Ritual in Gnosticism

John D. Turner
University Of Nebraska-Lincoln
SBL 1994 Book of Seminar Papers, 136-181

An action divorced from its primary practical context, ritual bears a symbolic or semiotic character. It usually serves to promote group formation and social solidarity and to negotiate understanding among members of the species. Such actions are religious when they signal a turning towards something extra-human or super-human; indeed the very act of turning away from the human context has an eminently social function. Usually this something is described as the sacred, something experienced as powerful, overwhelming, majestic, solemn, enchanting. This experience is portrayed symbolically by the juxtaposition of things threatening and alluring (pain, entrapment, exclusion, death, and sterility on the one hand, and nourishment, liberation, inclusion, life, and sexuality on the other); by gestures of submissiveness alongside displays of power; and by sudden alterations of darkness and light, covering and uncovering, stability and movement, sound and silence. This quasi-language signals and creates situations of anxiety in order to overcome them and leads from isolation and fear of abandonment to the establishment of solidarity and the reinforcement of status. Ritual helps to overcome situations of crisis by replacing the apathy of ordinary everyday experience with focused activity. Although religious ritual borders on magic (in the sense of the non-salvific coercion of a particular outcome apart from divine sanction), particularly when consciously practiced by an individual, its primary character is social and collective, a way of participating in the often traditional framework of social communication, and its strongest motive is the fear of isolation from the greater whole.[1]
    Although both Gnostics and Platonists seemed to have sought this sense of integration and well-being primarily through conceptual means--the interpretation of texts and traditions, the use of analogy, argumentation, speculation, and mythical narrative--they also engaged in ritual activity, repeated patterns of behavior, both as individuals and groups.
    Gnostics share with Platonists the notion that salvation is the ultimate extrication of the soul or inner person from the bodily realm coupled with an ascent to its point of origin in the divine world. After the example of Plato, many Platonists until the time of Plotinus and Porphyry could use visionary terminology associated with the mystery religions to characterize this ascent, but there is no evidence from this period that it was to be effected by ritual means. After the time of Plotinus, however, many Platonists adopted a form of ritual known as theurgy, in which embodied souls were brought into a sympathetic resonance with the divine Logoi that informed the natural world; divine powers were invoked to enter the phenomenal world in the form of purified souls intended to reveal their divine source in the body and other physical objects, so as to assist the ascent of the practitioner's soul during this life and as well as its final ascent.[2] In apparent contrast to this late Platonic theurgical ritual, the salvific rites offered in Gnostic sources of the same period continue to appear as symbolic enactments of the more typically Neopythagorean and Plotinian goal of extricating every soul from the physical world altogether, even when one can detect in these sources a quite positive valorization of the psychic and spiritual cosmos.
    This paper surveys ritual acts described or alluded to in various Gnostic sources, original and heresiological, and where appropriate, to comment upon their relation to Platonic doctrine and ritual. These will include rites of lustration, investiture, chrismation, the sacral meal, sacral marriage, sexual sacramentalism, ritual verbal performances, and ascensional and contemplative practices in both individual and group endeavor. The paper will concentrate mostly on Sethian and Valentinian sources, adducing other material when appropriate.
The rituals practiced by the Gnostics, most of which they share with--and sometimes derived from--Christians, are the result of transferring rather simple, everyday acts, such as washing, applying salves and balms, changing clothes, eating and sharing a meal, arising upon awakening, and engaging in sexual intercourse, into a symbolic setting and discourse. The main preoccupation of the Gnostics seems to have been the overcoming of an experience of alienation and isolation, and they developed a number of elaborate myths in which they, like other groups, elevated these otherwise rather common acts into rites which had the power to overcome this alienation, and achieve a sense of solidarity and authenticity by realistic enactments of personal transformation and integration into a larger whole. Compared with non-Gnostic Platonists, they subjected a wider range of these ordinary acts to symbolic enactment, no doubt because they inherited many such enactments from other religious movements known to them, such as Judaism, Christianity and the mysteries, or simply because many Gnostics were already adherents of those movements and were merely applying a Gnostic twist to them.
    For Gnostics as well as Jews and Christians of various stripes, the loss and recovery of a sense of integration and solidarity--personal, social, and cosmic--were expressed in two basic myths. One was the myth of a vertiginous fall from the heights, in which the human soul, like a bird having lost its wings, had plummeted to earth, loosing direct contact with its native element; its only hope of return was the acquisition of a new set of wings, a task hindered by the beguiling conditions of its new environment, which led to a gradual forgetfulness of its homing instinct. The other basic myth was that of the primal androgyne, the supposed ultimate, bisexual progenitor of all of humanity, who underwent the primeval experience of being sundered in two, into male and female, thus creating an elementary crisis of estrangement and loss of the divine image, and the need to heal this split by the reunion of the two sexes. This myth was extremely widespread. Platonists possessed a version of it in Aristophanes' famous encomium on Eros in Plato's Symposium, portraying Zeus' sundering and weakening of the original humans, creating their urge to reunite.[3] Jews and Christians read Gen 1:26-27 as portraying a masculofeminine Adam, made in the true image of the God who transcended gender altogether, an image which was lost in the fateful division into a separate male and female (Gen 2:21-22). These myths of division and alienation underlie many of the traces of Gnostic ritual known to us, in particular the rites of baptism, investiture, chrismation, and sacral marriage. These rites serve to reverse that alienation: when the soul regains its wings and homing instinct, it is no longer a captive. When the primal image of God is restored, man is no longer divided--not even by the most fundamental division of all, male and female.[4]
    Of these four fundamental rites, baptism, though its origins lie in the sphere of repeatable acts of lustration and purification, seems to be an initiatory rite generally practiced only once as the initial break with one's flawed past and an entrance into a new state of reunification, while the other three seem to be repeatable acts of celebration and intensification of one's awareness of that reunification. Closely associated with baptism are the act of chrismation and investiture, which early Christian texts often treat as a postlude to baptism; indeed baptism and chrismation were both called "seals," marking one as reborn and belonging to God. While these rites appear to be unrepeatable acts of initiation, the sacral meal, the eucharist, though often following baptism, was repeatable. The sacral marriage known as the "bridal chamber," though its origins lie in biblical metaphor, seems to be a peculiarly Gnostic ritual; although it usually had an eschatological reference, it could become repeatable, particularly when enacted as an explicitly sexual sacrament.
    Besides these major rituals, Gnostics share with all groups the ritual use of speech, especially prayer formulas (doxologies, aretalogies, petitions, etc.), hymns, aretalogies, recognition formulas, and ecstatic utterances (chants, syllables of power, glossalalia, etc.). Particularly intriguing is the rite of contemplative, visionary ascension; although one tends to think of this as the practice of isolated individuals, it acquired the status of a rite, not only among the devotees of Hermes Trismegistus, but especially among the Sethian Gnostics, probably because it was originally developed in a baptismal context. Other forms of ritual behavior not easily characterized as specific rites may include certain explicit life-styles clearly separating an individual or community from the norm, mostly of an encratitic sort, which include fasting, heremitic withdrawal, celibacy, or the erection of images, statues, and cultic buildings.
Because of its foundational significance for several associated rites and its widespread attestation in Gnostic texts, I begin this survey with the baptismal rite as practiced by various Gnostic groups.


