The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, , at sacred-texts.com
The doctrines of the chief schools of Gnosticism having been fully described in the preceding sections, the next step in the natural order of things will be to consider the MACHINERY employed by its teachers to set forth these new doctrines.
The deities of the ancient mythology continued to hold their place in the productions of the great sect whose birth-place was Alexandria, and consequently some insight into the sense in which the novel theosophy adopted them may be obtained by learning what were the powers and attributes of these same gods, when their worship held undisputed possession of the country. On this account, the chief deities of Egypt, and the figures under which they are recognised, must now be briefly described--together with their Coptic titles, so often found on these monuments in strange companionship with the holy names of the Jewish creed, with the Magian Genii, even with the appellatives of Hindoo gods--the very terminology of the religion plainly indicating its remote and multifarious sources.
1. The great god of Lower Egypt, Phthas (phonetic, Ptah), is represented in a close-fitting robe, with his feet joined together, and standing upon a base of four steps, called the "Four Foundations," and which typified the Four Elements, of which he was the grand artificer--an emblem long afterwards taken in the same acceptation by the Rosicrucians, sometimes he appears as a dwarf and Priapean; sometimes as Phtha-Tore with a beetle forehead. His proper attribute is the Cynocephalus baboon. His four sons, the Cabiri, are painted as little ugly dwarfs, bearing for badges of office, a sword, a crocodile, a serpent, a human head stuck on a hook. They become in the hierarchy of the Pistis-Sophia the "Collectors unto Wrath" (ἐριναῖοι), whose office is to accuse souls in the Judgment. The many-armed Genius brandishing similar weapons, often found on Gnostic talismans, probably expresses the same idea in a condensed form.
2. Ammon (phonetically, Amen) has a human, and occasionally a ram's, head, from which rises a parti-coloured plume. He is modified into "Pan-Mendes," Priapean, and brandishing a whip. In the character of "Ammon-Chnubis" he has his feet bound together, and wears the horns of a goat. He is often figured as the serpent, called by the Greeks the "Agathodæmon." His symbol is the vase "Canopus," for so the Greeks pronounce the name of Chnubis. United with the sun, he becomes "Ammon-Ra."
3. The Sun-god, Phre, or Ra, depicted with the head of a hawk, supporting the solar disc entwined with the serpent Uraeus.
4. Thoth or Thoyt, ibis-headed, is the "Scribe of the gods." Sometimes he takes the head of a hawk, and becomes the famous "Hermes Trismegistus." His symbol is the winged orb, Tat, answering to the Mir of the Persians. (He is the prophet Enoch's fourth rebellious angel, Penumuc, "who discovered unto the children of men bitterness and sweetness, and pointed out to them every unit of their wisdom. He taught men to understand writing, and the use of ink and paper. Therefore numerous have been those who have gone astray, from every period of the world even to this day. For men were not born for this, thus with pen and with ink to confirm their faith." [lxviii. 10. 13.])
5. Sochos is depicted with the head of a crocodile, and is also symbolised by a crocodile with the tail bent.
6. The Moon-god, Pa-Ioh, (Pa, being the Coptic definite article) is represented having his feet close together; upon his head is a single lock of hair and the crescent. At other times, this deity is figured bi-sexual, and casting gold dust over the heavens, that is, bespangling them with the stars.
7. Osiris is a human figure distinguished by his lofty conical helmet, and holding a crook and a whip. The eye is his symbol.
8. Aroeres (Aroi), the Horus of the Greeks, has a single lock of hair upon his head. He is figured as being suckled by Isis and again, as seated upon the lotus; he also occasionally wears the head of a hawk, as being one character of the Solar god.
[paragraph continues] His symbol, the hawk, appears upon the breast of Isis in a torso in the Borgia Collection.
9. Anubis (Anbo) is always jackal-headed, and sometimes has also a human one head, springing from a separate neck. His Coptic name, ΑΝΒΩ, may often be observed in Gnostic legends.
10. Bebon, or Bebys, has the head of a hippopotamus, or a crocodile, and carries a sword: a figure which used to be taken for Typhon. He stands for the constellation Ursa Major in the Zodiac of Denderah.
Of goddesses the principal are--
1. Neith: expressed by the Vulture, or else by a female with head of a vulture, or lion. In the last case she takes the name of Taf-net. She symbolizes the vault of Heaven.
