Month: August 2013

The Great Declaration: A Commentary (Part 1)

Notice Simon Magus is depicted in the likeness or as a figure similar to Jesus.

The Great Declaration i.e. Apophasis Megale is ascribed by Hippolytus of Rome to Simon Magus. This is, however, doubtful because  its allusions to the New Testament indicate a 2nd-century authorship at the earliest. Many scholars date the text to the 3rd century. It also reads like esoteric Pauline exegesis of the Pentateuch. Simon Magus or Simon the Magician is the founder of the religion known as Simonianism (and possibly Gnosticism) with most of its devotees from Rome and from Samaria who saw him as a Savior and the Son of God, much like Jesus. He was also said to be a key disciple of both John the Baptist and Dositheos, both figures which were highly revered by many Gnostic and Christian sects throughout the ancient world, again, also much like how Jesus was said to belong to a sect of Baptizers.

Simon Magus is said to be born in the village of Gitta of Samaria and of the Samaritan sect of unknown birth date (once again, much like how the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a Samaritan in John 4). The earliest I can say he died was 41CE with terminus being 68CE. These dates I have conjectured from the fact that accounts of the death of Simon Magus place his demise in the reigns of both Claudius and Nero (though under Claudius seems more in evidence which  would mean the terminus would be 54CE as opposed to 68CE). Simon’s self promotion in Rome took place during the reign of Claudius was thus between 41CE and 54CE. Rome held its Imperial Cult, its Emperor worship, and all activities of man-worship other than the cult of the Emperor had to be legalized by the government, that Justin Martyr claimed this to have happened is made explicitly clear in 1 Apol. 56 in speaking of Simon Magus as having:

so greatly astonished the Sacred Senate and your people and the Roman people, that he was thought to be a god and was honoured, like the others whom you honour as gods, with a statue.

It is also noteworthy that Justin appeals in the First Apology to “destroy the statue” (cf. 1 Apol. 56) evidently believing that the statue was still standing, thus having stood for about 100 years. This statue is described by Justin Martyr in again, 1 Apol. 26:

…in the reign of Claudius Caesar, through the art of the demons who worked in him, did mighty works of magic in your imperial city of Rome and was thought to be a god; he has been honoured among you as a god with a statue, which statue was erected on the River Tiber, between the two bridges, having this inscription in Roman language: SIMONI DEO SANCTO.

However,  some scholars debate this point, claiming that Justin confused a statue dedicated to the Sabine divinity Semo Sancus with that of the historical Simon the Magician. Semo Sancus is an ancient Sabine deity for oaths, contracts, law, matrimony, and legal fidelity. In 1574, an altar dedicated to Semo Sancus was discovered on the island of the Tiber River with the following inscription Semoni Sanco Deo, which translates as “to Semon the Holy God.” This discovery led to the belief that Justin had made an observational mistake concerning what he thought was the idol of “Simon the Holy God” on the Tiber River.

There is a problem with this theory in that it assumes that the deity’s name is Semo. In Latin, semo or the plural semones derives from semi-homines or semi-humans. These are the dii medioxumi who were lower-level deities. The semones are the demigods of the Roman pagan pantheon. According to Marcus Porcius Cato, a Sanco is a spirit (daimon) and not a god (theos).

From the point of view of Roman paganism, it does not make sense to use a generic noun of semo for a demigod and then also the noun deos for a god. It would be like saying, “to the demigod holy god.” What is far more likely is that the Simon Magus, as a magician and adapter of local paganism, co-opted the Roman tradition of a semi-human god of law and covenant and identified himself as the semi-human god. This would conform to the description of Simon Magus in Acts 8:10 as being “this man who is the power of God.” So then, it was probably not Justin Martyr who was confused, but rather Simon Magus who confused his identity with the semi-human god of Rome. Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies 6.20 writes that the Simonians:

“have a statue of Simon in the form of Zeus, and one of Helen in the form of Athena, which they worship, calling the former Lord and the latter Lady.

The Catholic Church Fathers of the second, third and fourth centuries were almost totally united in calling him (and the philosophy that he established) as the first and primary heresy and set out to combat his error that plagued Christianity for the first four centuries. The second century Catholic Bishop, Irenaeus, said that the Samaritan Simon was the very person “from whom all the heresies took their origin” (Against Heresies, 1.23.2). From then on to the time of the Roman historian and Orthodox polemicist Eusebius (and including the testimony of Eusebius himself), Simon is singled out as the originator of all the principal heresies that polluted the living tree of the early church in its first four centuries of existence. That is why he is given a prominent position in the Book of Acts (8:14-25).

