Eros, Orpheus and On the Origin of the World
by Alexander Rivera
On the Origin of the World (Codex II) of the Nag Hammadi Library, is dominated by a compendium of influences including Manichean, Valentinian, Sethian, Ophite, Egyptian, Hermetic (Pagan Gnosis), Jewish apocalyptic apocrypha (Enoch and Jubilees), magic and astrology, and last but not least, and as the primary focus of this paper, the Orphic and Hellenistic mysteries. Yet, despite the variety of different influences, it still retains a particular Gnostic flavor—written persuasively as an academic essay, to not only attract potential adherents to the Gnostic religion but also to defend the Gnostic world-view in a distanced and factual manner. These references and allusions to other, non-Gnostic works, are employed to lend weight to the author’s message. Because of the juxtaposition of eclectic influences and even the citation of other texts, which are now lost to us, they seem to point to a school in Alexandria, Egypt as a place of origination.
Jesus Christ as a central figure of salvation has a minimal, vaguely defined role which points to the non-Christian and Hellenic orientation of the treatise. The figure of Eros is one that originates in Platonic and Orphic literature and it is this same character and central myth featured in On the Origin of the World and will be central point that will be analyzed. Specifically, the story of Eros and Psyche can also be found in the Latin novel, Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass, written by Apuleius of Madaura, a Latin novelist in the second century. However, Eros being the “madness of the gods” originates in Ovid’s Heroides (1st century B.C.E) and the Orphic hymns, of which the dating is often a matter of dispute, but generally can be seen as a collection of pre-Christian writings. The Orphic mysteries also predate this story much earlier at least from the 5th century, B.C.E. I will discuss how key portions of mythopoeia or myth-making in Gnostic doctrine along with other forms of Christianity of the first three centuries, A.D. have been transposed or more accurately—developed from not only Greek philosophy, through the writings of Plato but also from the surrounding Greek Hellenistic culture and myth from which various forms of Gnostic religion were flourishing when other forms of Christianity (Orthodox) were also developing. However, the text On the Origin of the World, along with the Eros myth will be the central locus of this paper and will be used to illustrate this kind of cross-pollination based in the milieu of several strands of paganism and ancient Gnostic Christianity.
The Desiring Abyss
The text in question, thevariously and hypothetically titled Untitled Treatise or Org. World can be dated to around the late third or early fourth century C.E. Scholars have noted that On the Origin of the World has strong parallels (and differences) with the Hypostasis of the Archons as the material is nearly the same but rearranged. There are also shared similarities with Eugnostos the Blessed. The later text, however, seems to be interconnected with Orig. World, as a metaphysical prelude to the dramatic events that happen later in Eden, etc. In many respects, is a commentary or paraphrase on the creation story in Genesis which first attempts to probe the origin of chaos and the void in Genesis 1:3: “Now the earth was unformed and void.” The author explains his intentions in the opening lines of Orig. World (97, 25-30): “Since everyone—the gods of the cosmos and humankind—say that nothing has existed prior to Chaos, I shall demonstrate that [they] all erred, since they do not know the [structure] of Chaos and its root.” It isn’t an enormous stretch to see that the author might have been directing this line, rebelling against certain sentiments expressed in Hesiod’s Theogony and the Psuedo-Clementine literature, especially in Rec. X, 30, 3, stating: “It is Orpheus, then, who says that at first there was chaos, eternal, unbounded, unproduced, and that from it all things were made.” The Gnostic interpretation also draws on the concept of darkness in the next part of the verse, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. Here “darkness” is understood as having existed before chaos and darkness itself is brought into being outside the realm of the “immortals…completed outside the infinite one”. This passage shows a form of creation by emanation, which is also the basis of the later kabbalistic system of emanation known as the ten sefirot of the Tree of Life.
On the Origin of the World also describes a concurrent or synonymous creation of immortal beginnings that start with the “boundless one” in the “kingless realm” or the “aeon of truth”, as well as the creation of Wisdom, personified here as Sophia in Greek—a key mythic figure in Gnostic texts whose role far exceeds the development found in Jewish Wisdom and apocalyptic texts, including Proverbs 9:1-18. Orig. World depicts Sophia’s role in a much more positive light—being intrinsic to the salvation of Adam and as a proto-demiurge figure, which “created great luminaries and all of the stars and placed them in the heaven so that they should shine upon the earth.” Note the linkage of Sophia (as Wisdom personified) and the primordial light, created on the first day, when God said, “Let there be light.”
…a likeness called Sophia flowed out of Pistis, with the wish that something should come into being like the light that first existed. Immediately her wish appeared as a heavenly likeness with an incomprehensible greatness. This came between the immortals and those who came into being after them, like what is above. It was a veil separating people from the things above.
Although there are numerous references to divine beings that invade the cosmos to aid with the enlightenment of humanity and the struggle against the powers and Archons that dominate the troubled cosmos and rule despotically over the material life of humanity, the text itself does not worry itself too much about the inner dynamics of the divine world—a feature in classical Gnostic mythology that had few rivals in both early and late antiquity. The text attempts to explain the origin of evil by stating that the aeon Pistis desired to be like the “first Light”.
Sophia is depicted as being brought forth from Pistis as a creature birthed from shadow. Along with this shadow emerged “every kind of deity” and powers from the primordial chaos. This shadow, being Sophia, becomes a self-aware entity and immediately becomes jealous of the light-power above, foreshadowing the actions of her blind offspring. From Sophia’s jealousy, emerges Envy, which comes forth like an “aborted fetus,” a miscarriage. Bitter wrath also came from Sophia at this moment while Matter passed out of Sophia like an “afterbirth”.
Among this chaotic shadowy mess, is formed the grotesque mutant—Ialdabaoth, who is also called “Ariael”, “because he was like a lion”. Pistis Sophia sees her malformed offspring moving over the “moving waters” and calls to him by saying, “Youth pass over here,” and is appointed ruler and organizer of the chaos of the primal matter while having no knowledge of his Mother or the light-region above. There is a comparable passage in the Hypostasis of the Archons which relates how the shadow descended into matter and formed an arrogant being from matter (94:4-19). This androgynous monster rising from the chaotic flux is also comparable to the Orphic Phanes, originating from the egg-shell of matter and even harkens further back to the Egyptian Amun myth, where the Demiurgical Ptah creates the primal egg within the primal waters of Nun in which all other gods emerge from. Of course, gods like Ptah are far from the description given to Ialdabaoth. Sophia also resembles the Egyptian goddess Nut, who arches her body to create and adorned the sky when she, “fashioned great luminous bodies and all the stars.”
Ialdabaoth shares traits with the Phanes (meaning “the lightening one”) or Eros (also called Metis and Erikepaios) which are considered the same being. From the Orphic Rhapsodies, Phanes was also considered to be an “always two-formed” (bisexual) god of fertility and love. He was sometimes depicted with an enormous phallus which he uses to engage in sexual unions. Phanes is essentially the Orphic Demiurge, who split the cosmic world-egg into heaven and earth when he hatched. Phanes was also identified in Antiquity with Pan, the luxurious god of lust with the goat’s legs, whose name could be interpreted as meaning “the all”. Phanes is also sometimes depicted to have a lion’s head, much like Ialdabaoth and the famous Mithraic leontocephaline.
