Sacred Texts  Gnosticism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, by G.R.S. Mead, [1900], at


IN order to elevate our thought to a contemplation of the transcendent problems towards which the Towards the Great Silence. mind of these Gnostics was carried, we should refresh our memory with the sketch of the Basilidian system which has been given above. From the world of men, our earth, we must pass in thought through the sublunary spaces, visible and invisible; thence we must pass beyond the moon-firmament, the heaven, into the æthereal spaces--the star-worlds, and their infinite inhabitants, spaces and regions, orders and hierarchies--bounded at the utmost limits of space and time, by the Great Firmament, the Ring "Pass Not," which marks off the phenomenal universe from the universe of reality out of space and time. It is a Boundary everywhere and--no "where."

Here we bid farewell to time and space, and reach the region of paradox, for mortal man has still to speak of it in terms of phenomenal things--calling it a region, although it is not a region; speaking of it as the Living Æon, though it transcends all life; hymning it as the Light-world, though its light is darkness to mortal eyes, because of the superabundance of its brilliancy.

This is the Plērōma, the world of perfection, of

p. 312

perfect types and perfect harmony. The mind falls back from it, unable to comprehend, and yet the spirit within cries unto man with a voice that can brook no denial: "Onward still; beyond still, and beyond!" Then is there Silence; no words, no symbols, no thoughts can further avail. The mind is mute, the spirit is at peace, at rest in the Supreme Silence of contemplation, of union with the Divine, the Great Deep--Profundity, the within of things, that which permeates all, goes through all.

The Depth Beyond Being.Our Gnostics are said to have "begun" with this conception of Bythus, or the Abyss of Profundity; but this is a mistake. Basilides had already shown how impossible it was to name the God beyond all; are we to think that the Valentinians fell short of so obvious a truth? By no means; some of them taught of the Beyond the Deep, a hierarchy of Deeps; and curiously enough in the Codex Brucianus we meet with such hierarchies, and also find them assumed in the Pistis Sophia treatise. What absurdity, then, to seek a "beginning" in infinitude! Such a conception as a beginning was low down in the scale of being; we can speak of the "beginning" of some special phenomenal universe, but there is an infinitude of such universes, and infinitude has no beginning.

Beyond the Plērōma, or ideal type of all universes, there was--what? Silences more unspeakable than Silence, and Depths deeper than the Deep! How the Valentinians would have laughed at the notion of ascribing a monistic or dualistic theory to their intuition of what lay beyond Being, and of making

p. 313

this the basis of dividing them into an Eastern and Western school! Yet that is what Hippolytus (II.) and many modern critics have done.

Let us then leave the mystery in the Silence of that Depth beyond Being--a Silence which, as it were, shut off the Plērōma from the Depth beyond Being by a still higher Boundary than the Great Firmament. This highest Boundary was within the innermost depths of the Plērōma itself, the inward world, just as the Great Boundary was beyond the depths of the phenomenal external world. The idea connoted by the term "depth" takes thought away from all ideas of three dimensional matter, as we know it, and introduces it to the notion of "through" in every direction at the same time, inside and out as well.

We next have to treat of the "being" of the Plērōma of the æons. Every "being" in this The Æon-world. "Fullness of Being" (Plērōma) was also, in its turn, a "fullness" or perfection, and the nature of the life of these "beings" was shown forth in their names. They were called æons, or "eternities," for they were out of time and space. Everything outside the Plērōma, that is to say, everything in the phenomenal universe, on the contrary, was an "image" or deficiency. The phenomenal world was therefore called by such names as the Kenōma or "Emptiness," the Image, etc.

It is, however, evident that until we reach the phenomenal world, no possible human language can serve us to express modes of being which transcend cosmogonic operations. And yet the hardihood of the

p. 314

[paragraph continues] Gnostic genius had to find some method whereby it could adumbrate the manner of being of the æons, which were ex hypothesi out of time and space. Let us then turn our attention to one of the methods whereby this was attempted. Not that the Gnostics worked from below upwards, they received from above and brought it down into matter; in brief, their expositions were attempts to describe a living symbol, which is said to have been shown them in vision.

