Below is the summary of the Gnostic myths.
- The Perfect, Invisible Spirit and Barbelo
- Sophia and the Demiurge
- Adam and Eve
Before I retell any part of the Gnostic myth, let me just explain why I have included the Gnostic cosmogony in Dark Mirrors of Heaven.
I had found it interesting reading, comparing what most people are familiar with the Genesis and the Gospels. The texts of the Nag Hammadi Library is very different to anything encounter to the Bible. It is controversial, yet it is very enlightening and thought provoking. The Gnostic churches were trying to explain that there was far more to Jesus’ teaching than what is found in the canonical gospels or from the letters of the apostles.
It was for this difference between Gnosticism and the Roman churches at the time that led the Gnostics to be branded as heretics, which was shown in post-Pauline (Orthodox) writings and teaching, and this was followed by the destruction of all Gnostic writings by the fourth century AD. For centuries, the only information we had about the Gnostic writings comes from the writing such as Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, and others like him, who attacked Gnosticism. Luckily a number of Gnostic texts were hidden and preserved in Nag Hammadi, in Egypt, where it was rediscovered in 1945.
There was discovery of another set of writings found around the same time, found in the caves, near Qumran, Israel, in 1947. They are totally different from the Gnostic writings. I am speaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Since, I am interested obscure myth of the creation that is different from the Genesis, what could be more appropriate than ones found in the Nag Hammadi Library.
One of the things you will discover in the Gnostic cosmogony is that you have to re-evaluate the Old Testament Genesis, about the Creator and other celestial beings, about the roles of Adam and Eve, and the belief of the afterlife. Much of the Genesis has changed in the Gnostic texts are found in the Nag Hammadi Library.
The roles of the Creator have changed as well. The so-called Creator of this world, who is the God of Old Testament, was not the true Heavenly Father or the Ultimate Supreme Being that Jesus referred to in the New Testament. This Creator, or Demuirge I should say, was known by the name Yaldabaoth (Ialdabaoth) is an imposter and a jealous god.
I have used a number of Gnostic texts to piece together, the Gnostic version of the Genesis. I have relied on three texts from the Nag Hammadi:
- The Apocryphon of John (ApocJn), trans. Frederik Wisse
- The Hypostasis of the Archons (HArch), trans. Bentley Layton
- On the Origin of the World (OOW), trans. Hans-Gebhard Bethge and Bentley Layton
(Please note that all quotations in blue italic text, come from the above translators.
I shall also list the work in abbreviation to any quotation (eg. – ApocJn).)
The three texts can be found together in the Codex II. There are other texts belonging to this codex, such as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, The Exegesis on the Soul and The Book of Thomas the Contender. There are twelve other codices in the Nag Hammadi Library.
Most of my work in reconstruction of these writing, involved mostly with The Apocryphon of John in the first part – the heavenly beginning, supplementing it with the other two writings, where they differed. Since The Apocryphon of John ended shortly after the birth of Seth, I have used the The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World to complete the Creation according to the Gnostic’s point of view.
There are a number of different variations of the Gnostic Cosmogony, including those texts are not found in the Nag Hammadi Library, such as Irenaeus, though his account is hardly reliable, since his judgement is clouded in vehemently discrediting these writings.
Other sources that I may use, concerning the Gnostic creation, but I chose to ignore it for now, to avoid confusion. These are –
- The Apocalypse of Adam (Adam), trans. George W. MacRae
- The Gospel of the Egyptians (GosEgypt), trans. Alexander Böhlig and Frederik Wisse.
(This tractate followed the Sethian Gnostic creation model, where Seth, son of Adam and Eve, played a major role in the gnosis.)
Though the Gnostic writings was Christian in thought, they also showed Egyptian (Coptic), Greek and Hellenistic influences, as well as the esoteric Judaic.
Now, the following sections are concerned with Gnostic creation myth.
Much of what we know before the creation of the material world and Adam, can be found in the text, titled The Apocryphon of John (Secret Book of John), is a revelation of Jesus to John, son of Zebedee, who was said to have written this down.
In the beginning there was only one invisible Spirit – perfect, pure, holy, immaculate, ageless and virgin. He was the Ineffable One. He is neither corporeal, nor incorporeal. He is invisible because no one can see him, yet he emanated pure, immeasurable light. He is indestructible and eternal. Jesus revealed whom the real Supreme Being or Heavenly Father (in the New Testament), as the First Aeon, and The God. In this text, he was mostly referred to the “invisible Spirit” or “holy Spirit”. In the Gospel of the Egyptians, he is called the “Great, Invisible Spirit”. For the sake of convenient, I will call him Father or Spirit.
The Spirit then look in the spring of life, and by the power of His thought, brought forth a feminine being, whose light was like His, and her power was also like his. She was the emanation of Him, His feminine counter-part. She was known as Barbelo, the forethought of all, and the perfect Aeon.
