Sacred Texts  Gnosticism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at


Gnostic symbols, with their uses in this life and in that to come have thus far been the subject of our investigation; which naturally leads us to consider the ideas that their devisers entertained of the constitution of the next world and of the nature of the soul itself. As to the former of these deeply interesting questions, the Gnosis specially laboured to afford the exactest information to its disciples; and in this class the one preserved by Origen (in Celsum vi.), leaves nothing to be desired in point of fulness, and may confidently be accepted as the most authoritative of all such celestial cartes de route.

p. 343

This learned Father had, by some means or other, become possessed of a parchment chart on which were depicted the successive stages of the soul's heavenward journey, with the several Powers * it must encounter in its flight, and the proper invocations (specimens of which I have already given) whereby it should extort permission to traverse their dominions. This chart was known to the faithful as the "Schema, or Diagramma, of the Ophites." Amongst these invocations the one addressed to Iao, genius of the moon, is peculiarly important as illustrating the use of the most numerous class of the talismans we are considering. "O thou that presidest over the mysteries of the Father and of the Son, Iao who shinest in the night, who holdest the second place, the First Lord of Death, who makest part of that which is without God! In presenting to thee thine own memorial (or likeness) as a token (or passport) I swiftly traverse thy domain after having conquered through the Word of Life that which was born of Thee." The MSS. read τὸν ἰδίον ὑπὸ νοῦν σύμβολον, which has no meaning, but can only be the corruption of τὴν ἰδίαν ὑπονοῖαν, a word often used by Plutarch in the sense of symbol. Now what else could this "memorial" of Iao be but his own image engraved in gems? This deity is styled "Lord of Death," because the moon (Isis) presides over the birth, development and change, of which death is the necessary consequence, of things terrestrial.

p. 344

Of the theory therein embodied, much was evidently derived from the same source as the Neo-Platonic doctrine concerning the planetary origin of the soul's faculties, which shall be related further on: The chart itself was founded on that essential doctrine of Gnosticism, that the soul, released from the body, mounted upwards, eager for absorption into the Infinite Godhead, or "Boundless Light," that summum bonum of Oriental aspiration (the Buddist Nirwana "perfect Repose, the Epicurean Indolentia"); but on its way was obliged to traverse the successive regions of the planets, each ruled by its presiding genius. These genii were of a nature somewhat material, and therefore malignant, and in this respect corresponding to the Seven Devs, Ahriman's ministers, who according to Zoroaster are chained each to his own planet. To obtain the indispensable permission of transit, a different adjuration to each Power was required; all which have been already given from Origen's copy of the Chart. Their names were put down therein, as Adonai, genius of the Sun, Iao of the Moon, Eloi of Jupiter, Sabao of Mars, Orai of Venus, Astaphai of Mercury, and Ildabaoth of Saturn. *

All these names are to be read, more or less commonly, upon our talismans, although probably used there in a different sense from that accepted by the author of the Diagramma. The Jewish angels Michael, Gabriel, Surid, Raphael, Thantabaoth, and Erataoth, were likewise inscribed as names of the genii presiding over the constellations, the Bear, Serpent, Eagle, Lion, Dog, Bull. These notions are manifestly of Magian root, acquired by the Jews during the long period that their country was a province of the Persian Empire, and had grown into an essential article of religion.

St. Paul found it needful to warn his flock against the "worshipping of Angels;" nevertheless, the adoration and the multiplication of their names went on augmenting to that pitch, that a Council held under Pope Zachary reduced them, as objects of worship to three only, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael.

p. 345

[paragraph continues] This retrenchment of the heavenly host was endorsed by a capitulary of Charlemagne's issued from Aix-la-Chapelle. In the Diagram under consideration, Michael was typified by a lion, Suriel by an ox, Raphael by a serpent, Gabriel by an eagle, Thantabaoth by a bear, Onioth or Zartaoth by an ass.

The reward promised to the Angel of the Church at Thyatira (Rev. ii. 28), "And I will give him the Morning Star," seems to be connected with the same belief in the Planetary Presidents. Dante, in his Paradiso, going doubtless upon old tradition, makes Mercury the abode of spirits moved to glorious deeds in life by the love of fame; Venus, of true lovers; Luna, of theologians; Mars, of martyrs for the Faith; Jupiter of good princes; Saturn of such as have led a contemplative and recluse life.