As Patricia Cox Miller has noted, at this point “the text itself becomes a swirl of liquid metaphors” in which the flows of water, blood, and light blur together, bringing about the birth of the god Eros. They are also applied to both the formation of Ialdabaoth and his mother—Pistis Sophia who “let fall a droplet of light, it flowed onto the water, and immediately a human being appeared, being androgynous.” As the text indicates, it is Pistis Sophia who is responsible for the drops of light from the divine realm into the manifest world, indicating that perhaps the fall or devolution from spirit into matter is a deliberate attempt to give life to the inanimate, disorganized, formless mess of matter. This is similar to the idea of the Gospel of Philip (107, 6-4) which claims that Christ descended into the world to deposited or “sow” souls from above in the world to be formed in order to be “perfect” or to become part of the spiritual “elect” who are predestined to understand immediately the revelation of the One, sent from the Unknowable God:
It was not only when he appeared that he deposited the soul at the moment he wished; but from the day when the day came into existence, he deposited the soul. At the time which he chose, he came to take it back. It was in the power of robbers that had been made prisoner, but he saved it.
This idea of Christ “depositing souls” can also be found in the Excerpta Ex Theodotus (2:1): “After the psychical body had been formed, a male seed was placed by the Logos in the chosen sleeping soul. That Seed is an outflow of the Angelic Being, so that there would be no lack (Hysterema).” Ancient Greek physics consisted of the four elements being the active air and fire and the passive water and earth. Consequently, the Stoic philosophers also forged their cosmology in this context as the cosmos originating out of the “boundless æther, which consists of the highest fire” much like how God is compared to an “all consuming fire” in Hebrews (12:29). Water was considered analogous to matter and the body while the element of fire was compared to the Eternal principle of pneuma or the reasoning Logos which imbues the shapeless, passive matter with an intelligent force and a natural order of being much like how the author of Orig. World compares the primeval flux of matter to the chaotic waters.
The spiritually blind chief ruler, Ialdabaoth, also molds an abode for himself from the dried matter that was divided from the chaotic waters of the prima materia, being both heaven and eventually earth, which is called his “footstool”, perhaps a reference to his authority over the realm of created matter, and all the powers, angels, and firmaments associated with the cosmos. The desirous flowing of Pistis produces a rippling reflection in the chaotic waters below and another feminine figure appears by the name of Pronoia. From Pistis’ flowing, Eros appears as a human-like figure: “Then when Pronoia saw that emissary, she became enamored of him. But he hated her because she was on the darkness. But she desired to embrace him, and she was not able to. When she was unable to assuage her love, she poured out her light upon the earth.”
It is interesting and unusual to see Pronoia, who is normally a heavenly being of salvation and truth, long for another being, with only unrequited love in return. Zeke Mazur describes this heavenly being as, “the emissary or avatar of Pronoia, that is, Epinoia—the reflection of the primordial aqueous light in which the Invisible Spirit apprehends his own reflection…” Much like how Orig. World is a meditation on Genesis 1, Hypostasis of the Archons also reflects this by portraying the Spirit brooding upon the waters as the shadow or apparition of Sophia. Later, Ialdabaoth and his angelic offspring also mold a human figurine from the mud, modeled after the reflection of Sophia, or in other variants of the story, being the Divine Man, a figure that the Ialdabaoth and his Archons have not seen directly but only in the rippling reflections of the abyss. They receive the immortal soul and envelop it in a mortal body of flesh much like the Demiurge in Timaeus 42d assigns the tasks to the “young gods” so they can “sow” the rational, animating substance mixed into the created mortal bodies of humans.
It should be stressed that many Gnostic groups did not actually believe the Demiurge created the world. The Gnostics believed that Sophia had split in two, groaning, grieving and giving birth to the aborted son being the Chief Archon, along with the passions that crystallize into the elements of matter—like a miscarriage or abortion. If one has seen an abortion performed then one can visualize this description. By calling it an abortion, it was meant that rather than having a divinely organized form, as with the Stoic “Heimarmane”, the goddess who gives a natural order or flow to the whole cosmos, the abortion was “formless and void” as in Genesis. Heimarmane also plays a role in the harmony of the natural cosmos as discussed in Orig. World, 117, 18-24, which prophesizes Eve and the Gnostic race of human beings to be “containers of light” as a result of a higher providence. The end result of this divine providence will be the condemnation of the Archons and Ialdaboath (117.24–28).
It is also notable that the creator god in Valentinian thought is expressly called the Demiurge. Sethian texts which mention Ialdabaoth, does not call the world creator, “Demiurge”. However, it is Saturnilus of Antioch which first introduces the idea that the world was created by the seven creator angels, along to clearly reduce the God of the Old Testament or the “God of the Jews” as an inferior power, equal to that of the ignorant Demiurge and the egotistical Ialdabaoth. The seven angels of creation seem to derive from Genesis as embodiments of the seven days of the week. Philo of Alexandria also expressed a similar idea, that God did not directly create what might be the cause of sin. Even Saint Augustine would later claim that God first created an intelligible light, and that this intelligible light, or created Wisdom, is the angels: “…that it them whom Genesis refers to as days.”  It is more accurate to say that Gnostics believed that angelic powers or artisan Archons shaped the world on the command of Ialdabaoth. Because the creator god was blind and ignorant, he could not intentionally imprison the divine man. We will return to this creation theme later.
Finally, we have arrived at Eros, who is depicted very close to the Manichean “Primal Man” or the “Third Emissary”, the “Adam Kadmon”, the Anthropos or Immortal(Man) and the Adamas in Jewish, Kabbalistic, Valentinian and Gnostic traditions, the first emanation of the ineffable Monad, the En-Sof, or the Unknowable Father. When this Light-Man descends, the created world of solid forms, the union of the primordial spirit of this Primal Man with the allure of the material world becomes a perfect trap for the powers of darkness to utilize in order to take hostage of the luminous substance of the Original Man. The Archons think that the divine will be attracted by the likeness of his image. This echoes the myth of Narcissus, who scorns the love of others and offends the god Eros to become enamored with his own reflection, hovering in the water, and refuses to leave. In some versions, Narcissus subsequently drowns when he attempts to seize this reflection. This story attempts to demonstrate the unreality of physical beauty when one is engrossed by it. Taking it a step further, Narcissus represents the soul who embraces the transient nature of life in the material body and losses himself to inferior and shadowy things as the highest which leads to the loss of the soul, blinded by the phantoms of Hell and the forgetfulness of the true Gnosis of reality.
This spiritual essence is broken and fragmented into pieces to be dispersed in the lower world, much like how the Egyptian deity Osiris, who is not only a god of the underworld but also of regeneration and rebirth, is killed by his brother Set, torn into pieces, and scattered over Egypt. After this scattering of divinity over chaos, which gives rise to matter as an active, shadowy reflection of the light-world above, God sends a second messenger. This is the higher self or heavenly twin, the Savior of the Primal Man, who initiates and stirs the resurrection and redemption into the transcendental realm. The Savior takes it upon himself to descend into the cosmos all the way down to the depths of the sublunary realms to trail-blaze a path of ascension through the comic spheres while loosening fate’s bonds and beyond, thereby clearing a path all the way up into the perfect, heavenly realm for the initiates of the Savior to follow. The Savior takes on the form of a man to bring about the defeat of the evil powers and to retrieve all who have the light-spark or spiritual power residing within them. This is the reversal of the divine tragedy, achieved by not only the salvation for the exiled spirit or divine substance in a foreign land but also the restitution of the Godhead itself through the Perfect Man who is reassembled at the end of time. This is the basic sketch or outline of the Manichean myth that replaces the earlier Gnostic tradition of the Mother, Sophia’s fall from grace which results in the “dew of spirit” fallen in matter.
