Thrice-Greatest Hermes, Vol. 1

LXXX. 1. And [finally] kuphi [*2] is a mixture composed of sixteen ingredients:--of honey, and wine, and raisins, and cyperus; [*3] of pine-resin, and myrrh,

[p. 365]

and aspalathus, [*1] and seseli; [*2] and further of mastich, [*3] and bitumen, [*4] and nightshade, [*5] and sorrel; and in addition to these of both junipers [*6] (of which they call the one the larger and the other the smaller), and cardamum, and sweet-flag. [*7]

2. And these are not compounded in a haphazard way, but with the sacred writings being read aloud [*8] to the perfume-makers when they mix them.

3. And as to their number,--even though it has all the appearance of square from square, and [that too] the only one of equally equal numbers that has the power of making the perimeter equal to the area, [*9] it must be said that its serviceableness for this purpose at least is of the slightest.

4. But the majority of the ingredients, as they possess aromatic properties, liberate a sweet breath and healthy exhalation, by which both the air is changed, and the body being gently and softly moved by the vapour, falls asleep [*10] and loosens the distressing strain of the day's anxieties, as though they were knots, [and yet] without any intoxication.

[p. 366]

5. Moreover, they polish up the image-making and receptive organ of dreams like a mirror, and make it clearer, no less than the playing on the lyre which the Pythagoreans used to use before sleep, thus charming away and sanifying the passionate and reason-less nature of the soul.

6. For things smelt call back the failing sense, and often, on the other hand, dull and quiet it by [their] soothing [effect], when their exhalations are diffused through the body; just as some of the physicians say that sleep is induced when the vaporisation of the food, as it were creeping gently round the inward parts and groping about, produces a kind of tickling.

7. And they use kuphi both as draught and mixture; for when it is drunk it is thought to purge the intestines, [but when applied externally [*1]] to be an emollient.

8. And apart from these [considerations], resin is a work of the sun; and myrrh [comes from] the exudation of the trees under the sun-heat; while of the ingredients of kuphi, some flourish more at night, like all things whose nature it is to be nourished by cool breezes and shade and dew and damp.

9. Seeing that the light of day is one and single, and Pindar tells us that the sun is seen "through empty aether"; [*2] while air is a blend and mixture of many lights and properties, as it were of seeds dropped from every star into one [field].

10. Naturally, then, they use the former as incenses by day, as being single and having their birth from the sun; and the latter when night sets in, as being mixed and manifold in its qualities.


^363:1 Cf. lii. 5.

^363:2 Sc. the resin's.

^363:3 That is, presumably, what was called the "bodily or animal spirits"--the ethers or prana's.

^364:1 The resinous gum of an Arabian tree; probably a kind of acacia.

^364:2 This was also used as a medicine.

^364:3 kypeiroy,--Cyperus comosus, an aromatic plant used in embalming, a sweet-smelling marsh plant. Cf. F. cypere and E. cypres.

^365:1 aspalathoy,--a prickly shrub yielding a fragrant oil; mentioned in the Apocrypha and in some old herbalists. Cf. "I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus"--Ecclus. xxiv. 15. It was not the Genista acanthoclada.

^365:2 seseleus,--the Tordylium officinale; formerly called in English also "cicely."

^365:3 sxinoy,--or may be "squill."

^365:4 asfaltoy.

^365:5 thruon,--or may be "rush."

^365:6 Lit., juniper-berries.

^365:7 kalamoy,--probably Acorus calamus (cf. Ex. xxx. 23 et al.). It is to be noticed that the ingredients are arranged in four sets of four each.

^365:8 That is to the sound of mantrah, as a Hindu would say.

^365:9 Cf. xlii. 2 and figure in note.

^365:10 The kuphi being used at sundown.

^366:1 A lacuna of 8 or 9 letters occurs here in E.

^366:2 Olymp., i. 6.

[p. 367]


So ends this exceedingly instructive treatise of Plutarch, which, in spite of the mass of texts and monuments concerning Asar and Ast which have already been deciphered by the industry of Egyptologists, remains the most complete account of the root mystery-myth of ancient Egypt. The myth of Osiris and Isis goes back to the earliest times of which we have record, and is always found in the same form. Indeed the "Ritual," the "Book of the Dead," which should rather be called the "Book of the Living," might very well be styled "The Gospel of Osiris."

It would be out of place here to seek for the historical origin of this Great Mystery; certainly Osiris was originally something greater than a "water sprite," as Budge supposes. Osiris and Isis were and are originally, as I believe, cosmic or super-cosmic beings; for the Elder and Younger Horus, regarded macrocosmically, were the Intelligible and Sensible Worlds, and, regarded microcosmically, pertained to the mystery of the Christ-stage of manhood.