This Simon claimed to be the Great Power (cf. Acts 8:10). According to Hippolytus, Simon bought a temple prostitute in a Phoenican city of Tyre, by the name of Helen, recognizing her as a reincarnation of Helen of Troy (cf. Justin Martyr 1, Apol 26), and he made her part of his teachings as he taught that she and him are in fact one dyad or syzygy. Simon would call her the “lost sheep”, much like how John 10 describes the sheep not as Samaritians or Jews but but rather the soul itself in each man; a soul in need of liberation of bondage to material creation and ignorance of it’s origins. Jesus was depicted as the Good Sheppard, as was Simon. Jesus in Luke 16:9 and Mark 16:9 also saves a prostitute from “seven demons”, by the name of Mary Magdalene. And in the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is depicted as the disciple of Jesus in which he “loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

The 3rd century NHC text, The Concept of Our Great Power also uses this same nomenclature of Simon and features Paul’s eschatology verbatim. It is also one of the more radically dualist texts in the NHC. Considering this is a Simonian work, this is no surprise. The text has a number of features that the church fathers attribute to Simonian Gnosticism, like the divine title of “great power,” and the involvement of fire in creation as used in the Great Announcement. Also, the text doesn’t actually specify the savior by name (the [Jesus?] in the translation is just the translator’s conjecture), which is why I say that if it’s Simonian, Simon Magus may be implied. And if that’s the case, then Power may have originally been composed, at least in its earliest form, when the characters of Jesus, Simon Magus, and Paul were blurred together into one personage.

Simon also taught that Jesus took on disguises to evade the attention of the powers, archangels and principalities (since they were viewed as the rulers of the world) as he descended into matter and flesh as discussed in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth and the Ascension of Isaiah. This touches on doceticism, which is the idea that while he entered matter he never became matter, with his original nature being purely divine. Yet, it is still an incarnation doctrine, but not in the same manner in the (Catholic) Orthodox doctrine on the nature of Jesus, which is basically a conflated fusion between two diametrically opposed traditions, one being the docetic Christology of Paul and Simon Magus and the the Jewish Messianic cult leader Rabbi by the name of Yeshua. More on this will be discussed in Part 2 of this commentary.

Origen in Contra Celsus i.57, notably conflates the title of “Son of God” with “the Power of God”. R.M. Grant suggests that the “Great Power” was a deity invoked by Simon in his magical spells and rituals, and that in the style of many incantations found in the Greco-Egyptian magical papyri, Simon identified himself as a manifestation of this spiritual power using the “I am” formula.

The following is part of the text of the Great Declaration as preserved by Hippolytus in Refutation of All Heresies 6.18 after which the exposition will be given. This is specifically taken from Robert Price’s translation of the Simonian work.

This is the writing down of the declaration of voice and name from thought, which is the Great Power, the Boundless. Thus it shall be sealed up, hidden, concealed, placed in the dwelling which rests upon the Universal Root. To you, then, I say what I have to say, and I write what I to write. And this is the writing thereof.

From the universal aeons spring two shoots, which are without beginning or ending, stemming forth from a single root, which is the invisible Power, unknowable silence. Of the two shoots, one appears from above. This is the Great Power, the Universal Mind that sets all thing in order, being males. The other appears from below. It is the Great Thought, which is female and brings forth all things.

From this state they pair off with each other, uniting and appearing in the middle distance, the incomprehensible air, without beginning or end. Here is to be found the Father by whom all things sustained, and by whom are nourished those things which do partake of beginning and ending.

Such as He Who Has Stood, Stands and Will Stand, a male/female power like unto the Boundless Power which is a stranger equally to beginning and ending, existing in oneness. For it was from this that the thought within the oneness proceeded and became two.

Thus was the One, for as he had her in himself, he was yet alone. He had not been so at first because, though pre-existent, by revealing himself to himself he became a second. Nor could he be called Father till Thought named him so.

Thus, producing himself by himself, he revealed to himself his own thought. In the same way, the thought was revealed did not make the Father known but rather concealed him by contemplating him, that is, the power, in herself, the result being male-female, power and thought.

Thus do they pair of with each other, yet being one, there being no difference, between power an thought. Power is revealed from the things above, while thought is revealed by the things below.

The universal Aeons, refer to in fact as the first principles basic to reality (the first God), which is called Arche in Greek. The term “Aeon” can be understood as “eternity” and this commonly denotes a spirit of great power, in the case of Valentinian theology for example a god in the universal chain of being. In this case the universal Aeons produced by emanation are also intended to be understood as divine. The two shoots refer to the male and female aspects of Simon “which although being one are yet found as two”. Whether the terms “Power invisible” and “inapprehensible Silence” refer to Simon as one or separately with one name to the male and another to the female aspects I do not know, in any case if the terms are separately assigned then “Power invisible” must apply to the male and “inapprehensible Silence” must apply to the female (Helen the prostitute).

