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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead

p. 387



Hear then, my son, how standeth God and All. God; Æon; Cosmos; Time; Becoming.”—C. H., xi. (xii.) 1.


While rigidly excluding any consideration of the amazing elaboration of Christo-Gnostic æonology, it may not be unserviceable to offer a “few notes in connection with the simpler idea of the Æon. The subject really requires a treatise in itself, but that would, of course, be too lengthy an undertaking for these Prolegomena. 1

Let us, then, first turn to a striking passage which purports to give us the Orphic tradition of the Genesis of the World-Egg, and of the relation of its Glorious Progeny to the Æon.

The passage is of great interest for us in our present enquiry, for if it is not a direct quotation from Apion, the Alexandrian savant, and bitter opponent of the Jews and of Philo, during the first half of the first

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century A.D., it at anyrate represents the view of the Hellenistic theology of that period.

The passage is found in one of the sources of the composite and overworked document known as the Clementine Homilies, 1 and runs as follows:


III. “There was when naught was but Chaos and an indistinguishable mixture of unordered elements still jumbled all together; both Nature herself being witness to it, and great men having thought it must be so.

“And as witness, I will bring forward for you the greatest of the great in wisdom, Homer himself, speaking about the original con-fusion:

“But may you all become water and earth 2

—meaning that thence all things have had their genesis, and that after the dissolution of their moist and earthy essence they are all restored again to their first nature—which is Chaos.

“And Hesiod, in his Theogony, says:

“In truth Chaos came into being the very first. 3

“And by ‘came into being’ he evidently means that

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it was generated as are things generable, and not that it for ever was as are things ingenerable.

“Orpheus also likens Chaos to an Egg in which was the con-fusion of the primordial elements. 1

“This is what Hesiod supposes by Chaos, what Orpheus calls an Egg—a thing generable, projected from the infinity of Matter (Hylē), and brought into being as follows:

IV. “Both fourfold Matter 2 being ensouled and the whole Infinitude being as though it were a Depth (Βυθός), flowing perpetually and indistinguishably moving, and over and over again pouring forth countless imperfect mixtures, now of one kind and now of another, and thereby dissolving them again owing to its lack of order, and engulphing so that it could not be bound [together] to serve for the generation of a living creature—it happened that the infinite Sea itself, being driven round 3 by its own peculiar nature, flowed with a natural motion in an orderly fashion from out of itself into itself, as it were a vortex, 4 and blended its essences, and thus involuntarily the most developed part of all of them, 5 that which was most serviceable for the generation of a living creature, flowed, as it were in a funnel, down the middle of the universe, and was carried to the bottom

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by means of the vortex that swept up everything, and drew after it the surrounding Spirit, 1 and so gathering itself together as it were into the most productive [form of all], it constituted a discrete state [of things].

“For just as a bubble is made in water, so a sphere-like hollow form gathered itself together from all sides.

“Thereupon, itself being impregnated in itself, carried up 2 by the Divine Spirit that had taken it to itself as consort, it thrust forth its head (προέκυψεν 3) into the Light—this, the greatest thing perchance that’s ever been conceived, as though it were out of the Infinite Deep’s universe a work of art had been conceived and brought to birth, an ensouled work [in form] like unto the circumference of eggs, [in speed] like to the swiftness of a wing. 4

V. “I would therefore have you think of Cronus (Κρόνος) as Time (Χρόνον 5), and of Rhea (῾Ρέα) as the flowing (τὸ ρέον) of the Moist Essence; for the whole of Matter being moved in Time brought forth, as it were, an Egg, the whole surrounding sphere-like Heaven (Ὀυρανός), which in the beginning was full of the productive marrow, 6 so that it might be able to bring forth elements and colours of all kinds; and yet the

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manifold appearances which it was ever presenting, all came from One Essence and One Colour.

“For just as in the product of the peacock, although the colour of the egg seems to be one, it has nevertheless potentially in it the countless colours of the bird that is to be brought to perfection, so also the Ensouled Egg conceived from Infinite Matter, when it is set in motion from the perpetually flowing Matter below it, 1 exhibits changes of all kinds.

“For from within the circumference a certain male-female Living Creature is imaged out by the Foreknowledge of the Divine Spirit that indwells in it, whom 2 Orpheus doth call Manifestor (Φάνης—Phanēs), because when he is manifest (φανείς) the universe shines forth from him, through the lustre of Fire, most glorious of elements, perfected in the Moist [Element].

“Nor is this incredible, for in the case of glow-worms, for example, Nature allows us to see a ‘moist light.’

VI. “Accordingly the First Egg that was ever produced being gradually warmed by the Living Creature within it, breaks open, and then there takes shape and comes forth some such thing as Orpheus says:

“When the skull-like 3 wide-yawning Egg did break [etc.]. 4

“So by the mighty power of Him who came forth and who made Himself manifest, ‘the shell’ 5 receives its articulation 6 and obtains its orderly arrangement;

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while He Himself presides as though it were upon a throne on Heaven’s height, and in the [realms] ineffable sends forth His light all round upon the Boundless Æon.”