The Platonic Solids.Now Pythagoras and Plato, and the instructors in the Mysteries, declared that physical matter was ultimately of a geometrical nature; that in all things "God geometrizes." Thus the five regular solids formed the summit of the geometrical knowledge of the Platonic school. It was because of the attention bestowed on these solids by this school, that' posterity has called the five the Platonic Solids. The whole of the Elements of Euclid, says Proclus, were but an introduction to this science of the perfect solids. These polyhedra were believed to lie at the back not only of earth-formation, but of every genus, species, and individual in the material universe. It is strange that no subject in mathematics has been so neglected as that of the regular solids; but so it is, and the moderns laugh at such "puerilities" of the ancients.

For the re-discovery and elaboration of a part of this science within the last six years I must refer the "doulx lecteur" to the works of a young Spanish scientist, Señor Soria y Mata.

No one of course who is entirely ignorant of the

p. 315

subject, will be able to comprehend fully the following general indications; but the nature of finger-posts is to point in certain directions, not to accompany the traveller along the road; and the "gentle reader" who requires such personal conducting must seek it in Señor Soria's admirable essays. For the present our work is simply to set up sign-posts; and so we return to our task.

But even supposing, some one may say, that the five solids (which are all variations of one in various combinations with itself) have some connection with the typical elements which build up the invisible molecular structure of physical matter, what has that to do with the Valentinian Gnostics? A great deal, we may answer. Marcus, one of the earliest followers of Valentinus, has some system of a kabalistic numbering assigned to him, and in connection with this Hippolytus (II.) declares that the whole of Valentinianism was based on the numbers and geometry of Pythagoras and Plato.

No further proof, however, is brought forward of this sweeping generality, and no scholar has so far supplied the missing link. It is, nevertheless, entirely credible that the æonology of the Valentinian School was based partly on such considerations. Let us then attempt to make a few suggestions on the subject, not from the numbering ascribed to Marcus, but from the living side of Pythagorean and Platonic mathematics, the "mathēsis" which was the same as the "gnōsis," and which is said to have been called even by Pythagoras himself, "the gnōsis of things that are."

It was then perhaps along this line of thought

p. 316

that some of the Gnostic thinkers sought for A Living Symbolism.a living symbolism, which should adumbrate in some fashion the manner of being of the æons. From the region of definite polyhedrical matter, the ordering of which, though invisible to the eye, could yet be imagined in the mind, the symbolism could be pushed back a further stage--from the molecular to the atomic as we should say now-a-days. The regular solids were thus the eventuation in physical matter of certain systems of perfect equilibrium of "points" in space. These points were not pure mathematical abstractions, but actual centres of force, bearing certain relations to one another, equilibrated by a law of polarity or syzygy. This was the region of the atom. The atom was thought of as a living thing of force, a sphere, said by some to be a spherical ("conical") swirl, the most perfect figure, ever contracting and expanding, generative of all motions, while it is itself self-motive, and yet from another point of view "immovable," as pertaining to the "foundations of earth." It is smaller than the small as matter, yet greater than the great as energy.

It was the atom and its combinations, then, as we should now-a-days say, which the Valentinian Gnosis envisaged in its æonology. I do not, however, for a moment suggest that any Gnostic philosopher thought of the atom in the same way as a modern physicist does; I believe, on the contrary, that the most advanced of the Gnostics were shown this living symbol of world-formation in vision, and the various systems were efforts to explain such visions. Of course, any symbol is immensities

p. 317

removed from the reality, but the endeavour to imagine, or the privilege of being shown, the living type lying beyond the simplest types of physical matter-formation, is at any rate nearer the reality than any dead physical shape. Thus the atom and its simplest modes of differentiated being, may be taken as symbols of the æon-world, the Plērōma, the world of life and light, beyond time and space, the undecaying heart of the eternities.