Babalon

This also sounds very close to many descriptions assigned to the Mother figure of Barbelo.  Barbelo was also known as a spiritual realm, whose etymology (originally in Aramaic) can be translated as the “realm of the Son of God”, where Jesus in the Gospel of Judas is said to have originated from. So great was her popularity and worship that  that one of the names given to the Gnostics was the Barbeloites. She is the first reflex of divinity, called the Great Invisible Spirit. As the Invisible Spirit is pure potentiality, so Barbelo is pure activity, the two forming the first and most fundamental of all dualities. One can see the similarities between Barbelo and the Egyptian Nut or Nuit and the Enochian goddess described by Aleister Crowley (Simon Magus 2.0), Babalon i.e. the Scarlet Woman (Helena 2.0) in many of his writings.

Hippolytus gives a report of what Simon taught about the one Root which was said to be the Universal Principle and the Boundless Power:

“Simon in his paraphrasing of the Law of Moses speaks with artful misunderstanding. For when Moses says “God is a fire burning and destroying,” taking in an incorrect sense what Moses said, he declares that Fire is the Universal Principle, not understanding what was said, viz., not that “God is fire,” but “a fire burning and destroying.” And thus he tears to pieces the Law of Moses, but also plunders from Heracleitus the obscure. And Simon states that the Universal Principle is Boundless Power”

Of these shoots one is manifested from above, which is the Great Power, the Universal Mind ordering all things, male, and the other, (is manifested) from below, the Great Thought, female, producing all things.

“The Great Power” is indeed the epithet applied to Simon Magus by the people of Samaria as recorded in the book of Acts. This title as well as “Universal Mind” are used exclusively of the male aspect of Simon, the Power is also the more transcendent aspect of Simon, indeed the Mind is said to be “above”. “The Great Thought, female” is Helen who is the First Thought of the Universal Mind or Nous, which must be understood in reference to the Simonian mythos as is laid out in works of the Church Fathers. It is said that this “First thought” descended into the lower regions and generated the angels and powers, which created the world, these angels then detained her, and she was reincarnated (Simon also taught a doctrine akin to metempsychosis or the transmigration of the souls i.e. reincarnation, according to both Irenaeus and Hippolytus) in bodies of flesh over and over again (see: Exegesis of the Soul for details on this) until the Great Power found her, his First Thought. These are of course the same “authorities of the universe and the spirits of wickedness” of St. Paul’s Ephesians 6:12, which directly corresponded with the Archons of Gnosticism. Paul’s Christ was said to be above these powers, authorities and all might. Paul calls us to be, “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)

Zeus/Jupiter

Athena

According to both Irenaues and Hippolytus, Simon’s followers were said to worship the Gnostic couple of Simon Magus and Helena in the images of Zeus and Athena (who, according to Greek myth, sprang from the head of Zeus). Stephen Haar in his work, Simon Magus: The First Gnostic? notes that the Phoenician (notice the that connection again as associated with the city of Tyre where Simon found Helen in a brothel) sun-god Herakles (Hercules), like Simon was also conferred with the title of the “Standing One”. Even the name Simon could be traced to the oriental stem of Sem-Herakles, a deity also worshiped in Samaria. Thus the connection between Greek paganism and Simonianism is closely intertwined.

In any case, Hippolytus in refuting Simonian teachings also explicates of these shoots that the Mind is heaven and the Thought is earth. Whether this is because Simon read Genesis in an allegorical way or stated that Mind is in fact synonymous with heaven and Thought synonymous with earth, one can only guess. To understand the two shoots the Root must not be forgotten, the Root is fire, and just as Heraclitus taught that all is fire, so to does this male witch. And Fire, says Simon, has a twofold nature one concealed the other manifested, the concealed produces the manifested and is hidden in the manifested. This corresponds to Plato’s belief in the sensible which is physical and visible (Eidon/Kosmos) being based on the intelligible and the forms (Eidos) where true knowledge lay and which was incorporeal. Thus for Simon the concealed is the intelligible while the manifested is the sensible. Power is concealed, thought is manifested.