It may, of course, be denied that the ancient Egyptians were capable of entertaining any such notions; we, however, prefer the tradition of our Trismegistic tractates to the "primitive-culture" theories of anthropological speculation. That, however, such views were entertained in the first centuries is incontrovertible, as may be seen from a careful study of Philo of Alexandria alone. Thus to quote one passage out of many with regard to the two Horoi:

"For that this cosmos is the Younger Son of God, in that it is perceptible to sense. The Son who's older than this one, He hath declared to be no one [perceptible by sense], for that he is conceivable by mind alone.

[p. 368]

[paragraph continues] But having judged him worthy of the Elder's rights, He hath determined that he should remain with Him alone." [*1]

When, moreover, we speak of the Christ-stage of manhood, we mean all that mystery that lies beyond the normal stage of man, including both the super-man stage and that of the Christ.

In any case, Plutarch is of the greatest service for understanding the atmosphere and environment in which the students of the Trismegistic tradition moved, and we have therefore bestowed more care upon him than perhaps the general reader may think necessary.


^368:1 Quod Deus Im.,  section 6; M. 1, 277, P. 298 (Ri. ii. 72, 73).

[p. 369]




WHEN, in a recent book, [*1] I was treating of the Early Church document The Shepherd of Hermas, in connection with the ancient and mysterious Book of Elxai, which, according to Epiphanius, circulated among the Essenes, Nazorenes, Ebionites, and Sampsaeans, I wrote as follows:

"It is also of very great interest to notice the many intimate points of contact between the contents of the Apocalyptic Hermas and the teaching of the Early 'Shepherd of Men' tractate of the mystic school who looked to Hermes the Thrice-Greatest as their inspirer, that is to say, the earliest deposit of the Trismegistic literature. But that is another story which has not yet been told."

At the same time, all unknown to me, Reitzenstein must have written, or have been writing, his learned pages on "Hermas and Poimandres," coming to practically the same conclusion as I had in cruder form expressed several years earlier, when commenting on Hilgers' theory [*2] that the "Shepherd of Men" was

[p. 370]

written in opposition to the "Shepherd of Hermas," and suggesting that if there were any dependence of one on the other, it was in exactly the reverse sense to that of Hilger's assumption. [*1]


Like all the other extant extra-canonical documents of the Early Church, and especially the Antilegomena, as Eusebius calls them, that is to say books disputed in his day but earlier admitted by wide circles into the canon, The Shepherd of Hermas has been submitted to the most searching analysis by modern criticism. Though its unity is still strenuously defended by some scholars, the majority are convinced of its composite nature; and I follow Hilgenfeld, [*2] who detects in the present form of this document three elements, or, so to say, three deposits: (i.) The Apocalyptic--Viss. i.-iv.; (ii.) The Pastoral--Vis. v.-Sim. vii.; (iii.) The Secondary, or appendix of the latest redactor--Simm. viii.-x. "Hermas i." and "Hermas ii." cite nothing from any of the canonical books of the New Testament, and this should be, for most scholars, a striking indication of their early date.


"Hermas ii.," the "Pastoral Hermas," begins as follows: [*3]

1. "Now when I had prayed in my house, and sat me

[p. 371]

down upon my couch, there entered a man of glorious appearance, in the guise of a Shepherd, clad in a white skin, [*1] with a wallet on his shoulders, and a staff in his hand. And he embraced me, and I embraced him. [*2]

2. "And straightway he sat down by my side. He saith to me: I am sent by the most Sovereign Angel, that I may dwell with thee for the rest of the days of thy life.

3. "I thought that he had come to tempt me; [*3] and I say unto him: Who art thou? For I do know (say I) into whose charge I have been given. He saith to me: Dost thou not know? Nay--answer I. I am (saith he) the Shepherd [*4] into whose charge thou hast been given.

4. "E'en as he spoke, his aspect changed, and I knew him, that it was he to whom I had been given in charge."


If we now compare the Greek text of this interesting passage with that of the introductory paragraphs of the "Poemandres," it will be found impossible to refer their striking similarities merely to a common type of expression; the verbal agreements are too precise, and

[p. 372]

stand out convincingly at the first glance, without needing the assistance of the large type in which Reitzenstein (pp. 11, 12) has had them printed in his reproduction of the texts.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the similarity of ideas; for "Hermas" as for "Hermes" the Shepherd is not only a shepherd but a "shepherd of men," even as in a different connection but in the same circle of ideas Peter and others were to become "fishers of men." [*1]

Now, not only on general grounds is it difficult for any one who has carefully studied the two documents, to believe that the writer of the philosophic-mystical treatise not only had the Christian apocalyptic writing before him but took it as his point of departure; but, even if we are still strongly dominated by what has hitherto been the traditional view in all such questions, and cling to the theory that when there is similarity the Christian scripture must necessarily have been first in the field, it is very difficult to believe that a copier of "Hermas" should have left no traces of an acquaintance with the very distinctive feature of the robe and staff and wallet of the shepherd, and of the conversation which follows in what, on this theory, would be the presupposed original.