The myth of the descent of the “Son of Man” or “Primal Man” is also found in the third century theologian and heresiologist, Hippolytus of Rome’s account of the Naassenes’, a Gnostic sect from around 100 C.E., doctrine which posited the pre-existent and androgynous “Protanthropos” or Adamas, quotes an unnamed Naasene hymn: “From you (comes) father, and through you (comes) mother, two names immortal, progenitors of Aeons, O denizen of heaven, you illustrious man.” Hippolytus in his voluminous works went to great lengths to show how the Naassenes, the Simonians, and the Sethians, among other Gnostic sects, devoted a great deal of exegesis on the great Greek poets, especially Homer. Other philosophers whom the Gnostics revered were Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. Even in the Old Testament, we find a reference to the Divine Man in Ezekiel 1:26-27:
Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.
The first of the seventeen treatises in the Corpus Hermeticum, Poimandres, the Vision of Hermes, also explores the theme of Eros. Here, the form of the “Heavenly Man” who “sat upon the Eternal Fire” is impelled by the creative impulse to descend from the highest sphere of the Divine Mind to break through the stellar and planetary circuits. Gazing into the sub-lunar realm of matter (hyle), the Man was allured by the reflective beauty of Nature (Physis) and falls in love with his own reflection, bringing to mind the Narcissus myth. This is similar to Sophia’s descent, who flows over the face of the deep in Orig. World, while the Heavenly Man “smiled while looking into the depths; for he saw a shadow upon the earth and a likeness mirrored upon the waters, of which the shadow and likeness were a reflection of himself.” This “love” drew the Heavenly Man down to the feminine personification of Nature, which sounds very close to Gaia featured in Hesiod’s Theogony, who:
…watching the descent, wrapped herself around the Heavenly Man whom she loved, and the two were mingled. For this reason, earthly man is a composite, and within him is the Sky Man, immortal and beautiful; but shrouded by Nature, he becomes mortal and destructible. In this manner, suffering is the result of the Immortal Man falling in love with his shadow and giving up Reality to dwell in the darkness of illusion; for being immortal, man has the power of the Seven Governors; the Life, the Light, and the Word. But being mortal, he is also controlled by the Rings of the Seven Governors; Fate and Destiny.
Like the “Heavenly Man” of Poimandres who unites with Nature, the consort of the Demiurge, Eros is depicted as an archetypal human being of pure light and is involved in the organization of chaos. In this way, Eros can be conceived as a type of Logos (Word, order, pattern, ratio, reason, mediation, etc.), a doctrine that was imported from Pythagorean science and teachings of universal harmony in the forms of mathematics, astronomy, geometry and music. However, the messenger Logos or “Word” seems to originate in ancient Egypt in the form of Thoth, Hermes Trismegistos to the esoteric sects of later Hellenized-Egypt and Mercury to the Romans, the psychopomp and guide of the Underworld for the departed souls. Thoth was also the patron god of writing, speech, wisdom, traveling, astronomy, mathematics, music, medicine, and magic.
The number three is especially focused on by the author of Orig. World. We see the three-fold testimony of the animals of Egypt (the three Phoenixes, water-serpents and bulls), the three types of men or human classes that are said to “belong to the kinds of the eighth heaven” who also correspond with the three phoenixes. Uniquely attested in Orig. World, is the classification of a fourth race—which is depicted as belonging to the “kingless and perfect, being the highest of all.” This harkens back to Sethian anthropology. The cosmogenic Eros, along with the Phoenix, typically Greek symbols for rebirth and fertility, is said to be born from the blood of a virgin:
Out of that first blood Eros appeared, being androgynous. His masculinity is Himireris (desire), 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. And appearing in all of them, he set them afire: just as from a single lamp many lamps are lit, and one and the same light is there, but the lamp is not diminished. And in this way, Eros became dispersed in all the created beings of chaos, and was not diminished. Just as from the midpoint of light and darkness Eros appeared and at the midpoint of the angels and mankind the sexual union of Eros was consummated, so out of the earth the primal pleasure blossomed. The woman followed earth. And marriage followed woman. Birth followed marriage. Dissolution followed birth.
In this passage, Eros is depicted as the son of Pronoia. Upon seeing the beauty of the angel of light, Adam or “Light-Adam”, the creature arisen out of the splendor of the ogdoad,, Sophia, or the “luminous woman”, tarries at the gateway between the two worlds, “beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud.” Pronoia ardently wishes to unite with him but is refused. Instead, Pronoia tears the luminous particles away from the angel, mixes them with her blood, and spreads them over the earth as sort of a pneumatic panspermia, seeding, along with the Archons’ creative act to fling their sperm “into the center of the earth’s navel,” where the earthly Adam was created.
The author takes an ambivalent attitude towards the material sculpting of Adam, who is modeled after both the bestial forms of the Archons and the divine Adam of Light. The motive behind the creation of Adam and the ensuing archontic enslavement of humankind, the author explains: “Now it was in accordance with the Pronoia of Pistis that all this took place, so that the human being might appear before his image and might condemn them [i.e., the archons] through their modeled body.” The “navel” is also the same place that Eros was born as the fruit of the moist desire of his mother and the astral fire of the angel. Eros becomes the personification of the love-desire of Pronoia, introducing sensual pleasure into the physical universe that manifests as the cycles of marriage, procreation and ultimately death while connected to the three types of trees being the vine, fig and pomegranate, discussed below. Death being a result of sexual desire and activity strongly emphasised.
There is a very clear parallel to Greek myth found in pre-Socratic sources, and most famously in Plato’s Symposium 189a-190a, that every person seeks to find his or her other half. This myth is intended to explain the nature of Eros as a craving for completeness, since each person is only a part of what he or she once was. In Aristophane’s speech in the Symposium, Eros is described as a “philanthropist, being an ally to humanity, and a healer in those things needing healing, bring the greatest happiness of the human race.” He also claimed that humanity was originally a race of hermaphrodites, those containing both sexes, Hermes being “male” and Aphrodite being “female”, while having “two faces,” “four ears,” and “two genitals,” The male aspect originated from the Sun, the female from the Earth, and the Moon sharing both genders into one space. However, Zeus concocted a plan to weaken humanity from their “unpruned state” because of their “awesome” strength and force that they were able to “attack on the heavens” and even “pursue” the gods themselves! To quell this threat, Zeus states that he will “slice each of them in two, and thus they will be weak, but at the same time more useful to us through being a greater number.”
After Zeus and Apollo modify the separated bodies of man and woman, both sexes were destined to copulate and procreate with each other through the “satiated desire for intercourse.” From this division, both sexes are naturally attracted to unite with each other in one form or another: “This, then, is the source of our desire to love each other. Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tires to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”
A similar notion is that Adam was created two-faced as an androgynous being, as it is said (Ps. 139:5): “You hedge [or, formed] me before and behind” (this creature had a face in front and another behind, one of a male, and the other of a female). In creating Eve, God cut this creature into two, forming a back for Adam and a back for Eve. The Roman god Janus is almost always depicted as having two faces. The Gospel of Philip reinterprets the healing power of Eros, in the form of Christ, as the regenerative force that repairs the primeval separation of the sexes and fragmentation in the lower, manifest world:
If the woman had not separated from the man, she should not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this, Christ came to repair the separation, which was from the beginning, and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation, and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed, those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him.