The following view may then be of interest to students of symbolism, who as a rule confine their attention solely to plane figures, and thus deal as it were with the "shadows of the dead." For a plane figure is, so to speak, only a shadow of a dead solid; it is the living system of force behind or within the latter which is the first spark of life in the series. In order to see this more clearly, let us take a familiar symbol, the interlaced triangles or "Solomon's Seal." In solids this symbol is represented by two mutually interpenetrated tetrahedra; from this union come the cube and octahedron. The dodecahedron and icosahedron come from the mutual congress of five tetrahedra, a quintuplication. Thus we have our five regular solids. The fundamental type is the tetrahedron, and the force-system behind it consists of two pairs of atoms, or a double syzygy or couple in perfect equilibrium. The nature of the relationship of these atoms or spheres to each other, and of the interplay of their motions, is the mode of life or being of the symbol; and when this is learned, then the symbol becomes alive and thus the forces

p. 318

which the "shadow" of the "dead" solid symbolizes, are in the hand of the solver of the "mystery." One form of ancient magic, especially practised in Egypt, consisted of a most complicated extension of this idea, which wandered far beyond the limits of the geometrical symbols. Needless to say that the vast majority who practised the art, had not the slightest idea of the "reasons" for their performances. Magic for the general was never a rational thing. It consisted of an infinite number of "rules of thumb," and this side of it is consequently, and quite rightly, regarded by the present age of intelligent enquiry as a superstition.

The "Fourth Dimension."The intelligent student of symbolism will thus endeavour to free his mind from the limitations of three-dimensional space, and think within into the state of the so-called "fourth dimension." For it is only along this line of thought that there is any hope of the faintest conception of æonic being. As the matter is of the first importance for a student of Gnosticism, and at the same time one of great difficulty, the following line of thought may be suggested as a preliminary exercise. Think of an atom, or monad, as a sphere which generates itself, or swells out, from a point and refunds itself again into that point. This gives the simple idea of position. Take two of such spheres at the same moment of expansion, that is to say two equal spheres, and place them in mutual contact. This can be done in an infinite number of ways, so that they may be in any direction the one with the other.

Reduce these spheres in thought to mathematical

p. 319

points, and we have the simplest idea of extension--one dimension. The two points are the extremities or boundaries of a line.

Next, take three similar spheres and bring them into mutual contact. They can be placed in any direction the one to the other. Reduce them in thought to points, and we have three points not in a straight line, lying in a plane surface, or superfices of two dimensions. Then take four such spheres and bring them into mutual contact. Reduce them in their turn to points, and their positions require space of three dimensions. Finally, take five such spheres and try to imagine how they can be brought into mutual contact, that is to say, how each one can touch all the rest. This cannot be imagined in three dimensions, and requires the conception of another "dimension"--something to do with the content of the spheres--the idea of "through." This does not seem to be so much a "fourth dimension" as an involution of perception, retracing the path we have so far followed.

For instance, three-dimensional space is for normal sight bounded by surfaces; those who have inner vision ("four-dimensional" sight) say that the contents of an object--e.g., a watch--appear, in some incomprehensible way, spread out before them as on a surface. If this is so, then three-dimensional space, the fourth link in our chain, is the turning point, and hence consciousness turns itself inwards once more towards the point, which when reached will become the illimitable circumference, or plērōma of consciousness--the nirvānic "atom," so to say.

p. 320

Let us now try to imagine how the Gnosis symbolized the ideal universe, the type of all universes--the primal atom or monad, its motions, and modes of self-differencing and self-emanation within itself. The object of their contemplation was identical with the world of ideas, or noëtic world, of Plato; the light-world of ancient Irān; the "eternal egg," or type, from which all universes come forth, of ancient Khem; the "resplendent germ," or hiranya-garbha, of the Upanishads--all of which has been intuitively set forth in philosophical terms by Leibnitz in his Monadology.

