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

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That most philosophic of the Fathers, Hippolytus, commences his account of the systems of Basilides and his successors with this ingenious and appropriate simile: "It behoves all their hearers, as they see that the doctrines of these heretics are like unto a sea tossed into waves by the fury of the winds, to sail by them without heeding them, and to look out for the tranquil harbour for themselves. For that sea of theirs is both full of monsters, and difficult to traverse, and may be likened unto the Sicilian wherein are the fabled Cyclops, Charybdis and Scylla . . . and the rock of the Syrens which the Grecian poets tell how Ulysses sailed it past when he craftily baffled the cruelty of those inhospitable monsters. For the Syrens singing clear and musically used to beguile all sailing by, through the sweetness of their voice seducing them to cone to land. Ulysses learning this is said io have stopped with wax the ears of his crew, and having tied himself fast to the mast in this way sailed past the Syrens and overheard all their song. Which same thing it is my advice that all who fall in with these seducers should do, and either to stop his ears, on account of his own weakness, so to sail by unheeded the doctrines of heresies, without even listening to things too easily capable of seducing him by their sweetness, like the melodious Syrens’ song, or else faithfully binding himself fast to the Tree of Christ to listen to them without being shaken, putting his trust in that whereunto he hath been tied, and stand fast without wavering."

The Abraxas Deity, his titles, nature and form already having been discussed, it remains now to give a sketch of his great Apostle and his doctrines. To begin with the earliest notice of them--

Clemens Alexandrinus lived in the same city, and in the same century, with Basilides, the reputed founder of the Abraxas religion. During some years of that period they were contemporaries, and it is more than probable that Clemens was personally acquainted with Basilides--he being a very remarkable personage of his times. On this account Clemens

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testimony to the character of the Basilidan doctrine deserves infinitely more reliance than the statements of the later Fathers; whilst at the same time he passes a more judicious, and also a more favourable judgment upon its nature. He describes the system as consisting in a constant attention to the soul, and intercourse with the Deity considered as the fountain of universal Love. In his own words, "The Basilidan doctrine consists of two parts; the first part busies itself with divine things, and considers what is the First Cause through which all, and without which nothing is made; of what constitution are the things that pervade, or include, each other: the forces which exist in Nature, and unto what they tend. The other part relates to things human, as to what is Man; what things be consistent or inconsistent with his Nature, what he has to do and to suffer. In this department Basilides includes Virtue and Vice; what is Good, what is Evil, and what is Indifferent." In short we are here reminded of a description of a Buddhist missionary. The amiable but fanciful Clemens, whose own Christianity was no more than a graft upon the congenial stock of his original Platonism, could see very little to blame in the transcendental speculations of Basilides. In his eyes the latter was not a heretic, that is, an innovator upon the accepted doctrines of the Catholic Church, but only a theosophic speculator who sought to express old truths by new formulæ, and perhaps to combine the same with the new faith, the divine authority of which he was able to admit without renouncing his own creed--precisely as is the case with the learned Hindoos of our own day.

But far different is the picture of Basilides, as drawn by the pen of bigoted orthodoxy in the two next centuries, after his doctrines had been taken up and carried out to monstrous precision by the swarms of semi-Christian sects that sprung up in the very bosom of the Church. These notices are subjoined in chronological order, for they give in a few words the grand features of the perfected system. Hippolytus has left an excellent analysis of the Basilidan doctrine, well deserving of careful study, although it is hard to see how it bears out the assertion at the opening, that this heretic took his entire system