2. Athor: with the head of a cow, or else of a woman covered with the skin of the Royal Vulture. She is denoted hieroglyphically by a hawk placed within a square.
3. Isis: a female with horns of a cow, between which rests a disk, the lunar circle.
4. Sate: the Grecian Hera, wearing tall plumes on her head, and sometimes personified with a feather in place of head, stands for "Truth," in which latter quality she appears regularly at the Judgment of the Soul.
The Four Genii of the Amenthes, or Hades, are represented with the heads of a man, jackal, baboon, and hawk, respectively; and are often placed together like mummy-shaped figures, forming the Canopic Vases.
The symbols of the same worship have been to some extent explained by persons writing at a time when they were still a living, though fast expiring, language. Of such writers the most valuable is Plutarch, who in his curious treatise 'De Iside et Osiride,' has given the meaning of several of these symbols, and, as it would appear, upon very good authority. According to him, Isis sometimes signifies the Moon, in which sense she is denoted by a Crescent; sometimes the Earth as fecundated by the waters of the Nile. For this reason water, as the seed of Osiris, was carried in a vase in the processions in honour of this goddess.
Osiris is denoted by the picture of an Eye and Sceptre; his
name being compounded of Os "many," and iris "eye." Upon this point Macrobius states (Sat. I. 21), "The Egyptians, in order to denote that Osiris means the Sun, whenever they want to express his name in hieroglyphic writing, engrave a Sceptre and on top thereof the figure of an Eye; and by this symbol they express 'Osiris,' signifying this god to be the Sun, riding on high in regal power, and looking down. upon all things, because antiquity hath surnamed the Sun the 'Eye of Jupiter.'"
The Fig-leaf stands for "King"; and also for the "South."
The Lizard, which was believed to conceive through the ear, and to bring forth through the mouth, is the type of the generation of the Word, that is, the Logos, or Divine Wisdom. (This belief explains the appearance of a lizard upon the breast of certain figures of Minerva.) *
The Scarabeus, in its making spherical receptacles for its eggs, and by its retrograde motion, imitates the action and movement of the Sun. This insect had no female, according to the popular belief of the Egyptians.
The Asp expresses a planet, for like that luminary, it moves rapidly, though without any visible organ of locomotion.
The Ibis stands for the Moon: the legs of the bird, when extended, making an equilateral triangle. (It is hard to discern any analogy between the Moon and this figure of geometry, but yet the Pythagoreans denoted Athene by the same sign. But that Plutarch is here correct is proved by many gems which show a triangle set upon an altar and adored by the baboon, Luna's favourite beast.) How the later Egyptians symbolised the Sun and Moon is well expressed upon a jasper (Waterton) where Horus, seated on the lotus, is adored by the baboon; in the field are the sun-star and the crescent attached to their respective figures, and also the Triangle very conspicuously placed.
Horus--Plutarch remarks--wears a crown of the branches of the Persea, because its fruit resembles in shape the heart; its leaves, the tongue. The legend goes that the tree (Cordia myxa, or Sebestene plum) was first planted at Memphis by the hero Perseus, whence its name. In memory of his mythic ancestor,
[paragraph continues] Alexander ordered that a garland of Persea leaves should form the prize at the games he instituted at his new Capital. The tree never wants a succession of flowers and fruit; the latter Pliny compares to a red plum, adding that it will not grow in Europe.
We next come to a professed treatise upon this recondite subject, Horapollo's 'Interpretation of the Sacred Animals.' Unfortunately, this work bears upon its face clear evidence of having been excogitated by some pragmatical Alexandrian Greek, totally ignorant of what he was writing about, but impudently passing off his own stupid conjectures as to the meaning of the figures on the ancient works surrounding him, as though they were interpretations handed down to him by antique authority. He must have written under the Lower Empire, when the art of reading hieroglyphics was entirely lost, for we know that it still existed in the first century; Tacitus particularly notes that an aged priest read to Germanicus upon his visit to Thebes the contents of the historical tablets on the edifices of that city. "Mox visit veterum Thebarum magna vestigia; et manebant structis molibus literæ Ægyptiæ priscam opulentiam complexæ, jussusque e senioribus sacerdotum patrium sermonem interpretari" (Ann. II. 60). This happened A.D. 19. It would appear that the knowledge of hieroglyphics was fast dying out, and only preserved by members of the previous generation. *
It is only in a few instances that Horapollo has preserved some genuine tradition of the meaning of those symbols which were the most generally used, and therefore the last to be forgotten. Of these explanations the most important are what follow.