This is evidently the Logos—the God from the Egg, and the God from the Rock; for the Primal Firmament was symbolised as Rock, as Adamant; just as in physical nature, the life-spark appears from the mineral kingdom.

The Logos presides in highest heaven, in the ineffable spaces, whence He sends out His rays upon the Æon, that Bound of Bounds which is itself Boundless. For the Egg may be thought of as the Boundary of some special universe or system; whereas the Æon is the Boundary of all universes.

The information given in this quotation purports to be the Orphic tradition of cosmogony; with this cosmogony all Hellenistic theologians would be familiar, and therefore we are not surprised to find many points of contact between it and the general ideas in our “Pœmandres” cosmogenesis, which, though doubtless having an original nucleus of Egyptian tradition in it, is nevertheless strongly overworked by minds that were also saturated with the mingled traditions of Plato, Pythagoras, and Orpheus.

Indeed, both “Plato” and “Pythagoras,” on their mystical side, are strongly tinged with “Orpheus.” Now, Orphicism was the revival of pre-Hesiodic Orphism initiated by Onomacritus under the Peisistratidæ. Original Orphism was, in my opinion, a blend of Hellenic Bardic lore with “Chaldæan” elements. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the “Books of the Chaldæans,” collected for the Alexandrian Library, were

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turned into Greek, great interest should have been taken in them by Hellenistic scholars, who found therein a confirmation of the Greek Wisdom of Orpheus, little suspecting that that Wisdom was in origin partially from the same source.


In illustration of this Chaldæo-Orphic symbolical cosmogony as “philosophised” in a Hellenistic Gnostic environment, we will quote from a system ascribed by Hippolytus to the Sēthians (a name indicating an Egyptian environment), and brought by him into the closest connection with those whom he calls the Naassenes—that is to say, with what he considers to be one of the earliest forms of the Christian Gnosis, but which, as we have shown, is a form of the pre-Christian Gnosis overworked in Christian terms about the middle of the second century. Of these Sēthians, Hippolytus 1 tells us as follows:

“They think that there are Three Principles 2 of the universals having certain definite boundaries, and yet that each of these Principles possesses boundless potentialities.

“Now, the Essences of these Principles (he says) are Light and Darkness; and in the midst of these is pure Spirit.

“The Spirit, however, that is set in the midst of the Darkness that is below and of the Light that is above, is not a spirit [or breath] like a blast of wind or some light breeze that can be felt; but is as it were the delicate scent of unguent or of incense compounded and

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prepared,—a force of fragrance that travels with a motion so rapid as to be quite inconceivable and far beyond the power of words to express.

“Now, since Light is above and Darkness below, and Spirit in some such way as I have said between them,—the Nature of the Light is that it shines forth from above, like a ray of the sun, into the Darkness beneath, while that of the fragrance of the Spirit, which has the middle rank, is, contrary wise, that it extends itself and is carried in every direction; just as in the case of incense on a fire, we see its fragrance carried in every direction.

“And such being the Power of the triply divided [Principles], the combined Power of the Spirit and Light descends into the Darkness which is set beneath them.

“And the Darkness is an awesome Water into which the Light together with the Spirit is drawn down and transferred.

“The Darkness, however, is not without understanding, but quite intelligent, and it knows that if Light were taken from Darkness, Darkness would remain isolated, unmanifest, 1 splendourless, powerless, ineffectual, strengthless.

“Wherefore is it constrained with all its intelligence and understanding to hold down to itself the lustre and spark of the Light together with the fragrance of the Spirit.

“And one can see an image of the nature of the latter in a man’s face—[namely] the pupil of the eye, 2 which is dark because of the waters underlying it, yet illumined by Spirit.

“As, therefore, the Darkness contends for the Splendour, in order that it may make a slave of the

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[paragraph continues] Light-spark and see, so also the Light and the Spirit contend for their own Power; they strive to raise and bring back to themselves those powers which are mingled with the dark and awesome Water beneath.

“Now all the powers of the three Principles, being infinitely infinite in number, are sagacious and intelligent each according to its own essence. And though they are countless in multitude, yet, being sagacious and intelligent, as long as they remain by themselves, they are all at peace.

“If, however, one power is brought into contact with another power, the dissimilarity in their juxtaposition brings about a certain motion and energy that takes its shape from the concurrent motion of the juxtaposition of the contacting powers. 1

“For the con-currence of the powers constitutes as it were the impression (τύπος) of a seal struck off by concussion 2 so as to resemble the [die] that stamps the substances brought into contact with it.