The Spirit bestowed upon her the following five powers:- the image of the invisible Spirit (first man or human), foreknowledge, indestructibility, eternal life and the truth.
From the pure light that emanated from her and surrounding Him, a spark ignited from him and she conceived another pure light – the “Only-Begotten Child” of His, or the divine Autogenes as the text called him. The divine Autogenes was the aeon Christ – the “Anointed One”.
Like his father and mother, Autogenes (Christ) was pure and holy. Everything the Son (Autogenes/Christ) have done, he work for the glories of his Father (Spirit) and Mother (Barbelo). Here are the Gnostic holy Trinity – Father, Mother and Son, like the Orthodox concept of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the three perfect aeons. Actually the Holy Trinity was perhaps conceived by the Egyptian myth, who often grouped gods into three – god, goddess and child. Example of this can be shown in the Triad of Heliopolis – Osiris, Isis and Horus.
The Autogenes, like other aeons, was androgynous. Therefore, he had a female counterpart of him, which is Mirothoe, according to the Gospel of the Egyptians (GosEgypt).
From the Spirit and Christ, they produced four helpers for Autogenes (Christ), known as the Luminaries or the Light Aeons. Under each light-aeon, there were three aeons, making a total of twelve aeons.
- The light-aeon Armozel (or Harmozel) was the first angel, and with him, was three aeons – grace, truth and form.
- The second light-aeon was Oriel (or Oroiael; possibly the archangel Uriel), with three other aeons – conception, perception and memory.
- The third light was Daveithai, who was in company of understanding, love and idea.
- The fourth light aeon was Eleleth, and with him – perfection, peace and wisdom (Sophia).
All four light aeons and twelve aeons served Autogenes (Christ). Christ works on the Spirit’s will, while the Spirit works through Christ. Four other beings dwelled with four Luminaries. Pigera-Adamas or Adamas, the perfect human being (Cosmic Man), lived with Armozel. Seth, the son of Adamas, dwelled with Oriel. The Posterity of Seth, or the souls of holy people, lived with Daveithai. Finally, the last aeon known as the Souls, those who are not acquainted with the truth or gnosis until later, dwelled with Eleleth.
It is at this point that the text shifted its focus away from the Triad, to the lowest and the youngest of the twelve aeons – Sophia (the aeon of Wisdom).
Most Gnostics see Sophia or “Wisdom” as the most important aeon, after the Autogenes (Christ). Sophia was important, because she set in motion the creation of the material world.
Sophia was a Greek name for wisdom. Another name frequently associated with Sophia, was Pistis or “Faith”. Sometimes Pistis was seen as a separate being, where she was seen as the mother of Sophia, but often Pistis was just another name for Sophia. Frequently, various texts used the two name together, as Pistis Sophia, as in the The Hypostasis of the Archons.
Sophia as the mother, should not be confused with Barbelo, the perfect mother. Whereas Barbelo was known as “Forethought”, Sophia was equated “Afterthought”. Here we see the text is influenced with these names (Forethought/Afterthought), which can be found in Greek mythology, where the Titan Prometheus or Forethought, hero of mankind, was different from his brother Epimetheus or Afterthought, who married Pandora, the first woman who brought suffering to mankind, ending the Golden Age.
Sophia, probably in pride, tried to emulate the invisible Spirit (Father) in producing Barbelo, by created an image of herself. Meaning that she wanted to produce an offspring, without either consort or the approval of her Father (Spirit). As an aeon, she did have the power to do so, but she wasn’t perfect like the great Spirit, or like the other two perfect aeons, Barbelo and the Autogenes.
She was horrified when she spawned an ugly, imperfect creature – a lion-faced serpent with eyes of fire, whom she called Yaldabaoth.
Sophia cast her offspring out of pleroma, and hid her child within a thick cloud from the other aeons, because of her embarrassment and shame.
Yaldabaoth was the first of the archon (“ruler“) and he stole his mother’s power, so that she wasn’t able to escape from the cloud. Despite gaining Sophia’s aeonic power, he was weak, but he was ambitious and power hungry.
Since the archons, including Yaldabaoth, were androgynous beings, Yaldabaoth fathered twelve archons, giving each a bit of his power. They were named Athoth, Harmas, Kalila-Oumbri, Yabel, Adonaiou (or Sabaoth), Cain, Abel, Abrisene, Yobel, Armoupieel, Melceir-Adonein and Belias. Seven archons would rule seven heavens and five in the abyss, which Yaldabaoth and the archons created. Each archon would rule a heaven (or the abyss), and created 365 angels to help them.
According to The Origin of the World, there is an interesting account about his children. Yaldabaoth created a realm, called matter. And from this matter, Yaldabaoth created seven androgynous offspring, like himself, to rule seven realms or heavens of chaos. Each offspring have masculine and feminine names.