While Plato would understand fire as being an element and with hardly -if any- more divine than air, water, or earth Simon claims it as the central player of existence. And of course, the Stoics used Heraclitus’ Fire (Logos) and considered it to be a primordial kind of being (God), with all things are composed of fire. The human soul is likewise born from this Godly fire, which permeates and penetrates the entire body, much like how the Stoics viewed the material universe being permeated by this same fiery essence. This is all reflected in Simon’s teaching of the divine fire involved in creation. That Simon Magus consciously corresponded the heavens to the incorporeal and earth to the corporeal is not a unique innovation but was also done by the contemporaneous Philo of Alexandria (cf. On the Creation).

Hence pairing with each other, they unite and manifest the Middle Distance, incomprehensible Air, without beginning or end. In this is the Father who sustains all things, and nourishes those things which have a beginning and end.

The Middle Distance may describe the apparent point of discontinuity between the the earth and the -less physical- heavens or perhaps the Middle Distance is the heavens itself as being “incomprehensible” and “without beginning or end” suits the intelligible realm which as has been pointed out could be applied to the heavens. Perhaps this Middle Distance is to be understood as being a great fire, as it is in Valentinian theology (as well as Sethian) which bares some striking similarities to Simonianism, and as some say may indeed have its root in Simonianism as claimed by Irenaeus. The reason that the uniting of Mind and Thought in the Middle Distance has the Father is because the Father was not called Father until Thought called him Father and with the Thought proceeding from the Mind the name “Father” became applicable and is only made known in the presence of both of them “which although being one are yet found as two”.

Simon in this case referred to as “the Father” has been said to be “without beginning or end” and sustains things which do have a beginning and end. This fits very well with the report of Hippolytus that Simon studied the philosopher Heraclitus. Heraclitus claimed that everything was in flux, everything that is except the Logos which was the eternal and unchangeable principle of reason that sustained the temporal world. Simon placing the temporal in dependence on the eternal reason is in line with Heraclitean theory.

In the Gospel of Philip, the “Middle” has a much more negative connotation, and the author even says that “God forbid that I be found in there!” Perhaps this is the “Gnostic” version of the much dreaded astral realm or purgatory.

This is He who has stood, stands and will stand, a male-female power like the preëxisting Boundless Power, which has neither beginning nor end, existing in oneness. For it is from this that the Thought in the oneness proceeded and became two.

The Standing One is an appellation given to Simon as is clearly indicated by Hippolytus, by Clement of Alexandria and the writer of the pseudographical Clementine Recognitions. This having stood, standing, and will be standing of Simon is representative of the idea that there are three that stand and without these Aeons, there would be no order. These three are also two and also one, for the three are the Boundless Power and the Mind and Thought that emanate from it, the Mind and Thought are the manifesting and actualizing of the potential and concealed Boundless Power, and remember that Mind and Thought are merely the male and female aspects of each other. For Hippolytus elucidates that Simon preached that the Standing One who has stood, stands and will stand:

is the one Power, separated into the above and below, generating itself, increasing itself, seeking itself, finding itself, its own mother, its own father, its sister, its spouse; the daughter, son, mother and father of itself; One, the Universal Root.

This explanation of the Standing One should make the whole of this passage obvious on a basic level. Even the epithet of Standing One sounds very similar to the title of “living, unshakable race” that the Sethian Gnostics would use to describe themselves as seen in the Three Steles of Seth.

So he was one; for having her in himself, he was alone, not however first, although preëxisting, but being manifested from himself to himself, he became second. Nor was he called Father before (Thought) called him Father.

 Thus was the One, for as he had her in himself, he was yet alone. He had not been so at first because, though pre-existent, by revealing himself to himself he became a second. Nor could he be called Father till Thought named him so.

Thus, producing himself by himself, he revealed to himself his own thought. In the same way, the thought was revealed did not make the Father known but rather concealed him by contemplating him, that is, the power, in herself, the result being male-female, power and thought.

Having emanated the female aspect namely Thought. Thought as being that of below, earth, of the sensible is the manifested aspect of fire which is the Boundless Power, remember that Hippolytus wrote that Simon taught that the manifest is produced by the concealed and the concealed is hidden by the manifest. Thus the manifested Thought hid the Concealed Father, the Power, the Mind, the male aspect and they are both of the Boundless Power.

Thus do they pair of with each other, yet being one, there being no difference, between power an thought. Power is revealed from the things above, while thought is revealed by the things below.

The Power and Thought are simply the natures of the twofold nature of Fire which is the Boundless Power, with Power one understands the incorporeal intelligible and with Thought the corporeal sensible.

In the same manner also that which was manifested from them although being one is yet found as two, the male-female having the female in itself. Thus Mind is in Thought—things inseparable from one another—which although being one are yet found as two.

