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Gnostic Mythology

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Art by Johfra Boscchart

Gnostic Mythology

One of the main things which separated the Gnostics from orthodox Christians was the mysticism of their beliefs. It began with their views of God and creation. They viewed the One which they called the true God as having a feminine part which was the Spirit. In accord, they also held that Jesus came from God and the Spirit to form the Trinity. In the Gnostic version of creation of the world the Spirit of God is referred to as the Wisdom of God or Sophia who is also a feminine creative force. It seems she wished to give birth to a creature like herself. She did so without the permission of her partner. She was able to do this by the power within her. The fruit of her desire was something imperfect and different from her in appearance. She was ashamed of it, threw it outside of the heavenly realm and hid it in a cloud so none of the Immortals would see it. According to the Gnostics this horrible child became the one they called the Demiurge. Unbeknown to him his mother gave him some of her power which contained the Spirit. The Demiurge thought the power which his mother gave him was his own, and with it he started creating the physical world. In doing this the Gnostics believed the Demiurge entrapped the Spirit in matter. They viewed the Demiurge as being the Christian God, the creator, basing their belief on the statement, “I am God, and there is no one besides me.”

The Pleroma

Pleroma (Greek πλήρωμα, “fullness”) refers to the totality of God’s powers. The heavenly pleroma is the center of divine life, a region of light “above” (the term is not to be understood spatially) our world, occupied by spiritual beings such as aeons (eternal beings) and archons. The first principle is the source of all light, the Unoriginate Originator. However, this principles does not exist alone, throughout the time he/she/it expands and contracts filing the spiritual dimensions with luminous beings of all orders and forms. In the Valentinan hierarchy, for example, there are eight major forms (Aeons) and twenty-two minor. In the Gnostic Theosophic tradition, there are three principles and seven lower planes or dimensions. The processes by which these realities are created are complex and vary from tradition to tradition. Each of these interpretations can be further expanded to include a whole universe of luminous realities, from the highest forces or Aeons to choirs and angels. Traditionally this complete spiritual kingdom is known as the Pleroma or fullness because it is filled to the brim with light and life. At the same time, the major spiritual forces within it are known as Aeons. While in the Gnostic tradition we tend to emphasize the three principles, the Divine Will, Logos and Sophia, and the Seven Spirits or Aeons, there is a universe of created beings that exist in the Pleroma and which fulfill the creative directive expressed by the Lord of Wisdom[1].

Emanation

The Supreme Light or Consciousness descends through a series of stages, gradations, worlds, or hypostases, becoming progressively more material and embodied. In time it will turn around to return to the One (epistrophe), retracing its steps through spiritual knowledge and contemplation.

Aeon

Aeon, also spelled Eon, (Greek: “age,” or “lifetime”), in Gnosticism and Manichaeism, one of the orders of spirits, or spheres of being, that emanated from the Godhead and were attributes of the nature of the absolute; an important element in the cosmology that developed around the central concept of Gnostic dualism—the conflict between matter and spirit.

Monad

In many Gnostic systems, God is known as the Monad, the One. God is the high source of the pleroma, the region of light. The various emanations of God are called æons. According to Hippolytus, this view was inspired by the Pythagoreans, who called the first thing that came into existence the Monad, which begat the dyad, which begat the numbers, which begat the point, begetting lines, etc.

Apocryphon of John, written c. 180, gives the following description:

The Monad is a monarchy with nothing above it. It is he who exists as God and Father of everything, the invisible One who is above everything, who exists as incorruption, which is in the pure light into which no eye can look. “He is the invisible Spirit, of whom it is not right to think of him as a god, or something similar. For he is more than a god, since there is nothing above him, for no one lords it over him. For he does not exist in something inferior to him, since everything exists in him. For it is he who establishes himself. He is eternal, since he does not need anything. For he is total perfection. A being can have a relationship with a God but not the Monad as that would be a contradiction.[3]