This quote presents a very obvious paradox. While Eros is presented as the force behind division and dissolution it is also the force that impels the divided soul to unite with a higher, purer reality, hence Eros’ epithet “Eleutherios”, the Liberator, and Soter, Savior. Both meanings carry into Orig. World, and at this point Greek and Manichean thought intertwine. The line of “Eros became dispersed in all the created beings of chaos,” is reminiscent of the Manichean Primal Man myth discussed earlier. In a few instances, including Orig. World, Eros is compared with the pneumatic or spiritual substance in humanity. In the 8th century C.E., the Nestorian teacher of Wasit, Theodore bar Koni, cites and paraphrases from a Manichean text that posits radical-dualistic theology of an aggressive Darkness and a counter-god, presiding over a demonic world which exists in a mirrored, co-eternal pendant of the Divinity and the world of light. And it is this darkness that erotically desires the power of the light-world out of jealousy:
And he says the Father of Greatness evoked the Mother of Life, and the Mother of Life evoked the Primal Man, and the Primal Man evoked his five sons, like someone who puts on armour for the fight. And he says that an angel named Nahashbat came towards him holding the crown of victory in his hand; he says that he spread out the light before the Primal Man, and that when the (King) of Darkness saw it, he thought and said: “I find close at hand that which I sought far away.” Then the Primal Man gave himself and his five sons to be consumed by the five sons of darkness, like a man who has an enemy and mixes a deadly poison into a cake and gives it. He says that when they had partaken of the five nourishing gods, the latter’s intellect was removed, and that due to the poison of the sons of darkness, they became like people who are bitten by an enraged dog or snake.
This radical dualistic doctrine, which posits two primeval principles of the Darkness lusting after, attacking, and even raping the Light to possess its power, can also be found in Pseudo-Tertullian’s report, possibly circa the early 3rd century C.E., of the Nicolatian heresy in Against All Heresies, 1:
A brother heretic emerged in Nicolaus. He was one of the seven deacons who were appointed in the Acts of the Apostles. He affirms that Darkness was seized by a lust, a foul lust, for the Light: out of this permixture…were born, moreover, daemons and gods and [the] spirits seven, and other things sufficiently sacrilegious… Enough it is for us that this heresy of the Nicolaitans has been condemned by the Apocalypse of the Lord…”
While this conflict appears to be a victory for death and evil, like the crucifixion of Jesus, it was a necessity for the binding and eventual defeat of evil. Nearly fifteen centuries later, the Cabbalist Isaac Luria would transpose Manichean-like ideas into the Kabbalah, especially of the scattered “divine sparks” which emanated from Adam Kadmon’s powerful light that would eventually shatter the sefirot into an infinitude of light-shards throughout the universe. The aim of man was essentially to return the sparks, and the broken vessels of the sefirot, to their original wholeness through a restorative process called the tiqqun, similar to the idea of the apocatastasis or restoration of the fractured creative power of Sophia in Gnosticism. The Zohar also expresses similar ideas of the “First Man” which is affirmed in a very Hermetic riff: “The form of man is the image of everything that is above and below; therefore did the Holy Ancient select it for His own form.” The apostle Paul seems to agree with this rabbinical concept of the Adam Kadmon, or the Archetypal Man in 1 Corinthians 15:45-49:
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
Paul equates the Second Adam or the Adam Kadmon with Christ who is from heaven—spiritual, not material. However, since humanity the offspring of Adam, he writes, humans have a material body which quotes Genesis 2:7, as a “man from the dust” that eventually became a “living being” thanks to the formation of the creator god. But according to Paul’s logic, as people bear material bodies, those who are in Christ are liberated from the governing letter of the law that is a “ministry of death” that was “ordained by angels” and material flesh, will be transmuted after death with spiritual bodies like his. Later, the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria would say something very similar to this by projecting Platonic-styled ideas into the Genesis account of the creation of Adam.
Paul stresses that Christ, the second Adam, appeared after the first Adam to demonstrate that the spiritual body will be “put on” as a new man after the resurrection. This second Adam or as the Gnostics put it, the “Adamas” was preexistent in the invisible world, descended through the spheres of the cosmic rulers and clothed in a visible form which entered matter but did not become matter. The opposite can be true for Orthodoxy, which has generally held that the saved elect would resurrect with the same bodies that they previously had before, only immortal. This is a blatant contradiction of Paul’s teaching of the resurrection. Paul was contrasting the poverty that is the slave existence characteristic of fallen humanity, enmeshed in corruptible flesh, to the richness of the resurrection and salvation of the spirit into the fullness of eternal joy from the “body of death”.
In Ignatius of Antioch’s reading of Romans 7:2, Eros was considered an appellation of Christ. Similarly, to the Gnostics, Eros was taken for a symbol for the Savior, who is the beloved lover and light of the spiritual elect, the Pneumatics, who are redeemed at the Bridal Chamber, or “hieros gamos”, which is described by the Gospel of Philip as the “Holy of Holies” which is not fitting for “animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free man and virgins.” This idea of spiritual redemption touches on the Valentinian belief that the Heavenly Christ, the “joint fruit of the Pleroma”, descended through the spheres to free his estranged consort, Sophia enmeshed in the toils of the world from her state of self-alienation and restore her to her former unity with the origin of all things. The concept of the bridal chamber may have its origins in St. Paul’s Ephesians 5:22-32. Plotinus, the philosophical arch-nemesis of the Sethian-Gnostics, would agree with the bridal chamber concept in his description of Eros by the using the dyad of lovers as a symbol of the soul’s ultimate union with the One.
Next, the author of Orig. World makes a striking remark about a growing grapevine and claiming those who drink of these grapes would somehow gain an insatiable sexual desire. The author also claims that trees in Eden contained in them the seeds of Archons:
After that Eros, the grapevine sprouted up out of that blood, which had been shed over the earth. Because of this, those who drink of it conceive the desire of sexual union. After the grapevine, a fig tree and a pomegranate tree sprouted up from the earth, together with the rest of the trees, all species, having with them their seed from the seed of the authorities and their angels.
Eros is presented as an androgynous figure, who is the inspiration of sexuality and the reproductive urge—which is ironically strongly rejected, in this text. It is to him that not only people exist but also plants and animals owe their existence. Wine was considered the choice drink of Aphrodite and Dionysus, which is said to be composed from the stuff of Eros, which leads men and women to the desire of coitus or sexual intercourse. The three trees mentioned earlier; the fig, the vine, and the pomegranate, all have sexual connotations and can be seen as phallic symbols, particularly the fig tree, as Clement of Alexandria relays in Protrepticus 2.34.3-4. Grape seeds are also said to ferment beneath the skin, forming the basis for wine, which is associated with sexual pleasure and Dionysian sexual abandon. Naturally, the legends of these three types of trees become attached to the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis, with which the author of Orig. World seems to have been well acquainted.