That which was manifested from them is the universe with the intelligible having the sensible within itself, for this to be so one would expect Thought/female to be in Mind/male and not to be given the conclusion “Thus Mind is in Thought” as logically inexplicable as it seems perhaps it is simply said in the opposite way to give extra weight that they are “things inseparable from one another”.

In the same way, too, that which was revealed from them, thigh, it was one, is however as two, the male-female having the female in itself. Thus is mind contained within thought, things inseparable one from the other, which though in reality one are seen as two.

Man, here below, born from blood, is the dwelling, and the Boundless Power dwells in him, and it is the Universal Root. Nor is the Boundless Power that is, fire, one. The fire in being two fold, one said being manifest, the other concealed. And the concealed things of fire are with the Manifest Ones, while those revealed are produced by Those Hidden. The manifest side the fire contains all things within itself that are visible and that one may perceive, as well as those which one neither suspects nor perceives. But in the concealed side of fire may be found all that is conceived and that is intelligible, even if it surpasses the senses, or that which one is unable to conceive.

Man, according to the Simonian teaching, contains a certain divinity, a spark of life, and above all, a boundless power, indicating that within himself exists an eternal and powerful substance that is even superior to the gods and the archangels! Within mankind resides an indefinite power, which Simon affirms to be the root of the universe, being divine fire. Here, Heraclitus’ influence really shines, since he views the soul as fiery in nature. But it also has a limitless dimension.

If you went in search of it, you would not find the boundaries of the soul, though you traveled every road-so deep is its measure [logos]. (DK22B45)

The Greek adage, “entheos” meaning “within is a god” was also used as a term to describe someone that is divinely possessed. This is state of ecstasy (ekstasis) when the boundaries between the egoic self, others and the god is dissolved into an experience of rapture and unity. The word enthusiasm can also be traced to this word, “entheos”.

From the Orphic mysteries and the cult of Dionysus as I note in my upcoming essay on the god Eros, the Bacchic possession of “divine madness” very much influences the ideas of not only Simon Magus, but also Paul and his Christology in Corinthians. The ecstasy of god’s presence was said to be induced by music (Orpheus), dance and wine (Dionysus), and the eating of raw flesh (omophagia, or a sacrifice to the god of raw flesh), which also happens to influence the Eucharistic Discourse of Jesus when he claims in John 6:53-56:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”

The statement of Man being “born from blood” seems to echo this statement. The The Stoic-Cynic philosopher Dio Chyrstostom (circa 100 CE) would attribute the human descent from the blood of the defeated Titans and the hatred of the gods in Orations. 30, 10-11. 

All mankind, we are all from the blood of the Titans. Thus, because they were the enemies of the gods and fought against them, we are not beloved by the gods either, but we are punished by them and we are born into retribution, being in custody in this life fora certain time as long as we each live … This harsh and foul-aired prison, which we call the cosmos, has been prepared by the gods.

This is similar to Gnostic descriptions of the physical universe with the multiple archons depicted as the rulers of fate and destiny over the worlds. There are many other striking similarities between the Fourth Gospel of John and the Dionysian, Bacchic and the Eleusinian mysteries, which I note in the essay on Eros. The concept of “entheos” is also similar to Simon’s argument that there are many Gods in the Clementine Homilies, just as Jesus argued, “ye are gods” (John 10:34) in imitation of King David in the Psalms 82: 6.

This idea of mankind being born from blood is also comparable to how the author of On the Origin of the World claims Eros as being the originator of all life on earth including the two sexes of humanity, being born:

Out of that first blood Eros appeared, being androgynous. His masculinity is Himireris, being fire from the light. His femininity that is with him – a soul of blood – is from the stuff of Pronoia. He is very lovely in his beauty, having a charm beyond all the creatures of chaos. Then all the gods and their angels, when they beheld Eros, became enamored of him.

Dionysus

Mosaic floor in the ‘House of Dionysos’ at Pella, late 4th century BC, Pella, Archaeological Museum.

To many ancient people, the power of God was shared amongst a pantheon of many gods and deities (and even angels). Furthermore, Gods were men who could come to earth in mortal form. Conversely, people could attain special powers and become divinized. The acquisition of divine power demonstrated the divinity of the individual – who was either born divine or was granted a level of divine status by the gods. In other words, men could become gods. And so Heraclitus was right when he said, “Men are gods, and gods are men.” The Gospel of Philip would flip this dichotomy on its head:

That is the way it is in the world – men make gods and worship their creation. It would be fitting for the gods to worship men!

In other words, if a mortal man could do something “extraordinary”, it was because he had been blessed by a god with that special power. In essence, he was partly divine, and if divine, then worthy of worship. In fact, many ancient emperors of Egypt, Greece and Rome as well as prophets and shamans were deified and worshiped, a practice that continues even today through canonized sainthood of the Roman Catholic Church.