Sophia, The Great Goddess

Sophia (pronounced sew-fee’ah) in Greek, Hohkma in Hebrew, Sapientia in Latin, Celtic goddess-figure Sheela-na-gigs – all mean wisdom, The Judeo-Christian God’s female soul, source of his true power is Sophia. As Goddess of wisdom and fate, her faces are many: Black Goddess, Divine Feminine, Mother of God The Gnostic Christians, Sophia was the Mother of Creation; her consort and assistant was Jehovah. Her symbol, the dove, represents spirit; she is crowned by stars, a Middle Eastern icon, to indicate her absolute divinity. So, the general understanding of the Holy Spirit as found in the Christian tradition is a de-sexing of the great feminine power. Sophia is the goddess or feminine principle and as such exists from the earliest pagan traditions right through to the Greek Mysteries and Gnosticism. In Gnostic literature, she is described by many names – the All mothers, Mother of the Living, Shining Mother and the Holy Spirit. Sophia is seen as the counterpart of the Logos and cannot work without. It is hence suggested in esoteric Gnostic literature that it was the combined power of Jesus and Mary Madgadene who transmitted the Mysteries, not Jesus alone. The Sophia tradition has survived hidden under the veil of Christian piety, it is still found in the cult of the Virgin Mary and is most powerful in the Russian orthodox traditions. It is a tradition of great age and some beauty that personifies the power of the Holy Spirit as distinctly female. For example, in Proverbs particularly we have Sophia wandering the street begging men to love her. While in the following quotes we may even begin to think that Sophia or Wisdom is separate, yet in reality, Sophia is a facet of the Lord of Wisdom himself. According to Gnostic mythology (in general) We, humanity, are existing in this realm because a member of the transcendent godhead, Sophia (Wisdom), desired to actualize her innate potential for creativity without the approval of her partner or divine consort. Her hubris, in this regard, stood forth as raw materiality, and her desire, which was for the mysterious ineffable Father, manifested itself as Ialdabaoth, the Demiurge, that renegade principle of generation and corruption which, by its unalterable necessity, brings all beings to life, for a brief moment, and then to death for eternity. However, since even the Pleroma itself is not, according to the Gnostics, exempt from desire or passion, there must come into play a salvific event or savior—that is, Christ, the Logos, the “messenger,” etc.—who descends to the material realm for the purpose of negating all passion, and raising the innocent human “sparks” (which fell from Sophia) back up to the Pleroma. This process of re-integration with/in the godhead is one of the basic features of the Gnostic myth. The purpose of this re-integration (implicitly) is to establish a series of existents that are ontologically posterior to Sophia, and are the concrete embodiment of her “disruptive” desire—within the unified arena of the Pleroma. Indeed, if the Pleroma is really the Fullness, containing all things, it must contain the manifold principles of Wisdom’s longing. In this sense, we must not view Gnostic salvation as a simply one-sided affair.

In his rare and valuable text The Gnostics and their Remains, C. W. King sums up the Gnostic genesis. His remarks are in substance as follows:

Sophia Achamoth, the generative wisdom of the world was lured into the abyss by beholding her reflection in the deep. Through union with the darkness, she gave birth to a son — Ialdabaoth, the child of chaos and the egg. Sophia Achamoth, being herself of a spiritual nature, suffered horribly from her contact with matter, and after an extraordinary struggle, she escaped out of the muddy chaos which had threatened to swallow her up. Although unacquainted with the mystery of the pleroma — that all-including space which was the abode of her mother the heavenly Sophia, or divine wisdom — Sophia Achamoth reached the middle distance between the above and below. There she succeeded in shaking off the material elements, which had clung like mud to her spiritual nature. After cleansing her being, she built a strong barrier between the world of intelligences or spirits, which are above, and the world of ignorance and matter, which stretched out below.Left to his own contrivances, Ialdabaoth, the son of chaos, became the creator of the physical part of the world; that part in which sin temporarily prevailed because the light of virtue was swallowed up in darkness. In the process of creation, Ialdabaoth followed the example of the Great Deity who engendered the spiritual spheres. He produced out of his own being six planetary spirits, which he called his sons.
The spirits were all fashioned in his own image and were reflections of each other, becoming progressively darker as they receded from their father.