The Zohar states that Eve squeezed grapes from a cluster grown from the Tree of Knowledge and gave Adam to drink. Orig. World also claims that the fruit grown from the Tree of Life were grapes: “Now the color of the tree of life is like the sun. And its branches are beautiful. Its leaves are like those of the cypress. Its fruit is like a bunch of grapes when it is white. Its height goes as far as heaven. And next to it (is) the tree of knowledge (gnosis), having the strength of God.” Genesis states how Noah became drunk on wine: “Noah, the man of the soil, debased himself and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself with this tent.” The connection between wine and erotic love were obviously not lost of the authors of the Torah and the Zohar, and grapes were naturally a fruit associated with the god of fertility, ecstatic passion and sensuality: Dionysus. Even the Gospel of Philip compares the principle of Eros to wine: “Spiritual love is wine and fragrance. All those who anoint themselves with it take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, those nearby also profit (from the fragrance).”
In the Gospel of John, we find clear Bacchic influences, although of course Dionysus is never named as such. Jesus is depicted like to the wine-god when he claims: “I am the true vine,” and the wedding at Cana where Jesus transmutes water into wine as a Bacchic alchemist. The Gospel of John is also compared to the play Bacchae, a tragedy by Eurpides, by the Platonist Celsus in Origen’s Against Celsus. Wine was said to be poured out in libations to the Gods and used by initiates to attain a mystical union with Dionysus. Euripides equated Dionysus with wine itself, saying, “As a God Dionysus himself is poured out to the Gods.” Even the episode of the Johannine Jesus’ feeding miracles to the five thousand multitudes with “barley loaves” possibly alludes to the mystery cult of Demeter, a goddess provider of food and life as seen in the Orphic Hymns to Demeter.
Besides the obvious allusion to the popular tale of Eros and Psyche, Orig. World also refers to the hermaphroditic conception of the Orphic Eros, whom the Psuedoclementine Homilies assert to have been formed, “by Pronoia of the divine breath” (pneuma):
This living being Orpheus calls Phanes, because when he appeared, the whole universe was illuminated by his splendor, Phanes having been brought to perfection in the womb of the liquid element by the brilliance of fire, the most magnificent of the elements; and there is nothing incredible about this, for in glow-worms, for example, nature has given a watery light for us to see.
The author of Orig. World also seems to place Eros halfway between the light of the Father and the darkness of chaos, a daimonic intermediary being, situated neither above the ogdoad nor below on Earth, much like how Sophia is sometimes depicted, very similar to how Plato describes the Hermes-like Eros in the Symposium as: “between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together…”
Elsewhere in the Symposium, Socrates taught that philosophy was to be pursued with the same passion with which young lovers pursue each other in bed. Philosophy was meant to be argued over with justification over the integrity of a claim in a context of opposition. Humans are animated by a tension or passion of Eros and was to be harnessed for the sake of transmuting the erotic soul’s desire to have sex and consummate with other beautiful bodies to longing or desiring a higher, eternal reality. Other forms of beauty are journeyed through. Morality and intellectual beauty correspond to the three-stage purification of the soul by a redirection of Eros, through different levels of apprehension of beauty, and ultimately to the absolute beauty itself, which is a sudden and immediate revelation. Specifically, Socrates’ speech in the Symposium he recounts the path to the vision of absolute beauty into which he had been initiated by the wise priestess Diotima. In the seventh book of the Republic Plato lays down the plan for educating the philosophical guardians of the ideal state by this method of contemplation of the Eternal Ideas beyond discursive methodologies.
The Greek historian and Middle Platonist Plutarch 46-120 C.E) observed that the ancient Greeks recognized two Erotes, one vulgar and one heavenly. He also wrote in The Dialogue on Love (Erotikos) that despite Aphrodite being the goddess of the physical act of intercourse, without the love of Eros, it remains simply an animalistic act: “But if there is any Love without Aphrodite, as there is drunkenness without wine in drinks made from figs and barley, the disturbing it will be fruitless and without effect, and surfeiting and disgusting.”
Plutarch also believed that those who love had a greater prospect to achieve immortality, while praising the married life in which lovers “though separated in body, forcible join their souls and fuse them together, no longer wishing to be separate entities, or believing that they are so.” By doing this, Plutarch replaced Plato’s homosexual and even pederast model with a heterosexual one in regards to Platonic contemplation of the Beauty of Eros. The Orphic Hymn to Phanes Protogonos describes the Orphic Eros as: “We men are made immortal by his love, men and women glorified, here below as there above, just as before the cracking of the egg.” This higher Eros, as opposed to the vulgar or fleshy Eros, is the upward movement in an attempt to ascend from the frail mortality of the flesh to the Empyrean of the hidden God. However, Orig. World presents Eros as being divided and spread over the world, similarly to the Primal Man stories as demonstrated earlier. The divided Eros, however, longs to be unified and transcend its fractured deficiency.
Eros, as more of an impersonal force, with its orgiastic connotations, can certainly be defined in terms of a passion as opposed to Agape, which is unconditional love that descends from God to those who contain the light-spark within them, taking on the form of a Savior, universally seen in Gnostic thought. Agape is the object of love; whereas Eros is the longing or compulsion for that object. One could say that God’s Eros is Agape. This Eros springs from the desire to mend what is lacking in the soul, to satisfy the want and need—it is the expression to possess rather than to give the abundance of Agape. In Gnosticism, Agape refers to the ability of the initiate to see the divine spark in all life, in the process of becoming Pneumatic. “Love, Faith, Hope, and Knowledge,” are the essential elements of “God’s farming.”
We have arrived at final point of this essay. One of the most important of the Grecian cults was the Orphic mysteries, named after Orpheus, a semi-legendary prophet, poet, and musician of Thrace, who was said to descend into Hades to save his deceased wife Eurydice by using his music to soften the hearts of its inhabitants; Persephone, Hades himself, Charon, and Cerebus. Orpheus, at the end of his life, was killed as an Apollo worshipper. The Thracian Maenads were said to have ripped him apart because of his failure to honor Dionysus, which also echoes Dionysus’ own violent fate at the hands of the merciless Titans. Many hymns and poems attributed to, or associated with, Orpheus often dwell on the theme of the soul and its immortality. As is usually the case in the mystery religions, there are some curious parallels between Orphic myth and Christianity.
First, the main tenant or theme of Gnosticism, that of the fall of a divine, pneumatic element into an earthly condition of an adulterous mixture is indebted to not only Plato (the text Phaedrus, especially) but also to the Orphic tradition which also exhibit anti-cosmic overtones and a pessimistic view on material life. However, neither Plato nor any other Greek philosopher claimed the world was created by an evil god, but it is no surprise that many others did reach this conclusion. Considering the huge gap between the ultimate, highest Good and the always changing, dangerous world humans and all living things that inhabit it, this conclusion was almost unavoidable. This stark duality is expressly stated in the Republic, 2.379c. Algis Uzdavinys quotes A.H. Armstrong, who makes a similar point:
The divine in us is an actual being, a daimon or spirit, which has fallen as a result of some primeval sin and is entrapped in a series of earthly bodies, which may be animal and plant as well as human. It can escape from the “sorrowful weary wheel”, the cycle of reincarnation, by following the Orphic way of life, which involved, besides rituals and incantations, an absolute prohibition of eating flesh...
