Month: March 2014

Gnostic Gnotes: The Logos in Hermetic, Simonian and Johannine Literature

This won’t be a very long post as this is simply a recent collection of notes that I believe have very similar themes present throughout. This is taken from the Hermetic The Divine Pymander, Second Book, Poemander:

“6. Then from that Light, a certain holy Word joined itself unto Nature, and outflew the pure and unmixed Fire from the moist nature upwards on high; it was exceeding Light, and sharp, and operative withal. And the Air, which was also light, followed the Spirit and mourned up to Fire (from the Earth and the Water), insomuch that it seemed to hang and depend upon it.

7. And the Earth and the Water stayed by themselves so mingled together, that the Earth could not be seen for the Water, but they were moved because of the Spiritual word that was carried upon them.

8. Then said Poemander unto me, Dost thou understand this vision, and what it meaneth? I shall know, said I. Then said he, I am that Light, the Mind, thy God, who am before that moist nature that appeared out of darkness; and that bright and lightful Word from the mind is the Son of God.”

And again from the same chapter:

“13. For the Mind being God, Male and Female, Life and Light, brought forth by his Word another Mind or Workman; which being God of the Fire, and the Spirit, fashioned and formed seven other Governors, which in their circles contain the Sensible World, whose Government or disposition is called Fate or Destiny.

14. Straightway leaped out, or exalted itself from the downward Elements of God, The Word of God, into the clean and pure Workmanship of Nature, and was united to the Workman, Mind, for it was Consubstantial; and so the downward born elements of Nature were left without Reason, that they might be the only Matter.

15. But the Workman, Mind, together with the Word, containing the circles, and whirling them about, turned round as a wheel, his own Workmanships; and suffered them to be turned from an indefinite Beginning to an indeterminable end, for they always begin where they end.

16. And the Circulation or running round of these, as the mind willeth, out of the lower or downward-born Elements, brought forth unreasonable or brutish Creatures, for they had no reason, the Air flying things, and the Water such as swim.”

Compare this to the 2nd or 3rd century Simonian Great Announcement or Declaration (otherwise known as “Apophasis Megale”) as quoted by Hippolytus in the Philosophumena (“Refutation of All Heresies”):

“In sum, therefore, the fire, partaking of such a nature, containing both all things visible and invisible, and in like manner those heard within and those heard aloud the numerable and the innumerable, may be called the Perfect Intellect, since it is everything one can think of an infinite number of time in an infinite number of ways, whether of speech, thought, or deed.

For I judge that all parts of the fire, both seen and unseen, possess awareness and a modicum of intelligence. Thus the contingent cosmos was generated out of the Unbegotten Fire.

And it began to be generated in this manner. The first six roots of the principle of generation which the cosmos received from that fire. And the roots themselves were begotten of the fire by pairs, which are mind and thought, voice and name, reason and reflection.”

And from the same document:

“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 Gospel of John 1:1-18 speaks of similar themes of the descending principle of Light, being the Logos, being “with God” and sent by the Father to illuminate the created order of the world:

“1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and[b] is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Hermes Trismegistus

Hermes Mercurius Trismegistus, Simon Magus and the author of the Gospel of John also seem to come from or tap into a similar divine, Logoi current. It seems like all these different texts are describing the same process of the divine element descending into the lowest, sublunar depths of matter, the ordering or organization of creation and illuminating its true nature, which is darkness and eternal flux. Matter bereft of spirit is puerile, immovable and inert. Manifest and unmanifest. Sensate, the invisible and intellectual. The Mind of Hermes is present in many metaphysical, theurgical and exegetical writings of the Gnostic Hermetic, Johannine and Simonian literature.

A Christian understanding of the Logos and of the Holy Spirit has become indistinguishable from the verbal mysteries of rebirth the Gnostic Hermetica, including, of course, the Divine Pymander, as well as the fourth and thirteenth tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum– which have, significantly, been conflated with the daimonic magic of the Asclepius (which is another subject that is worth delving into further). Valentinian texts found in the Nag Hammadi Codices, such as the Valentinian Exposition as well as the Valentinian teacher, Heracleon’s commentary on the Gospel of John (naturally- as preserved by Origen and Clement of Alexandria) also reflect Hermetic and Johannine ideas.

The metaphysics described by Hermes, Simon, the Valentinians and the Fourth Evangelist all might have a possible root in Philo of Alexandria as well with his teaching of the divine Logos being the “first-born Son of God” the intermediary through whom God gave rise the manifest world as well as being a mediator between the world and God. Ultimately, however, the Logos concept (which translates to “reason”) is distinctly an Egyptian one which has its origins in Thoth or Djehuti, the god of writing, magic, mathematics and knowledge, the voice or “secretary” of the Sun God, Ra.

Even the concept of a personified Wisdom figure like Sophia originates with Sia or Isis. They are (Wisdom and the divine Logos) also present in Plato’s writings such as Timaeus, AristotleStoic writings, Heraclitus and Jewish Wisdom literature such as Proverbs and even the Book of Enoch. This all makes sense considering Alexandria, Egypt was the well-spring for most of these ideas and various esoteric cults such as the Gnostics and Hermeticists. These ideas are all worth exploring further in a future set of notes, or more likely in my forth-coming commentary of the the Simonion Great Declaration (Part 4).

De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines_Francisco de Holanda (1545-1573)