Sethian Baptism

The Sethian gnostic treatises from the Nag Hammadi Library contain not only numerous accounts of visions of the transcendental world and its contents, but also numerous references to baptisms, washings, anointings and sealings, and numerous instances of various prayers, doxologies and hymns mentioning or directed to a rather fixed set of divine beings. Such references generally occur in stanzaic, even hymnic, passages to be found especially in the Gospel of the Egyptians, Apocalypse of Adam, Melchizedek, Zostrianos, Apocryphon of John, and Trimorphic Protennoia. They apparently refer to a sequence of ritual acts involving a kind of baptism, which the texts often designate by the term "the Five Seals." The Sethian texts providing the most detail about the Five Seals are the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Trimorphic Protennoia, but they do not reveal the precise ritual character of these Five Seals, with the result that the rite must be reconstructed from their rather allusive allusions to it. The texts contain no liturgical rubrics. Baptism is an extremely well-attested rite in the early Christian world, where it and the various symbolic acts that comprise this rite are commonly called "seals." So the basic puzzle is the meaning of the term "five": does it refer to a single act performed five times, e.g. a quintuple immersion in contrast to the typically triple immersion of Christian baptism, or does it refer to five ritual acts comprising the rite, or to some mysterious transcendental Pentad of names (Trimorphic Protennoia NHC XIII,1: 49,28-32) or aeons (Apocryphon of John NHC II,1: 6,2-10)?[5] The texts do not tell us. By way of comparison, the normal Christian baptismal rite contained at least four procedures : removal of outer garments and renunciation of the devil, removal of all garments and anointing with oil, baptismal immersion, and reclothing in white garments; often this was supplemented by a fifth, the chrismation.[6]
    The Sethian texts are unusual in that, perhaps to a greater degree than is the case with the corpora of other Gnostic groups, they conceive the baptismal rite as a series of visionary experiences resulting in complete enlightenment and therefore total salvation. In spite of the allusions to ritual acts that could indeed be enacted by ordinary human beings, the importance of the rite lay primarily in the spiritual plane, an emphasis characteristic of Christian and probably non-Christian baptizing circles throughout the first century. The Sethian baptismal water was understood to be of a celestial nature, a Living Water identical with light or enlightenment. Although in earlier Sethian treatises this rite is usually said to be "received," later treatises portray a self-performable contemplative technique that could be enacted either by means of--or independently of--outward ritual actions. Terms that ordinarily refer to ritual acts, such as "baptism," "immersion," "disrobing," "enrobing," "stripping off," "putting on," "sealing," and the like, also designate acts of mental transformation, conceptual refinement and abstraction from the world of psychic and sensible experience, abstention from previous behavioral dispositions, "unlearning" of older and adoption of new perceptions of self and world, and entrance into a higher state of enlightenment. It is natural to assume that such a mental transformation arose out of the individual experience of actual cultic and ritual praxis of a sort that could be taught and enacted either while participating in the physical setting and associated gestures of the rite or quite apart from them.[7] We do not know whether this rite was a once-for-all initiation, as it appears to be in earlier Sethian treatises, or was administered repeatedly; later treatises witness what seems to be a gradual extraction of the clearly repeatable visionary component from the baptismal setting.
    In the earlier Sethian texts which portray the advent of salvation as coincident with the third and final manifestation in this world (the first two occur in primordial times)[8] of the divine mother Barbelo, she confers the gift of salvation in the form of a baptismal rite called the Five Seals. According to the so-called Gospel of the Egyptians, on the third and final descent of the heavenly Seth into the world to save his progeny ("seed"), he is equipped with a Logos-begotten body prepared for him "by the virgin" (the "male virgin" Barbelo), the Providence of the supreme deity, in order to "establish the holy baptism" (a reference to the inaugural baptism of Jesus?) and "put on" Jesus, through whose crucifixion he defeats the powers of the thirteen aeons. According to the Trimorphic Protennoia, Protennoia (Barbelo) descends for the third time as the Logos, confers the Five Seals, and finally puts on Jesus, removes him form the cross, and bears him and her seed aloft into the holy light. Similarly, the Pronoia aretalogy concluding the longer version of the Apocryphon of John (NHC II,1: 30,11-31,25) depicts the figure of Pronoia (Barbelo) as conferring the Five Seals on her third and final descent. The primary actor behind the scenes is the divine Mother Barbelo, who appears to be a higher, unfallen double of Sophia, the divine wisdom. The imagery of water, light, ascent and descent found in the Pronoia hymn and in the Trimorphic Protennoia seems heavily indebted to the Hellenized Jewish wisdom tradition.[9] These two works appear to be old, likely contemporaneous with the Johannine prologue with which they share a common vocabulary and mythological structure, suggesting an early date for these works, perhaps the early second century CE.