Accordingly, the spirit within does not belong to the world and is a stranger (Allogenes) to it, and the inner illumination of gnosis constitutes the original purity of the soul, a distillation of spirit from matter, declaring independence from the created order and the Demiurge, as a newly released “son of the pre-existent Father”. This, of course, has a direct analogy to Platonism, where its adherents would rise up to the heights of philosophical contemplation through the anagogic power or Eros, and were able to reach the noetic (metaphysical) Sun through a combination of dialectical and telestic (initiatory) means. This noetic Sun is also identified with Eros while Aphrodite is linked with the moon in Plutarch’s On Isis and Osiris 770A. Plutarch explains the philosophical distinction between the sun, which belongs to the visible (horaton) and Eros, part of the intelligible sphere (noeton). Similarly, Plato, in Timaeus 41d-e,conceived the nous or divine mind of man was intricately connected to the celestial sphere and also had its own native star:
And having made [the soul mixture, the Demiurge] divided the whole mixture into souls equal in number to the stars, and assigned each soul to a star; and having there placed them as in a chariot, he showed them the nature of the universe, and declared to them the laws of destiny ... He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence.
Plutarch also asserts briefly that both Egyptian deities—Isis and Osiris, were themselves distinguished daimones. Plutarch in Isis and Osiris also claimed that Xenokrates believed that daimones were creatures “more powerful than men and greatly surpassing our nature in strength,” and that “in the space about us certain great and powerful natures, obdurate, however, and morose,” take pleasure in unseemly rites.
Orphic wisdom claims human nature is comprised of being half celestial and half infernal, where there is a constant struggle between the Divine Dionysian and evil Titanic elements which are both left to the mercy of fate and destiny. In order to be found in the good graces of Zeus, humans must separate and elevate the divine over the titanic in their own natures; to be virtuous rather than wicked. The Dionysian daimonion is said to be a guiding spirit, possessing a notion of divinity in man:
…since the daimon is depicted as an emissary of the gods, a personal spirit who watches over each of us, acting invisibly on the Olympians’ behalf. But what is most interesting is that this daimon is an occult power, a hidden, spiritual force that drives human beings forward, where no specific agent can be named. It is this mysterious quality that helps account for that unpredictable “something” that impels Croesus along, driving him in pursuit of he knows not what.
Platonic philosophy, starting with Socrates, rests on the notion that the philosophical search for not worldly, transitory and ultimately worthless knowledge, which the wise men of Athens possessed, but for the wisdom the gods possessed: “divine wisdom,” or the “Sophia of God”. The source of this divine wisdom is in this impersonal, driving force that guides the mortal and immortal life of humanity: the daimon or daimonion (both terms I will use interchangeably). It is this force, the supposedly supernatural “voice” inside the head of Socrates, which spoke to him whenever he was about to make some mistaken decision. The nature of this knowledge or divine wisdom exists outside the realm of craft or technical knowledge. In Republic 496, Socrates suggests that the daimon enabled him to become a true philosopher. In Plato’s Apology 31c, he gives a full account of Socrates’ legendary daimon:
I have a divine sign [daimonion] from the god which… began when I was a child. It is a voice, and whenever it speaks it turns me away from something I am about to do, but it never turns me towards anything. This is what has prevented me from taking part in public affairs, and I think it was quite right to prevent me. Be sure, gentlemen of the jury, I should have died long ago otherwise.
In Plato’s Timaeus 90a, he tells us that every man has a daimonion, found in “the most sovereign part of our soul as god’s gift to us, given to be our guiding spirit.” Another reference we find of the daimonion is in Socrates’ reference to Eros as a daimonion that is as old as the eternal gods and still the youngest of them in appearance (Symposium 8.1). This seems to combination between the speech of Phaedrus (who claimed that Eros was the oldest god, 178A–C) with a reference to the speech of Agathon (who claimed that he was the youngest, 195B–C). The information Socrates receives from the daimonion aids him in his philosophical search for knowledge, which appears as sort of a divine voice within Socrates which guide, warns and withholds him but never encouraging him to pursue a specific action. (Apology 40b—C)
This daimonion is also conceived as a sort of divine inspiration, or an erotic madness for wisdom sent as gifts by the Muses and the Greek pantheon of gods including Dionysus, Apollo, Aphrodite and Eros, respectively. Agathos Daimon (“spirit of abundant goodness”) is also said to be associated with Dionysus, especially with His gift of wine. How does Orpheus come into play in all of this? The answer can be found in the Neoplatonist Proclus, who claimed that, “all the theology of the Greeks comes from Orphic mystagogy,” that is to say, initiation into the mysteries. (Plat. Theol. I.5.25.) This, in effect, is the complete opposite of Plato’s deprecating remarks that Orpheus was a coward in the Speech of Phaedrus featured in the Symposium 179 C-D.
Orpheus, along with Plato and Pythagoras were considered to be a “winged souls” of the Neoplatonic “golden chain”, mystagogues and spiritual guides that emphasized of the inherent divine nature (“entheos” meaning “within is a god”) of human beings and the journey of the soul into the astral realm. Phaedrus 49c specially claims the philosopher’s soul is winged. Proclus in Cratylus 9 claims divine love is also “winged”. Orpheus was also considered a psychopomp-like figure, much like Hermes Trismegistos, who descended into the depths of the underworld and the unknown to rescue his wife Eurydice (Orpheus is ultimately not successful in this endeavor), recalling the Gnostic myth of Christ redeeming the fallen Wisdom of God, with obvious differences in the outcomes.
Orphic philosophy was also said to induce a certain Dionysian and ecstatic “divine madness” which left a lasting impression in its initiates. This correlates much later to the Apostle Paul when he claimed that the heavenly Christ possessed him, which gave him the ground to stand upon when he wrote, “For I did not receive it (the gospel) from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). Garth Fowden has this to say on the nature of being divinely possessed:
Likewise Hierokles described Ammonios as “divinely possessed (enthousiasas) with longing for the true goal of philosophy”. Reflection on the theological and philosophical truths was indeed widely accepted as a prerequisite of divinization. Proclus asserts that immersion in the mysteries of Platonic philosophy could result in divine possession, like a “Dionysian frenzy”; and Olymiodorus listed four Platonic dialogues (Timaeus, Respublica, Phaedrus, Theaetetus) which in his opinion illustrated these Platonikoi enthousiasmoi.
The Samaritan heresiarch, “anti-Christ” and founder of Simonionism and possibly Gnosticism itself, Simon Magus, likewise claimed that Jesus “being transformed, and being assimilated to the rulers and powers and angels, came for the restoration (of things)” and that Jesus appeared as a man when in reality he was not a man. Simon further claimed that Jesus did not actually undergo suffering, but rather appeared to do so. This is essentially a docetic doctrine, holding that Christ’s bodily form was not really earthly but only appeared to be. The docetic hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 presents Christ as a spiritual being who took on the form or likeness of a human servant, indicating that his apparent humanity was not his original nature—which is purely divine, who never actually suffered, nor polluted by being born “in the flesh”. Jesus Christ, in essence, is a being similar to the idea of the Platonic daimonion—a sort of emissary or messenger sent from the Aion.
It is however, unclear if Simon was actually referring to himself as “Jesus” or to another being altogether in the previous context mentioned above, but this remains a tantalizing possibility. A further clue could be provided again by the third century Simonian text, Megale Apophasis (the Great Declaration) as quoted by Hippolytus: “I was manifested to the Jews as the Son, in Samaria as the Father, and among the gentiles as the Holy Spirit, and I permitted them to call me by whatever name they pleased.” This is the crux of doceticism. The adage of “clothing” or “putting on” the title, Jesus Christ might have something to do with this.