Ialdabaoth and his six sons inhabit seven regions disposed of like a ladder. This ladder had its beginning under the middle space (the region of their mother Sophia Achamoth) and its end rests upon our earth, which is the seventh region. When the earth is referred to as the seventh sphere it does not mean the physical globe but signifies rather the region of the earth composed of ether.

Ialdabaoth, as may be inferred from his origin, was not a pure spirit, for while he inherited from his mother (generating wisdom) instinct and cunning, as well as an intuitive realization of the universal immensity, he also received from his father (matter) the qualities of ambition and pride, and these dominated his composition. With a sphere of plastic substances at his command Ialdabaoth severed himself from his mother and her sphere of intelligence, determining to create a world according to his own desires in which he should dwell as lord and master.

With the aid of his own sons, the six spirits of the planets, the son of chaos created man, intending that the new creature should reflect the fullness of the Demiurgic powers. This man should acknowledge matter to be his lord and should never seek beyond the material sphere for truth or light. But Ialdabaoth failed utterly in his work. His man was a monster, a vast soulless creature that crawled about through the ooze of the lower elements bearing witness to the chaos that conceived it. The six sons captured this monster and brought the awful creature into the presence of their
father, declaring that he must animate it and give it a soul if it were to live. Ialdabaoth was not a sufficiently exalted spirit and he could not create life; all he could do was to make forms.
In his extremity, the Demiurge bestowed upon the new creature the ray of divine light which he himself had inherited from his mother Sophia Achamoth. It is thus that man gained the power of generative wisdom. This new man sharing the light with his own creator now beheld himself as a god and refused to recognize Ialdabaoth as his master. Thus, Ialdabaoth was punished for his pride and self-sufficiency by being forced to sacrifice his own kingship in favor of a man he had fashioned.

Demiurge

The word demiurge is an English word derived from demiurge, a Latinised form of the Greek Greek, Ancient (to 1453);: δημιουργός or dēmiurgós. It was originally a common noun meaning “craftsman” or “artisan”, but gradually came to mean “producer”, and eventually “creator”.The demiurge creates the physical universe and the physical aspect of humanity. The demiurge typically creates a group of co-actors named archons who preside over the material realm and, in some cases, present obstacles to the soul seeking ascent from it.The inferiority of the demiurge’s creation may be compared to the technical inferiority of a work of art, painting, sculpture, etc. to the thing the art represents. In other cases it takes on a more ascetic tendency to view material existence negatively, which then becomes more extreme when materiality, including the human body, is perceived as evil and constrictive, a deliberate prison for its inhabitants.

 

Yaldaboath

In the Ophite and Sethian systems, which have many affinities with the teachings of Valentinus, the making of the world is ascribed to a company of seven archons, whose names are given, but still more prominent is their chief, “Yaldabaoth” (also known as “Yaltabaoth” or “Ialdabaoth”).

In the Apocryphon of John c. AD 120–180, the demiurge arrogantly declares that he has made the world by himself:

Now the archon [“ruler”] who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas [“fool”], and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, ‘I am God and there is no other God beside me,’ for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come.[4]

He is Demiurge and maker of man, but as a ray of light from above enters the body of man and gives him a soul, Yaldabaoth is filled with envy; he tries to limit man’s knowledge by forbidding him the fruit of knowledge in paradise. At the consummation of all things, all light will return to the Pleroma. But Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge, with the material world, will be cast into the lower depths.

Yaldabaoth is frequently called “the Lion-faced”, leontoeides, and is said to have the body of a serpent. The demiurge is also described as having a fiery nature, applying the words of Moses to him: “the Lord our God is a burning and consuming fire”. Hippolytus claims that Simon used a similar description.

