The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
Our invaluable and most charming guide, Hippolytus, when describing the Astrotheoscopi, "Seekers of God in the stars," begins with a simile more apposite than complimentary to the fashion which then prevailed for combining astrology with every species of religion. He compares these inquirers to that silly fowl the bustard, which suffers itself to be caught by the following device. "When a man discovers a flock he begins to dance and make grimaces in front of them. The birds stand motionless staring at him in wonderment until his confederate steals up to them from behind and knocks them on the head. In the same way (adds the good Saint, evidently much refreshed by his joke) do the people seduced by such teachers stare up at the stars, until at last they find themselves hopelessly caught in the snare of the heresy." As an example of this most curious system of theology it will suffice to quote their exposition of the doctrine conveyed by one constellation out of many. "Ophiuchus represents with his stars a man on his knees, in appearance oppressed with
fatigue, a posture for which that great authority in Astrology, Aratas, is at a loss to account. But rightly understood, he is Adam engaged in watching the Dragon's head underneath him, which is biting his heel. Over his head are seen the Lyre, and the Crown. The Lyre was the invention of the infant Hermes, who is in reality the Word of God: their position therefore announces that whosoever gives heed unto the Word, he shall obtain the Crown; but if he refuses to hearken unto the Word, he shall be cast down below with the Dragon." In another place Hippolytus observes: "The doctrine of the Chaldæans concerning trines, quadrates, benignant and malign stars, Euphrates the Peratist applies to Christianity, by changing the concord and discord of the stars into the constitution of the Æons, the transition of Good Powers into Evil ones, and the harmony of their respective particles. From the same source he gets his "Toparchs" and "Presidents," and all the other imagery of the astrologers."
Such being the nature of the actual foundations of Gnosticism, no wonder that it should so frequently be impossible to decide whether a talismanic sigil be the expression of some semi-Christian tenet, or merely the imagined similitude of some astral Power whose influence was thus secured for the wearer's protection. For the gods of Magianism, the religion that has so deeply tinged all Gnostic doctrines, were no other than these starry Powers. The Agathodæmon himself gave his name to one of the three Decani of Cancer, as Hephaestion hath already informed us. The very title, "Decanus," Salmasius with some reason derives from the Chaldee Dekan, "inspector," and thereby makes it equivalent to the Greek "Horoscopos," "The god that looks down upon the nativity." The common Latin derivation, in its military sense of "sergeant," Salmasius rejects as foreign to the idea conveyed. Again, Charchnumis is named as the First Decanus in Leo, and this title actually appears around a serpent with human and radiated head, figured by Salmasius in the same chapter. This name is sometimes written ΧΟΛΧΝΟϒΒΙΣ, which the same authority explains as "The All-golden One."
A Greek astrologer quoted without name by Salmasius gives
this curious piece of information: "There are appointed in each one of the Signs, three Decant of different forms; one holding an axe, the others represented variously. These figures engraved in rings are amulets against all mischance." As Telmer asserts, with other great astrologers of his times: "This, alas! too scanty notice of their attributes shows at least one of their number to be the old Babylonian god described by the prophet Baruch (Epistle 13, 14) He hath a sceptre in his hand like a man, like a judge of the kingdom--he hath in his hand a sword and an axe.'" But not merely the Decant of the Signs were thus worn in rings, but equally so the signs themselves, and the stars rising together with them, technically called οἱ παρατέλλοντες. Such images were termed στοιχεῖα, whence those who made a business of engraving then got the name στοιχειοματικοί. They performed their work with many ceremonies, and always under the inspection of the particular Decanus, or star, whose sigil they were embodying, On this account Epiphanius speaks of the sun, moon, and planets as στοιχεῖα, terming μορφώσεις the figures of the constellations formed by the imaginary collocation of the stars. The same writer uses the expression, "The stars that be vainly imagined in the shape of figures, which are called Signs of the Zodiac." As Diodorus distinguishes between planets and στοιχεῖα, it follows that the term was equivalent to our "constellation." All this evinces that the Arabian writers were correct in translating στοιχειοματικοί by "talisman-makers." How these later astrologers thought proper to portray the Ascendants of each Sign in their "Table of the Myriogeneses" will be described in my chapter upon Talismans.
A curious Praun gem represents Mercury enthroned and bearing the attributes of Jupiter, with the strange legend ΕΠΠΤΑ (sic) ΧΡϒΣΟΣ, which has been absurdly interpreted as referring to his seven-stringed lyre. Moro probably was the gem the signet of some "Hebdomadarian" or votary of the Number Seven; a sect of sufficient importance to get from Hippolytus a separate section for themselves in his great work. The identification of Hermes with the Christian Logos was one grand feature in the doctrine of the Naaseni, so lucidly set forth by that learned
[paragraph continues] Father. He was of opinion that this Hebdomadarian doctrine (derived from ancient Egyptian philosophy) was the true source of every form of Gnosticism. This potent Numeral is illustrated by another device of frequent occurrence in cameo, the Delphic Ε crowned with a fillet, and below, the legend ΧΡϒΣΟϒ. This can be no other than that most holy of Numerals the Delphic Ἔι, or Five, on the mystery whereof Plutarch has left a very curious dissertation; and it represents the golden figure of that same numeral dedicated by Livia Augusta at the shrine of her husband's peculiar patron. And similarly the gem above referred to exhibits Hermes invested with supreme dominion, and accompanied by his own special number, "testudo resonare septem * callida nervis"--the Magian method for symbolizing the different Powers of Heaven, which shall be explained in its due place, when we come to treat of the "Seven Voices."
