A Gnostic Glossary

A Gnostic Glossary

Craig Chalquist, PhD

Truth did not come into the world naked, but in symbols and images. – Gospel of Philip

The Gnostics (“Knowers”) have been around since before the Christian Era. In the years after Jesus died, when Christian study groups proliferated and more than thirty gospels circulated around Jerusalem and Alexandria (and, later, Antioch and Rome), a group gained influence by claiming itself the true inheritor of the authority passed on from Jesus to Peter. This group began codifying its own legalistic version of the teachings, and to bolster its position it attacked the Gnostics for being morally lax and spiritually adventurous. Worst of all (according to “Saint” Irenaeus) was the Gnostic habit of inviting women into spiritual ceremonies, not only as participants but as clergy. These wild Gnostics were also said to interpret dreams. 

When this authoritarian group gained enough power to have itself declared the official version of Christianity in Rome, it narrowed the number of gospels down to four and burned the rest, except for a relative handful hidden away to keep them safe. Some of these surfaced at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, when a very different picture of the early churches (not church) finally came to light.

The Gnostics got their name from the Greek word gnosis, “influential knowledge.” To the Gnostics it came to mean direct experience of the Divine. They had no interest in legalisms or creeds. For them, the world was dominated by evil powers called archons determined to keep humanity in the sleep of ignorance. (After all, had not archontic powers slain the Redeemer precisely for his attempts at awakening the mind and heart?) Some Gnostics were pagans, some Christians, and most revered Sophia, Eve, Mary Magdalene, and other spiritual women as Messengers of Light who bridged the gap between the seeker and the ultimate God in exile, like the world created by His Demiurge, behind the veils of illusion. None of the Gnosics have ever been known to be involved in either warfare or massacre.

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Aberamentho: the mystery name of Jesus.

Abraxas: a redeemed archon with the head of a rooster, the body of a man, and legs like snakes. For Hermann Hesse, a symbol of the union of opposites.

Achamoth (anagram for “Wisdom”): the lower Sophia who remains when the higher one rises back into heaven.

Aeons: personified emanations from God. They include Insight, Mind, Word, Life, Sagacity, Only-Begotten, Ageless, Commingling, Immovable, and many others. In Jungian: they are archetypes. From heaven (called Pleroma, or “Fullness”) to earth, emanations of the feminine energies of God include Protennoia (“First Thought”), Pronoia (“Forethought”), Epinoia (“Insight” or “Imagination”), Zoe (“Life”), Eve (“Living Being”), and her daughter Norea (“Fire” or “Light”). Eve was revered as the first Messenger of Light: one who reconnects humans with the divine, the first exiled on Earth and the second somewhere behind the cosmos.

Agnosia: lacking gnosis.

Allogenes: “alien,” or how gnosis and everything spiritual is perceived by the uninitiated.

Anastasis: inner resurrection. Gnostics often shook their heads at true believers for taking the resurrection of Jesus so literally (see hylicism).

Apokatastasis: the restoration of the entire creation to a state of perfect holiness. Like the alchemists who came after, the Gnostics were concerned with much more than merely personal salvation or self-realization.

Apolutrosis: Gnostic baptism given not to beginners but to adepts as a higher stage of spiritual initiation. 

Apolytrosis: release from worship of the demiurge.

Aponoia: unreason even when the facts are in plain sight. Dogmatic stupidity.

Archons: the “authorities of darkness” who rule our world: shadows cast by the aeons. The power principle in personified form. 

Astroeides (“Body of Stars”): similar to the subtle body of alchemy. Spiritualization of the body from the inside out. 

Autogenes: self-generated. A quality of the spirit.

Barbelo (“bar-BEE-low”): the Barbelo Aeon stands upon three primal powers—Existence, Vitality, and Mentality (or Blessedness)—and contains the archetypes of all things (Zostrianos). The name Barbelo links the words “God” and “four” and refers to the feminine pole of the divine. “We are a shadow of you,” states an invocation to Her from The Three Steles of Seth, “even as you are already a shadow of the preexistent one.”