“Since then the powers of the three Principles are infinite in number, and from the infinite powers are infinite concurrences, images of infinite seals are of necessity produced.

“These images, then, are the forms (ἰδέαι) of the different kinds of living creatures.

“Now from the first mighty concurrences of the three Principles there resulted a mighty type of seal—Heaven and Earth.

“And Heaven and Earth have a configuration

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resembling a Womb, with the embryo 1 in the middle; and if (he says) one would bring this to the test of sight, let him scrutinise scientifically the gravid womb of whatsoever living creature he wishes, and he will find the model of Heaven and Earth and of all things between them lying before him without any alteration.

“So the configuration of Heaven and Earth was such that it resembled a Womb as it were, according to the first concourse [of the three Principles].

“And again in the midst of Heaven and Earth infinite concourses of powers occurred, and every single concourse effected and expressed the image of nothing else but a seal of Heaven and Earth—a thing resembling a Womb.

“And in the Earth itself there developed from the infinite seals of different kinds of living creatures, [living things] still more infinite.

“And into all this infinity below the Heaven in the different kinds of living creatures, the fragrance of the Spirit from above together with the Light was sown and was distributed. 2 . . .

“Accordingly there arose out of the Water a first-born source—Wind vehement and boisterous—and cause of all genesis.

“For by making a certain seething 3 in the waters it 4 raises up waves from the waters.

“And the genesis of the waves, being as it were a

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certain pregnant 1 impulse, is the source of the production of man or mind, whenever [this motion] quickens under the impulse of the Spirit.

“And whenever this wave, raised from the Water by the Wind, and rendering nature pregnant, receives in itself the power of production of the female, it keeps down the Light from above that has been sown into it together with the fragrance of the Spirit,—that is to say, mind that takes forms in the various types; that is a perfect god, brought down from the Ingenerable Light from above and Spirit into a human nature, as into a temple, by the course of Nature and motion of the Wind, generated from Water, commingled and blended with bodies, as though he were the salt of existing things and the light of the Darkness, struggling to be freed from bodies, and unable to find liberation and the way out of himself.

“For as it were a very minute spark . . . like a ray 2 . . . .

“Every thought and care of the Light above, therefore, is how and in what way mind may be liberated from the Death of the evil and dark Body, 3 from the Father below, who is the Wind that in ferment and turmoil raised up the waves and brought to birth perfect mind, son of himself, and yet not his own in essence.

“For he was a ray from above, from that Perfect Light, overpowered in the sinuous 4 and awesome and bitter 5

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and blood-stained Water; and that Light is the Spirit of Light borne upon the water. 1 . . .

“But the Wind, being both boisterous and vehement in its rush, is in its whistling 2 like unto a Serpent—a winged one.

“From the Wind, that is from the Serpent, the source of generation arose in the way that has been said; all things receiving together the beginning of generation.

“When then (he says) the Light and the Spirit have been received down into the impure and disorderly Womb of manifold suffering, the Serpent—the Wind of the Darkness, the First-born of the Waters—entering in generated man, and the impure Womb neither loves nor recognises any other form. 3

“And so the Perfect Logos of the Light from above having made Himself like unto the Beast, the Serpent, entered into the impure Womb, having deceived it 4 through His similitude to the Beast; in order that He may loose the bonds that are laid upon the perfect mind that is generated in the impurity of the Womb by the First-born of the Water—Snake, Wind, Beast.

“This (he says) is the Servant’s Form; 5 and this is

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the necessity of the Descent of the Logos of God into the Womb of the Virgin.

“But it is not sufficient (he says) that the Perfect Man, the Logos, has entered into the Womb of the Virgin and loosed the pains that are in that Darkness; nay, but after entering into the foul mysteries in the Womb, He washed Himself and drank the Cup of Living Water bubbling-forth—a thing that everyone must do who is about to strip off the Servant-Form and put on the Celestial Garment.”

There can be little doubt but that the main ideas in the background of this system of the Gnosis are closely connected with general Orphic and Chaldæan ideas, and also with the main schematology of our “Pœmandres” tractate.

From the Orphic tradition handed on by Apion we have seen that the Æon is the Circle of Infinitude and Eternity illumined by the Logos.


The whole of this Orphic lore (in other words, the Chaldæan wisdom-teaching) seems to me to be summed up in one division of the symbolism of the Mithra-cult, as may be seen by an inspection of the monuments reproduced by Cumont, and especially those of the mysterious figure which he calls “la divinité léontocéphale,” and the birth of the God from the Rock; this seems to point, as we might very well suspect, to a strong Chaldæan element in the Mithriac tradition.

Cumont 1 tells us that although some scholars have rejected the name of “Mithriac Æon,” which was

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given by Zoëga to this awe-inspiring mystic figure, 1 in his opinion (and he knows more of the subject than any other authority) it may very well have been actually called Æon in the sacred books of the mysteries.