"The Cynocephalus baboon denotes the Moon, because that beast has a certain sympathy with the luminary, and during her dark quarter sits without eating, his eyes fixed upon the
ground as though mourning for her loss. He moreover denotes the priestly order, because he is naturally circumcised, and abhors fish and fishermen. Erect and with uplifted paws and a basilisk (asp) upon his head, he symbolises the New Moon, whose first appearance he hails after this fashion. By his voiding his urine at fixed and regular intervals, he first suggested to observers the regular division off the day into hours, and furnished the first idea of the invention of the Clepsydra, or water-clock.
"The Dog (Jackal) represents the sacred scribe: because that functionary ought to be always studying, and likewise should bark at, and make himself disagreeable to, everybody. In another sense he expresses a Prophet, from his habit of staring fixedly at the statues of the gods.
"The Hawk means 'God,' or 'Sun.'
"The Lion, from the resemblance of his round face to the solar orb, is placed beneath the throne of Horus, the Egyptian title of the Sun.
"The Rising of the Nile, called in Coptic Nov or Nev, is denoted by three large vases; and also by a lion, because it attains its full height when the Sun is in that sign of the Zodiac; for which same cause the spouts of the sacred lavers are made in the shape of lions' heads.
"By the Ibis is signified the heart, because the bird belongs to Hermes, who presides over the heart and all reason. The Ibis also, by its own shape, resembles the form of the heart; concerning which matter there is a very long legend current amongst the Egyptians."
But the most graphic account of the symbols and ceremonies employed in the worship of Isis, whilst yet in its full glory (the middle of the second century), is to be obtained from the description of her Procession which Apuleius (himself one of the initiated) has penned in the eleventh Book of his "Golden Ass." "Next flow on the crowds of people initiated into the divine mysteries; men and women of every rank, and all ages, shining in the pure whiteness of linen robes; the latter having their dripping hair enveloped in a transparent covering: the former with their heads shaven clean, and the crowns thereof
shining white--these earthly stars of the nocturnal ceremony, raising as they went a shrill tinkling with sistra of bronze, silver, and even of gold. But the chief performers in the rites were those nobles, who, clad in a tight-fitting robe of linen descending from the waist down to the heels, carried in the procession the glorious symbols of the most potent deities.
"The first held out at arm's length a lamp, diffusing before him a brilliant light; not by any means resembling in form the lamps in common use for illuminating our evening meals, but a golden bowl supporting a more ample blaze in the midst of its broad expanse. The second, similarly robed, held up with both hands the Altar that derives its name from the beneficent Providence of the supreme goddess. The third marched along bearing aloft a palm branch with leaves formed of thin gold, and also the Caduceus of Hermes. The fourth displayed the symbol of Justice, the figure of the left hand with the palm open, which, on account of its natural inactivity, and its being endowed with neither skill nor cunning, has been deemed a more fitting emblem of Justice than the right hand. The same minister likewise carried a small golden vestibule made in a round form like an udder, out of which he poured libations of milk. The fifth carried a winnowing fan piled up with golden sprigs. The last of all bore a huge wine jar.
"Immediately after these came the Deities, condescending to walk upon human feet, the foremost among them rearing terrifically on high his dog's head and neck--that messenger between heaven and hell displaying alternately a face black as night, and golden as the day; in his left the caduceus, in his right waving aloft the green palm branch. His steps were closely followed by a cow, raised into an upright posture--the cow being the fruitful emblem of the Universal Parent, the goddess herself, which one of the happy train carried with majestic steps, supported on his shoulders. By another was borne the coffin containing the sacred things, and closely concealing the deep secrets of the holy religion. Another carried in his happy bosom the awful figure of the Supreme Deity, not represented in the image of a beast either tame or wild, nor of a bird, nor even in that of man, but ingeniously devised and
inspiring awe by its very strangeness, that ineffable symbol of the deepest mystery, and ever to be shrouded in the profoundest silence. But next came, carried precisely in the same manner, a small vessel made of burnished gold, and most skilfully wrought out into a hemispherical bottom, embossed externally with strange Egyptian figures. Its mouth, but slightly raised, was extended into a spout, and projected considerably beyond the body of the bowl, whilst on the opposite side, widening as it receded into a capacious opening, it was affixed to the handle, upon which was seated an asp wreathed into a knot, and rearing up on high its streaked, swollen and scaly neck."