The Eternal Atom.First, then, we have the conception of an infinite sphere of Light, Light which transcends the glory of the most brilliant sun, as that sun's glory transcends the flame of a rush-light; Light beyond thought. As yet there is naught but infinite Light; yet through it there is ever a something going, as it were from and to its centre, which is everywhere and nowhere, a breath ever outbreathing and inbreathing, an endless energy which nothing human can perceive or know. It is the Life-breath of the universe at the zero-point of being, to use terms familiar to some theosophical students.

We next proceed to what we must call a change of state; but we should remember that all the states we are attempting thus to symbolize, in reality exist simultaneously; and though in thought we are to follow out a kind of emanation or evolution, it is in reality an ever-existing infinite state of consciousness out of time and space.

In this ever-pulsating field of universal energy

p. 321

[paragraph continues] (which is everywhere and nowhere), a something arises slightly less brilliant than the transcendent The Law of Syzygy. Light, another mode of motion as it were, which we may symbolize as an oval or egg-like swirling, ever swelling-out and in-drawing. Within this two "foci" are gradually developed, as it pulsates and swells. The inner periphery of the egg-envelope contracts in the midst through the action of the two foci, the symbols of equilibrium, of positive and negative, the law of syzygy or pairing. The two part asunder. Bythus and Ennœa, Profoundity and Thought, are the first syzygy of æons, now symbolized as two spheres. Being separate, in some mysterious fashion they are differently affected by the great out-breath and in-breath, yet each manifests the qualities of the other. One is positive, the other is negative, as it were, and these qualities are at once communicated to the whole of the great Light-sphere, for they are everywhere and nowhere at once. Polarity is thus stated to be a mode of being of the Plērōma; the law of syzygy is affirmed.

But duality arising, multiplicity must follow; and not only multiplicity but universality. For the Plērōma must be simultaneously the type of the One, Many and All, and monotheism, polytheism and pantheism must each find its source therein.

In following out our symbolic imagery, however, we cannot think the whole at once. We try to conceive that whatever process we gain an intuition of by means of our symbols, takes place everywhere, always, and simultaneously with every other process and manner of being; but of this we can get no

p. 322

mental image. We can only pass from one process to another by following out the behaviour of a single pair of our living symbols. To proceed then.

Thus we have spheres evolving, each positive-negative in itself, but positive or negative in its relationship to the other. In thought we will treat one as positive, the other as negative, and thus try to imagine the changes of mode. As the twin spheres in their turn expand and contract, when they touch, from the negative a "veil" or "mist" is shed forth and as it were "lines" the great Light-sphere.

The Law of Differentiation.The law of densification and perpetual differentiation is declared. At each contract the negative sphere becomes less light and more passive as it were, though in reality the "lowest" æon far transcends the most brilliant radiance in the universe. The negative light-sphere developer into progeny, differentiates its substance, impregnated by the positive light-sphere. That is to say, the Light-world is differentiated into "planes" of being; there are "veils" and "firmaments." But how many and of what kind?

I must refer the reader again to Señor Soria's essays on the polyhedric origin of species for the only possible series of physical systems of perfect equilibrium of spheres of equal diameter, from two upwards, if he would follow out this most interesting problem in greater detail and work out the matter for himself. For the moment it is sufficient to state that the first æonic hierarchy of the Valentinian Plērōma is said to have been an ogdoad, or group of eight, which was sometimes considered as a dual

p. 323

tetrad--in living symbols, the system of equilibrium behind two equally interpenetrated tetrahedra.

A point of interest which should not be overlooked, however, is to be noticed as following from The Three and the Seven. the consideration of the ogdoadic mode of the Plērōma. The Bythus and Ennœa are no longer regarded as a single pair; Ennœa, the negative sphere, has produced offspring. She is now the type of "seven-robed" Nature, Isis; while Bythus is the Great Deep or "Water-whirl," Osiris, the tether. The negative sphere is now seven spheres (herself, and six like unto herself and the positive sphere)--that is, three pairs of æons. Here we have the type of the one sphere of sameness, and the seven spheres of difference, of the Pythagorean and Platonic World-soul. The Ogdoad and Hebdomad of Basilides have also here their types.