The Gospel accounts, and the accusations leveled against Simon Magus, bear many of the stamps of the Apology of Socrates in which Socrates is accused by Meletus of being a corrupter of the youth and teaching men to follow spirits and demigods rather than the Olympians. Simon is depicted as a corrupter of Justa’s adopted sons Aquila and Nicetas in the Clementine Homilies. Jesus like Simon (Acts 8:9) is accused by the Pharisees of being a Samaritan possessed by a daemon! (John 8: 48-53) Socrates tells Cratylus, “And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is rightly called a demon.”
According to Irenaeus (A.H. 1.23.4), Simon Magus and his followers were engaged in magical incantations and transmitting love-spells, charms, and dreams to by the aid of demons (“kakodaimons”) to “whoever they please”. In Origen’s Contra Celsum (1.60) similar charges are made against the Magi in their invocations of familiar spirits. Clement of Alexandria, in Protrepticus (1), denounces Orpheus (and by extension the Orphic mysteries) as if he were an historical personage, and leveled accusations of sexual revelry, sorcery, and idolatry much like how the Church Fathers attacked Simon Magus and his followers and many diverse Gnostic sects by association.
There are also parallels with the crucifixion mysticism featured so heavily in Paul’s theology with Orphic theology. Paul would say in 1 Corinthians 2:8, that Jesus, the “Lord of Glory” was slain by the “archons of this aeon.” Paul describes human nature as a struggle between the “spirit” and the “flesh” (Gal. 5:17)—ultimately giving spirit priority over the material much like Orphic philosophy and Plato himself which claimed that the, “creation of this world is the combined work of necessity and mind.” Meanwhile, the young god Dionysus-Zagreus was set upon a throne as soon as he had been born in a cave on the isle of Crete. Titanic monsters wanted the child killed and gave him a mirror to distract his attention. While the young Dionysus is distracted by his own image, the Titans, which are a lower class of gods in Greek mythology, decide to tear the child into pieces and devour him. The Titanic devouring of Dionysus’ limbs and body parts represents the generation of the material world and divided dispersal of spirit in flesh. Only the heart of Dionysus is saved by Persephone and sometimes Athena, in other accounts.
Because of Dionysus’ death, Zeus destroys the Titans with a thunderbolt, as an act of both destruction and creating, turning them into ashes. From these ashes, mixed with the divine substance and flesh consumed from Dionysus, humanity was formed. This explains the trace of divinity contained within us, along with the maliciousness of the Titans. This story relates a similar message to that of the myth of Narcissus: when Dionysus saw his reflection in the mirror the Titans separated and divided his essence and dispersed in the universe, similar to Osiris’ fate. This isn’tsurprising since Dionysus was thought of as the Greco-Roman transliteration of Osiris. But Apollo gathers him and brings him back into the spiritual world above.
Another parallel is that Dionysus-Zagreus is considered to be the “holy child” much like how Valentinus described his vision of the “Word” as a child. Zagreus is a slain bull; Jesus is a slain lamb. (John 1:29) Zagreus’s “heart” is rescued by Persephone. In Catholic symbolism, Jesus’ (enflamed) heart is often portrayed in images. Zeus and Dionysus are one. In the Gospel of John (1:18), Jesus and the Father are “one” and Jesus us in the “bosom of the Father”. Zeus is the beginning, middle and end of everything. God the Father is the Alpha and the Omega. (Revelations22:13) The Orphic tradition seems to move in a real direction towards Gnosis, addressing the dualism (spirit versus flesh) of human nature and the universe. This can be seen as a sort of reformation of a violent Dionysian rite.
There are also parallels to this in the expository Exegesis on the Soul which tells of the tragic fate of divine Wisdom, raped and assaulted by hostile powers and at last saved from dispersion much like how the prostitute Helena was saved by Simon Magus from a brothel in the Phoenician city of Tyre because he recognized her as not only as a reincarnation of Helena of Troy but also the incarnation of Ennoia, the First Thought of God and Mother of All. These angels were taught to be governors of the world by Simon Magus, and oppress and detain the Holy Spirit in this world, of which the Mother is symbolic of. It is these powers that kept Wisdom in material bondage.
Whether Simon was or was not the “Father of all Heresies,” Simonianism undoubtedly exerted considerable influence in the development of later Gnostic systems and their use of similar systems of aeonic emanations as seen in Megale Apophasis. Also, the story of Simon and Helena seems to be a precursor of the Sophia mythos of Valentinus and the writings of the Sethian and Barbelo Gnostics. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth refers to her as “our sister Sophia, who is a whore.” “Prunicus” is the name given to Sophia by the Valentinian Christians who saw an allegory of her in the woman with the issue of blood healed by Jesus, according to Origen in Against Celsus (VI, 23). For Prunicus, it is the Greek word for “bearer”, or, as an adjective, to mean “lewd”, “lustful” as a personification of voluptuousness.
The Church Father Epiphanius of Salamis interprets Prunicus as “obscene”, as did many other Church Fathers who wanted to discredit the Gnostics. The Gnostics, however, used the word in the former sense because they saw Sophia as an aeon that brought something from the divine realm into the material world. The lust of Sophia is, however, an important component to both Valentinian and Sethian doctrines because it was she who lusted after the image of God, or wanted to emanate like the Father but her own emission resulted in a miscarriage and abortion when she flung herself into the primordial chaos of matter like we see in Orig. World. Sophia is subsequently imprisoned in a material body and made to transmigrate into different female bodies, in each of which undergoes various indignities as seen in the Exegesis of the Soul. The fall and redemption of Sophia is by in large an allegory for the fall and redemption of each individual soul.
Sophia, however, has a much different role in Orig. World. First, the Archons of the universe decide to make a material man after the image and likeness of the Heavenly Adam. In Orig. World (115.4-5), Ialdabaoth and his angels create the fleshy Adam and desert him as an empty vessel, devoid of spirit. For forty days Adam languishes “without soul” (115.10-11). Adam is “saved” when Sophia-Zoe sends her breath into the motionless clay-figure and he begins to writhe upon the ground but cannot stand up, which recalls the myth attributed to Saturnilus of Antioch described by Irenaeus. (Against Heresies. 1, 24:1) Accordingly, the Unknown God revealed his shining image, the heavenly Adam, upon the waters of chaos, who is somehow visible to Ialdaboath, despite his blind aloofness.
Epiphanius tells us that when Ialdaboath boasted that he was the only god in existence, his Mother condemned him as a liar, saying, “‘Do not speak falsely, Ialdaboath; above you are the Father of All, the First Man, and the Man who is Son of Man.’ When all things were disturbed because of the new voice and the inconceivable address, and they were asking whence the call had come, Ialdabaoth said, in order to summon them and draw them to himself, ‘Come, let us make a man in our image’ [Gen. 1:26].” Adam is originally conceived as a “psychic”, made from the stuff of souls as related in the Apoc. John, II, 19, 12 and 30.
When this creature could not stand erect, wallowing in the dirt like a worm or golem, God sent a spark or seed of life, the pnuema, through Sophia’s grace, which raised man upright with the ability to speak freely. The Archons were greatly appalled and disturbed at such a sight because they recognized Adam had something in him that they had not placed there. The sowing of the spiritual seed into Adam caused him to utter things “superior to what his origins justified,” as stated in Fragment 1 of Valentinus. As a result, fear overcame the Craftsman and his angels, and they became envious of Adam. As a result of this jealousy, the angels “snuff” the spiritual seed out by “hiding” their handiwork in a “coat of skins”, i.e. the physical body—thus entombing Adam’s psychic form in flesh (Genesis 3:21).