    The Sethian text most replete with data for the reconstruction of the ritual acts that comprise Sethian baptism is the Gospel of the Egyptians (NHC III,2 and IV,1). In it, this baptism involves the begetting of the saints through invisible secret symbols, the "killing" (Coptic hôtb, IV,2: 75,3-4; III,2: 63,3-12 has hôtp, "reconciliation") and renunciation of both the world and the "god of the thirteen aeons," and the invoked (epiklêtoi) presence of certain of holy, ineffable beings along with the light of the Father. Although Seth is said to have appeared in the primeval world to deliver his race from the Archon's destructive acts (the flood and conflagration), the Mother now sends him for a third time. At his appearance along with certain divine beings or angels who are to guard the incorruptible race until the consummation of the age, the "great men of the great Seth" receive a vision of various spiritual beings whose names occur repeatedly in the baptismal sections of the Sethian treatises.[10]
    Evidence of ritual activity abounds in this text. In NHC III, 2: 65,26-66,8 it is said that through the incorruptible man Poimael, those "who are worthy of (the) invocation (epiklêtos), the renunciations (apotaxeis) of the Five Seals[11] in the spring-baptism will know their receivers (paralêmptores) as they are instructed about them." In III,2 66,9-68,1 there follows a long prayer in which the baptizand praises the Living Water "Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus" as the eternal Jesus who truly is, the glorious name that is now upon and within him, granting him immutability and the armor of light. Stretching out his hands while yet folded, the baptizand apparently symbolically portrays the containment of the inner light or the circle of all those who have received enlightenment, and praises the man (Seth?) who raises up the man (Jesus?) in whose name the baptizand will be purified. Having received the incense of life (the Holy Spirit?), the baptizand has mixed it with "water after the model of the archons" (presumably the earthly water of his baptism), now to live with the savior in the peace of the saints.
    Here one has a series of references to certain gestures and verbal performances capable of ritual enactment: renunciation, invocation, naming of holy powers, doxological prayer to the living water, receipt of incense, manual gestures, as well as baptismal immersion itself. Whether any of these acts, and if so, which ones, comprise the Five Seals is difficult to tell; certainly renunciation, invocation, and the extension of the arms were frequently part of the baptismal rite in the wider church.[12]Throughout, the use of the passive voice for ritual actions and the use of plural references to the saints begotten "through instruction" suggests a community ritual in which there were initiates and officiants, as well as a tradition of prescribed actions and declarations.
    What is more, it may be that the entire Gospel of the Egyptians and not just its conclusion has a ritual or liturgical function. There are five doxologies (IV,2: 59,13-29; III,2: 49,22-50,17; 53,12-54,11; 55,16-56,3; 61,23-62,13) punctuating the completion of various stages of its cosmology, which invoke a fixed set of beings.[12] This doxological inventory has the fixity of a liturgical formula. If the term "Five Seals" originally designated a fivefold or five-stage baptismal procedure, it may be that the Gospel of the Egyptians was read aloud during the administration of each phase of the ritual: after the reading of each of the five sections of the cosmology, the baptizand might have repeated this doxology as a way of affirming the receipt of each of the Five Seals. A similar correlation between baptismal sealings and depictions of the structure and deployment of the transcendent world occurs also in Zostrianos, although there the sealings are clearly given a celestial, rather than earthly, setting.
    Furthermore, in both the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Trimorphic Protennoia, the final act of salvation is the descent of Seth in the form of the Logos or of the Logos in the form of Christ, who "puts on," that is, appears in the form of, Jesus. The salvation of Jesus implied in these two texts certainly reflects Christian influence, but of an extremely polemical sort, since rather than being the savior, Jesus becomes the one saved. In view of this Sethian Christological reinterpretation, one would characterize the present form of these two texts as reacting to rather than merely submitting to Christian influence.
The Apocalypse of Adam contains a dream vision revealed to Adam by three glorious men who narrate a third saving mission conducted by an illuminator whose origin is unknown to the evil powers. Thirteen opinions of his origins are rejected; in reality he comes from a great aeon to enlighten his elect. The illuminator experiences neither birth nor generation, nor does he receive nourishment, glory and power in the beyond and then "come (down) to the water." The Illuminator is not first born into the world and then baptized in the waters of the Jordan, which the author or redactor regards as polluted and chaotic.[14] Instead, the Illuminator remains above in the light where he resides with the three imperishable illuminators Yesseus, Mazareus, Yessedekeus, the Living Water, and first appears in the world not at his own "birth" or baptism, but at the time he baptizes his "seed," who receive his name on the water.[15] At some point, angelic beings will bring the truth to the earthly Sethians in a way independent of the written word of the evil creator, a truth that is communicated by a holy baptism through a logos-begotten illuminator who descends to the water during baptism. Thus there is a distinction between the holy baptism with Living Water and a baptism ordained by the creator and practiced by his servants who have polluted the water of life.
    Using nomenclature reminiscent of that found in the Apocryphon of John, the Trimorphic Protennoia identifies the initiator and bringer of salvation, conferred on her third descent in the form of the Five Seals, as Protennoia or Barbelo, the First Thought of the Invisible Spirit.[16] At various points throughout the Trimorphic Protennoia, the triple descent of Protennoia and the various forms in which she appears, namely as Voice, Speech and Word, are interpreted by means of concepts which are drawn from the Sethian baptismal terminology: the Voice is said to be the unpolluted spring from which flows Living Water, characterized as radiant light.[17]