If, however, this was the case, the mystic meaning, says Cumont, was of such a nature that it was concealed from the profane.

Our classical authorities inform us that the Magi expressed the name of the Supreme God, which was in reality ineffable, by various substitutes. The general name for the Mystery Deity was Cronus, and Cronus in the sense of Time.

“The Mithriac Cronus is a personification of Time, and this fact, which is now fairly established, permits us immediately to determine the identity of this pseudonymous God.

“There is only one Persian divinity which he can possibly represent, and that is Zervan Akarana, Infinite Time, whom, from the time of the Achemenides, a sect of the Magi placed at the origin of things, and from whom they would have both Ormuzd and Ahriman to have been born.

“It was this God that the adepts of the mysteries placed at the head of the celestial hierarchy, and considered as the first principle; or, to put it differently, it was the Zervanist system that the Mazdæans of Asia Minor taught to the Western followers of the Iranian religion.”

This all seems to me to point not to a Persian origin

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of the Æon, as Cumont supposes, but to a Chaldæan element dominating the Mithriac form of the Magian tradition. 1


Now the Chaldæan and Egyptian wisdom-cultures had many root-ideas in common (were they not regarded by the Greeks as the wisdom-traditions par excellence?); we are not therefore surprised to find that Egypt, with its ever-recurring grandiose mystery-phrases of enormous time-periods, such as “He of the millions of years,” had on its own soil a highly developed idea of Eternity and of Eternities—that is, of the Æon and of the Æons; and indeed the strongly Egyptian forms of the Gnosis, which we have preserved to us under Christian overworking, are involved in the most complex æonology.

It seems, however, almost as though the evidence suggests that this Egyptian element had been revivified, and rescued from the oblivion in which it had been buried in a decadent age, in the symbolism of an almost forgotten past, by a stream of Chaldæan ideas that poured into Hellenistic circles in the early Alexandrian period. When precisely the Æon-idea forced itself upon the philosophic mind of Alexandrian thinkers as an unavoidable mystic necessity, it is difficult to say with any certainty. It can, however, be said without fear of serious contradiction that it may have done so from early Ptolemaic times, and with certainty that it did so in the first century B.C. as truly as in the first century A.D.

That the term Æon was in frequent use in the

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popular Hermes-cult may be seen in Hermes-Prayer v. 4, where Thoth is characterised as the “Æon of the Æons who changes himself into all forms in visions.” So also in Prayer viii. 2, the Good Daimon, who has different names given him in the different hours, is called “Wealth-giving Æon.” So also with Isis, who is called Wisdom and Æon in the Papyri. 1

In conclusion, we may glance at what Reitzenstein (pp. 272 ff.) has to say concerning this “Aionenlehre.”


The name Abraxas, which consisted of seven elements or letters, was a mystery-designation of the God who combined in himself the whole power of the Seven Planets, and also of the Year of 365 days, the sum of the number-values of the letters of Abraxas working out to 365. This mysterious Being was the “Year”; but the Year as the Eternity, also conceived of in a spatial aspect, as the Spirit or Name that extends from Heaven to Earth, the God who pervades and full-fills the Seven Spheres, and the Three Hundred and Sixty-five Zones, the Inner God, “He who has His seat within the Seven Poles—ΑΕΗΙΟΥΩ,” as the Papyri have it, and also without them, as we shall see.

The mysterious formula “the Name of which the figure is 365” meets us in such connections, that it cannot be taken to mean simply the “Year-God,” but is a synonym of the Highest God, a secret, mysterious Being. In brief it was, as we have seen, no other than the Lion-headed God, called in Greek Æon.

Indeed, we know from Philo of Byblos 2 that, at least in his day, the second half of the first century A.D. (and,

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for all we know, prior to it), there were in Phœnicia communities of the Æon—of the Highest and Supercelestial One.


The first dated use of the word in a religious sense is found in Messala (who was Consul, 53 B.C.), as Johannes Lydus tells us. 1 Moreover, Lydus informs us that the Ancients (οἱ πάλαι) celebrated a Feast of the Æon on January 5th. 2 This can be no other than the Feast of which Epiphanius gives us such interesting details in treating of the Epiphany, when he writes, after describing the festival in the Koreion at Alexandria: 3

“And if they are asked the meaning of this mystery, they answer and say: To-day at this hour the Maiden (Korē), that is the Virgin, has given birth to the Æon.” 4

In the next paragraph Epiphanius designates this Æon as the Alone-begotten. Here, then, we have striking evidence that in its Egyptian environment the cult of the Æon was associated with mystery-rites reminding us strongly of the symbolism of the Christ-mystery.


Moreover, Messala 5 tells us of this Æon, that He “who made all things and governs all things, joined

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together by means of the surrounding Heaven the power and nature of Water and Earth, heavy and downward, flowing down into the Depth, and that of Fire and Spirit, light and rushing upward to the measureless Height. It is this mightiest power of Heaven that hath bound together these two unequal powers.”