Thus having declared the law of duality, or syzygy, we next find the law of triplicity asserted in the triad of syzygies into which the negative sphere is differentiated. These are the three great stages or spaces of the Plērōma, and the syzygies, or modes of polarity, of these phases were called Mind-Truth, Word-Life, and Man-Church, for reasons which are somewhat obscure, and to which we shall return later on.

We are next told of a dodecad and decad of æons The Twelve and Ten which owe their existence to one or other of the syzygies of the ogdoad. The accounts of their genesis are entirely contradictory; sometimes also the decad is placed before the dodecad, and, seeing of course that ten naturally comes before twelve, the critics

p. 324

have without exception preferred this order. The matter is at best purely conjectural in such a chaos, but experience leads us to choose the less likely as being the more correct account. What on earth should have induced some of the Valentinians to put the twelve before the ten if their symbolism had not necessitated such an order?

We shall therefore take the main phases of the Plērōma to be those symbolized by the ogdoad, the dodecad and the decad in turn; not that one came from the other in reality (they all existed together eternally), but because the living symbols are described in a dramatic myth, one of the variants of which we shall shortly present to the reader.

The ogdoad is a term connoting the operations of the living processes behind the symbol of two interpenetrated tetrahedra, and therefore includes all the permutations of their complementary progeny (the cube and octahedron). Thus the ogdoad was divided into a higher and lower tetrad, and in various other ways, including the one and the seven as described above; the one and the seven can be represented by the curious geometrical fact that if seven equal circles be taken, and six be grouped round the central one, each circumference respectively will be found to exactly touch two adjacent circles and the one in the middle, while the greater circle can be described round all seven. This is of course but the shadow of a symbol, and is only intended to serve as a mnemonic; but the fact is curious, and such natural facts were not so lightly regarded by the Platonists as they are by the moderns, especially when they had to do with the

p. 325

most perfect figures--circles and spheres, the natural symbols of perfections or plērōmata.

We have now come to a stage where the differentiation of the primal simplicity is to be represented The Dodecahedron. by groups of twelve; the mode of being of the Plērōma is now the dodecad. It is a curious fact that if we were to imagine space filled with spheres all of equal diameter and in mutual contact, we should find that each sphere was surrounded with exactly twelve other spheres; moreover, if we should imagine the spheres to be elastic, and that pressure be brought to bear on one of such systems of twelve, on every side at once, the central or thirteenth sphere would assume a dodecagonal form--in fact, a rhombic dodecahedron.

If we further remember that there is frequent mention of a "thirteenth æon," which has hitherto puzzled all the commentators; that the Pythagoreans and Platonists and Indian philosophers asserted that the dodecahedron was the symbol of the material universe; that we are assured by some who have psychic or clairvoyant vision to-day that the field of activity of the atom is contained by a rhombic dodecahedron; and that the "twelve" signs of the zodiac have hitherto remained a mere irrational hypothesis--then we may be inclined to think that there was good reason for insisting on the dodecad as an important phase of æonian being.

Moreover, each phase of the Plērōma is supposed to be positive to the succeeding phase. Thus the Plērōma as a whole is positive to the dyadic stage; in the dyadic stage, Bythus is positive to Ennœa, who

p. 326

becomes various and sevenfold. The sevenfold is positive to the dodecad stage, which consists of thirteen spheres.

If we think of the dodecad as the dodecahedron we shall be dealing with the phenomenal universe, and thus be without the Plērōma; here we are dealing with the living type behind, in the æon-world, that is to say the system of thirteen spheres which eventuate the dodecahedron in the physical world.

Each of these thirteen contains in itself the seven modes of being of the preceding phase, and thus, in every system of thirteen, there is in reality a multitudinous progeny. These are the children of that phase of being which we may call the multiplicity of sameness, i.e., the atomic ocean of like contiguous spheres; and they in their turn undergo a change which will eventuate in a harmonious arrangement or perfection, to be finally denoted by the perfect number ten, the decad.