His first son opened his eye for the first time, he said “Eee!”, so Yaldabaoth called his son Eee-a-o, which is ‘Yao’. The second opened his eyes and said “Eh!”, so his father called him ‘Eloai’, while the third said “Asss!” so he was called ‘Astaphaios’.
In his arrogance, Yaldabaoth boasted to the other archons that:
Yaldabaoth was weak and ignorant, because he didn’t realise that were any power greater than him. He thought he was the First. Yaldabaoth had sinned for saying these words, which was why he was called Samael – “the blind god”. He has another name – Saklas, a name usually assigned to Satan.
According to The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World, it was Sophia, who rebuked him and gave him this name, Samael.
According to The Hypostasis of the Archons, after this boast, he challenged the voice:
So Sophia stretch forth her finger and brought limitless light into matter and the region of chaos. The chief archon trembled in fear.
When Yaldabaoth and the other archons heard the voice. They sought this voice and traced the voice to the abyss, where the chief archon saw the reflection of his mother in the water. They want take hold of the image but could not. They were ignorant and weak, because they didn’t understand that the image was reflected from above.
But by announcing this he indicated to the angels who attended him that there exists another God. For if there were no other one, of whom would he be jealous?
If there are no other gods then why would he be jealous?
It was at this point that Sophia realised what she have done, and repented. She prayed to her Father for her deliverance, and the restoration of the power that her son (Yaldabaoth) had stolen from her. Her light was diminishing, since the theft of her power. She was moving about, back and forth.
It was at this point that the voice of the invisible Spirit was heard, rebuking Yaldabaoth and the archons. They trembled in fear, and saw reflected on the water, the image of God (Spirit), in human form.
The arrogant one wanted to recreate the image of God (Spirit) from the reflection of the water, and many archons and angels were involved in the creation of this image. Yaldabaoth tried to create a being in the likeness of the First Man, whom he called Adam or Adama, so he could steal the light (spirit). But his creation was lifeless and without a soul.
To regain her power, Sophia asked the Spirit and Barbelo to aid her. They counsel Yaldabaoth to blow the spirit into the face, so that the body would waken. Yaldabaoth ignorantly blew on the face, so that the spirit and the power of his mother (Sophia) left Yaldabaoth’s own body and entered into the body he had created: Adam became alive.
(Though, according to the The Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World, Yaldabaoth blew and blew, but his breath into the body, but the body wouldn’t rise. The purpose was to put the image (soul) of God into physical body so that they can capture it.)
Yaldabaoth immediately became jealous, because his creation was more powerful and intelligent than him and the other archons. When they brought all sort of animals to Adam, he was able to name each species by their proper names. When they saw that Adam was also luminous and free of evil, they cast him into the lowest plane of existence (Earth).
But Barbelo sent Adam a helper, Epinoia, who was also known as Life (Zoe), so that Epinoia can help Sophia regain her power and place. Eponoia was hidden within Adam’s body. Epinoia secretly gave him the knowledge of how he was created, and taught Adam of how to ascent back to the Pleroma, or the true home of the light (human spirit).
The archons want to confine Adam, so they imprisoned his soul in flesh, and the material body was made mortal. They placed Adam in the earthly paradise (the Garden of Eden), and bound Adam in sleep and place the bond of forgetfulness upon him.
In Adam’s sleep, Yaldabaoth tried to bring Epinoia out of Adam’s body from the rib. However, Epinoia escaped, and the chief archon created another body from the image of the likeness of Epinoia. The new body was a woman, and she didn’t come from Adam’s rib bone like in the Genesis. Epinoia enter the newly created body.
The woman woke first, and saw Adam lying beside her. She spoke with the voice of power “Arise, Adam.”, and Adam woke. Since Yaldabaoth had placed spell of ignorant upon Adam when he was sleeping, so that he would not know the gnosis. The moment Adam woke from the unnatural slumber, he thought that the woman had given him life; he said to the woman:
When Adam woke from his sleep, he saw the woman; he thought. Her real name was Zoe, which means “Life”, but as we all know her in the Genesis, Adam called her Eve.
The chief archon wanted to remain Adam and Eve ignorant, putting them in the false paradise, hoping to keep them as his slave and worship him. So Yaldabaoth told Adam that he may eat any fruit in the garden, but warning him not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Yaldabaoth’s plan was thwarted.
However the fruit of truth would allow them to see the truth, so Jesus told John, and that it was he who brought them the apples to eat, not any serpent (like they say in the Genesis).
The archons placed a curse upon the snake, as well as on Adam and Eve for disobeying them.
