual and physical universes and our own place within them. We have seen a general overview of the historical rise of the Gnostic philosophy- especially as it was affected by Egyptian, Jewish, and Greek cultures. And we have seen its progression from the first classical Gnostics to the Valentinian recension. However, we have not yet seen all of the known early influences upon classical Gnosticism- such as Neoplatonism and Zoroastrianism. Also, I have refrained (with some difficulty) from describing in detail the progression of the Gnostic philosophy beyond the Barbelo Gnostics and Valentinians- such as its overbearing influence upon the Knights Templar, the medieval grimoires, the Qabalah and Hermeticism of the 13th century, and even into our own Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Each of these represents a new thread that can be traced in this fascinating exploration- either for the student himself, or for future additions to this lecture series.
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