Archons (Seven Spirits & Seven Planes)

According to the Gnostic traditions the triune principle manifests through a series of Archons, or Archangels or spirits. These forms can be expressed in many different ways, the most traditional is to know them as Aeons, while in Egypt they would have been called Sacred Principles or Neters. In the Zoroastrian tradition, they are known as the Holy Spirits (Spenta Amesha). (These are akin to the Seven Spirits before the Throne in the Book of Revelation). This links interestingly with some western traditions, which see the Seven Spirits before the throne (Revelation 4:5) as seven phases of the Holy Ghost. These Aeons or spirits have many different aspects and facets, they may also be related to the Seven Rays of the Theosophical and Rosicrucian Mystery traditions. In the heavenly hierarchy, these spirits are again emanations from the truine principle and under them are formed the Immortals, beings that embody each ray or spirit. In the Nag Hammadi text On the Origin of the World, these Seven Powers of the Heavens of Chaos are:

  1. Yaldabaoth, called also Saklas and Samael  – Saturn
  2. Iao – Jupiter
  3. Sabaoth – Mars
  4. Astaphanos, or Astaphaios – Venus
  5. Adonaios – Sus
  6. Elaios, or Ailoaios, or sometimes Ailoein – Mercury
  7. Horaios – Moon

 

Further to this, the Seven Archons form the body of the universe or the Great Chain of Being. It is from their forms that the seven planes of existence come into being. This is one of the most important aspects of the Gnostic teachings. The seven planes are not simply geographic locations, they are living, growing, transforming bodies which are enlivened by the seven Logii. It is the sane with the physical plane, it is not inert matter but is alive. The earth is not simply a ball of dirt in space but is Gaia an immense organism which is as much alive as we are. Each plane sub- divides into lesser planes and each plane dimension has its own consciousness and reality. In this model everything is interrelated. So, for example, man is in a unique symbiotic relationship with Gaia which in turn is part of a greater web of spiritual energy which makes up the archon of the physical plane. All forces are in a symbiotic relationship with those above them hence, man is part of the body of Gaia and his behavior and actions effects Gaia as much as would our own semi-independent digestive function! This unique and new view of life is imperative for not only environmental and conservation reasons but for our own survival as a species.

The various realms that exist can be understood as planes, dimensions, realities, locales or worlds, depending on what perspective you may wish to take. The Gnostic tradition tends to use the Gnostic Theosophic model which offers seven planes. There are other models such as the four worlds of the Kabbalah and the more complex Valentinian scheme of some thirty aeons. We are not stating one is more correct than the other, we have simply chosen one model from within our tradition to expound. Together all models illustrate the multi-faceted nature of reality, the earth being only one plane within a larger picture. There can be many views of such a structure, ranging from alternative universes, dimensions or planes to other realities, each has its place in our understanding [2].

The Seven Planes according to the Max Heindel model (Rosicrucian)

The Seven Planes according to the Theosophical model

The Seven Planes according to the Buddhism Tradition

1.     Divine Plane

2.     Plane of Virgin Spirit

3.     Plane of Divine Spirit

4.     Plane of Life Spirit

5.     Plane of Thought

6.     Desire Plane    

7.    Physical Plane

1.     Divine Plane

2.     Monadic Plane

3.     Spiritual Plane

4.     Intuitional Plane

5.     Mental Plane

6.     Astral Plane          

7.    Physical Plane

1.     Monadic Plane

2.     The Atma

3.     The Buddhic body

4.     Mental Body

5.     Astral Body

6.     Etheric Body         

7.    Physical Plane

 


References

[1]. The Gnostic Handbook, The Institute for Gnostic Studies.

[2]. Internet Encyclopedia of philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/gnostic 

[3].”Principles of a New Religion” by David Griffiths pp. 60–64 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1095854232

[4].”Apocryphon of John,” translation by Frederik Wisse in The Nag Hammadi Library. Accessed online at gnosis.org

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