Lydus (ibid.) furthermore tells us that the idea of the Æon was associated by the Pythagoreans with the idea of the Monad; indeed, they seem to have derived the word aiōn from ἰά, the Ionic form of μία (one).

Any attempt to refer this Pythagorean identification to the earlier Pythagoreans would be at once rejected by the majority of scholars, but I believe myself that the original Pythagoreans were far too close to the Borderland between mythology and philosophy not to have personified or at least substantiated their “Numbers” and the Source of them. At anyrate it is highly instructive to find Plato himself writing in the Timæus:


“And when the Father who begot it [the Cosmos] saw that by its motion and its life it had become a likeness of the Everlasting Gods, He marvelled, and in delight determined further to make it still more like its Original. 1 And as the latter is an Everlasting Living Being, He sought to make this [Sensible] Universe as far as possible like it.

“Now the nature of the Living Being was eternal (αἰώνιος—æonian); but to bestow this quality entirely on a generable creature was not possible.

“Accordingly He determined to make a moving

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image of Eternity (Αἰῶνος); and so in setting the Heaven in order He makes it an everlasting (αἰώνιον) image, moving according to number, of Eternity (Αἰῶνος) that rests in One—an image which we have, you know, called Time.” 1

Here it is very plain that Æon is not Time, but the Paradigm thereof—Eternity. It is the Consummation of the Eternal Gods—namely, the Plērōma, the Monad par excellence. We, therefore, find already in Plato the idea of the Æon fully developed. Did Plato “invent” it? Or did he put an already existing idea into philosophical terms? He presumably found it already existing. Was it then Orphic (Pythagorean), or did he learn of it in Egypt? Who shall say precisely?


Seeing, however, that we find the idea of the Æon fully developed in Plato, and seeing that Plato was, so to speak, scripture for our Hermetic writers, it is exceedingly puzzling that we should find it apparently introduced at a certain stage into the Trismegistic literature as a new doctrine.

It may be, however, that those who had followed Plato on purely philosophical lines had hitherto paid little attention to the idea of the Æon, except as an ultimate principle beyond the reach of speculation. When, however, the enthusiastic seership of mysticism dared to soar beyond heaven into the Heaven of heavens, and so to divide the Simplicity into an Infinitude of Multiplicity, the term Æon came to be used no longer for a transcendent unity but as the connotation of a grade of Being.

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It may then have been that our Hermetic writers reasserted the use of the term in its simpler philosophic meaning as a check to over-enthusiastic speculation.

But even if it were a reaction against a too great luxury of speculation, it must have been contemporaneous with the development of æonology; so that in any case C. H. xi. (xii.) must be dated from this point of view.

When æonology arose we cannot say precisely; but æonology in the Gnostic sense of the term was, as we have seen, to some extent at least existing as early as the earliest Christian documents.


Now though the Trismegistic tractate C. H., xi. (xii.) is evidently in literary contact with the Timæus, 1 it nevertheless purports to give more “esoteric,” or at any rate more precise, instruction than is to be found in Plato’s famous cosmogonical treatise. It does not follow Plato, but hands on an instruction that has already been formulated in a precise and categorical fashion. The ladder of existence is God, Æon, Cosmos, Time, Genesis;—each following one from the other.

Æon is the Power of God (§ 3), whereas Cosmos is God’s creation and work (§§ 3, 4). The Æon, standing between God and Cosmos, is the Paradigm, and so also the Son of God (§ 15), and the final end of man is that he should become Æon (§ 20)—that is, Son of God. Æon is thus evidently the Logos of God, or the Intelligible Cosmos, as distinguished from the Sensible Cosmos. This

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[paragraph continues] Æon is the Fullness in which all things move, and chiefly the Seven Cosmoi (§ 7).


Now, Reitzenstein (pp. 274 ff.) shows very clearly that the Cult of the Saeculum or Æon was strongly developed in Roman theology in at least the first century B.C. This is too early a date for us to assign this development to the influence of the Mithras-cult. Can it then be that Rome was influenced by Egypt? Such at anyrate is Reitzenstein’s opinion (p. 277), who points to the fact that Messala, who is fully imbued with the Æon-idea, was a contemporary of Nigidius, the most learned of the Romans after Varro, and a Pythagorean philosopher of high attainments. Now it is remarkable that in his work, De Sphæra Barbarica, Nigidius treats of the Egyptian Sphere.