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ready made from Aristotle, with his genus, species and individual, but pretended to have received the same from St. Matthew, who had communicated to him the esoteric doctrines which he alone had received from Christ when on earth. The philosophic Bishop, however, is mild in censure; nay, seems rather captivated by the ingenuity of the Alexandrine mystic. But Tertullian, with no sense of the beauty of a clever piece of sophistry, launches out like a true African barrister: "After this, Basilides the heretic broke loose. He asserted that there was a Supreme God named Abraxas, by whom was created Mind whom the Greeks call Nous. From Mind proceeded the Word, from the Word, Providence; from Providence, Virtue and Wisdom; from these two again, Virtues, Principalities and Powers were made; from these infinite productions and emissions of Angels. By these Angels the 365 heavens were created. Amongst the lowest Angels, indeed, and those who made this world, he sets last of all the god of the Jews, whom he denies to be God, affirming that he is one of the Angels." Similarly the still later Jerome has (Amos III.): "So Basilides, who called Almighty God by the portentous name of Abraxas, saying that the same word according to Greek numeration, and the sum of his annual revolution, are contained in the circle of the Sun, whom the heathen taking the same amount but expressed in different numerical letters call Mithras; him whom the simple Iberians worship under the names of Balsamus (Baal-samen, "Lord of heaven") and Barbelus ("Son of Baal"). And that this wondrous title Abraxas had long before been applied to the Sun-god in the formulæ of The Mysteries may be inferred from various incidental allusions of ancient writers. Thus Theosebius the philosopher (says Photius, in his 'Life of Isidorus') drove a devil out of a woman by merely invoking over her "the Rays of the Sun, and the Name of the God of the Hebrews." The same explanation is much supported by the words of Augustine: "Basilides asserted the number of heavens to be 365, the number of the days in the year. For this reason he used to glorify a Holy Name, as it were, that is the word Abraxas, the letters in which, taken according to the Greek method of computation, make up this number."

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The Basilidan doctrine of "Emanation" was greatly refined upon by Valentinus, whose muster-roll of the celestial hierarchy shall be given in its proper place. Suffice it here to observe that the entire theory resembles the Brahminical; for in that theogony each Manifestation of the One Supreme Being, regarded by the vulgar as a separate self-existing deity, has a female partner the exact counterpart of himself, through whom, as through an instrument, he exerts his power--to express which doctrine this other half is styled his Durga, "Active Virtue." This last name, "Virtue," actually figures in all the Gnostic lists of Emanations; and the great Æon, Pistis-Sophia, in her second "Confession" perpetually upbraids herself for having quitted her male Σύςυχος, partner, in her proper habitation, to go in quest of the Supernal Light: whilst she equally reproaches him for not descending into Chaos to her aid. The system of Dualism, in fact, pervades the whole of that wondrous revelation.

Brahminical inspiration is possible in many other points of the doctrine of Basilides, as will appear by the following extracts from Irenæus--whose judgment was not warped, like that of Hippolytus, by the mania for deriving his system from the Aristotelian. Basilides (according to him) lived at Alexandria under Trajan and Hadrian (the first half of the second century), and commenced life as a student of the Oriental Gnosis--an epithet sufficiently indicating the source of that philosophy. Being converted to Christianity he attempted, like many others, to combine his new faith with his old, for the explanation of things both spiritual and natural. To do this he invented a terminology and symbolism of his own. In the promulgation of his peculiar notions concerning God and the Divine attributes--the Word, the Creation, the Emanation of spirits and worlds, the Architect of the universe, and the multifarious forces of Nature--he took the same road with his contemporary Saturninus in Syria. His system was a combination of Christian, Jewish, Persian and Egyptian notions, but the entire coin-position was moulded by the spirit of the Oriental Gnosis. These tenets their author zealously promulgated. For many years he taught in the school of Alexandria; he was also a most prolific writer. Clemens says he published twenty-four

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volumes of "Interpretations upon the Gospels," besides "Odes" and "Spiritual Songs"; all of which have perished. The doctrines he thus disseminated his contemporary Irenæus represents in the following manner:--

"Basilides in order to invent something more refined and plausible in the Gnostic speculative philosophy pushed his investigations even into the Infinite. He asserted that God, the uncreated eternal Father, first brought forth Nous or Mind; and Mind, the Logos, Word; this in turn, Phronesis, Intelligence; whence came forth Sophia, Wisdom, and Dynamis, Strength." Irenæus understands Basilides as making a Quinternion of Beings or Personal Intelligences external to the Godhead: but Bellermann with more reason takes them as signifying personified attributes of the Supreme forms of his working internally and externally. According to this explanation Basilides would only have borrowed his system from the Kabbala; it is however equally likely that he drew the whole from a much more distant source, and that his "Untreated" and "Quinternion" stand in truth for the First Buddha and the successive Five.