Angry with their disobedience, Yaldabaoth put them out of the Garden of Eden. Yaldabaoth saw that Epinoia was within Eve, so that she was luminous. When Yaldabaoth saw that Eve was faithful to Adam, the archon snatched Eve. But Epinoia escaped again, leaving Eve’s physical body before Yaldabaoth raped Eve, and begot two sons upon her. The sons of Yaldabaoth and Eve were named Eloim and Yave, whom we know by their names as Cain and Abel. But in the other Gnostic texts, only Cain was Yaldabaoth’s son, while Abel was Adam’s.
Family of Adam, according to The Apocryphon of John
The results of the rape, Yaldabaoth planted sexual desire into the human race, so that he would have more people to have his counterfeit spirit, who were susceptible to his blandishment and fall into sins and wickedness.
According to the The Hypostasis of the Archons, Yaldabaoth had raped Eve, before Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. When Epinoia left Eve’s body before ravishment, the spirit (Epinoia) entered the snake, who encouraged Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruits.
Like in the Genesis, Cain killed his brother Abel, and God cursed Cain for the murderous deed.
Adam’s real son was Seth, the son of man. Eve said —
It is from Seth’s descendants who would possess the gnosis. The Apocryphon of John went on to say, Sophia prepared a place for the souls in heaven, where Jesus, the incarnation of the aeon Christ would disclose the true knowledge of how to return to their true home in with the Spirit (in pleroma), where they would ascend past the rulers (archons) and be healed of all deficiency and become holy and faultless.
In some Gnostic literature, Seth played a major role.
Here, The Apocryphon of John ended, but The Hypostasis of the Archons continued. The Hypostasis of the Archons is actually quite different in detail, and can be supplemented with another longer text, known as On the Origin of the World.
Seth was a son of Adam and Eve, and he would be ancestor of holy men, before the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Seth was a good man, and faithful follower of the gnosis. Seth has a sister, named Norea, who was even wiser than him. At Norea’s birth, Eve said —
After generations have passed, the archons decided to destroy mankind with the deluge, but save only Noah. Noah was instructed to build an ark. When Norea arrived, Noah refused to allow Norea aboard his ark. Norea blew on the ark, and the flame destroyed the vessel. Noah was forced to build a second ark.
Family of Adam, according to The Hypostasis of
the Archons and the Origin of the World
The archons seeing her power decided to use Norea. Norea, however, defiantly rebuked them, when they claimed that her mother belong to him, as she would be too. Norea claimed that he (Yaldabaoth) was not her God, but a creature of darkness. In anger, Yaldabaoth would have rape her, but she cried out to the True God for help. The evil archons withdrew when the angel (aeon) Eleleth appeared before her.
Eleleth told her that he was here not only to save her, but to teach her about her origin, and the nature of the Enemy (Yaldabaoth). Eleleth told her that she actually has more power than Yaldabaoth. He also described Yaldabaoth’s origin, which is slightly different in details from what I wrote in Sophia and the Demiurge.
Again, he boasted before his offspring that he was the god of entirety. This time, it was Zoe (Life), daughter of Sophia, who rebuked the chief archon. Zoe called him Sakla, and she breathed on him. The breath became a fiery angel, who bound Yaldabaoth and hurled him into Tartarus, which is below the abyss.
One of Yaldabaoth’s offspring witnessed the power of the aeon, repented and changed allegiance. His name was Sabaoth. Sophia and Zoe rewarded Sabaoth, by making ruler of the seventh heaven. On his throne, Zoe sat on his right, to teach Sabaoth about the eighth heaven. On his left, sat the angel of wrath.
Ialdaboth seeing the splendour that his son was given, and the chief archon envy Sabaoth. Ialdaboth was the first to create envy, and from envy he created death. Death engendered countless other offspring. Yaldabaoth placed these beings to rule his seven heavens of chaos. It is Yaldabaoth who brought death to mankind.
Eleleth also prophesied when mankind is release from the hold of the archons, and the spirits of men will return to its true home (pleroma). It would happen at the time of the true man (Jesus), who will reveal the word of truth (gnosis).
Eve played a far more important role than Adam in the Gnostic creation.
The Nag Hammadi Library
James M. Robinson
This book contained a whole collection of the Nag Hammadi Library.
All the translated texts can also be found in on the website – Gnosis Society Library – Nag Hammadi Library. Here are the texts that I’ve used for this page:
- The Apocryphon of John,
trans. Frederik Wisse
- The Hypostasis of the Archons,
trans. Bentley Layton
- On the Origin of the World,
trans. Hans-Gebhard Bethge & Bentley Layton
- The Apocalypse of Adam,
trans. George W. MacRae
- The Gospel of the Egyptians,
trans. Alexander Bohlig & Frederik Wisse
Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations
This book contained only a collection of selected Gnostic texts, including those found in the Nag Hammadi codices. but this is great because it contain annotations along with the translations. This make it easier to understand what was written.
Good News Bible: Today English Version
United Bible Societies
1976; reprinted 1986