The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
The origin of the Kabbala is placed by most authors much later than that of Christianity; and, indeed, it is not impossible that its doctrines may have received great developments after that epoch; * nevertheless, the elements of them go back to a much more remote antiquity. The Book of Daniel bears the most conspicuous traces of this antiquity, and to the attestation of this record are added other proofs no less convincing. The idea of Emanation is, so to speak, the soul, the essential element of the Kabbala; it is likewise, as we have already seen, the essential character of Zoroastrism. We may therefore consider that it was through their very intimate connection with Persia that the Jews imbibed that idea.
According to the Kabbala, as according to the Zendavesta, all that exists has emanated from the source of the Infinite Light.
Before all things existed the Primal Being, the "Ancient of Days," the eternal King of Light. This King of Light is the All; he is the real cause of all existence; he is the Infinite (En Soph); he alone is He, there is in him no Thou; but he cannot be known, "he is a closed Eye."
The universe is the revelation of the King of Light, and only subsists in Him. His qualities are manifested in it, variously modified and in different degrees; it is therefore his "Holy
[paragraph continues] Splendour"--the mantle, as it were, wherewith he must be clothed in silence. All is an emanation from this Being; the nearer therefore that any approaches to him, the more perfect is it, and the less so does it become as it recedes from him: this idea of gradation is eminently Persian. Before the creation of the world, the Primal Light filled all, so that there was no void at all; but when the Supreme Being, residing within this Light, resolved to display and manifest his perfection, he retired within himself, and formed around him a void space. Into this void he let fall his first emanation--a ray of the Light, which is the cause and principle of all existence, uniting in itself the generative and conceptive forces; being both father and mother in the sublimest sense, pervading all, and without which nothing can for an instant subsist.
From this Double Force, designated by the first two letters of the name Jehovah (Yod, He *), emanated the First-born of God, the Tikkun, or "Universal Type" (Platonic Idea), and the general container of all beings, united within himself by means of the Primal Ray. He is the creator, preserver, and prime animator of the world. He is the "Light of light," possessing the three primitive forces of the Godhead: the light, the spirit, and the life. Inasmuch as he has received what he gives, the light and the life, he is considered as equally a generative and conceptive principle as the "Primitive Man," Adam-Kadmon; and as man himself is called the "little world," or the microcosm, so this Being, his Type, is properly designated the "great world," or Macrocosm. In this their Adam-Kadmon, the principle of light and life, the Kabbalists have united the attributes of the same principles amongst the Persians.
Adam-Kadmon has manifested himself in ten emanations, which are not indeed actual beings, but sources of life, vessels of the Almighty Power, types of all the creation. Their names are: the Crown, Wisdom, Prudence, Magnificence, Severity, Beauty, 'Victory, Glory, Foundation, Empire. To Wisdom they gave the title Jah; to Prudence Jehovah; to Magnificence El;
to Severity Elohim; to Victory and Glory Sabaoth; to Empire Adonai.
These are all attributes of the Supreme, as displayed in his works, through which alone it is possible for the human mind to conceive him. To the same emanations the Kabbalists give other titles, which constantly present themselves in Gnostic inscriptions. For example, the Crown (Parmenides also calls the Godhead Στέφανος) has the synonym of Or, "Light," (possibly the same with Our, the name of a Sabean genius). Wisdom is called Nous and Logos, and is equivalent to the Sophia of Gnosticism; she has also the names of Fear, Depth of thought, Eden, according to the several passions that animate her. Prudence is the "river flowing out of Paradise, the fountain of the oil of unction." Magnificence has for symbol a lion's head; Severity, a red and black fire; Beauty, the colours green and yellow; the symbol of Beauty is an illuminating mirror; Victory is Jehovah Sabaoth, having for symbol the pillar on the right hand, called Jachin; Glory has the left pillar Boaz, called likewise the "Old Serpent," and sometimes "Cherubim and Seraphim;" this principle answers to the genius Ophis of the Gnostic systems. "Jachin" and "Boaz" signify Strength and Power: they figure conspicuously in the symbolism of the secret societies of modern times; and naturally so, for these illuminati have borrowed (probably without understanding it) all the terminology of the Valentinians and the Kabbalists. "Foundation" becomes the Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil: also Noah, Solomon, and the Messiah--all which titles merely express the eternal alliance existing between the Supreme and all that emanates from him, and in virtue whereof he brings back into himself all the souls that have lost their original purity. "Empire" is the Consuming Fire, the wife of the Church--all three titles being also employed in the Valentinian system.
The relationship of the "Sephiroth," or Æons, to one another the Kabbalists represent by a number of circles intersecting in a mysterious manner ad infinitum; or again, by the figure of a Man, or of a Tree, made up of such circles. The figure of the Man, Seir-Anpin, consists of two hundred and forty-three numbers,
being the numerical value of the letters in the name Abram, and signifying the different orders in the celestial hierarchy. The first idea of this type was possibly borrowed from the Hindoo figure of Brahma and the several types typified by the different parts of his body, to which mystical values are still attached by the Hindoos.