"When the uncreated eternal Father beheld the corruption of mankind, he sent his Firstborn, Nous, into the world in the form of Christ, for the redeeming of all that believe in him out of the power of those who fabricated the world--namely, the Demiurgus and his Six sons, the planetary Genii. Nous appeared amongst men as the Man Jesus, and wrought miracles. This Christ did not die in person, but Simon the Cyrenian, to whom he lent his bodily form, suffered in his stead; inasmuch as the Divine Power, the Nous of the Eternal Father, is not corporeal, and therefore cannot die. Whoso therefore maintains that Christ has died is still the bondman of Ignorance, but whoso denies the same, he is a freeman, and hath understood the purpose of the Father." From this tenet the Basilidans got the opprobrious title of "Docetae" (Illusionists). Similarly the pious Brahmins explain away all such of their legends as are inconsistent with our notions of divine dignity by making them all "Maya" (illusion). The same is also the doctrine of the Koran (Cap. iv.) upon this point: "And for that they have not believed upon Jesus, and have spoken against Mary a

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grievous calumny, and have said, Verily we have slain Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, the apostle of God; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by one in his likeness; and verily they were disagreed concerning him, were in a doubt as to this matter, and had no true knowledge thereof, but followed only an uncertain opinion. They did not really kill him, but God took him up unto himself, and God is mighty and wise."

The system just described coincides to a remarkable degree with the Brahminical, where the First Principle produces in succession the Five Powers--Mahasiva, Sadasiva, Rudra, Vishnu and Brahma--who are held by some for mere attributes of the Godhead; by others are taken in a materialistic sense for Æther, Air, Fire, Water, Earth. But possibly, as Mosheim so long ago maintained, the whole Gnostic system is derived, not from the Kabbala, nor from the Greek philosophy, but from the theosophy of the Brahmins.

Another circumstance in the Basilidan practice, mentioned by Irenaeus, will receive abundant illustration from the study of these talismans. "Furthermore the sect have invented proper names for these Angels, and class them under the first, second, third heavens, and so on. Besides this, they endeavour to explain the names, origin, powers, and Æons of their pretended 365 heavens--similarly they give its own name to the terrestrial sphere, which they say the saviour (whom they call Kavlacav) has visited, and then abandoned. Who understands this rightly and knows the Æons with their respective names, the same shall be invisible unto, and beyond the power of, those Æons, in the same manner as the Saviour Kavlacav himself was. As the Son of God remained unknown in the World, so must also the disciple of Basilides remain unknown to the rest of mankind, as they know all this, and nevertheless must live amongst strangers, therefore must they conduct themselves towards the rest of the world as beings invisible and unknown. Hence their motto, 'Learn to know all, but keep thyself unknown,'--and for this cause they are accustomed to deny the fact of their being Basilidans. Neither can they be detected as Christian heretics, because they assimilate themselves to all

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sects. Their secret constitution however is known to but a few, perhaps to one in a thousand or two in ten thousand. The local situation of their 365 heavens they parcel out just like land-surveyors. Their doctrine is contained in a sacred book, and likewise in Symbolic Figures. The Supreme Lord, the Head of all things, they call Abrasax, which name contains the number 365."

So much virtue being involved in a perfect knowledge of the names of the Æons, it would be unpardonable not to subjoin them, as far as they can possibly be procured at present and, the following may be taken for their most authoritative roll-call, having been drawn up by Valentinus himself, the profoundest doctor of the Gnosis, and who had elaborated to the highest degree the system first sketched out by Basilides. He arranges there in pairs, male and female, in the order of their successive emanation from Bythos, the pre-existing, eternal Principle. The number of pairs is fifteen, or the sacred number Five three times repeated. Their names, it will be seen, are Hebrew words, the va preceding some of the female powers being merely the copulative "and." Matter supposes Valentinus to have been of Jewish origin, although born at Alexandria. Tertullian states that he was first of all a Platonist, then a convert to Christianity, but having been disappointed in his aspirations to a bishopric he founded a religion of his own.


Ampsiu, Ouraan


Depth, Silence.


Bucua, Thartun


Mind, Truth.


Ubucua, Thardedia


Reason, Life.


Metaxas, Artababa


Man, Church.


Udua, Casten
Udu, Vacastene


Comforter, Faith.


Amphian, Essumen


Fatherly, Hope.


Vannanin, Lamer


Motherly, Charity.


Tarde, Athames


Eternal, Intelligence.


Susua, Allora


Light, Beatitude.


Bucidia, Damadarah


Eucharistic, Wisdom.


Allora, Dammo


Profundity, Mixture.