The mystical representation and thought-atmosphere of the writer or redactor of our present "Poemandres" are far removed from any direct traces of contact with the folk-consciousness, in which the appurtenances mentioned by "Hermas" were the typical literary description

[p. 373]

of a shepherd since the time of Theocritus; [*1] not only so, but this was the symbolic representation of the "Shepherd of Men" in the general Hellenistic religious consciousness. Indeed, we find unquestionable proofs that Hermes was pre-eminently regarded as the "Good Shepherd," and a figure of him with staff and wallet and single robe was a great favourite in the popular cult. [*2]

In one passage [*3] in which mention is made of this wallet and staff, further details are given showing that these simple symbols were well understood. The right hand is raised, and the left holds staff and wallet. Moreover, the staff has a serpent entwined round it, and Hermes is clad in a single robe. Like Isis, he stands upon the world-sphere, which has also a serpent twined round it. Hermes here represents the Mind or Logos, the father-mother (staff and wallet) force of nature; with the "left" he brings into generation, with the "right" he leads souls out of genesis, either to death, or regeneration. In this prayer, Hermes (as the sun) is called "the Shepherd who hath his fold in the West." [*4]

It is to be further remarked that Hermes is in the dress of the "Poor," [*5] and of the "Naked." [*6]

[p. 374]


But to return to Hermas. Why "Hermas" of all names in the world in this connection? We have a large literature in which "Hermes" plays the part of seer, and prophet, and revealer, and writer of sacred scriptures; in it, moreover, he figures as the beloved disciple of the Heavenly Mind, the Shepherd of Men. But what have we in Christian tradition to explain the name "Hermas"? Nothing, absolutely nothing, but contradictory hypotheses which try to discover a historic Hermas so as to authenticate the provenance of what is manifestly, like nearly every similar document of the time, pseudepigraphic. In my opinion, indeed, the very name Hermas betrays more clearly than anything else the "Hermes" source of the Christian writer's setting of part of his most interesting apocalyptic. "Hermas" is because of "Hermes," rather than "Hermes" in answer to "Hermas," as Hilgers would have it.


This, however, does not mean to say that "Hermas" took the setting of the introduction of his Pastoral apocalypses from precisely the same text of the "Poemandres" which now lies before us, for our present text is manifestly the redaction of an earlier form; so that if we could recover the other form we should in all probability find some additional verbal agreement of "Hermas" with "Hermes."

[p. 375]

That the ideas of the "Poemandres" treatise were the mystical and philosophical side of much that appears in the popular cult of the time, may be seen by an inspection of the prayers from the Magic Papyri which we have translated. [*1] In them the Mind, as the Shepherd of Men, and the Revealer of the Light, is clearly set forth. Reitzenstein's view (p. 32), accordingly, is that the Christian writer must have taken his description of the Shepherd from what originally was a fuller text of the "Poemandres" than the one preserved to us, and that this will account for several features which would otherwise be peculiar to "Hermas." This text was in closer verbal agreement with the general language of the popular Hermes religion as preserved to us in the Hermes-Prayers. [*2]


But the direct points of contact between "Hermas" and the Trismegistic literature are not confined to the "Poemandres" document. As the original writer of "Hermas" was dependent on "Hermes" for the setting of the introduction to his Pastoral apocalypses, so also it is highly probable that the redactor was influenced by a lost treatise referred to in the introduction of "The Sacred Sermon on the Mountain," C. H., xiii. (xiv.).

In this treatise reference is made to one of the now lost "General Sermons," [*3] the scene of which also took

[p. 376]

place on a mountain. For in connection with it mention is made by Tat of his passing over a mountain, or ascending a mountain, at the beginning of his noviciate, when he became a "suppliant"; [*1] while it is further stated by Tat that at that stage the doctrine was not clearly explained, but rather hidden in riddles; for that as yet he was not sufficiently purified, and made "a stranger to the world-illusion."

Now, it is remarkable that "Hermas," in the appendix to the book (Sim. ix.), tells us that after these revelations the Shepherd came to him again, and told him that much had not been explained because of his "weakness in the flesh"; but now that he has been strengthened by the Spirit, the Shepherd will explain all "with greater clearness." He then takes him away into Arcadia (a very unexpected locality for a Christian writer in Rome to choose), to a "breast-like mountain," where he has the further teaching revealed to him.

But, strangely enough, it was precisely in Arcadia that the chief Hellenic cult of Hermes existed, as stated by Lactantius, basing himself on the common belief at Rome; [*2] and from Arcadia it was that Hermes, according to a tendency-legend that even at Rome went back at least to the second century B.C., set forth to teach the Egyptians.