The ancients understood that miraculous things were done by magic, and magic came from God. If one was deified, one had to prove this fact through magical feats (See: Exodus 7:8-11 as a Biblical example) and this is also used for the the requirements for canonized sainthood require the performance and documentation of at least 3 miracles – proof that you are divine precisely because you can perform magic. So in essence, magic was evidence of divinity! However, through the course of history, magic and the title of magician (which was originally conceived as a misnomer for the enemies of the Church fathers, including Simon)  become associated with working against society and mainstream religion and thus to be strictly utilized as a hidden craft i.e. the occult.

In Part 2, I will continue my analysis and commentary of the Great Declaration and get into more striking parallels between our favorite bad boy magician with Jesus Christ and Paul among other topics. In future posts there will also be further inquiries into Apollonius of Tyana, the Greek god Apollo, Orpheus, Hercules and the great Greek revealer of healing, Asclepius. The magical and alchemical roots of Christianity will be further explored.

It’s going to be a Hermetic Super-friend reunion of Magick!

Biblical Exegesis: The Three Phoenixes in Paradise

Phoenix by Fabelwesen

[…], so that in their world it might pass the thousand years in Paradise – a soul-endowed living creature called “phoenix”. It kills itself and brings itself to life as a witness to the judgment against them, for they did wrong to Adam and his generation, unto the consummation of the age. There are […] three men, and also his posterities, unto the consummation of the world: the spirit-endowed of eternity, and the soul-endowed, and the earthly. Likewise, the three phoenixes <in> Paradise – the first is immortal; the second lives 1,000 years; as for the third, it is written in the Sacred Book that it is consumed. So, too, there are three baptisms – the first is the spiritual, the second is by fire, the third is by water. Just as the phoenix appears as a witness concerning the angels, so the case of the water hydri in Egypt, which has been a witness to those going down into the baptism of a true man. The two bulls in Egypt possess a mystery, the sun and the moon, being a witness to Sabaoth: namely, that over them Sophia received the universe; from the day that she made the sun and the moon, she put a seal upon her heaven, unto eternity. — On the Origin of the World.

While I touch on the concept of the Phoenix very briefly in an upcoming, academically-minded essay that explores the nature of the Greek god Eros (as mentioned in the same text of Orig. World), I didn’t get a chance to go in-depth so without further ado, I will do just that in this edition of Biblical Exegesis. On the Origin of the World is one of the more innovative texts found in the Nag Hammadi Library that just does its own thing without any real connection to any other text, except for Eugnostos the Blessed and Hypostasis of the Archons. As noted by other scholars, the On Origin of the World is almost certainly composed in Alexandria, Egypt: this is suggested not only by the mention of some typically Egyptian matters (phoenix, irrigation, bulls) and the remark that only Egypt resembles the paradise of God, but also by various ideas that can only have their background in Alexandria, the ground which sprung up other well-known arch-heretics like Valentinus, Basilides, and many esoteric Hermetic cults.

Illustration of Apis - the Sacred Bull of Egypt

In the above passage, animal metaphors (in a positive context) are abound. Here the phoenix is mentioned as well as the two bulls of Egypt, which are connected with the sun and the moon. Most likely, these bulls are the Mnevis ox, associated with Atem-Ra/sun, and the Apis ox, associated with the Osiris/moon. These creatures are used as baptismal symbols. The Phoenix was indeed an emblematic image for some Gnostic groups and their baptismal concepts as hinted in the above excerpt. The Phoenix is also associated with the three natures or the three types of man, specifically in context of the excerpt.

Likewise, the three phoenixes <in> Paradise – the first is immortal; the second lives 1,000 years; as for the third, it is written in the Sacred Book that it is consumed. So, too, there are three baptisms – the first is the spiritual, the second is by fire, the third is by water.

The immortal Phoenix represents the spiritual man that is destined to return to the Eternal realm of the three-fold anthropology we see repeat in not only in the Nag Hammadi Codices but extrapolated from the Parable of the Sower in Matthew, Thomas, Mark, and in the Apostle Paul’s Romans and 1 Corinthians. The second refers to the “psychic man” (half-way in between the spiritual and material realms) and the third being the “choic” or hylic (material) man, holding no spiritual ground and is “consumed” as if he never existed because matter was conceived as ultimately transitory and non-eternal. Western alchemy makes use of the Hellenic elements, being Water, Fire, Earth and Air, which can ultimately be traced to the Stoics. The author distinctly uses two of these elements in reference to the three baptisms.

