Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Gnosticism, by Lewis Spence 1920
Gnosticism, by Lewis Spence 1920
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Gnosticism: Under the designation "Gnostics," several widely-differing sects were included, the term, derived from the Greek, meaning, "to know" in opposition to mere theory, and sharing this significance with the words, "wizard," "witch," which also indicate in their original meaning: "those who know."
Simultaneously with Christianity, these sects assumed a definite form, the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire being their sphere of operations at first. Their doctrines were an admixture of Indian, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Christian creeds, astrology and magic, with much of the Jewish Kabbala also. From Alexandria, that centre of mystic learning, much of their distinctive beliefs and ritual were derived, while it seems certain that to a certain extent they became affiliated with Mithraism (q.v.), to whose sheltering kindness Occidental Christianity also owed much. Most of the sects had a priesthood of the mysteries, and these initiated priests practised magic arts astrology, incantations, exorcisms, the fashioning of charms talismans and amulets, of which many are extant at the present day. It is said that the Grecian mysteries, the Eleusinian and Cabiric, for instance, were celebrated by the Gnostic sects down to a late date. They were looked upon as heretics and sorcerers by the Church, and were the victims of relentless persecution. In Persia also they were put to death, but some embraced Islamism, and transmitted their doctrines to the Dervish sects (q.v.). Manicheism, a later sect was founded by Manes, who belonged to the Order of the Magi, and was famous for his skill in astrology, medicines and magic. This sect was anathema to the Church, and its later variants, Paulicians, Cathari, Albigensis, Lollards, and later still the Carbonari, never failed to arouse the persecuting fervour of the Church.
Apollonius of Tyana (q.v.), a Pagan, was supposed to have some connection with the Gnostics. The first Gnostic of eminence was Simon Magus (q.v.) contemporary with the Christian apostles. The Simonians are said to have interpreted the Creation in Genesis as symbolic of the gestation of the foetus, the temptation of Eve and the Garden of Eden having a like character. The Carpocratians, one of the Gnostic sects, derived their mysteries and rites from Isis worship. They used Theurgic incantations, symbols and signs. The Ophites also adopted Egyptian rites, and, as their name indicates, these included much of serpent symbolism, an actual serpent being the central object of their mysteries. Marcos, disciple of Valentinus, and founder of the Marcian sect, celebrated Mass with two chalices, pouring wine from the larger into a smaller, and on pronouncing a magical formula, the vessel was filled with a liquor like blood, which swelled up seething. Other sects practised divination and prophecy by means of female somnambules. Some of the sects became degraded in doctrine and ritual, this often being of an orgiastic character.
The Gnostic talismans were mostly engraved on gems, the colour and traditional qualities of the jewel being part of its magical efficacy. They used spells and charms and mystic formulae, said to "loose fetters, to cause blindness in one's enemies, to procure dreams, to gain favour, to encompass any desire whatsoever." In a Greek Gnostic Papyrus is to be found the following spell of Agathocles, for producing dreams: "Take a cat, black all over, and which has been killed; prepare a writing tablet, and write the following with a solution of myrrh, and the dream which thou desirest to be sent, and put in the mouth of the cat. The text to be transcribed runs: 'Keimi, Keimi, I am the Great One, in whose mouth rests Mommom, Thoth, Nauumbre, Karikha, Kenyro, Paarmiathon, the sacred Ian ice ieu aeoi, who is above the heaven, Amekheumen, Neunana, Seunana, Ablanathanalba,' (here follow further names, then,) 'Put thyself in connection with N.N, in this matter (as to the substance of the dream named,) but if it is necessary then bring for me N.N. hither by thy power; lord of the whole world, fiery god, put thyself in connexion with N.N. Again, there follows a list of meaningless names, the formula ending: 'Hear me, for I shall speak the great name, Thoth! whom each god honours, and each demon fears, by whose command every messenger performs his mission. Thy name answers to the seven vowels. I named thy glorious name, the name for all needs. Put thyself in connection with N.N., Hidden One, God, with respect to this name, which Apollobex also used." The repetition of apparently meaningless syllables was always held to be of great efficacy in magical rites, either as holding the secret name of the powers invoked, or of actual power in themselves. In Atanasi's Magic Papyrus, Spell VII., directs you to lay the link of a chain upon a leaden plate, and having traced its outline, to write thereon, round the circumference, the common Gnostic legend in Greek characters (reading both ways) continuously. Within the circle was written the nature of the thing which it was desired to prevent. The operation was called "The Ring of Hermes." The link was then to be folded up on the leaden plate, and thrown into the grave of one dead before his time, or else into a disused well. After the formula above given, was to follow in Greek: "Prevent thou such and such a person from doing such and such a thing"—a proof that the long string of epithets all referred to the same power. These instances might be multiplied, although much of the more valuable parts of the Gnostic doctrines were destroyed by every persecutor who arose, and this was easily done, for the sacred and mystic teachings, the prayers and spells were inscribed on perishable parchments. That much of the evil was imputed to them by the Church because of their more philosophic habit of thought in opposition to faith and dogma, is beyond doubt.
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