    Rather than designating a fivefold immersion in the Living Water, the Five Seals are interpreted as a five-stage ritual of ascension, which serves to strip the inner spirit of its chaotic psychic and material garments and reclothe it with shining light. The spirit is invested with the robes of light, enthroned, baptized by Micheus, Michar and Mnesinous in the spring of Living Water, glorified with the Fatherhood, and raptured into the light (perhaps the Four Lights) by the servants of the Four Lights Kamaliel, [..]anen and Samblo (48, 15-35). Clearly the rapture into the light is the equivalent of the baptismal phôtismos spoke of by Justin, Cyril and other patristic authors. The five stages of this ascensional rite do not seem to follow in an intuitively obvious sequence (e.g., in 45, 13-20 one has the following sequence: glorification, enthronement, investiture, baptism and becoming Light). Indeed, since most cults practiced naked baptism, one might expect the order: baptism, investiture, enthronement, glorification and final rapture (see above, note 6).
    In the concluding section of the Trimorphic Protennoia, the Five Seals are equated with the "ineffable ordinances of the Father," taught by Protennoia to her "members," "the brethren." The Five Seals are said to be "complete by means of Nous." Whoever possesses the Five Seals "of these particular names"[18] has stripped away all ignorance and darkness and has put on a shining light, permanently free from ignorance and the power of the hostile archontic forces, and experiencing a mutual indwelling with Protennoia until the time when she gathers all her members into her eternal kingdom. Here the Five Seals are connected with communicable doctrine and the ability to name and experience the presence of certain spiritual beings, a doctrine which entails the stripping away of the ignorance of common perception and the adoption (putting on) of an appropriate way of seeing things. The rite is the dramatization of this process, and the Sethian myth its narratization. The fact that this text refers to the recipients of the baptismal ascent ritual in the first person plural and as "brethren" suggests a (Sethian) community with a well-established tradition of water baptism that has been conceived as a mystery of celestial ascent, and which brings Gnosis (NHC XIII,1: 48,33-34) and total salvation.
    In many ways, the Sethian text that most abounds with baptismal imagery is Zostrianos, although the extant remains do not mention the Five Seals, and the imagery has been divorced from any actual water rite. Throughout the first sixty or so pages, it seems that Zostrianos is baptized at least twenty times in the course of his ascent, once at the airy earth (the atmosphere below the moon), seven times in the copies of the aeons (the planetary spheres), once in the Transmigration (paroikêsis, probably the sphere of the fixed stars), and four times in the Repentance (once for each of the Four Lights), for a subtotal of thirteen. At the level of the Self-begotten Ones he is baptized four times by the traditional Sethian baptizers and purifiers, each time standing as an angel upon the level of each of the Four Lights, and again for a fifth time at the level of Autogenes, where he becomes divine and enters the aeon of Barbelo. In a further baptism at the level of the Triple Male Child, he becomes truly existing, and lastly, it seems that he is baptized once again at the level of Protophanes, where he becomes perfect, for a subtotal of seven, and a grand total of some twenty or more baptisms, washings and sealings. Although the fragmentary state of the text precludes certainty on the total number of baptisms or their precise significance, here baptism here has become interpreted as a metaphor for the process by which a visionary becomes assimilated to the being and nature of each level of the transcendent realm to which he ascends.
    Zostrianos portrays a visionary and auditory experience which has no explicit ritual setting. Terms which may once have had a ritual reference now serve only as means to articulate the various stages of a visionary ascent. Celestial baptisms denote stages of increasing spiritual enlightenment, while the earthly experience of the non-spiritual mass of humanity is regarded as a "baptism with death" (NHC VIII,1: 131,2). Perhaps Zostrianos lies at the terminus of a process of development in which a traditional practice of visionary ascent that originally arose in the context of Sethian baptismal practice as it is reflected in the Apocryphon of John, the Trimorphic Protennoia, and the Gospel of the Egyptians was subsequently transformed from an original practice of water baptism into a self-contained and self-performable contemplative practice engaged in either by lone individuals or by groups (as the Three Steles of Seth, NHC VII,5: 126,31-127,22 makes clear). Perhaps it is merely a later expression of an original but alternative trajectory of visionary practices that developed alongside but independently of the Sethian communal water rites. Knowledge of the nature of the Sethian encounter with both Platonism and Christian forms of gnostic Sethianism would certainly help to resolve this puzzle.
    As an immersion in water, baptism may also have a negative connotation, especially when it signifies immersion in materiality, symbolized by the chaotic waters underlying the natural cosmos. Gnostics applied this negative connotation to what they considered to be the lower baptism undergone by non-Gnostic Christians. Like the Apocalypse of Adam (NHC V, 5: 84,4-85,30) and Zostrianos (NHC VIII,1: 131,2-5), the Paraphrase of Shem (NHC VII, 1: 30,21-27; 37,19-38,6) speaks also of an impure baptism in a dark water that enslaves, evidently a polemic against ordinary water baptism. The Archontics, whom Epiphanius (Panarion 40.2.6-8) presents as an offshoot of the Sethians, reject completely the baptism and sacraments of the Church as deriving from the inferior law-giver Sabaoth; to shun baptism is to enhance the prospect of acquiring of the gnosis enabling their return to the Mother-Father of the All.