Moreover, "Hermas" is throughout strongly tinged with "Gnostic" elements. As I wrote in my last book, [*3] it is practically one of the very numerous

[p. 377]

permutations and combinations of the Sophia-mythus--one of the many settings-forth of the mystic lore and love of the Christ and the Sophia, or Wisdom, of the Son of God and His spouse or sister, the Holy Spirit, of the King and Queen, of the Lord and the Virgin Church. In its most instructive series of visions are depicted the mystic scenes of the allegorical drama of man's inner nature--the mystery-play of all time.

But when we say "Gnostic" we mean much that is also Hellenistic mysticism, and therefore much that is also "Hermetic," for in the Trismegistic literature there is set forth a Gnosis of a far simpler type than in any of the Christian systems technically called "Gnostic."


A striking example of the similarity of ideas of this nature is found in comparing the list of twelve vices and ten (seven and three) virtues, given in C. H., xiii. (xiv.) 7-10, [*1] with "Hermas," Sim. ix. 15, 1-3, where twelve "virgins," each bearing the name of a virtue, are set over against twelve "women clothed in black," each bearing the name of a vice; and with "Hermas," Vis. iii. 8, 7, where seven women, each in turn the mother of the other, are called by the names of seven virtues.

We need not, of course, necessarily suppose any direct contact in this case, though it is curious that the list of virtues occurs precisely in the sermon "On the Mountain"; but both writers clearly move in, or are influenced by, the same circle of ideas, and that, too, ideas of a very special nature.

The above points are sufficient for our purpose, and throw a most interesting light on one element in the

[p. 378]

composition of the very ancient Christian document whose exclusion from the canon, after enjoying for so many years practically canonical authority, is to be regretted.


Now, "Apocalyptic Hermas" is distinctly "anti-Pauline," and perhaps this more than anything else accounts for the final exclusion of the book from the canon; it is therefore in vain to seek in it quotations from any of the Pauline Letters. But what is still more remarkable, neither it nor the "Pastoral Hermas" quote from any of the Canonical Gospels. This argues a very early date.

If, then, we are inclined to accept the statement of the writer of the Muratorian Fragment (c. 170 A.D.) that "Hermas" was written at Rome during the bishopric of Pius (140-c. 155 A.D.), this must refer to the completed work of the last redactor who is held responsible for "Hermas iii.," and who was acquainted with several books of the canon. The "Pastoral Hermas" may thus be fairly pushed back to the beginning of the first century.

We have also to remember--a point which Reitzenstein does not seem to have taken into consideration--not only that the Greek original of our form of "Hermas" is lost, but that the Old Latin version has also disappeared, and that we possess only a Greek retranslation from the Latin. [*1] Under these circumstances, it is still more surprising that such strong traces of direct literary dependence on the original form of the "Poemandres" introduction should still remain in our "Hermas."

[p. 379]


It would, however, in my opinion be a grave mistake to push the theory of literary dependence too far, and to seek to account for the main content of "Hermas" on any theory of direct borrowing from allied sources, or even solely of direct external conditioning by the mystical and theological ideas of the time. There is no a priori reason against the high probability that the original writer was recording some genuine inner experiences, however much, as was the fashion of the time, and of other times and climes, they may have been expanded, interpolated, and polished by literary art.

It is true that all such inner experiences would be strongly conditioned by the prior conceptions, thought-tone, and theological beliefs of the writer, and by the current and traditional types of such experiences known in his day. Indeed, it is very difficult anywhere to meet with the record of visions or apocalyptic utterances which are not so conditioned. The Buddhist seer, sees in the mode of traditional Buddhist conceptions of the unseen; the Hellenic mantis and sibyl find themselves in an invisible world of the familiar nature known to them from the mythologists, and poets, and mystery-traditions; the Egyptian prophet moves amid the familiar topography and schematology of the Amenti of his nation; even an Ezekiel sees in the symbols of the Babylonian cultus; while the Christian mystic invariably finds himself in the conventional heaven of the saints and the hell of the sinners.

It is not, therefore, necessary to follow Reitzenstein (pp. 8-11) in detail, when he seeks to show the strong influence of heathen mystical literature on the early

[p. 380]

[paragraph continues] Christian document we are discussing, and to point to striking parallels between the setting of the first four visions of "Hermas," and the visions of Zosimus, as preserved in the fragments of his "Acts," [*1] or the "Visit to Hades" of Setme and Si-Osiri, and their passing through the Seven Halls, [*2] as partially preserved in the Demotic "Tales of Khamuas." [*3]

It is true that Zosimus, who nourished towards the end of the third century, was a member of the Poemandres community, and, therefore, what he has to say is of great interest to us, for doubtless his visions were strongly conditioned by the Trismegistic tradition and especially by the Isis-type of its literature, and the cognate Egyptian "Books of Hermes"; but the points on which Reitzenstein lays stress seem somewhat too general to allow of our drawing any direct conclusion with regard to "Hermas" and "Hermes."