The ten Sephiroth served as types or models for the visible Creation; and from them emanated the Four Worlds, Aziluth, B’riah, Jezirah, and Asiah; each world successively proceeding out of the one above it, and each in succession enveloping its superior. A theory this, possibly borrowed from Plato's description of the arrangement of the seven spheres, as given in the "Vision of Er," at the end of his "Republic," where he compares them to a set of the hemispherical bowls used by jugglers, fitting into, and moving loosely within, each other (lib. x. 614B, seq.).
These Four Worlds become less pure as they descend in the series; the least pure of all being the material world. But nothing is entirely material, for all subsists through God, the ray of his light penetrating through all creation being the Life of the life, and consequently "all is God." This universal All is divided into thirty-two "Gates," the elements or energies out of which all beings are formed.
The world Aziluth is inhabited by the Parsuphaim, the purest emanations of the Deity, having nothing material in their composition. B’riah is possessed by an inferior order, who are the servants of Aziluth, although still immaterial creatures. Still lower are the inhabitants of Jezirah, to which world belong the Cherubim and Seraphim, the Elohim and the Benê-Elohim. But Asiah is peopled by gross material existences of both sexes, the Klippoth delighting in evil, whose chief is Belial. These last beings are full of ambition, and ever at war with the pure spirits of the superior worlds, whose empire they unceasingly endeavour to usurp.
The three superior orders just described answer to the Amshaspands, Izeds, and Fravashis, of Zoroaster; as do the Klippoth. in their vast numbers and malicious nature, to his Devs. This discord did not exist in the beginning, it was the
result of a revolution in heaven, called the "Fall of the Seven Kings," from whom * the Creator, as a punishment, extracted the principle of good and light, and bestowed it upon the inhabitants of the three superior spheres.
This last notion is common to many forms of Gnosticism. The Ophites make Achamoth extract from Ildabaoth and his six sons the inherent ray of Divine Light, in order to bestow it upon Man. Again, the Pistis-Sophia represents two great angels, Melchisedech and Zorocothora (gatherer of light) making their annual rounds through the rebellious "Æons of the sphere" (zodiacal signs), and squeezing out of them all the rays of Divine Light that are still left in their composition, which having been all extracted, the fulness of time and the kingdom of heaven are come; and so, according to the Kabbala, when the contest shall have endured for the space ordained from the beginning of the world, the Supreme shall deliver the spirits in Asiah from their material envelope, shall strengthen the feeble ray of his light that is within them, and shall establish its pristine harmony throughout all Creation.
The Human Soul is composed of all parts borrowed from each of these four worlds. From Asiah it gets the Nephesh, or seat of the physical appetites; from Jezirah the Ruach, or seat of the passions, from Briah the Neshamah or reason, and from Aziluth it obtains the Chaiah, or principle of spiritual life. This looks like an adaptation of the Platonic theory of the soul's obtaining its respective faculties from the Planets in its downward progress through their spheres. But the Pistis-Sophia, with its accustomed boldness, puts this theory into a much more poetical
shape (§ 282). The Inner Man is similarly made up of four constituents, but these are supplied by the rebellious Æons of the Sphere, being the Power (a particle of the Divine light ("Divinæ particula auræ") yet left in themselves); the Soul "formed out of the tears of their eyes, and the sweat of their torments"; the Ἀντιμῖμον Πνεύματος Counterfeit of the Spirit (seemingly answering to our Conscience); and lastly the Μοῖρα Fate, whose business it is to lead the man to the end appointed for him; "if he hath to die by the fire, to lead him into the fire; if he hath to die by a wild beast, to lead him unto the wild beast, &c." But in truth the entire system of this most wondrous Gospel is a mixture of the Kabbala with the ideas of Magian astrology, clouded under the terminology of the old Egyptian creed, to which belong its "Triple Powers," "Invisible Gods," and "the Proper Forms" assigned by it to the different Æons.
All the human race having sinned in the First Man, that is as regards their souls, all which were necessarily contained within his soul at the time of the Fall, these souls are exiled hither into prisons of Matter, called bodies, in order to expiate their sin, and to exercise themselves in good during their residence on earth. Such as upon quitting the body are not found sufficiently purified for entrance into Aziluth, have to recommence their penance in this world. Hence the question of the Disciples whether a man's being born blind were the punishment for his own sins, which on this supposition must have been committed by him in a previous life. This penitential transmigration of souls forms a very conspicuous feature in the doctrine set forth in the Pistis-Sophia. The wicked, after undergoing torment for periods nicely apportioned to their deserts, in prisons belonging to the several Infernal Powers, are sent into this world again to inhabit human bodies afflicted in different ways--lame, blind, or sunk in abject poverty. Similarly the righteous, but unregenerate, man is provided with a fresh body wherein to avail himself of the sacraments of the new religion; which in his former life he had neglected through ignorance, and not wilfully.