The above-quoted names of the Planetary Genii were in the Jewish religion either titles and attributes of the Most High, or else of his chief ministering spirits; but in the Gnostic Scheme they had been degraded from their high estate, and reduced into secondary deities of a mixed nature, partaking of good as well as of evil, yet all equally anxious to win souls from Abraxas, the proper lord and creator of the universe. The only explanation for such a misapplication of the sacred titles is a very brief one; these semi-Buddhist philosophers who found the root of all evil in Matter, and consequently in the material creation, employed these old hallowed names to denote the agents of the Creator, who on account of this their office were regarded as mere demons; and by an exactly similar process they are found misappropriating the most sacred names of the Christian revelation. But of this blasphemous perversion and wanton desecration of the ancient terminology no trace is to be discovered upon our talismans, their makers belonging to the Kabbalistic School of Alexandria, which reconciling Moses with Zoroaster, continued to employ these appellations in their primary time-honoured sense.

The source of this notion concerning the Planetary Rulers can be traced very far back. The power of Ildabaoth, or Saturn, and his sons over the soul, as well as the astrological notion about the influence of the stars over man's destiny, are

p. 346

clearly part and parcel of what the Alexandrian Platonists had taught concerning the planetary origin of the soul and its faculties, thus expounded by Macrobius (Som. Scip. i. 12): "The soul on its descent from the One and Indivisible source of its being in order to be united to the body, passes through the Milky Way into the Zodiac at their intersection in Cancer and Capricorn, called the Gates of the Sun, because the two solstices are placed in these signs. Through Cancer, the 'Gate of Man,' the soul descends upon Earth, the which is spiritual death. Through Capricorn, the 'Gate of the Gods,' it reascends up into heaven; its new birth taking place upon its release from the body. So soon as the soul has left Cancer and the Milky Way, it begins to lose its divine nature, and arriving at Leo enters upon the first phase of its future condition here below. During its downward progress, the soul, at first a sphere in form, is elongated into a cone, and now begins to feel the influence of Matter, so that on joining the body it is intoxicated and stupefied by the novel draught. This condition is typified by the Crater of Bacchus placed in the heavens between Cancer and Leo.

"The soul thus descending, as it passes through each sphere receives successive coatings, as it were, of a luminous body, and is furnished at the same time with the several faculties it has to exercise during its probation upon Earth. Accordingly, in Saturn, it is supplied with reason and intelligence; in Jupiter, with the power of action; in Mars, with the irascible principle; in the Sun, with sensation and speculation; in Venus, with the appetites; in Mercury, with the means of declaring and expressing thoughts; in the Moon, with the faculty of generating and augmenting the body." Hence, as the Planets contain all the elements that, so to speak, make up the Inner Man, the genii, their rulers ("Lords of Death," as Valentinus calls them), exercise their tyranny over the soul through the medium of these faculties, so long as the soul is encrusted with their contributions during its imprisonment in the body.

It is curious to compare with this Grecian theory the "Doctrine of the Servants of Saturn," dwellers in the farthest North (unmistakably a fragment of Druidical lore), preserved to

p. 347

us by Plutarch in his treatise 'On the Face in the Moon.' They taught that in the generation of man, the Earth supplied the body, the Moon ψυκή, the Sun the νοῦς. What the ψυκή is to the body, the same is the νοῦς to the ψυκή. This composite nature undergoes a double death. In the first, Demeter, whose companion is the Earthly, or Supernal, Hermes, forcibly separates the ψυκή (animal soul) from the body. This soul, after a certain penance in the Middle Sphere, in order to purify it from the pollution of the flesh, is caught up into the Moon, and passes through the Earth's shadow during an eclipse, after a probation proportionate in length of time unto its deserts; whereas, the wicked, if they try to enter before their purification be completed, are scared away by the terrific Face. The good abide in the Moon, in the enjoyment of perfect tranquillity, and becoming δαίμονες or genii, busy themselves with the regulation of human affairs upon earth, rendering oracles and similar services to mankind. But should these beatified spirits misconduct themselves, they are put again into a human body, and sent down to Earth. (This is the very doctrine of Manes, who made the light of the Moon to depend upon the brightness of the blessed one therein resident; a theory which Epiphanius triumphantly overthrows by asking how the luminary was supplied during the eight centuries that elapsed between the Creation and the death of Adam?)