Basilides: an early Alexandrian Gnostic and the first Christian to write commentaries (now lost) on the early Gospels. He and the Cathars preached the doctrine of reincarnation. 

Bythos: “Depth”: an aeonic term for the primal father god. 

Demiurge: see Ialdabaoth.

Endymion: the shepherd who fell permanently asleep in the moonlight. An emblem of collective sleep.

Epinoia: also called Zoe, or Life, she emanates Barbelo and Eve. Elaine Pagels translates her name as “Imagination.”

Eve: first Gnostic and Messenger of Light who awakened Adam and gave birth to humanity. She is a kind of avatar of the aeon Protenoia (Forethought). When Adam expresses to her his gratitude for being awakened by her, she affirms, “I am the Forethought of pure light, I am the thought of the Virgin Spirit, who raises you to a place of honor. Arise, remember that you have heard…and beware of deep sleep…”

Gnosis: the awakened alternative to hylicism and psychism. Gnosis includes awakening from collective slumber, deep transformation of consciousness, insight into the daimonic processes of the cosmos, and trans-rational self-knowledge connected to the divine.

Hebdomad: the sublunar world, especially of the demiurge and archons. 

Horaia: wife of Seth and a Messenger of Light.

Horos: a cosmic limit that keeps Sophia from approaching the ultimate God directly.

Hylicism: lit. “materialism”: an incapacity to see beyond or below surface reality. Fundamentalistic literalism is an example.

Ialdabaoth (“yahl-DAH-bay-ought”): the tricksterish lower god who created the world. (William Blake called him “Urthona”–Earth Owner–and “Ancient of Days.”) (also Saklas (Aramaic “fool”) or Samael (Hebrew “blind god” and a devilish angel of death)

IAO: the Gnostic version of the chant “aum.”

Jesus: the Messenger of Light who helped luminous Sophia rescue herself from being caught in the darkness of the lower worlds.

Kenoma: a word denoting the ordinary emptiness, meaninglessness, and repetitive time of the world as usually experienced.

Mary Magdalene: the true receiver of the inner teachings of Jesus. In several Gnostic gospels she complains about Peter’s obvious hatred of her for being a woman.

Messenger of Light: a spiritual master who, having achieved a high degree of gnosis, is able to ignite a similar capacity in other people, after which he becomes their colleague rather than their teacher. 

Norea: the fabled daughter of Noah in some accounts; in others the wife of Seth. A Gnostic heroine and Messenger of Light. Her name means “Fire.”

Ogdoad: the heaven of fixed stars and planets. 

Pleroma: “Fullness”: the many-layered Gnostic heaven. Emanations of the ultimate hidden Godhood reach from heaven to earth. For the Gnostics, heaven is a state of abundance, whereas human existence tends to be characterized by alienation and exile.

Pronoia: the aeon “Forethought.”

Protenoia: the aeon “First Thought.” One of the first or primary emanations.

Psychism: getting lost in abstract arguments and intellectual ramblings. 

Sabaoth: a benevolent archon; a son of the demiurge. 

Sethians: “children of Seth,” a legendary Gnostic Messenger of Light. Seth replaced dead Abel as a son of Adam and Eve. In general, Sethian Gnosticism was more ascetic, less concerned with saving the Creation, and closer to its pagan Hebrew roots. 

Simon Magus: His rescue of Helen from a brothel launched a forerunner for the legend of Faust.

Soteria: came to mean “salvation” to the dominant church but actually means “healthiness.”

Syzygy: the tendency for aeons to emanate in complementary pairs (syzygies).

Theletos: spontaneous, natural will, a typical trait of the Valentinian God.

Treasury of Light: the pleroma.

Valentinians: Gnostics who followed the Christian Gnostic Valentinian. They tended to emphasize cosmological considerations, the redemption of all, and spiritual outreach more than their Sethian counterparts.

 

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