The nature of God, and of Man, is therefore the subject of the Kabbala; the Government of the Creation is set forth in the
[paragraph continues] Talmud, the doctrine of which concerning the Nature of the Angels is extremely important for the understanding of much in Gnosticism. The whole system in this particular is borrowed from the Zendavesta; and could not have originated before, or indeed without the Captivity, so opposite is the spirit pervading it to the genius of the Mosaic Law. According to it, the government of all things is entrusted to the Angels, of whom there are seventy Princes, watching over each element, nation, and language. Thus, Jehuel is the Prince of Fire, and has under him seven subordinates: Seraphiel, Gabriel, Uriel, Temanael, Shimsael, Hadranael, and Samiel. Again, Michael is Prince of Water, and similarly attended by seven inferior spirits. Moreover, there are an infinity of Angels yet lower in degree, guardians of the various animals, plants, heat, winds, rains, &c. There also are others Presiding over the passions of the soul, fear, grace, favour, love, and so on. Hence it is not to be wondered at, that the Angel who directs the course of the sun should have under him no less than two hundred and ninety-six hosts, whose sum is expressed by the numerical letters in the word Haaretz "the earth." The head of them is Metatron, the "number of his name" being three hundred and fourteen, and therefore equivalent to that of Shaddai, "the Almighty." Metatron is the Persian Mithras; the names of the others are all compounded with El "God," and contain his titles, or invocations to him. * All this celestial roll-call fully explains St. Paul's warning to his flock at Colossae against being reduced into a "voluntary (that is, an uncalled for) humility, and the worshipping of Angels," whilst the copious appearance of their names upon talismans strongly testifies to the veneration in which their power was held.
This last circumstance was a necessity of the case, for all these monuments proceed from two sources--the two great schools of Magi mentioned by Pliny, the most ancient, the
[paragraph continues] Chaldean, founded by Zoroaster and Orthanes, the modern of his own day, by Moses and Jambres. So Juvenal, after bringing in the proud and pompous Chaldean, the maker of emperors--
makes the poor trembling Jewess fortune-teller steal in with whispers for the lady's private ear--her profession going no further than the interpreting or the vending of dreams--"Qualiacunque voles Judæi somnia vendent." Such nocturnal revelations, we are told, were to be procured by sleeping with the proper talisman put under one's pillow. Thus, a writer on magic quoted by Camillo di Leonardo, lays down that "a woman with her hair hanging down loose, and a man approaching her making a gesture of love, engraved upon a crystal, or jacinth, being placed under the head upon going to sleep, will make one see in a dream whatsoever one desires." *
Such being the nature of the case, the existing productions of Gnosticism will be most appropriately investigated in the present Treatise by considering the nature of the various sources from which they emanated. The series commences with the Mithraic, as being the most ancient in origin, and in which the Magian and the Jewish Kabbalistic ideas are found the most frequently united. To this class succeed the Abraxas-gems, properly so-called, in which the Magian ground-work is modified by the refinements of Basilides, introducing a strong tincture of the primitive Egyptian theology. To Egypt herself more properly belong the Agathodæmon talismans bearing the figure of the good serpent, Chnuphis--an emblem which gave its name to that very wide-spreading and clearly defined sect, the Ophites. Last of all come the innumerable relics of the
worship of Serapis, that most recent of all the gods in the Egyptian Pantheon, and in which the Brahminical influence is most distinctly to be traced. This last subject, so curious in itself, shall be the subject of the following section, where the numerous facts brought forward may perhaps serve to remove some of the incredulity with which such a thesis will naturally at first be regarded.
33:* The tradition is that it was first committed to writing by Simon Ben Jochai, who, being proscribed by Titus, concealed himself in a cavern for the space of eleven years, the whole of which he devoted to this work, in which he was assisted by the prophet Elias.
34:* The I. H. so conspicuously placed on some Gnostic stones probably expresses this name; as being the nearest equivalents the Greek alphabet could furnish for the Hebrew letters.
37:* The author of the Book of Enoch alludes to the same legend: "Over these fountains also I perceived a place which had neither the firmament of heaven above it, nor the solid ground underneath it; neither was there water above it, nor any thing on wing, but the spot was desolate. And then I beheld seven stars like great blazing mountains, and like spirits entreating me. Then the Angel said, this place until the consummation of heaven and earth will be the prison of the stars and the host of heaven. The stars which roll over fire are those who transgressed the commandments of God before their time arrived, for they came not in their proper season. Therefore was he offended with them, and bound them until the consummation of their crimes in the secret year."--Chap. xviii.
39:* The Book of Enoch thus states the names and offices of the "Angels who watch": Uriel presides over clamour and terror; Raphael over the spirits of men; Ragiel inflicts punishment on the world and the luminaries; Michael, who presides over human virtue, commands the nations. Sarakiel over the spirits of the children of men who transgress; Gabriel over Ikisat, over Paradise, and over the Cherubim.
40:* And again, the "sigil of a man having a long face and beard, and eyebrows raised, seated upon a plough, and holding a fox and vulture, with four men lying upon his neck; such a gem being placed under your head when asleep, makes you dream of treasures, and of the right manner of finding them." Also, "Cepheus, a man girt with a sword, having his hands and legs extended, is held by Aries, and placed in the north. It is of the nature of Saturn and Jupiter, makes the wearer cautious and prudent; and put under the head of a sleeping person makes him see delightful visions."