These images and symbols require a few remarks in elucidation: suggested by the notices of ancient writers, or by the representations of these very objects upon extant monuments of the same religion. The "udder-shaped" vessel exactly describes the one so frequently placed upon the Gnostic gems, and which Matter so strangely interprets as the "Vase of Sins" of the deceased--an unlikely subject to be selected for a talisman intended to secure the benevolence of heaven. Much more to the purpose is Köhler's conjecture that it is one of the earthen pots used to be tied round the circumference of the irrigating wheel, still employed for raising the water of the Nile to fertilise the adjacent fields; "fecundating Isis with the seed of Osiris" in ancient phrase, and certainly the string fastened about its top favours such an explanation; in fact, we have an example of similar veneration for a vessel in the case of the Canopus, the pot that held the same water when purified for drinking. The "winnow-fan" is also often represented, placed over this hemispherical vase; the same instrument played an important part in the marriage ceremony of the Greeks. When piled with fruit of all kinds, it was placed on the head of the bride; the same significant article, a broad, shallow basket, was the cradle of the infant Bacchus--the "mystica vannus Iacchi." The golden "Bowl," serving for lamp, often figures amongst the various emblems adorning our talismans. The "Sistrum" got its peculiar outline from the Indian Yoni (emblem of the female sex), and it was on account of its similar shape the almond, luz, was also held sacred in Egypt, which seems the
true origin of the "vesica piscis," serving as the inclosure for divine figures. The British Museum possesses a Hindoo altar in hardstone, neatly polished, having its flat top formed into the shape of the lingam-yoni; at each corner of the square a little idol is squatted. This Indian figure, signifying the Active and Passive Powers of Nature in conjunction for the work of Creation, is sculptured like a round shallow basin, with long projecting lips tapering to a twist, with an obtuse cone rising out of its middle. Now this is the exact shape of a large brown lamp from Herculaneum (Caylus, vii. pl. 33), only that from its centre, instead of a cone, springs a bent fore-finger, digitus obscœnus (with the same meaning as the lingam) serving for handle to carry it by, whilst from the sides project the three arms of the Egyptian Tau. This vessel must have belonged to the Isis-worship in that town, no doubt as popular there as it is known to have been at the neighbouring Pompeii. As for the office of "Anubis-bearer," it is related that when Commodus discharged that duty in the procession, he gratified the insane cruelty of his nature by cracking the shaven skulls of all within reach with the weighty head of the idol; and it seems to follow as a matter of course that the Anubis of Apuleius, in order to display alternately an ebon and a golden visage, must have possessed a pair of heads, human and canine, just as he is figured, holding the caduceus and palm upon certain Basilidan gems. Lastly, the mysterious image, too awful to be described, but whose nature is darkly hinted at as neither of bird, beast, nor man. These very expressions would tempt me to believe a compound of all three; in a word, the veritable figure of the Abraxas god. And be it remembered that this image was the "Supreme God," and he, we know, was the IAO of Egypt. This idol must have been of small dimensions, for it was carried in the bosom of the devotee's robe, and my suspicion is strongly confirmed by the existence in the late Mertens-Schaffhausen Collection of a bronze statuette, five inches in height, found in the south of France, and thus described in the Catalogue. "No 2002. Statuette of Iao standing, armed with cuirass, shield and whip; his head in the form of a cock's, his legs terminating in serpents."
107:* Of which a fine example, an intaglio, is figured in the Museum Odescalchum.
108:* But the Demotic writing must have lingered much longer in use, for Capitolinus, cap. 34, mentions the "Egyptian" as one of the current alphabets of the third century. "The soldiers raised a tomb to Gordian at Circeium Castrum, on the confines of Persia; placing upon this edifice (moles) an epitaph in Greek, Latin, Persian, Jewish, and Egyptian letters, so that it might be read by everybody. "Divo Gordiano, victori Persarum, victori Gothorum, victori Sarmatarum, depulsori Romanarum seditionum, victori Germanorum, sed non victori Philipporum."