The oddest adaptations of the imagery of the old religions mark the earliest preaching of the Gnosis. Its first apostle, Simon Magus, who passed himself off upon the Samaritans as the third manifestation of the Christ, was worshipped as late as Hippolytus’ times, in statues made in the form of Jupiter. His famous concubine Helena (in whom Simon has discovered the Lost Sheep of the parable whilst carrying on her profession in a brothel at Tyre) was similarly adored under the forms of Minerva and the Moon (Hipp. vi. 19). The main doctrines of the Naaseni were supported by ingenious applications of the symbolism employed in the Eleusinian, Phrygian, and Samothracian Mysteries, of which Hyppolytus has given a full and very interesting account.
Phœnicia, again, furnished our talisman-makers with a copious repertory in the exaggerated symbolism of the figures whereby their priesthood had expressed their notions of the Divine Power. "Taut, the great god of the Phœnicians" (says Samoniathon), "in order to express the character of Kronos, made his image with four eyes--two in front, two behind, open and closed; also with four wings--two expanded upwards, two folded downwards. The eyes denoted that the godhead sees
when sleeping, and sleeps when waking; the attitude of his wings, that he flies in resting, and rests in flying. Upon his head are two wings, denoting Reason and the Senses." It is very provoking that Diodorus (xx. 19) should have given no further description of the famous Kronos, Melcarth, of Carthage than the brief remark that it held the hands open, palm upwards, but sloping downwards, so that the child sacrificed, when laid upon them, should roll off into a pit of fire at the foot. * When Agathocles was pressing hard the siege, and hope was almost lost, no fewer that three hundred children of the nobles were offered to Melcarth at one and the same time.
Inasmuch as the genius of the planet Saturn, or Kronos, was held by the Talmudists to be good and pure, contrary to those of the other planets, the Four-winged image, so common upon Gnostic gems, may reasonably be considered as a copy from the ancient original, devised by Taut. Saturn, the sole inspirer of the Law and the Prophets, had special claims to the veneration of the Alexandrine Kabbalists. And this belief explains wherefore Valentinus fixed upon this planet for the abode of Ildabaoth, the Giver of the Law to the Children of Israel in the Wilderness.
It sounds like a paradox to assert that our "Gnostic" gems are not the work of the Gnostics; but taking that appellation in its strictest sense, the thing is perfectly true. The talismans we are considering never exhibit any traces of that admixture of Christian and Pagan doctrines which properly constitutes the Gnosis, that subject of the descriptions and the attacks of the Fathers of the Church. Their elements are drawn from the ancient religions of Babylon and Egypt, mixed at times with the formulæ of the Jewish Kabbala. The "Gnostic" stones are in reality the paraphernalia of magicians and dealers in charms (charm-doctors in modern phrase), and only belong to the Ophites, Valentinians, and other subdivisions of the Christian Gnosis, in so far as those theosophists were especially given to
the cultivation of the Black Art; as the notices above cited abundantly declare. This delusive study prevailed at the period of the grand development of Gnosticism to an extent which no one can credit who has not studied the historians of the Later Empire. The accusation of "magical practices" proved a ready weapon for destroying an obnoxious individual against whom no tangible crime could be charged: what stronger proof of this than its being effectually employed (as Ammian tells us) to expel that pattern of orthodoxy, the great Athanasius, from the patriarchal throne of Alexandria? The same historian notices that under the timid Valens it sufficed to establish this capital charge if the suspected person had been seen walking at night-time in the neighbourhood of any cemetery, where he might possibly have gone to hold conference with the demons of the dead.
But to exhibit the true source and nature of these "Gnostic" inscriptions I shall transcribe a spell from the "Magic Papyrus," to which I shall have occasion frequently to refer. The author of this wondrous Manual of Necromancy was unmistakably of the old unmixed Egyptian religion, and very probably a priest of Isis. Nevertheless, he not merely employs the very words found on our talismans, but even the same peculiar arrangement of them. Any one desirous of preserving so valuable a charm in a more durable material than papyrus or lead, had only to order a lapidary to copy it for him upon a jasper, and a regular "Gnostic" monument would have been bequeathed to our times. The maker having carefully specified the virtues of composition, gives us to understand the value of similar forms still existing on stones: VII. "Take a sheet of hieratic paper, or a leaden plate, and an iron link of a chain (κρίκος), and place the link upon the paper, and mark both inside and out with a pen the form of the link. Then having described the circular outline of the link, write upon the same outline, inscribing upon the paper the name and the characters on the outside, and inside the thing which you wish not to happen, or that a man's mind may be bound so as not to do such and such a thing. Then placing the link upon its outline which you have made, and taking up the parts outside the
outline, sew up the link with thread so as to completely conceal it, piercing through the characters with the pen; and when you wish to bend, say--'I bend such a one not to speak to such a one, let him not resist, let him not contradict, let him not be able to look me into the face, or to answer me, but let him be subject unto me so long as this link is buried. And again I bind his mind, his senses, his desires, his actions, that he may be sluggish towards all men, in case (a certain woman) marries such a one,' or else, 'in order that she may not marry such and such a one.' Common (i.e., to be said in Greek).