To Saturnilus, the spark of life or spirit was also found in believers: “Christ came…for the salvation of those who believe in him; these are the ones who have the spark of life in them.” Similarly, Clement of Alexandria would accuse both Saturnilus and Basilides, both of whom were taught by Simon Magus, of making faith an essence (ousia), a nature (physis), or a substance (hypostasis) (Strom. V, 1, 3) These ideas all reflect Simon Magus and his direct disciple, Menander’s self-designation as the “Standing One” and “the Great power that is God” mentioned in Megale Apophasis, Acts 8:10, Justin’s Apology I 26, 3, and Hippolytus’ Refutatio, VI, 9, 3-18, 7. Even Paul’s saying of “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20) is very similar to this idea of the divine spark or “Great Power” of Simon Magus, Menander, and Saturnilus.
Sophia is very much depicted as a salvific figure to Adam, in the form of the luminous woman, Eve, who glows with a full radiance of her inner divine Light. It is Eve who finally calls out to Adam, “Adam, live. Rise up upon the earth!” which immediately has an effect on him: he opens his eyes and rises up. The now psychic Adam, who regained his original state plus, the creative divinity that originally belonged to Sophia but stolen by Ialdabaoth, credits this to Eve, telling her, “You are the one who has given me life.” This plays off of the meaning of Eve’s name: Chevah, “the mother of the living”. At this point Orig. World bares striking similarities with the Sophia model featured in Exegesis of the Soul, attributed to Simon Magus, where the authorities, out of jealousy and lustful desire for Sophia’s light, conspire to rape and defile her material doppelganger out of ignorance.
Naturally, there is a parallel to the lustful Archons and their attempts to subdue this differentiation in the created order they helped devised. We find this parallel in the uncomplicated and unapologetic phallicism of the satyrs, especially Pan. They are often depicted in Greek imagery as being in a perpetual state of sexual arousal, frolicking in phallic dances to the accompaniment of pipes and drums, chasing after nymphs, or attempting, unsuccessfully, to initiate romantic liaisons with the female votaries of Dionysus. Satyrs are sometimes depicted to resorting to rape to satisfy their insatiable sexual appetites. Similarly, the “wanton creatures” described in the Exegesis of the Soul, “made use of her by force,” meaning the Archons or robbers had sexually raped and defiled Sophia, the personification of the feminine soul fallen in matter.
According to Hippolytus, Simon and Helen were worshipped as gods in Samaria and even in Rome; statutes of Zeus and Athena were at times adapted to the worship of the Gnostic couple. Orthodox opponents of Simon Magus alleged that he and his Simonian followers practiced magic and free love, a coupling of vices which would recur in attacks against similar groups such as the Valentinians, the Carpocratians, the Barbelo-Gnostics, the Borborites, etc. The Bacchic cults were also accused of engaging in their orgiastic love feasts as sensual and sexual exuberance saturated the cult of Dionysus.
Dionysus himself was hailed as sexually ambidextrous, and even bisexual, lover who wooed many women and men alike. One can easily see the sexually charged language of Eros also being employed by the Gnostics to describe their theogonies and cosmologies. Yet, in many instances there are encratic sentiments expressed in many Nag Hammadi tractates, especially in the Thomasine literature such as the Book of Thomas, the Contender, which sometimes attribute sexual desire and marriage to the lustful Demiurge and evil demonic activity. Yet, one obvious example for praise of sexuality is in a Hermetic tractate found within the Nag Hammadi Codices, which opens up with a paragraph in praise of sexual magic rites:
And if you (Asclepius) wish to see the reality of this mystery, then you should see the wonderful representation of the intercourse that takes place between the male and the female. For when the semen reaches the climax, it leaps forth. In that moment, the female receives the strength of the male; the male, for his part, receives the strength of the female, while the semen does this.
Many other scholars have noted the numerous similarities between Orphic and Gnostic mythology and philosophy. Orthodox Christian attacks on many Gnostic sects use these Orphic connections to discredit them as simply polluters of the living tree of the church, following in Simon Magus’ footsteps. Irenaeus, for example, quotes Aristophanes’ Birds, which is generally considered a parody of Orphic theogonies, in an attempt to show how the Valentinians plagiarized the Orphic mysteries. Meanwhile, Hippolytus attempts to justify his claim that the Sethians simply derived their doctrines from the same Orphic mysteries.
It should be stressed that claiming direct Gnostic borrowing from Orphic rites or texts, should proceed with caution, which already runs the risk of labeling anything Hellenistic sounding as “Orphic”. While there are many similarities, the myths are not exactly the same; the Gnostics had their own innovations unique to their uncompromising spiritual vision and revelations. Hellenistic philosophy and culture simply served as a breeding ground for the spiritual aim of their schools. My only intention is to note the clear parallels out of appreciation for both Greek mystery religions and the hidden mysteries revealed by many Gnostic texts with a clear emphasis on the divine power of Eros as demonstrated above.
Although the term “Gnosticism” is notably problematic, it was essentially a religious and philosophical esoteric movement born at the crossroads of many ancient cultures, at a time in history that marked the end of pagan antiquity. It owed its strength to the past as well as their present, to both old ideas and new revelations to the initiated (teleiois). To the Gnostics, spiritual salvation was available to all men and women (Galatians 3:28) alike, differentiating itself from other more exclusive religions, in the process. This spiritual salvation meant that the gift of gnosis, by which the Gnostics gain knowledge of their origins, the present situation in the world and ultimate destiny. The Gnostics developed together with their esoteric doctrines also secret cultic practices. And it is these doctrines and these practices which led Tertullian of Carthage (On Prescription Against Heretics, 7) to remark that they were closer to pagan mysteries than to the apostles’ teaching:
Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.
The primordial Eros itself has a malleable nature, manifesting as a cosmogenical, demiurgic and soteriological deity or daimonic mediator between the sensible and the celestial. And the author of the Orig. World takes full advantage of this as evidenced of the quotations above taken from the same text. The holistic power of Eros much like “gnosis” reveals the essential unreality of the present world; it identifies the spiritual domain as the locus of harmony and stability. It can be defined in terms of erotic love or carnal sensuality, but it also belongs in the domain of the Divine Vision as emphasized heavily by the likes of Socrates and Plato.
Mythological lore in all its forms has been used to many degrees as symbols and veiled disguises to hide certain universal metaphysical and worldly truths as allegories and not necessarily so-called knowledge that amounts to faith in myth for the uninitiated. It is the guiding, healing, transformative and holistic power of Eros that brings us this unveiling of universal truths and laws through allegory and myth to be realized within. Algis Uzdavinys confirms this when writes in Orpheus and the Roots of Platonism:
The Greek word for god (theos) is itself related to the act of the seer. The divine revelation may be received in the form of myth (muthos). Such a myth is to be used properly, because its surface is only a “veil” or “screen” (parapetasma), behind which another, metaphysical truth lies awaiting its inspired hermeneus. Even Homer’s blindness is regarded as a divinely established symbol that points to the dark and transcendental character of Homer’s vision. In this respect, Proclus argues that Socrates (the literary personage of Plato’s Republic), in fact, is deceived regarding “the way in which myths represent the truth”.