Abraxas - Sacred Names - Khnoubis - The Seven Vowels - The Magic Symbols - The Archangels - Lion-Headed Serpent - The Ineffable Name - Horus - Osiris - Isis - The Crescent Symbol - The Horseshoe - Stable Keys - Serapis - Diana - Bellerophon - Hygiea.


Gnosticism is the name given to a system of religion which came into existence in the Roman Empire about the time Christianity was established; it was founded on a philosophy known in Asia Minor centuries previously and apparently based upon the Egyptian beliefs, the Zendavesta, Buddhism, and the Kabala, with their conception of the perpetual conflict between good and evil.

The name is derived from the Greek Gnosis, meaning knowledge, and, in brief, the Gnostics' belief was that the intellectual world, with its Spirits, Intelligences, and various Orders of Angels were created by the Almighty, and that the visible matter of creation was an emanation from these powers and forces.

The attributes of the Supreme Being were those of Kabala: Wisdom - Jeh, Prudence - Jehovah, Magnificence - El, Severity - Elohim, Victory and Glory - Zaboath, Empire - Adonai; the Gnostics also took from the Talmud the Planetary Princes and the Angels under them.

Basilides, the Gnostic Priest, taught that God first created (1) Nous, or mind, from this emanated (2) Logos, the Word, from this (3) Phronesis, Intelligence, and from this (4) Sophia, Wisdom, and from this last (5) Dynamis, Strength. The Almighty was known as Abraxas, which signifies in Coptic "the Blessed Name," and was symbolised by a figure, the head of which is that of a Cock, the body that of a man, with serpents forming the legs; in his right hand he holds a whip, and on his left arm is a shield. This Talisman (see Illustrations Nos. 102, 103, Plate VII) is a combination of the five emanations mentioned above: Nous and Logos are expressed by the two serpents, symbols of the inner sense and understanding, the head of the Cock representing Phronesis, for foresight and vigilance; the two arms hold the symbols of Sophia and Dynamis, the Shield of Wisdom and the Whip of Power, worn for protection from moral and physical ill.

The Gnostics

The Gnostics had great faith in the efficacy of sacred names and sigils when engraved on stones as Talismans; also in magical symbols derived principally from the Kabala.

One of the most popular inscriptions was iaw (Jehovah), and in Illustration No. 99, Plate VII, this is shown surrounded by the Serpent khnoubis, taken from the Egyptian philosophy, representing the Creative principles, and was worn for Vitality, Understanding, and Protection. The Seven Greek Vowels (Illustration No. 100, Plate VII) symbolised the seven heavens, or Planets, whose harmony keeps the Universe in existence, each vowel having seven different methods of expression corresponding with a certain Force, the correct utterance of these letters and comprehension of the forces typified being believed to confer supreme power, bringing success in all enterprises and giving complete control over all the powers of darkness.

Illustration No. 101, Plate VII, is an example of the use of the Magic Symbols, the meaning of which has been lost. It is probably a composition of the initial letters of some mystical sigil, enclosed by a serpent and the names of the Archangels Gabriel, Paniel, Ragauel, Thureiel, Souriel, and Michael. It was worn for Health and Success; also for Protection from all evils, and it is cut in an agate and set in a gold mount.

A figure of a serpent with a lion's head, usually surrounded with a halo, was worn to protect its wearer from heart and chest complaints and to drive away demons.



Plate 7

The Mystic Aum

The Mystic Aum, already described in the chapter on Indian Talismans, was also a favourite with the Gnostics, and equally popular was a Talisman composed of the vowels I A 12, repeated to make twelve, this number representing the Ineffable Name of God, which, according to the Talmud, was only communicated to the most pious of the priesthood. They also adopted from the Egyptians the following symbols: Horus, usually represented seated on a Lotus, for fertility; Osiris, usually in the form of a mummified figure, for spiritual attainment; and Isis for the qualities mentioned in the previous chapter.