Valentinian Baptism

The patristic accounts of the Valentinian baptismal practices agree on three basic features of Valentinian baptismal practice.[19] The first is the presence of two separate baptisms among the Valentinians. The "psychics" had access the "normal" Christian one, while the "pneumatics" could gain closer contact with the divine by second rite which Irenaeus and Hippolytus called the "redemption." Rather than devaluing the standard, psychic baptism, as Irenaeus thinks, both the Nag Hammadi sources and patristic sources, such as Clement of Alexandria's Excerpta ex Theodoto, demonstrate great concern for the psychics. Secondly, patristic accounts all agree that these rituals were salvific sacraments, and thirdly, they associate baptism (perhaps both baptisms) with the remission of sins. The Excerpta ex Theodoto (76-86) characterize the first, water baptism as a "sealing" done in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which gives psychic Christians power over sin, allowing them to be reborn, control the impure spirits, and gain entry to the marriage feast in the End Times. Baptism affords access to saving knowledge, as Excerpta ex Theodoto 78 states:
Until baptism, they say, Fate is effective, but after it the astrologers no longer speak the truth. It is not the washing alone that makes us free, but also the knowledge of who we were, what we have we become, where we were, into what place we have we been cast, whither we are hastening, from what we are delivered, what birth is, and what rebirth.
According to Hippolytus, (Refutatio VI,41), Marcus taught that a second washing or baptism, called the "redemption" (apolutrôsis), was available to Christians through him. It normally required special and extensive instructions beforehand, but a bishop could also administer it to those who were on their deathbed. Anyone undergoing the rite of redemption belonged to "the perfect power and inconceivable authority," and was no longer affected by sin. According to Irenaeus (Haereses I, 21.2), psychic baptism is said to have been inaugurated by John the Baptist with a view to repentance, and instituted by the visible Jesus for the remission of sins. Redemption, on the other hand was brought by Christ descending on Jesus, with a view to perfection; this is another instance of the widespread Gnostic adoption of the traditions about Jesus' inaugural baptism, in which he sees the heavens opened, and receives both the Spirit and adoption as Son of God. Hippolytus (Refutatio VI, 35.5) attests that the Italian Valentinians considered Jesus' body to be psychic, but made pneumatic and raised from the dead at his baptism by the Spirit, said to be the Logos of his mother Sophia. As in the Sethian treatises, traditions about the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism justify the distinction; indeed Irenaeus speaks of the Valentinian tendency to gather gospel allusions (e.g. Lk 12:50; Mat 20:20) to support the necessity of another baptism. The remission of sins is linked to baptism, and thence to repentance, the psychics, and the ministries of John and the visible Jesus. Redemption, on the other hand, is linked to pneumatics, perfection, and Christ descending on Jesus.
    According to the Clement of Alexandria's Excerpta ex Theodoto (22.1), the male angelic counterparts of Valentinian Christians are themselves baptized through the redemption of the same name which descended to redeem Jesus at his own baptism. These angels are baptized "for the dead," that is, for the earthly Valentinians, imparting to them the name of the son by which they are enabled to pass through the Limit into the Pleroma. The imposition of hands, apparently in connection with the baptismal rite, confers the angelic redemption, tantamount to being baptized in the same name as was one's angelic counterpart.
For the Tripartite Tractate (NHC I,5: 127,25), Valentinian baptism is equivalent to the redemption, the second baptism (the baptism "in the fullest sense" as opposed to "the baptism which we previously mentioned"). Redemption occurs when one confesses faith in the names of the Trinity and is equivalent to entering a state of tranquillity, enlightenment and immortality; it is the bridal chamber. It is the ritual which above all others that functioned as the seal of the union between the author's community and the Father, who grants knowledge of himself in exchange for the believer's confession of faith.
    According to the Gospel of Philip, becoming perfect by acquiring the spiritual resurrection while yet on earth enables Christians to bypass post-mortem suffering in the Middle (mesotês) and proceed directly to the Father and his rest. Such perfection is enabled by no less than five sacraments.[20] In baptism, one strips off the old self and puts on a spiritual body; the chrism confers the Holy Spirit, creating the spiritual or pneumatic person; the eucharist does the same, except using the symbols of bread and a cup of wine mixed with water, probably on a repeated basis. The redemption seems to be an oil rite, perhaps a sort of confession or extreme unction (like the Mandaean Masiqta), or perhaps a post-baptismal chrismation as was customary in the western (but not Syrian) church. The bridal chamber seems to be a proleptic enactment of one's final entrance into the Pleroma, perhaps symbolized by a ritual kiss (cf. the kiss of peace in the Apostolic Constitutions and the ritual handshake [ku[sinvcircumflex]ta] in the Mandaean Mabuta).
The Gospel of Philip (NHC II,3: 67,28-30) names these five sacraments, evidently in order of importance, although their distinctiveness is often blurred, perhaps because they are understood as being all interdependent. As Meeks observes, it illustrates the tendency of motifs originally connected with baptism to become distinct rituals, as the mythical context of these motifs also becomes more elaborate.[21] Thus, while the receiving of the garment or body of light is still connected with baptism in some of the sayings in the Gospel of Philip (75,21-24, cf. 76,25-30), in others the clothing with light is effected by the chrism (74,12-22) or the bridal chamber (78,5-9). These rites are arranged in an ascending order (69,14-29), e.g. the chrism is superior to the baptism (74,12-13), yet baptism can include redemption (69,25-26), and chrism the eucharist (74,36-75,11), although the supreme rite is the bridal chamber (64,31-70,22).[22] Because of this overlapping, it is really impossible to tell whether these were enacted separately, or in combination.
It seems likely that the first three rites (baptism, chrism, and eucharist, perhaps unrepeatable) were included in same initiation ceremony, while the redemption and bridal chamber constituted a sort of second baptism (cf. 75,1-2), and were capable of repetition. According to Desjardins,[23]
Baptism, reinforced by chrism (the "second baptism" done with olive oil--73,17-18), actually provides immortality. In these two rites, purification occurs visibly through water and invisibly through fire and light (57,22-28). Jesus has purified and perfected the water at baptism (77,7-9) and God has "dyed it" (63,25-30), yet it is still possible for someone to emerge from the water baptism without having received the Holy Spirit 64,22-31). So, "it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism" (69,11-13). This dual baptism provides the resurrection (69,25-26) and perfection: "He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit; the Father gave him this in the bridal chamber" (74,18-22). In turn, this resurrection requires a spiritual flesh, which the eucharist provides (56,26-57,22; cf. also 75,14-24).
According to 69,14-70,4, just as the Jerusalem temple supposedly consisted of a succession of enclosing chambers, the Holy enclosing the Holy of the Holy which in turn encloses the Holy of the Holies, so also baptism includes the resurrection and the redemption, which latter occurs in the bridal chamber. In turn, this resurrection requires a spiritual flesh, which the eucharist provides (56,26-57,22; cf. 75,14-24).
In agreement with he Gospel of Philip, the liturgical supplements to A Valentinian Exposition (esp. 41,21-38) clearly distinguish a second baptism differing from the ordinary Christian baptism, though it does not describe it. Like the Gospel of Philip, A Valentinian Exposition understands the first baptism as the forgiveness of sins, but whose effect seems to be the same as the "redemption" or second baptism described in patristic sources: it elevates the recipient out of the world into the aeon. In both treatises the first baptism seems to be connected with an anointing and a eucharist, although the significance of the latter seems to be attenuated. In the Gospel of Philip, which seems to refer to the rites of redemption and bridal chamber as a sort of second baptism, the chrism becomes the central part of the baptismal rite, overshadowing the eucharist altogether.
    Just the treatise Zostrianos portrays Sethian practice of visionary ascent as a series of baptisms, washings and sealings, the Gospel of Philip (69,4-14) draws an explicit connection not only between vision and baptism, but also vision and the chrism, and further associates both with rebirth and the restoration to the condition of the primal androgyne: "Through the holy spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the spirit. When we were begotten we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without water or mirror. For this reason it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism."