Oren, Lamaspechs


Unfading, Union.


Amphiphuls, Emphsboshbaud


Self-born, Temperance.


Assiouache, Belin


Only begotten, Unity.


Dexariche, Massemo


Immovable, Pleasure.

Epiphanius has evidently copied one pair (5) twice over,

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misled by a slight difference of spelling, and thus adds one pair to the proper fifteen.

It will be very instructive to compare this Valentinian system of Emanation, which makes all to proceed in pairs, male and female, out of the First Cause, with that Indian theosophy which this very feature indicates as its real source, in the latter, every Principle is divided into a male and female Energy, each exactly alike the other--"the same, distinguished by their sex alone." Each deity exerts his power through the agency of his female Principle or Sacti, which in turn possesses a Váhan "vehicle," that is an instrument or attribute, which is fixed and represented in a material form. Of the Persons in the Supreme Triad the Sactis and their Váhans * are:--

1. Of Brahma, Saraswati, goddess of harmony and the arts (the Jewish Wisdom); her váhan is a swan, or goose. (Hence Juno's Capitoline bird, afterwards explained by an historical fiction.)

2. Of Vishnu, Lakshmi, goddess of Prosperity, she has the title of Kamalá, "lotus-bearer;" her váhan is Garuda, the man-eagle. Vishnu in one Avatár takes the name "Varáha," and his consort "Varáhi," in which case her váhan is a buffalo.

3. Of Siva, the Changer or Destroyer, the Sacti is Bhaváni, goddess of fecundity, and consequently of death, for the first implies the second "Nascentes morimur, finisque ab origine pendet."

Nothing perishes, things only take a new form called by the ignorant Death. (Compare the title "Gods of death," which the Ophites were so fond of giving to the "Gods of the Nativity," the astral genii ruling the horoscope). Bhaváni's appropriate vehicles are the Bull, emblem of generation, and the Tiger, of destruction.

And before going further I cannot resist observing how these names and symbols manifest the far-spreading influence of the nations they embody. The Sassanian queens in their gem

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portraits generally bear the lotus in the hand, * "Varanes" is a common name for the kings of that line, and the Brahminic Bull, the commonest of all signet devices with their subjects. But as the dominions of the later Persian kings extended as far as the Indus, Hindoo princesses doubtless entered their harems and communicated their own religion to their children.

Again, many of these Sanscrit titles bear a resemblance, certainly not accidental, to words frequently occurring in the Gnostic inscriptions. Thus, "Sumitri," wife of Vishnu in his seventh Avatar may explain Σουμαρτα; and "Nátha," a title of Vishnu and Crishna, the equally common Ναυτιτα; "Isa," lord, feminine, "Isi," lady, is perhaps even the origin of Isis; and "Nila," dark-blue, and epithet of Parvati, is more appropriately transferred to Father Nilus. Vishnu in infancy as Narayana floating in his "Vat," leaf boat over the face of the waters, and coloured all over blue, may be compared to the child Horus wafted in the baris. The most ancient of all creeds having, as above shown, made the lotus the symbol of Plenty, the reason becomes obvious for the introduction of its seed-vessels, always mistaken for poppyheads, amongst the wheatears in the cornucopia of Ceres.

The above quoted Σουμαρτα seems to have been applied by the Gnostics to the Sun-god, for Montfaucon gives (Pl. 157) a figure of Sol so inscribed, with χεροῦβι on the reverse, a manifest invocation to all the angelic host. And as the protection of this celestial hierarchy is so perpetually sought by our talisman-makers in their "voluntary humility and worshipping of angels," I subjoin the names of the Hindoo Guardians of the "Jehabs," quarters of the world, which may perhaps lurk in their Grecised form amongst these interminable strings of titles.





























Of the centre, Rudra.





264:* It might even be suggested that Indian influence shines through the whole Apocalypse. The Four Beasts (borrowed it is true from the First Vision of Ezekiel) are these Whams, ministers of the Divine Will. Later times assigned each to an evangelist. The Four-and-twenty Elders had their prototypes in the Saints to the same number of the Buddhist theology; the "sea of glass or crystal" is the vast crystal block suspended in the highest heaven, the shrine of the Supreme Being; absorption into whom is the true object of the believer.

265:* In the character of Kamalá, as the later Greek, and the Roman ladies in that of Isis.

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