The Decad.How, then, do we get from the dodecad to the decad, from atomic matter to the perfect form? Perhaps somewhat in this way. Every sphere is living, moving in all ways at once, so to speak, and yet in another sense motionless. The types of external motion are up, down, right, left, back, front, and round--seven in all; to these we have to add in and out, and a motion that is no motion we can imagine. And thus we reach a new phase of being through the decad or ten, which begins, as it were, another series of motions on a higher plane (1, 2, 3, etc., and then 11, 12, 13, etc.).

The seven motions, or modes of life, in every

p. 327

system of thirteen spheres, are simple in the great sphere which surrounds the thirteen--the fourteenth or boundary of the system; but in the subordinate thirteen spheres the modes of motion act and react on each other (for each subordinate sphere contacts so many others) and produce a number of other modes of a subordinate nature, namely (7 × 13 or) 91. If to these we add as rulers the seven simple rates of motion, in all we have 98 (91 + 7) different modes. To these we add the two higher modes, the in- and out-breathing, and in all we have 100. The one hundred is the perfection (10 × 10) of the perfect number (10). We shall see later on how the Gnostics, in one of their systems, in their perfecting of the Plērōma, found themselves compelled to add two æons, and so introduced Christ and the Holy Spirit into the myth of the Plērōma-drama.

Thus the hundred obtained along the line of development of the ogdoad and dodecad, by the addition of two new factors, or the operation of a new syzygy, led by another path of simplification to the ten, the number of consummation.

Now the number of root-æons in the Plērōma was said to be thirty (8 +12 + 10), to which we may add Christ and the Holy Spirit--the representatives of the Bythus and Sigē (Silence) beyond the Plērōma--and finally the That beyond all, so getting thirty-three, the number of the Vaidic pantheon of thirty-three deities, the 8 Vasus, 12 Adityās and 10 Rudras, with a supreme Rudra at their head, and Heaven and Earth.

The number 100 also gives a hint whereby to

p. 328

explain the ordering of the subordinate phases of the Plērōma, as found in the system attributed by Hippolytus (II.) to the Docetæ, where mention is made of the "thirty-fold, sixty-fold and one hundred-fold."

I do not for one moment suggest that these speculations were the basis of Gnostic æonology; I believe the Gnostics were "shown" their æon-lore in vision, and that they found analogies to what they were shown, in nature and in the science of the time. Pythagoras was also, I believe, shown the same truths and worked them out in mathematical symbols. The Gnostics were acquainted with the system of his followers--a system of which unfortunately only the merest fragments have reached us--and they doubtless pressed into their service his theological arithmetic and geometry to aid in their expositions; but this was only one means out of a number which they employed for the same purpose. But to continue with our æonology.

Chaos.But how, out of the perfection of the Plērōma (for every one of the æons was a perfection or plerōma in its turn), was the imperfection, or deficiency, of cosmic matter to come, which should serve as the substance out of which the "images" or "creatures" of the universe were to be formed? So far the living symbol of the Plērōma has produced perfect spheres, all in pairs, a light and less light or "darker" globe; for the twelve and ten, just like the eight, consist of pairs. The various phases have been brought about by the light globes acting on the "darker" ones. But now a new change

p. 329

takes place. There is an interaction of "dark" globes; and the result is no longer a perfect sphere innate with motion, but an amorphous mass, in one sense out of the Plērōma, as being lower than it, or not of its nature. When this takes place, the whole system endeavours, as it were, to right itself, just as the organs and corpuscles of the human body do when anything goes wrong in it, for the Plērōma is the spiritual body of the Heavenly Man. But the various æons of themselves cannot effect their purpose, they can only act on the "formlessness" when they combine together. From every one of the thirty æons, as it were, there shoots forth a ray, and all the rays somehow or other, form a new æon or globe of light, which rounds off the amorphous mass, or "abortion," burns it into shape, enters into it, and finally carries it back to the rest.