The Phoenix itself is a well-known alchemical symbol for transmutation and resurrection from the death of the old self and into the new. In about 300 AD, the Hermetic and Gnostic adept, Zosimos of Panoplis provided one of the first definitions of alchemy as the study of:

The composition of the waters, and the movement, and the growth, and the removal and restitution of bodily nature, and the splitting off of the spirit from the body, and the fixation of the spirit on the body are not operations with natures alien one from the other, but, like the hard bodies of metals and the moist fluids of plants, are One Thing, of One Nature, acting upon itself.

It was also a well-known symbol for the sun. According to Achilles Tatius, who wrote Leucippe et Clitophon in the 2nd century, he described the head array of the phoenix in terms of being connection with the sun in the form of a rayed nimbus—much like the solar crown of the Statue of Liberty. According to his report, the phoenix prides itself that the sun is its Lord.

Colossus

In Greece, the sun god Helios was represented with the attribute of the rayed nimbus from end of the fifth century B.C. on. Before, he was depicted with a solar disk above his head.

Other writers such as Hesiod, Hecataeus, Antiphanes, Ezekiel the Dramatist, Manilius and others have written extensively on this mythological bird. According to Manillus, the  phoenix dies on a fragrant nest after having lived 540-years, and from its bones and marrow a worm arises which rapidly becomes a young and then an adult bird.

In other versions, the worm would rise from the ashes of the cremated phoenix but people like Epiphanius (in his work Ancoratus) found this conception to be illogical and had the worm develop to a mature phoenix in three days (to make the myth more suitable as a symbol of Christ) from the partially destroyed remains of the bird. The first act of the new phoenix is to carry the entire nest with its contents to the city of the sun near Panchaia, where it places its burden on the altar.

Further in the patristic tradition, the Phoenix was symbolic of the Resurrection of Jesus as mentioned by Clement of Rome, Tertullian and Lactantius. The Christian Church Father, Clement of Rome specifically repeats this story in Chapter 25 in The First Epistle, connecting it to the Resurrection of Christ and his believers.

Of course, the Phoenix has its origins in ancient Egypt as there are striking Egyptian colors used throughout this incredible treatise as the Egyptian bird Benu. In the vignettes of the Book of the Dead and on many monuments, the benu is shown as a heron-like bird with long legs and a pair of long feathers projecting horizontally from the back of its head. The benu with the solar disk is also found in Egyptian papyri. In fact, the solar disk was a more common solar attribute given to other various animals connected with the sun, like Hathor, the cow goddess, for instance along with the Ram god Chnum, the Apis bull, and the crocodile. The only solar disk giving off rays that occurs in Egyptian art is the one used as a symbol of the sun. It was in this way, the heretical King Ekhnaton had his god Aton represented in Amarna.

Chnoubis

On many magical amulets in the Greco-Roman period used against stomach diseases, the multi-rayed crown or nimbus was found, usually in connection with the lion or leontocephaline figures like Mithra or Chnoubis, who is almost always depicted has being a man, a man covered by a snake, a serpent, or a dragon with a lion’s head. The Jewish god Yahweh is also often depicted as being a lion-faced anthropormorphic being, who was the lord of lightening, thunder and wind. From ancient times, the lion too was associated with the sun: in Heliopolis, it was said that a pair of lions were worshiped as animals of the sun as mentioned in Aelian, XII, 7. In the Book of the Dead, the dead man who identified himself with the sun god could say:

“I am he who crosses the heaven, I am the Lion Re”.

On an amulet featuring the god of silence, Harpocrates, he is depicted as riding on a lion with a large nimbus around its head which six or seven double rays spread out.

Harpocrates

Other bird-like figures such as Horus with a falcon’s head is shown with a  solar disk. One can easily see how the solar disk iconography of Egypt influenced the Catholic imagery of the halo around Jesus’ head.

Horus

In a more spiritualized form these themes acquired great importance to the Chaldean theology of Julian the Apostate, Proclus, and others. The noetic (metaphysical) sun god draws the souls upward and in this function he is called “the one adorned with seven rays”. The number seven was considered to be a sacred number, representing perfection of the life after death awaiting the purified souls in the sphere of the planets and of the sun. Through this context, such ideas were associated with the seven rays of the phoenix, symbolic for life after death or immortality. The seven rays associated with Chnoubis could also represent the seven heavens of chaos along with the “Seven Angels that Made the World” per the Gnostic teacher, Saturnilus of Antioch. Ialdaboath, the first archon and world-creator, has the body of a dragon and the face of a lion—an image identified with not only the sun, but also the planet Saturn-Cronos = Chronos, all-generating Time.