"Then taking it to the grave of one untimely deceased, dig four fingers deep, and put it in and say--'O departed Spirit, whosoever thou art, thou art this; I deliver unto thee such a one, that he may not do such and such a thing.' Then cover it up and depart. And you will do this best when the moon is on the wane. The words to be written within the circle are these: ΑΡΟΑΜΑΘΡΑΕΡΕC: ΚΙΓΑΛΑΧ · ΕΖΑΝΤΑ · ΙΑΡΟϒΝΗ · ΑΚΗ · ΙΑΩ · ΔΑΡϒΝΚΩ · ΜΑΝΙΗΛ · ΜΗ ΠΡΑΧΘΗΤΩ ΤΟ (δεῖνα) ΠΡΑΓΜΑ ΕΦ᾽ ΟCΟΝ ΧΡΟΝΟΝ ΚΕΧΩCΤΑΙ Ο ΚΡΙΚΟC ΟϒΤΟC ('Let not such and such a thing be done for so long a time as this link is buried'). Bind it with knots, making a twist of them, and so deposit it. The link may also be cast into a disused well, or into the grave of one dead before his time. And after the characters, write also these words below the link as a plinth (or a square): ΑΡΧΟΟΛ ΛΑΙΑΑΜ CΕΜΕCΙΛΑΜΦ ΑΜΜΟΦΟΡΙΩΝ ΙΩΑΗ ΦΘΟϒΘ ΕΩΦΡΗ Ο ΜΕΛΙCΤΟC ΔΑΙΜΩΝ ΙΑΩ CΑΒΑΩΘ ΑΡΒΑΘ ΙΑΩ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ ΟCΟΡΝΟΦΡΙ ΕΜΦΡΗ ΦΡΗ ΦΘΑ ΧΡΩΙΩ ΙΑΩ ΒΑΒΟϒΡΗ ΘΙΜΑΜΕΝ ΦΡΗ ΒΕ ΝΟϒCΙ CΑΒΑΩΘ ΒΑΡΒΑΘΙΑΩ ΘΑΧΡΑ ΟϒΧΕΕΘ ΕCΟΡΝΩΦΡΙ and the inscription at the top of the page, which also you must place within it.
(This spell is repeated at the foot of the page, inscribed in one continuous circle, to show that it reads either way. It occurs also on a gem (Brit. Mus.) followed by ΔΟΤΑΙ ΧΑΡΙΝ ΙΕΡΩΝΙΜΑ ΠΡΟC ΠΑΝΤΑC, "Give to Hieronima favour in the sight of all men ": and also on another, figured by Montfaucon, II. pl. 164--a proof of the importance attached to it at the time.)
"And the same arrangement may be written upon a leaden plate; and having put the link within it, fold it over and seal with gypsum, and afterwards the base beneath, upon which ΙΑΕΩ as before directed, and also these words: ΒΑΚΑΞϒΧϒΧ ΜΕΝΕΒΑ ΙΧϒΧ ΑΒΡΑCΑΞΑϒ, "Prevent such and such a thing." But in the original the Names are found as follows: ΑΜΦΟΟΛ ΛΑΙΛΑΜ CΕΜΕCΙΑΛΑΜ ΙΑΕΩ ΛΟΒΑΚΑΞΙΧϒΧ ΑΡΑCΑΞΑϒ ΑΡΧΩΜ ΕΛΑΧ ΜΕΝΕCΙΑΛΑΜ ΙΑΕΩ ΟϒΩ ΒΑΚΑΞΙΧϒΧ ΑΡΑCΑΞΩϒ, "Prevent such and such a thing."
On the reverse of a Chnuphis plasma (Lewis Collection), ΚΙCΝVΘ and ΝΑΒΙC (prophet) occur, as also on the Bosanquet gem. The last words may be corrupt Greek, "Restore the sight"; the object of the talisman.
240:* The compound Ἑπτάχρυσος is made after the same rule as the Ἑπτάχαλκος, the place in the wall of Athens where Sulla took the city.
241:* This tradition was verified by N. Davis, who in excavating the ruins of the temple found, at a great depth, a thick layer of ashes mingled with burnt human bones. The discovery is well described in his section "Moloch and his Victims."