But after a certain time, the νοῦς aspires to reascend to its fountain head the Sun, whereupon Persephone, with her colleague the Celestial Hermes, separates it with gentleness and by slow degrees from the grosser ψυκή. This is the Second Death: the vows flying up to the Sun, but the ψυκή remaining in the Moon in a dreamy sort of existence, until gradually absorbed into her substance, exactly as the Earth gradually absorbs into herself the remains of the body. Calm and philosophic souls are easily absorbed; but active, passionate, erotic natures with great difficulty; they wander about in midspace, divested of the νοῦς, becoming Tityi and Typhones; * throwing confusion

p. 348

into oracles, as the so-called Typhon does at Delphi, until in the end they likewise are drawn back and attracted into the substance of the Moon.

Justinus Kerner, in his treatise 'Die Seherin von Prevorst,' improving upon the old notion, most ingeniously anatomises the Inner Man, and makes him to consist of three members, Seele, Nerven-Geist, Geist. The Nerven-Geist, or nervous energy, being of a grosser nature, continues united with the Seele after its separation from the body, rendering it capable of becoming visible to the living in the form of an apparition, and enabling it in other ways to affect material objects, to make noises, move about articles of furniture, in short, to commit the various annoyances comprehended under the term "es spukt." And here be it observed the commonness of such visitations in Germany is amusingly exemplified by the necessity of having an impersonal verb to express them; just as we say "it rains," "it blows," so do the more sensitive Germans say "it ghosts." According to its previous training in life, this composite being requires more or less time to dissolve, the Seele alone being immortal; and consequently the Teutonic spectres assume a more and more diminutive form as their time of probation wears away. Analogous to this is Plato's explanation of the acknowledged facts of spirits haunting tombs: having been immersed during her union with the body in gross sensual pleasures, the soul becomes equally unable and unwilling to abandon her old companion and dwelling-house before the same be totally consumed.

To the above-quoted theories explaining the nature of the soul, and its final destination, the recent discovery of that precious monument of Gnosticism, the Pistis-Sophia enables us to add a third, infinitely more complete in all its details. This last

p. 349

revelation improves upon the Neo-Platonic doctrine by making the astral genii "the Rulers of the Sphere" (Zodiac) create the soul from their own substance "out of the tears of their eyes and the sweat of their torment," animated with a spark of that Divine Light which has not yet been totally extracted from their fuller nature. For these Zodiacal Lords evidently answer to the rebellious Angels of the Jews, and the Seven Devs of the Magi, in fact the whole treatise represents the religious ideas of the latter, more closely than of any other system.


343:* This was merely an adaptation to the new notions of the sect of the old Egyptian ritual always placed, entire or in part, within the mummy-case, and entitled, "The Book of the Gates, concerning the manifestation unto the Light." These Gates, leading to the palace of Osiris, were one-and-twenty in number, and were guarded each by its particular deity, to be duly addressed in his turn. The papyrus of Petamenoph, otherwise Ammonius (d. under Hadrian), has been admirably explained and translated by Champollion, and published in Caillaud's 'Voyage a Meroé,' iv. p. 22. Or the belief may have had a Chaldæan origin, even more ancient than the Egyptian. Lane-Fox and others have translated a tablet giving an account of the descent of the goddess Ishtar into Hades, "the Land of no Return." The Lord of Earth gives her a green bough of the If tree, and she passes successively through the Seven Gates, surrendering at each in order, her crown, ear-rings, head-jewels, front-lets, finger and toe-rings, and necklace. The Lord of Hades gives her a cup of the Water of Life, and she returns, receiving back her jewels in the same order in which she gave them up.

344:* The Ritual above cited contains regularly eight invocations addressed to Thoth, recommending the soul of the defunct to the guardians of the sane number of regions over whom he is the president.

347:* Names of the chief giants who warred against Jupiter. The legend clearly comes from the same source as that in the Book of Enoch: "And the Giants who were born of the spirit and of flesh shall be called p. 348 evil spirits upon earth; and on earth shall be their habitation. Evil spirits shall proceed from their flesh because they were created from above; from the holy watchers was their beginning and primary foundation. Evil spirits shall they be upon earth, and the spirits of the wicked shall they be called. The habitation of the spirits of heaven shall be in heaven, but upon earth shall be the habitation of terrestrial spirits who are born on earth. The spirits of the giants shall be like clouds which shall oppress, corrupt, fall, contend, and bruise upon earth."--(xv. 8.)

Next: The Cause of Sin