This is the living symbol of the world-drama, and was worked out by the Gnostics in much mythological detail. To everything below the Plērōma, the Plērōma is one, a single thing, containing the powers of all the æons; it is the "living æon" and acts upon cosmic matter, which is shapeless, and so endows it with form and creates the universe. But this is only the "enforming according to essence"; there is also an "enforming according to knowledge," or consciousness, which pertains to the soteriological part of the drama.

The idea seems to have been that the "abortion," or chaos, was destitute of the life-swirl or vortex. Theos. The vortex is the finger of fire, as it were, or light-spark, shot forth by the light-æons, in their

p. 330

positive phases; the negative spheres cannot shape or fashion the abortion, but can only densify or materialize it; the mother-breath cools, the father-breath warms the plasm of the universe. This plasm is now, so to say, thrown out of the ideal world into the cosmic plane, or rather, let us say, from the cosmic plane into the plane of a star-system; for the human mind cannot grasp such immensities as those of the ideal world, and all we can do is to single out a finite example from the infinitudes of space. Anything thrown out of the great cosmic sweep and the life of the æons is, as it were, "crucified in space"; or rather that which is incarnated into it, leaves the plane of infinitude where it is one with the Father, and is "crucified." The Logos takes a body, and His body is the cosmos. The Heavenly Man is crucified in space. But this crucifixion is no shame, no disgrace; the cross is the body of the Heavenly Man, the universe; and the symbol which the wise have chosen for that mystery, is the figure of the Heavenly Man with arms outstretched pouring His life and love and light into His creatures. He is the source of all good to the universe, the perpetual self-sacrifice.

Far lower down in the scale of being there is another crucifixion, when the spirit is incarnated into the plane where there is male and female, and is thus cut off from the great life and motion of the Plērōma. The spirit in man is no longer consciously in the grand sweep of the Great Breath, the Nirvānic Ocean of Life.

But we must return to cosmic substance and its fashioning. This substance is so fine and rare and

p. 331

subtle, that it transcends all substance we know of; indeed the mother-substance of cosmos is of so marvellous a nature that the Gnostics called it Wisdom herself, the highest vesture with which the spirit could be clothed. That which gives Wisdom her first enformation, is the potency of all the æons, called the Common Fruit of the Plērōma.

We have now arrived at the beginning of the evolution of the cosmos, according to this scheme of Cosmos. universal philosophy. We must, however, if our imagination is to stand the strain, be more modest, and confine our attention to the beginning of a solar system instead of the origin of the cosmos.

The ætheric spaces destined to be the home of the future system are void and formless. From the fullness of potential energy, the Plērōma, there comes forth the stream of power, the spiral vortex--the Magna Vorago, or Vast Whirlpool, of Orpheus. It is the fiery creative power; there is as it were the purification of the spaces by fire. He enters into the formlessness, and becomes the thing which it lacked, the spiral life-force or primordial atom; He also fashions it without. The mother-substance becomes a sphere, irradiate with life, a whirling mass of stardust. The "atom" becomes the "flying serpent," the comet, which as it were first hovers over the mother-substance, the new-born system. It is the "serpent" and the "egg" again, the spermatozoon and ovum of the solar embryon.

We have now reached a stage where we have to deal with the differentiation of this nebula according to the types in the Divine Mind, in other words, the

p. 332

[paragraph continues] Plērōma. It is at this point that the intuitions of antiquity and the most recent discoveries of modern science should meet face to face. This most desirable union of the past and the present is, I believe, not so distant an event as one might be led to suppose, but the present essay does not give us scope even to suggest a few indications of the subject. The matter is exceedingly technical, and we are not at present engaged on such a task, but are merely enabling the general reader to while away an hour or two among the Gnostics.