Double-headed Phoenix

According to the famous 33rd Freemasonic author, Manly P. Hall, he writes in the Secret Teachings of All Ages about the two-headed Phoenix:

The symbol of the self-born, who is the androgynous phoenix in the esoteric symbol. The double-headed phoenix is the prototype of an androgynous man, for according to the secret teachings there will.

Plato used the androgynous Primeval Man to explain heterosexual love, just as the undivded male and female primeval people serve to clarify homosexual and lesbian relations. For Plato, the earliest Kabbalists, the Manichaeans (with their First Man) Philo of Alexandria, and the author of Poimandres, the first human being was exclusively androgynous, who also mirrored the Kabbalistic Adam Kadmon who was also conceived as androgynous. While the Primeval Man may have its origins in Plato (Symposium), there is no question that his formulation of the idea that love and sexuality are expressions of the split character of man for which man himself is solely responsible, had a far-reaching influence. This myth implies that the original, undivided, and perfect individual did not know sexuality. But Plato does not go as far as the author of Poimandres, who states that sexual desire is responsible for man’s mortality and death. Similar sentiments are expressed in On the Origin of the World and the Gospel of Philip.

The bisexual phoenix is mainly a symbol of eschatological man arisen from the dead, for whom male and female coincide, and who has had returned to him his original, perfect unity. In Paul’s statement that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Galations 3.28), one could easily interpret this to mean that Paul taught a doctrine akin to the bisexual origins of humanity. These concepts of the Primeval Man does much to clarify the ideas attached to the bisexuality of the phoenix. In the Old Testament, Psalm 102 (LXX) was connected with rejuvenation and resurrection in the myth of the phoenix, and in Exegesis of the Soul the quotation concludes with the words, “Your youth will be renewed like an eagle’s.”

“Praise the lord, O my soul, and, all that is within me, (praise) his holy name. My soul, praise God, who forgave all your sins, who healed all your sicknesses, who ransomed your life from death, who crowned you with mercy, who satisfies your longing with good things. Your youth will be renewed like an eagle’s.”

The Slavic Book of Enoch (15:1) also mentions the Phoenix (and in other places in the same text) in very strong-endearing terms, much like Orig. World:

Then the elements of the sun, called Phoenixes and Chalkydri break into song, therefore every bird flutters with its wings, rejoicing at the giver of light, and they broke into song at the command of the Lord.

Towards the end in the quoted excerpt of On the Origin of the World, it also mentions how the sun and the moon were witnesses to the repentant archon Sabaoth. “Heaven” in context of the excerpt, can also refer to the physical heavenly bodies and astrology. The author of this text seems to have a much more positive (or at least ambiguous) outlook on material life because the text often refers to many physical attributes in creation (the heavenly bodies, the animals, the Garden of Eden, even the material body of Adam) in endearing, even romantic terms because of their association with the feminine Wisdom figure of Sophia. On the Origin of the World seems to be alone in this regard.

Animals and “animality” are still, however, mainly used as negative designations and that comments on real animals are only disgressions from the real issue of the majority Nag Hammadi texts, which is spiritual salvation. In the struggle of salvation, animals are doubly losers, both because they will not be saved and because they are used to describe nature, materiality, desire and sexuality. In other words, the whole inherent fabric of the material world is deeply negative. It is not that animals in themselves are evil, but are merely used as adjectives to describe the most basest of human traits.

Internal passions were described as animalistic while external powers – planetary rulers or demons – were conceived of in the shape of animals or animal hybrids. Many texts like the Apocryphon of John and patristic sources like Origen (Against Celsus) mention and preserve the notion that cosmic powers were animal-headed beings – the obvious example being the lion-headed serpent, Ialdaboath. The Nag Hammadi texts preserve the notion of a desperate struggle to leave the world of the beasts and bestial aspects of physical reality behind in favor of a spiritual one.

Not only is the use of animals given shapes and bodies to evil powers but to also brand other people and their gods as beasts. In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, opponents were characterized as “unreasoning beasts” and “dumb animals” which were obvious references to the persecution done by the Orthodox (Catholic) Christians of the time, whom the Gnostic author mocks with disdain much like the author of the Gospel of Judas.

The path of Phoenix isn’t ever an easy one and it is the last stage of becoming divinized, in which the initiate attains immortality as symbolized by the Philosopher’s Stone or the “Pearl of the Great Price”, the spiritual core of his being. It can often be an arduous path full of hardship and struggle but is is also one of healing and transformation. And the author of On the Origin of the World manages to condense different concepts and ideas in a harmonic chain that one could write a several-volume exegesis on this one text alone!

Stay tuned for more installments of Biblical Exegesis.