Other Testimony concerning Gnostic Baptism

Many other Gnostic groups practiced baptism. According to Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses I, 23.5), Menander's disciples were baptized into his own name, receiving resurrection in the form of aglessness and physical immortality. According to Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis I, 21.146,1-4), the disciples of Basilides calculated the date of Jesus' baptism, on which they celebrated on the fifteenth of Tybi (January 6) by spending the previous night in scripture readings; it is possible that this sect witnesses the first known instance of a 365 day lectionary year that began with the Epiphany celebration of Jesus' baptismal enlightenment (phôtismos) at the Jordan.[24] The Naasenes (Hippolytus, Refutatio V, 7.19 7.40; 9.18) understood baptism as a spiritual birth ("from water and the spirit," Jn 3:5) and entrance into immortality through Jesus the "true gate" (cf. Jn 10:9); it included washing in "living water" (the water above the firmament) and an anointing from a horn "at the third gate."[25] The gnostic Justin's book of Baruch (apud Hippolytus Refutatio V, 27.1-4) distinguishes between the water below the firmament belonging to the evil creation and the springing well of living water above the firmament belonging to the Good one; only pneumatic persons drink of, that is wash in, the latter, while the psychic and material wash in the former. Here the sapiental metaphor of drinking from the water of wisdom is interpreted as baptism,[26] yet one notes again the strong distinction between ordinary Christian baptism and pneumatic baptism as expressed in the dual baptism of the Valentinians and the harsh polemic against water baptism in the Apocalypse of Adam (NHC V,5: 84,4-85,30; cf. Zostrianos, NHC VIII,1: 131,2-5). In the second Book of Jeu (chs. 45-52) one finds a most elaborate baptismal rite that affords entry into the Treasury of Light. In a ritual setting featuring a table set with bread, pitchers of wine and water, herbs, and incense, the disciples of Jesus don linen robes and myrtle crowns to receive a sequence of three baptisms (in living water, fire, and the Holy Spirit) in which they acquire certain ciphers and names as "seals" allowing them to ascend through the aeons. Unfortunately, the manuscript ends before Jesus reveals the great "mystery of the forgiveness of sins" required for ultimate entrance into the Treasury of Light.
    Simonian Gnosticism illustrates the central role of the ritual recovery of the androgynous image (here called the undifferentiated "root" power, Hippolytus, Refutatio VI, 18.2, 18.4). The separation and reunion of the male and female elements in mankind underlies the legend of Simon and his consort Helen which was already known before the time of Justin Martyr.[27] The late Apophasis Megale quoted by Hippolytus (Refutatio V, 17.1)suggests that it may have taken the form of a baptismal ritual:
According to Simon, then, that blessed and incorruptible being lies hidden in every being potentially (dunamei), not actually (energeia); that is he who stands, took his stand, and will stand (ho hestôs, stas, stêsomenos): who stands on high in the unbegotten power, who took his stand below in the chaos of waters when he was begotten in an image (eikôn), who will stand on high with the blessed infinite power if he be fully formed (exeikonisthêi). For, he says, there are three that stand, the [un]originate being, who (they say hovers over the water [cf. 6.14.4], is not set in order, the perfect heavenly being who is recreated according to the likeness, who becomes in no respect inferior to the unoriginate power. This is the meaning of their saying, 'I and thou are one, thou art before me, and I am after thee.' This, he says, is one power, divided as being above (as infinite) and below (as logos?), self-generating, ... its own mother, its own father, its own sister, its own consort, its own daughter, its own son,... unity, the root of all things.
Being (re)-formed in the image, equated with "being begotten" and occurring "in the stream of waters," suggests a cultic act like baptism, as in Excerpta ex Theodoto 68: "As long as we were children of the female only, as of a dishonorable union, we were incomplete, childish, without understanding, weak, and without form, brought forth like abortions, in short, we were children of the woman (i.e., Sophia). But having been given form (morphôthentas) by the Savior, we are the children of the man (husband) and of the bride-chamber."[28] In fact, Hippolytus (Refutatio VI, 19.5) says the Simonians called a rite of apparent sexual promiscuity in imitation of Simon (and Helen) "the holy of holies," the same metaphor used for the rite of the bridal chamber in Gospel of Philip 69,14-70,4. It therefore likely that the Simonians possessed rituals analogous to the Valentinian baptism and bridal chamber, which might account for the report in pseudo-Clement (Homilies 2, 23-24) that Simon was a disciple of John the Baptist.
    A striking parallel to the Simonian legend is the myth of the soul's abuse, transformation, and joining to her heavenly "bridegroom" found in the Nag Hammadi treatise the Exegesis on the Soul, which seems to have Simonian affinities. It regards what seems to be the vehicle of the soul as its womb, surrounding it as a dirty and polluted garment (cf. esp. NHC II,6: 131,13-132,2). The restoration of the soul's former nature, which it possessed before it had fallen into the body and prostituted itself to the materialistic life, is called the baptism of the soul; the "womb of the soul" is on the outside like male genitals until purified by baptism, when it is "turned inward" to regain the freshness of its former nature.[29]
    Among the Sethians, Simonians, and especially the Valentinians, the sacramental means of restoring the androgynous wholeness of the inner person through ritual acts centered on baptism presupposes a cultic community with a strong sense of corporate identity. In other gnostic circles, however, the same quest and its mythical justification could be focused exclusively upon a subjective transformation of consciousness leading away from sect formation and toward a radical isolation of the individual. Within Sethianism, the exclusive concentration on the singular experience of an individual visionary like Allogenes or Zostrianos or Marsanes in the Platonizing Sethian treatises might lend itself to such a development, although the Three Steles of Seth, apart from Seth's initial praise of his father Geradamas, is explicitly cast in the first person plural as a communal exercise in contemplative ascent.
    The trend towards individual isolation is evident in the Gospel of Thomas and in the encratite Christianity of eastern Syria, where most scholars locate the Thomas tradition. The theme of "making the two one" in the Gospel of Thomas likely derives from baptismal liturgies, particularly Syrian ones.[30] But its ideal of "singleness," expressed in the Coptic oua ouwt or the Greek monachos, signifies celibacy and isolation from society. Indeed, the Hag Hammadi Testimony of Truth (esp. 69,8-24) specifies that true baptism is the renunciation of the world, rather than a the ritual sealing of one entering the faith administered by the (defiled!) fathers of the world: the Son of Man baptized no disciples. 