Mythology.We will, therefore, break off here on the borderland between the æonology and cosmogony of the Valentinian circle of Gnosticism, and before going any farther give a specimen of their mythological treatment of the æon-process. As we have already remarked more than once, the accounts in the Church Fathers are inconsistent and in many details contradictory. We hope, however, that the sketch we have given above of the trend of ideas will throw some light on all accounts, but as we have not the space to give all, we must select one as a specimen; and the fact that Hippolytus (II.) seems to have had a Gnostic MS. in front of him (seeing that. he invariably adheres more closely to his written authorities than any of his predecessors) shall guide us in our selection. Hippolytus, in his Philosophumena, may be quoting from a late writing compared for instance with the Excerpts from Theodotus; but his account is more or less a reflection of the way in which a Gnostic looked at the matter, while the Excerpts are most pitifully mutilated and misplaced. As for

p. 333

[paragraph continues] Irenæus’ summary, it is at best a sorry patchwork. Not, however, that the account of Hippolytus is not also a patchwork. It is manifestly patched together, nevertheless the main pattern is taken from some treatise in the private circulating library of the Valentinian school.

It may, however, before dealing with the account of Hippolytus, be of interest to give the reader some The Sophia-Mythus. general idea of the important rôle played by the personified Wisdom in Gnostic mythology. As Wisdom was the end of the Gnosis, so the pivot of the whole Gnostic mythological drama was the so-called Sophia-Mythus. For whether we interpret their allegories from the macrocosmic or microcosmic standpoint, it is ever the evolution of the mind that the initiates of old have sought to teach us. The emanation and evolution of the world-mind in cosmogenesis, and of the human mind in anthropogenesis, is ever the main interest of the secret science.

The dwelling of Sophia, as the World-Soul, according to our Gnostics, was in the Midst, in the Ogdoad, between the upper or purely spiritual worlds, and the lower psychic and material worlds. Below the Ogdoad was the Hebdomad or Seven Spheres of psychic substance. Truly hath "Wisdom built for herself a House, and rested it on Seven Pillars" (Prov. ix. 1); and again: "She is in the lofty Heights; she stands in the Midst of the Paths, for she taketh her seat by the Gates of the Powerful Ones, she tarrieth at the Entrances [of the Light-World]" (ibid., viii. 2), says the Wisdom in its Jewish tradition.

p. 334

Moreover, Sophia was the Mediatrix between the upper and lower spaces, and at the same time projected the Types or Ideas of the plērōma into the cosmos. But why should Wisdom, who was originally of a pneumatic or spiritual essence, be in the Middle Space, an exile from her true Dwelling? Such was the great mystery which the Gnosis endeavoured to solve. Seeing again that this "Fall of the Soul" (whether cosmic or individual) from her original purity involved her in suffering and misery, the object which the Gnostic philosophers had ever before them, was identical with the problem of "sorrow" that Gautama Sākyamuni set himself to solve. Moreover, the solution of the two systems was identical in that they traced the "cause of sorrow" to Ignorance, and for its removal pointed out the Path of Self-knowledge. The Mind was to instruct the mind; "self-analysing reflection" was to be the Way. The material mind was to be purified, and so become one with the spiritual mind. In the nomenclature of the Gnosis this was dramatized in the redemption of the Sophia by the Christ, who delivered her from her ignorance and sufferings.

The Mother of Many Names.It is not surprising, then, that we should find the Sophia in her various aspects possessed of many names. Among these may be mentioned the Mother, or All-Mother; Mother of the Living, or Shirting Mother; the Power Above; the Holy Spirit; again, She of the Left-hand as opposed to the Christos, Him of the Right-hand; the Man-woman; Prouneikos or Lustful one; the Matrix; Paradise; Eden; Achamōth; the Virgin; Barbēlō;

p. 335

[paragraph continues] Daughter of Light; Merciful Mother; Consort of the Masculine One; Revelant of the Perfect Mysteries; Perfect Mercy; Revelant of the Mysteries of the whole Magnitude; Hidden Mother; She who knows the Mysteries of the Elect; the Holy Dove who has given birth to Twins; Ennœa; Ruler; and the Lost or Wandering Sheep, Helena, and many other names.

These terms refer to Sophia or the "Soul"--using the term in its most general sense--in her cosmic or individual aspects, according as she is above in her perfect purity; or in the midst, as intermediary; or below, as fallen into matter. But to return to:

Next: Hippolytus’ account of One of the Variants of the Sophia-Mythus