There is a certain similarity; but our information is too scanty to permit of any precise drawing of general conclusions. There is, however, a valuable piece of information which prevents us from attributing all the similarities which may be noticed purely to the general thought-atmosphere of the times. In one particular at least, we can be more definite.


Zosimus is not the only follower of Thrice-greatest Hermes whose visions are still on record. Crates also

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has left an account of his mystic experiences, though unfortunately transmitted to us only in Arabic translation from the original Greek. [*1]

Crates leaves his body and enters the unseen world. "While I was praying," he writes, "I felt myself suddenly carried into the airs [of heaven], following the same path as the sun and moon." Here he meets with Thrice-greatest Hermes in the guise of "an old man, the most beautiful of men, seated on a chair; he was clad in white raiment, and held a book in his hand resting on the arm of the chair."

Compare this with "Hermas" (Vis. ii. 2, 2): "I see opposite me a chair, and on it a covering of wool white as hail; [*2] then came there an old woman, in shining white raiment, having a book in her hand, and sat down alone."

After this revelation, and when the "old woman" had ceased reading from the book, four young men came and carried off the chair, and departed with it to the East (ibid., 4, 1).

Here again it is of interest to compare this with the introduction to a magical "light-ritual," where the seer has a vision of four men with crowns on their heads who bring in the "throne of the god." [*3]

Crates is taught from the book and bidden to write what he is told. "Make thy book according to the instructions which I have given; and know that I am with thee and will never leave thee till thou hast accomplished all."

So also "Hermas"; compare also the last sentence

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with the phrase in the Introduction to the "Pastoral Hermas": "I am sent . . . that I may dwell with thee for the rest of the days of thy life."

In another vision, Crates is instructed in a dialogue which strongly reflects the style and substance of our Trismegistic sermons. And in yet another he moves in the psychic reflection of the setting of the now for the most part lost Isis-type of the literature, which has a more strongly Egyptian colouring. He is transported to yet another heaven and firmament, and there sees the temple of Ptah (Hephaestus), and the statue of Venus (Isis), which holds converse with him.

He was then evidently saturated with the Trismegistic tradition, and had access to treatises which are now, unfortunately, lost to us, for it is just this type of the literature which shows signs of the more direct influence of Egyptian ideas, and the mention of the temple of Ptah is a striking confirmation that Reitzenstein is on the right track in his analysis of the oldest deposit of the "Poemandres," which he connects with the Ptah-tradition.


That the end and aim of the later Egyptian religion, and of all Hellenistic religious circles in general, was a Gnosis, or definite mystical experience in the form of visions and apocalypses, is manifest on all sides; and that this also was the chief interest of very numerous circles in the Early Church is a fundamental fact in the study of Christian origins which should not be impatiently brushed on one side, or minimised almost to extinction as of no real importance, but which should be restored to the first rank in seeking

[p. 383]

an explanation of the many obscure problems of these early days which no purely objective considerations will solve.

That the General Christian of these days, as of all subsequent centuries, had naturally much to learn in these matters from the trained Mystic, whether of his own faith or of another, is saying nothing to his discredit, for he naturally belonged to the "many" who were striving to become the "few." General Christianity, however, spread so rapidly that the definite cultivation of the spiritual faculties practised by the early contemplatives of the faith soon gave place to a fanatical enthusiasm for a misunderstood monkdom, which swamped the monasteries with a flood of the "many," who were often without any true vocation for the holy life, and not unfrequently quite ignorant of the elements of contemplation.

We need not speak of the wild fanaticism of warrior monkdom let loose with pick and hatchet and fire-brand to destroy the treasures of religious art throughout the beautiful Hellenic world, but even among the quiet and peaceable brethren there was much ignorance. How unknowing some of these good folk were, we may learn from a naive story, the very simplicity of which convinces the reader of its genuineness.

Perhaps some one may here interject: But this has nothing to do with "Hermas"! Perhaps not; but it has a great deal to do with a proper understanding of the history of the development of General Christianity and its relationship to the deeper religious consciousness of the first centuries. When, then, I read the Greek text of this simple story, as reproduced by Reitzenstein, [*1] I thought that some who could not read

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[paragraph continues] Greek, but who take a very deep interest in such matters, might like to hear it, and so I have set it down in English.


The story runs as follows:

"Abbot Olympius [*1] said that one day a priest of the [Heathen] Greeks came down to Scetis; [*2] he came to my cell and passed the night there.

"Seeing the manner of life of the monks, he saith to me: 'Living in this way, do ye not enjoy visions from your God?' 'Nay!' I answer.