Egypt, as we have already remarked, at a very early date arrived at the idea of eternal or at anyrate of enormously long periods of time, and had symbolised this conception in a primordial syzygy or pair of Gods. Indeed, the names of the primordial Time-pair, Ḥḥw (Ḥeḥu) and Ḥḥt (Ḥeḥut), are immediately derived from “Ḥḥ,” generally translated “Million,” but by Brugsch and others as Æon. 1 All the Egyptian Gods were Lords of the Eternity or of the Eternities. But not only so, the

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term “eternity” was used in connection with definite time-periods; for instance, “in a million (or eternity) of thirty year periods.” And again: “Thy kingdom will have the lastingness of eternity and of infinitely many hundred-and-twenty-year periods; ten millions of thy years, millions of thy months, hundred-thousands of thy days, ten-thousands of thine hours.” 1

Here we must remark the numbers 120 (that is 12 × 10) and 30; all essential numbers of the Gnostic Plērōma of Æons.

It is also of interest in connection with the Time-pair, to note that Horapollo, the Alexandrian grammarian, tells us that the Egyptians when they desire to express the idea of Æon write “sun and moon” 2 (i. 1), and when they want to write “year” they draw “Isis,” that is “woman” (i. 3).

We thus see that in Egypt there were Æons of Periods or Years, and Years of Æons. Above all these ruled the God of the Æons, the highest God of many a mystic community.


And so we read the following song of praise to the Æon, inscribed on a “secret tablet” by some unknown Brother of a forgotten Order:

1. “Hail unto Thee, O thou All-Cosmos of æthereal Spirit! Hail unto Thee, O Spirit, who doth extend from Heaven to Earth, and from the Earth that’s in the middle of the orb of Cosmos to the ends of the Abyss!

2. “Hail unto Thee, O Spirit who doth enter into me, who clingeth unto me or who doth part thyself from

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me, according to the Will of God in goodness of His heart!

3. “Hail unto Thee, O thou Beginning and thou End of Nature naught can move! Hail unto thee thou vortex of the liturgy 1 unweariable of [Nature’s] elements!

4. “Hail unto Thee, O thou Illumination of the solar beam that shines to serve the world. Hail unto Thee, thou Disk of the night-shining moon, that shines unequally! Hail, ye Spirits all of the æthereal statues [of the Gods]!

5. “Hail to you [all], whom holy Brethren and holy Sisters ought to hail in giving of their praise!

6. “O Spirit, mighty one, most mighty circling and incomprehensible Configuration of the Cosmos, celestial, æthereal, inter-æthereal, water-like, earth-like, fire-like, air-like, like unto light, to darkness like, shining as do the stars,—moist, hot, cold Spirit!

7. “I praise Thee, God of gods, who ever doth restore the Cosmos, and who doth store the Depth away 2 upon its throne of settlement no eye can see, who fixest Heaven and Earth apart, and coverest the Heaven with thy golden everlasting (αἰωνίαις) wings, and makest firm the Earth on everlasting thrones!

8. “Thou who hangest up the Æther in the lofty Height, and scatterest the Air with thy self-moving blasts, who mak’st the Water eddy round in circles!

9. “O Thou who raisest up the fiery whirlwinds, and makest thunder, lightning, rain, and shakings of the earth, O God of Æons! Mighty art thou, Lord God, O Master of the All!” 3

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Here there is no separation of God as intra-cosmic and extra-cosmic; He is both the one and the other. He is both the Fullness of the Godhead and also the Fullness of Cosmos. He is both the Cosmos, and He who is above the Cosmos and below the Cosmos. 1


Reitzenstein (p. 278), referring to our Trismegistic tractate, C. H., xi. (xii.), points to the distinction made between Æon and God on one side and Æon and Cosmos on the other. This, he thinks, shows signs of the influence of a fundamental trait of Hellenistic theology which makes the Demiurge the Second God.

However this may be, there certainly was a distinction drawn between the Creative, or rather Formative, God and the Supreme Deity, in many a Christian Gnostic System, and not unfrequently of a very disparaging nature to the former. Already in Jewish mystic and philosophic (Gnostic) circles a distinction had had to be drawn between the idea of God as the Creator God, and the idea of God as the Ineffable Mystery of Mysteries. This had been necessitated by the contact of the Jewish Gnostics with the old wisdom-ideas and with the fundamental postulates of Greek philosophy.


Many examples could be given, 2 but we prefer to follow Reitzenstein (p. 279) in his references to the Magic Papyri, or Apocryphal literature of the same class,

p. 411

and append the translation of two striking quotations, as opening up an entirely novel side of the subject.

Thus in the eighth Book of Moses, we find the following passage in which the Jewish Creator God is placed in the second rank as compared with the Egyptian Supreme Principle.

“And God, looking down unto the earth, said: IAŌ! And all stood still, and then came into being from His Voice a Great God, most mighty, who is Lord of all things, who caused to stand the things that shall be; and no longer was there any thing without order in the æthereal realms.” 1

So also in an invocation to an unknown God, most probably to the Spirit to whom the Brother of the unknown community addressed his praise-giving as given above—we meet with the same distinction.