Jesus' Inaugural Baptism as a Paradigm for Visionary Enlightenment

The baptismal lore of many of the foregoing groups, especially the Sethians and those associated with Valentinus and Basilides, make a good deal out of the traditions of Jesus' inaugural baptism.[31] Within the NT, visionary experience is connected not only with heavenly ascensions, but also with baptism, especially the inaugural baptism of Jesus; outside the NT, it is also connected with the manifestation of light (e.g., frg. 4 of the Gospel of the Ebionites, Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.7; Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 88.3 [fire]). The widespread attestation of this phenomenon suggests that the feast of Epiphany originally celebrated the incarnation in context of Jesus' baptism rather than his virginal birth; unlike the passion, this was an event that could be shared by almost all Christians, including Gnostic Christians.
    As we have seen, with its awesome associations with death and rebirth, baptism becomes a principal occasion for visionary experience. A notable instance is the baptismal vision of king Gundaphorus in the Acts of Thomas. According to the Syriac version (20), when the baptismal party enters the bathhouse, Jesus appears, but only his voice was heard "since they had not yet been baptized." After the initial anointing, the invocation of the Name and the Spirit, and baptism proper, as the participants were emerging from the water, there appeared a luminous youth carrying a blazing torch whose light overpowers the illumination afforded by the many oil lamps illuminating the proceedings. The Greek version (26-27) does not explicitly mention the baptism proper: during the night, before the anointing and baptism of Gundaphorus, the participants received an audition from the Lord, but not a vision "not having received the added sealing of the seal." When Gundaphorus receives the chrism in oil, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Wisdom and the five rational faculties are invoked, whereupon the Lord appears briefly as a luminous youth with a burning torch. In both versions, upon daybreak, after the candidate was again clothed, the apostle celebrated the eucharist. The Syriac version makes it clear that the occasion was the nocturnal baptism of Gundaphorus, and that the audition came prior to baptism, while the vision of the Lord occurred immediately upon their emergence from the water.[32]


Investiture typically follows upon naked baptism. The metaphor of replacing an old garment with a new one, which occurs repeatedly in Gnostic baptismal contexts, can signify several religious acts: a shift from a life of vice to one of virtue, religious conversion, a change of life-style, and initiation, where it signifies the death and rebirth of the initiate and assimilation of divine power.[33] In baptismal contexts, the garment that is discarded (cf. the "garments of skin," Gen 3:21) signifies the physical body, while donning the "robe of light" signifies the restoration of the lost Image of God.[34]
    The "Paraphrase of Seth," which Hippolytus (Refutatio V, 19.22) attributes to the Sethians, understands baptism as washing in and drinking from a cup of living, springing water by which the believer, like the savior, puts on the form of a servant, escapes earthy ties and is reclothed with a heavenly garment.
    The Trimorphic Protennoia also applies the motif of putting on garments to the savior's salvific descent. On her third descent as the divine Logos, when Protennoia reveals herself to her members in human likeness ("in their tents," NHC XIII,1: 47,13-25; cf. Jn 1: 9-4), she makes herself invisible to and unrecognized by all the celestial powers by wearing their "garments" until she reveals herself to her brethren by conferring the Five Seals. Similarly in the Gospel of the Egyptians (NHC III,2: 63,23-64,3), Pronoia causes Seth to establish the holy baptism of the Five Seals through a "logos-begotten" body, Jesus the living one, whom Seth put on. To be compared is the depiction of the descent of the initially unrecognized Logos in Johannine prologue, which may have arisen in a baptismal context.
    Likewise, in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth (NHC VII,2: 56,20-59,18), the revealer undergoes an incognito descent (changing his likeness at each cosmic level), his "third baptism in a revealed image," in which he appears in the form of Jesus in order to defeat the cosmic powers through their ignorant attempt to crucify him. The Docetics (according to Hippolytus, Refutatio VIII, 10.6-8) considered Jesus to have two bodies, his fleshly body acquired through his human parent Mary, and another body, received at his baptism in the Jordan as the type of the former; the former body was nailed to the cross, deceiving the archons and powers, yet his nakedness was covered by his baptismal body, perhaps to be understood as an ethereal garment or subtle body rather like the vehicle (ochêma) of the soul. Even the Gospel of Truth (20,28-28) proclaims that Jesus, although clothed with eternal life, died on the cross, nevertheless stripped himself of the "perishable rags," put on imperishability, and ascended to heaven, invulnerable to the powers stripped naked by forgetfulness.
    Putting on clothes appropriate to the cosmic level one occupies so as to make one invulnerable or invisible to the powers applies not only to the descending revealer, but also to an enlightened being as it ascends into the aeonic world. A fine example is the royal garment sent to the revealer in the "Hymn of the Pearl" (Acts of Thomas 108-113). The new garment is often so luminous and brilliant that it blinds the cosmic powers that oppose the soul's ascent (Pistis Sophia ch. 59 [p. 74 Schmidt]). According to the Gospel of Philip (58,15-16; 70,5-9; 76,22-28), in the union of the bridal chamber, one sacramentally acquires a garment of light that makes one invisible to the hostile powers; unlike earthly garments, such heavenly garments put on "by water and fire" (baptism and chrism) are better than those who put them on (57, 19-23. In Allogenes (NHC XI,3: 50,10-34; 58,26-37), the metaphor of changing clothes is applied to Allogenes ecstatic removal from the fleshly (and psychic?) garment of ignorance and investiture with a "great power," enabling him to know things unknown to the multitude and obtain a vision of the Luminaries of the Aeon of Barbelo. A non-Sethian example of stripping and reclothing in the context of an ascent is offered by the Authoritative Teaching (NHC VI,3: 31,24-64,3), where the soul, come to her senses, strips off this world, replacing it with her true garment, her bridal clothing, in which she enters the fold and unites with her true shepherd.
    Alongside the metaphor of being invested with a new garment, one sometimes finds the royal image of being crowned. In Zostrianos (NHC VIII,1: 129,12-16; cf. 57,13-24), when Zostrianos descends from the Kalyptos the Protophanes level in the Aeon of Barbelo, he joins "those who are unified" blesses the higher powers, becomes panteleios, is written in glory, sealed, and receives a perfect crown. In chapters 11 and 12 of the untitled text of the Bruce Codex, Setheus, by means of a logos dêmiourgikos (i.e. Christ), sends forth ray-emitting crowns, which are awarded to believers; they are crowned with a seal of glory on the right and a triple-powered fount (pêgê) in their midst. In a non-ritual context, the royal image of investiture, coronation and enthronement occur side-by-side in the Teachings of Silvanus (NHC VII,4: 87,11-13; 89,10-34; 112,10-27), where one is urged to put on the shining robe of wisdom and holy teaching, the crown of Paideia, and sit on the throne of perception; those who contend well will gain dominion, unlike the fools, who are invested with folly, crowned with ignorance and sit on the throne of nescience. 