"Then saith the priest to me: 'So long as we duly serve our God with holy deeds, he hideth nought from us, but revealeth unto us his mysteries. And ye, in spite of all your great labours--watchings, keeping silence, disciplines--sayest thou, ye see nought? Assuredly, then, if ye see nought, ye have let evil reasonings come into your hearts which shut you from your God; and 'tis for this cause his mysteries are not revealed to you.'

"And I went and told the elder [brethren] the words of the priest; and they were astonished and agreed that so it was. For impure reasonings do shut off God from man."

I do not exactly understand what is the precise meaning of logismous, which usually means

[p. 385]

"reasonings," and seems on the face of it to suggest that the monks' intellectual grasp of the matter was at fault. It may, however, mean simply that their "thoughts" were impure. But this is not any more satisfactory, for the monks must have known already that impure thoughts were to be driven out.

What is clear is that the "priest of the Greeks" had personal experience of these pious exercises, and came from a circle where such things were normally practised; he, moreover, knew what was the reason for the monks' non-success in contemplation. He knew that it all depended on thought, and that, too, on "good thought," so that the "Good" might descend on the "good," as the Hermes-Prayer (i. 9, 13) says. But he knew more than this; he knew that there was also need of "right thought," of Gnosis as well as of faith, of the proper use of the intelligence and the driving out of erroneous ideas with regard to the nature of God.


But for a final word on "Hermas." This early document was written at Rome; so all are agreed. It would, then, seem necessary to allow of sufficient time for a wide circulation of the older form of the "Poemandres," before it could reach Rome from Egypt. This time could not have been short, for it must be reckoned not by geographical considerations, which are hardly of any consequence in this connection, but by the fact that the "Poemandres" was the gospel of a school that laid the greatest possible stress on secrecy. How, then, could a Christian writer have got possession of a copy? Had the pledge of secrecy already by this time been removed? This is not credible, for later Trismegistic documents still lay the greatest stress upon it.

[p. 386]

Were, then, the early Christian mystical writers in intimate relationship with such circles as the Poemandres-community? Some Gnostics undoubtedly were; was the writer of "Hermas"? Was there once friendship where subsequently was bitter strife?

Such and many other most interesting questions arise, but there is little hope that any satisfactory answer will be given them until the work on the mystical religious environment of the time has been pushed forward to such a point, that men may gradually become accustomed to the view that much of the secret of the Origins lies concealed in that very environment.

In any case, the way is cleared for pushing back the earlier "Poemandres" document well into the first century, and for ranking it, therefore, as at least contemporary with the earliest of the New Testament writings.


^369:1 Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?--An Enquiry into the Talmud Jesus Stories, the Toldoth Jeschu, and Some Curious Statements of Epiphanius (London, 1903), pp. 365 ff.

^369:2 See Hilgers (J.), De Hermetis Trismegisti Poimandro Commentatio (Bonn, 1855).

^370:1 See The Theosophical Review, xxiv. 302, 303 (June 1899).

^370:2 Hilgenfeld (A.), Hermae Pastor (2nd ed.: Leipzig, 1881).

^370:3 Apokalypsis e, the fifth revelation or vision of our composite document, which for all we know may have stood first in some earlier "source."

^371:1 Presumably a sheep's skin of white wool.

^371:2 Compare the Story of the Spirit Double who came down unto Jesus when a boy, as told by Mary the Mother, in the Pistis Sophia, 121: "He embraced thee and kissed thee, and thou also didst kiss him; ye became one." Compare this with the common mystic belief of the time in the possibility of union with such a spiritual presence; and also the possession by a daimon (leipsis daimonos), which is treated of at length by Reitzenstein, and particularly referred to this pasage in Hermas (R. 230).

^371:3 Compare Pistis Sophia, 120: "I was in doubt and thought it was a phantom tempting me."

^371:4 On this Gebhardt and Harnack, in their edition (Leipzig, 1877), can only comment: "In visionibus angelicus pastor nusquam memoratur."

^372:1 Compare the interesting inscription from Sakkara quoted from Erman (note, below).

^373:1 R. 11, n. 3.

^373:2 Compare Wessely, Denkschr. d. K. K. Akad. (1888), 103, 2359 ff.

^373:3 Ibid., 104, 2373.

^373:4 Erman (Agypten, 515) refers to an inscription from Sakkara, in which a mystical shepherd says to his flock: "Your Shepherd is in the West with the fishes,"--an interesting conjunction of ideas for students of archaic Christian symbolism. The idea is also Babylonian, the Star-flocks of the Gods being fed beyond the Ocean in the West.

^373:5 Compare the dress of the Essenes, and the account of the sending forth of the disciples, Matt. x. 9 = Mark vi. 8 = Luke ix. 3. The direct contradiction of the account in Mark to the statements in Matthew and Luke, makes it exceedingly probable that not only the one robe, and staff, but also the wallet, were the typical signs of those who went forth to "raise the dead."