“Thee, the only and blest Father of the Æons, I invoke with prayers like unto Cosmos! 2

“Come unto me who fillest the whole Cosmos with thy Breath, and dost hang up on high the Fire out of the Water, 3 and dost from out the Water separate the Earth. . . . The Lord bore witness to thy Wisdom, that is the Æon, and bade thee to have strength as He Himself hath strength.” 4

And, later on, the Theurgist exclaims:

“Receive my words as shafts of fire, for that I am God’s Man, for whom was made the fairest plasm of spirit, dew 5 and earth.”

He is a Man whose words are effective and bring all

p. 412

things to pass; for his “words” are compelling “acts,” or “theurgic.”

Other passages are brought forward by Reitzenstein (pp. 280-286) to show that the idea of the Logos or Æon as Second God was a fundamental conception in Hellenistic theology.

This may very well have been the case in general Hellenistic theology; but in philosophical circles, as we have pointed out in treating of the Logos-idea in Philo, the distinction was formal and not essential. So also in our Trismegistic treatises, which are saturated with transcendental pantheistic or monistic, or rather panmonistic, conceptions, if the Logos or Æon is momentarily treated of as apart from Supreme Deity, it is not so in reality; for the Logos is the Season of God, God in His eternal Energy, and the Æon is the Eternity of Deity, God in His energic Eternity, the Rest that is the Source of all Motion.

For the fullest exposition of the Æon-doctrine in our Trismegistic tractates, see The Perfect Sermon, xxx.-xxxii., and my commentary thereon.


387:1 From Prof. Montet’s report (Asiatic Qr. Rev., Oct. 1904) of the “Proceedings of the Second International Congress of the History of Religions” (Bâle), Aug. 20-Sept. 2, 1904, I see that Reitzenstein presented a monograph on the “Aion” to the Congress. I do not, however, know whether this has yet been published.

388:1 Clement. Hom., VI. iii. ff.; ed. A. Schwegler (Stuttgart, 1847), pp. 168 ff.; ed. P. de Lagarde (Leipzig, 1865), pp. 74 ff. See also Lobeck, Aglaophamus, pp. 475, 478; and my Orpheus, pp. 156 and 162, 163. For the latest critical view on the Apion-speeches, see Waitz (H.), Die Pseudoklementinen Homilien und Rekognitionen (Texte und Untersuchungen, Neue Folge, Bd. X. Hft. IV.), pp. 251-256, “Der Dialog des Klemens mit Appion über die heidnische Mythologie.”

388:2 Il., vii. 99. Cf. the Earth-and-Water of C. H., i. 5.

388:3 Theog., 116.

389:1 Orpheus apparently does nothing of the kind, but draws a distinction between Chaos and the Egg.

389:2 Cf. the Pythagorean Tetraktys, in the famous oath—“The Fourfold Root of Ever-flowing Nature.”

389:3 Or impelled or pushed in every direction.

389:4 Thus forming the Vortex Atom of the Cosmos.

389:5 The text reads: καὶ οὕτως ἐξ ἀκουστοῦ τῶν πάνπων τὸ νοστιμώτατον. As ἐξ ἀκουστοῦ has hitherto proved insoluble for all editors, I would suggest ἐξ ἀκουσίου. As to νοστιμώτατον, L. and S. are of little assistance unless it is taken in the sense of “ripest.” Sophocles gives “essential, valuable, perfect, the best part of any thing.”

390:1 This probably means the Spirit that ensouled Matter; or to use a more familiar expression, the Spirit of God which “brooded over the Deep.”

390:2 Sc. out of the Depth of Matter or Darkness, on to the surface of it, where was the Light.

390:3 Cf. C. H., i. 14: “bent his face downwards” (παρέκυψεν), and note thereon.

390:4 According to Basilides the “wings” of the Sonship are the Holy Spirit. This symbolism is presumably to be connected with the Egyptian “Winged Globe.” See F. F. F., p. 26.

390:5 A very ancient word-play.

390:6 Sometimes used for brain. Cf. C. H., x. (xi.) 11, and the Jewish Commentator in the Naassene Document. This is the Spermatic Essence of the Logos.

391:1 It is thought of as floating in this Matter.

391:2 The Living One.

391:3 κραναίου—an otherwise unknown word. Many emendations have been suggested; but it does not seem to be necessary to go beyond κρανίον, especially as we have seen (for instance, in the Naassene Document) that this was a favourite symbol of the Heaven.

391:4 Unfortunately, the rest of the Orphic quotation is not given.

391:5 Or body—the matter in the Egg.

391:6 ἁρμονίαν—its fitting together, or harmony.

393:1 Philos., v. 19; ed. C., p. 209 ff.; ed. D. and S., pp. 198 ff.; ed. M., 138 ff.