^373:6 He is clad in the perizuma, the working dress (or apron), in which men were said to work "naked" (nudus, gymnos)--that is, clad in one robe. See also note on the sentence: "And naked I sought the Naked," in treating of the Gymnosophists (or Naked Philosophers), in my Apollonius of Tyana (London, 1901), p. 100.

^375:1 See "The Popular Theurgic Hermes Cult in the Greek Magic Papyri."

^375:2 Compare Hermas, Vis. v. 2: "I am sent . . . that I may dwell with thee for the rest of the days of thy life," with Prayer i. 10: "for all the length of my life's days"; and v. 3: "I know into whose charge I have been given," with Prayer ii. 7: "I know thee, Hermes."

^375:3 en tois genekois.

^376:1 A term used by Philo as a synonym of Therapeut.

^376:2 Div. Institt., i. 6--as cited among Evidences from the Fathers, where see my note on Pheneus.

^376:3 Op. sup. cit., p. 365.

^377:1 The very treatise to which we have previously referred in connection with the "mountain."

^378:1 See Gebhardt and Harnack, op. cit., Prolegg. xi. n. 2.

^380:1 The texts are given by Berthelot (M. P. S.), Les Alchimistes grecs.

^380:2 See The Book of the Dead, cxliv., cxlvii.

^380:3 Griffith (F. Ll.), Stories of the High Priests of Memphis (Oxford, 1900), pp. 45 ff.

^381:1 Berthelot (M. P. S.), La Chimie au Moyen Age, iii. 44 ff., 268, n. 1; R. 361.

^381:2 According to the Ethiopic translation. See The Apostolic Fathers, p. 325, n. 4, in the "Ante-Nicene Christian Library," vol. i. (Edinburgh, 1867).

^381:3 Kenyon (F. G.), Greek Pap. Cat., p. 65; R. 280, n. 3.

^383:1 R. 34--from Apophthegmata Patrum, in Cotelerius' Ecclesiae Graecae Monumenta, i. 582.

^384:1 I do not know who this Olympius was, unless, perchance, he may have been the monk referred to by Nilus (ii. 77), the famous ascetic of Sinai, who flourished in the first quarter of the fifth century.

^384:2 Again, I can find no information about this place; it was, however, presumably in the Nitriote nome south of the Delta--for the priest " came down.''

[p. 387]



"HEAR then, my son, how standeth God and All. God; Aeon; Cosmos; Time; Becoming."--C. H., xi. (xii.) 1.


While rigidly excluding any consideration of the amazing elaboration of Christo-Gnostic aeonology, it may not be unserviceable to offer a "few notes in connection with the simpler idea of the Aeon. 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 Aeon.

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

[p. 388]

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

[p. 389]

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 (Hyle), and brought into being as follows:

IV. "Both fourfold Matter [*2] being ensouled and the whole Infinitude being as though it were a Depth (Bythos), 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

[p. 390]

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 (proekypsen [*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 (Kronos) as Time (Khronon [*5]), and of Rhea (hRea) as the flowing (to reon) 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 (Oyranos), 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

[p. 391]

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 (Fanes--Phanes), because when he is manifest (faneis) 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;

[p. 392]

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 Aeon."


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 Aeon, 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 Aeon 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 "Poemandres" 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 Peisistratidae. Original Orphism was, in my opinion, a blend of Hellenic Bardic lore with "Chaldaean" elements. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the "Books of the Chaldaeans," collected for the Alexandrian Library, were

[p. 393]

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 Chaldaeo-Orphic symbolical cosmogony as "philosophised" in a Hellenistic Gnostic environment, we will quote from a system ascribed by Hippolytus to the Sethians (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 Sethians, 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

[p. 394]

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

[p. 395]

[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 (tupos) 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 (ideai) 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

[p. 396]

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

[p. 397]

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]

[p. 398]

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

[p. 399]

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 Chaldaean ideas, and also with the main schematology of our "Poemandres" tractate.

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


The whole of this Orphic lore (in other words, the Chaldaean 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 divinite leontocephale," and the birth of the God from the Rock; this seems to point, as we might very well suspect, to a strong Chaldaean element in the Mithriac tradition.

Cumont [*1] tells us that although some scholars have rejected the name of "Mithriac Aeon," which was

[p. 400]

given by Zoega 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 Aeon 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 Mazdaeans of Asia Minor taught to the Western followers of the Iranian religion."

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

[p. 401]

of the Aeon, as Cumont supposes, but to a Chaldaean element dominating the Mithriac form of the Magian tradition. [*1]


Now the Chaldaean 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 Aeon and of the Aeons; and indeed the strongly Egyptian forms of the Gnosis, which we have preserved to us under Christian overworking, are involved in the most complex aeonology.

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 Chaldaean ideas that poured into Hellenistic circles in the early Alexandrian period. When precisely the Aeon-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 Aeon was in frequent use in the

[p. 402]

popular Hermes-cult may be seen in Hermes-Prayer v. 4, where Thoth is characterised as the "Aeon of the Aeons 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 Aeon." So also with Isis, who is called Wisdom and Aeon 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--AEEIOYU," 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 Aeon.

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

[p. 403]

for all we know, prior to it), there were in Phoenicia communities of the Aeon--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 (oi palai) celebrated a Feast of the Aeon 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 (Kore), that is the Virgin, has given birth to the Aeon." [*4]

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


Moreover, Messala [*5] tells us of this Aeon, that He "who made all things and governs all things, joined

[p. 404]

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 Aeon was associated by the Pythagoreans with the idea of the Monad; indeed, they seem to have derived the word aion from ia, the Ionic form of mia (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 Timaeus:


"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 (aiw'nios--aeonian); but to bestow this quality entirely on a generable creature was not possible.

"Accordingly He determined to make a moving

[p. 405]

image of Eternity (Aiunos); and so in setting the Heaven in order He makes it an everlasting (aiw'nion) image, moving according to number, of Eternity (Aiunos) that rests in One--an image which we have, you know, called Time." [*1]

Here it is very plain that Aeon is not Time, but the Paradigm thereof--Eternity. It is the Consummation of the Eternal Gods--namely, the Pleroma, the Monad par excellence. We, therefore, find already in Plato the idea of the Aeon 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 Aeon 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 Aeon, 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 Aeon came to be used no longer for a transcendent unity but as the connotation of a grade of Being.

[p. 406]

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 aeonology; so that in any case C. H. xi. (xii.) must be dated from this point of view.

When aeonology arose we cannot say precisely; but aeonology 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 Timaeus, [*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, Aeon, Cosmos, Time, Genesis;--each following one from the other.

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

[p. 407]

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


Now, Reitzenstein (pp. 274 ff.) shows very clearly that the Cult of the Saeculum or Aeon 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 Aeon-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 Sphaera 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, Hhw (Hehu) and Hht (Hehut), are immediately derived from "Hh," generally translated "Million," but by Brugsch and others as Aeon. [*1] All the Egyptian Gods were Lords of the Eternity or of the Eternities. But not only so, the

[p. 408]

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 Pleroma of Aeons.

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 Aeon 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 Aeons of Periods or Years, and Years of Aeons. Above all these ruled the God of the Aeons, the highest God of many a mystic community.


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

1. "Hail unto Thee, O thou All-Cosmos of aethereal 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

[p. 409]

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 aethereal 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, aethereal, inter-aethereal, 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 (aiuniais) wings, and makest firm the Earth on everlasting thrones!

8. "Thou who hangest up the Aether 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 Aeons! Mighty art thou, Lord God, O Master of the All!" [*3]

[p. 410]

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 Aeon and God on one side and Aeon 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: IAO! 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 aethereal 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 Aeons, 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 Aeon, 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 Aeon 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 Aeon 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 Aeon 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 Aeon-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" (Bale), 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 uber 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: kai oytus ex akoystou tun panpun to nostimw'taton. As ex akoystou has hitherto proved insoluble for all editors, I would suggest ex akoysioy. As to nostimw'taton, 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" (parekypsen), 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 kranaioy--an otherwise unknown word. Many emendations have been suggested; but it does not seem to be necessary to go beyond kranion, 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 armonian--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 arxas--sources or beginnings.

^394:1 afanes--the opposite of Phanes.

^394:2 Have we here any further clue to the title Kore Kosmoy?

^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 egkumun--a play on kuma, which means embryo as well as wave.

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

^397:3 Sc. Darkness.

^397:4 skoliui. Cf. the skolius of C. H., i. 4.

^397:5 Cf, the Naassene Hymn: "She seeks to flee the bitter Chaos"; and compare Jacob Bohme'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"; surigma, however, is properly the sound of a pipe, and puts us in mind of the Syriktes 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 kenusis was the change from the ple'ruma or Fullness of Light to the kenuma 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 Figures relatifs aux Mysteres 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., Praep. Evang., I. 10, 7; 34 B.

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

^403:2 Or rather 6th. Reitzenstein's (p. 274) gloss (pro eidun) to epi teis pemptes, 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.  section 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 Heh is connected with the word which indicates an undefined and unlimited number, i.e. heh; when applied to time the idea suggested is 'millions of years,' and Heh is equivalent to the Greek aiw'n."

^408:1 Brugsch, Worterbuch, vi. 839.

^408:2 The usual symbols for "everlasting."

^409:1 Or service--leitoyrgia.

^409:2 thesayrisas--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.

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