393:2 ἀρχάς—sources or beginnings.

394:1 ἀφανές—the opposite of Phanes.

394:2 Have we here any further clue to the title Κόρη Κόσμου?

395:1 I may be mistaken, but the ideas involved in this exposition seem to be precisely the same as those involved in the most modern dynamic theories of atomicity, except that the atoms or rather monads of our Gnostics are intelligent.

395:2 Lit., con-currence.

396:1 Lit., navel; but the word stands metaphorically for anything like a navel—e.g. the boss of a shield, a knob of any kind; hence any centre, or nucleus.

396:2 Hippolytus here seems to have omitted some important section of his source from his summary; in any case the text of that which follows is very corrupt, and in some important details demonstrably imperfect, as may be seen by comparing the Epitome, X. iv.

396:3 Or ferment.

396:4 Sc. Wind.

397:1 ἐγκύμων—a play on κῦμα, which means embryo as well as wave.

397:2 The text is here destroyed beyond hope of conjecture.

397:3 Sc. Darkness.

397:4 σκολιῷ. Cf. the σκολιῶς of C. H., i. 4.

397:5 Cf, the Naassene Hymn: “She seeks to flee the bitter Chaos”; and compare Jacob Böhme’s “Bitterness,” and also his “three Principles,” with those of our system. The analogies are striking, and yet Jacob could not possibly have known this system physically.

398:1 The following lines are destroyed beyond the power of reconstruction.

398:2 In the case of a serpent this would be “hissing”; σύριγμα, however, is properly the sound of a pipe, and puts us in mind of the Syriktēs of the Naassene Document.

398:3 Sc. than that of the Serpent.

398:4 Sc. the Womb.

398:5 Cf. Philipp., ii. 7: “But He emptied Himself, taking on the Servant’s Form, being made in the likeness of men.” The “emptying” or κένωσις was the change from the πλήρωμα or Fullness of Light to the κένωμα or Emptiness of Darkness. Paul (or the writer of the Epistle, whoever he was) is here using the technical language of the Gnosis.

399:1 Textes et Monuments Figurés relatifs aux Mystères de Mithra (Bruxelles, 1899), i. 76 ff., where all the references are given.

400:1 A Being with lion’s head, and eagle’s wings, and brute’s feet, and human body, enwrapped with a serpent, standing on a globe and holding the keys of life and death in its two hands. There are many variants, however, all of them highly instructive, as pourtraying the Autozoon, or Living Creature in itself, the summation of all forms of life, including man.

401:1 Reitzenstein (p. 276) is also of this opinion.

402:1 R. 270.

402:2 Ap. Euseb., Præp. Evang., I. 10, 7; 34 B.

403:1 De Mens., iv. (ed. Wünsch, p. 64, 6).

403:2 Or rather 6th. Reitzenstein’s (p. 274) gloss (πρὸ εἰδῶν) to ἐπὶ τῆς πέμπτης, is erroneous, for this would make the date January 11th.

403:3 For a translation of the passage, see the Commentary on the K. K. Excerpts in treating of the term “Virgin of the World.”

403:4 Epiphanius, Haer., li. 22; ed. Dindorf, ii. 483. Cf. D. J. L., pp. 410 f., “The Crucifixion and Resurrection Mystery-Rite.”

403:5 Quoted by Macrobius, Saturnal., I. ix.

404:1 That is, the Ideal Cosmos.

405:1 Tim., 37 C, D.

406:1 Cf. § 1: “As many men say many things, and these diverse about the All and Good”; and Tim., 29 C: “If then, O Socrates, since many men say many things about the Gods and the genesis of the All.”

407:1 Budge (op. cit., i. 285) writes: “According to the late Dr Brugsch (Religion, p. 132), the name Ḥeḥ is connected with the word which indicates an undefined and unlimited number, i.e. ḥeḥ; when applied to time the idea suggested is ‘millions of years,’ and Ḥeḥ is equivalent to the Greek αἰών.”

408:1 Brugsch, Wörterbuch, vi. 839.

408:2 The usual symbols for “everlasting.”

409:1 Or service—λειτουργία.

409:2 θησαυρίσας—or treasure away.

409:3 Wessely, Denkschr. d. K. K. Akad. (1888), p. 72, 11. 1115 ff.; R. 277, 278.

410:1 Cf. R. 28; Hermes-Prayer, vii. 1.

410:2 See my Fragments of a Faith Forgotten.

411:1 Dieterich, Abraxas, 184-99.

411:2 That is, presumably, “offerings of the reason,” as our tractates have it; or prayers that put the mind in sympathy with the true order of things.

411:3 The Heaven Ocean.

411:4 Wessely, Denkschr. d. K. K. Akad. (1888), p. 73, 11. 1168 ff.

411:5 Or pure water.

Next: XII. The Seven Zones and their Characteristics