The Sethians

Although the Sethians do not appear to have had a ritual of chrismation, they used the term as a metaphor in two basic contexts. The first is that of the anointing of the third member of the Sethian Trinity of Father, Mother and Son with the "goodness" (chrêstia, a pun on christos and chrisma) of the Father, the Invisible Spirit immediately after his conception by the Mother Barbelo, found in the Apocryphon of John (NHC II,1: 6,23-26 and parallels), the Gospel of the Egyptians (NHC III,2: 44,22-24), and the Trimorphic Protennoia (NHC XIII,1: 37,30-35). This is probably based on an interpretation of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' baptism, when he is established as Son of God. The second occurs in the conclusion of Eleleth's revelation to Norea, wife-sister of Seth in the Hypostasis of the Archons (NHC II,4: 97,1-5), where it is promised that the Father will send the "true man," probably Seth, within three generations to anoint the souls of his progeny, the undominated generation, with the unction of eternal life.

Valentinian Chrismation

The relation of the Valentinian chrism to the baptismal rite has been discussed above. The Gospel of Philip (57,22-28; 67,2-9; 69,5-14; 78,1-10; 85,21-86,18) understands the chrism as fire, in the sense of intense light which gives form and beauty. One is begotten again (reborn) by baptism in water and anointing with the chrism through the Holy Spirit as a sort of "baptism" in light. It seems that this is the same light that is kindled in the bridal chamber. The doxology of A Valentinian Exposition (XI, 2A: 40,1-29 refers to the Valentinian rite of anointing, which was performed either before the first baptism or simultaneously with it, enabling the recipient to overcome the power of the devil, who dominates the flesh and struggles against God.
    Marcus (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 1.21.5) also practiced a rite of unction by pouring ointment or a mixture water and oil of balsam upon the heads of his flock, which had the effect of making one invulnerable to the powers and authorities, allowing the inner man to ascend to the invisible by sloughing off the soul (to be delivered to the Demiurge), and the body (to be left behind on earth). Evidently some Valentinians perform the unction in connection with baptism, while others claim that going to the water is unnecessary. Irenaeus calls this casting away of the chain of the soul the redemption. Epiphanius (Panarion 36.2.4-8) adds that the followers of Heracleon perform this unction upon the dying so that the "inner man" of those who receive it will become invisible to and untouchable by the principalities and authorities on high as they ascend, leaving the body on earth and consigning the soul to the Demiurge. The inner man, a son of the pre-existent Father, appeals to the motherless mother Sophia, the mother of Achamoth, as its source, while the inferior powers and the Demiurge know nothing higher than Achamoth, a female created from a female.


The Valentinian Eucharist

In the Gospel of Philip (NHC II,3: 75,15-24), it is said that the eucharistic cup of water and wine contains the Holy Spirit; to drink it conveys the perfect man; in 53,21-24, the eucharist is identified with the crucified Jesus (who brought bread from heaven, 55,6-15), which may explain why this rite seems underplayed in the Gospel of Philip (e.g., 74,1-2). In the act of baptism, the living water is a body that replaces the body stripped off in the act of pre-baptismal disrobing.
    The Valentinian Marcus (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses I, 13.1-5 ) celebrated a eucharist with a cup mixed with a wine that was understood to be the purple and red blood of Grace and was repeatedly administered in large doses to wealthy women, making them deranged. Moreover, Marcus is said to have proclaimed himself to be this Grace as well as the bridegroom whose luminous seed a woman, as bride, is to receive "in her bridal chamber" in order to enter together with him into the One. Women are induced to acts of prophesy by being allowed to babble nonsense spontaneously, supposedly repaying this gift of prophesy by granting their possessions and bodies to Marcus.

Other Instances of the Eucharist: Ophites, Carpocratians, and Borborites

Epiphanius (Panarion 37.5,6-7) describes a curious ritual meal practiced by the Ophites in which they worship a snake (Irenaeus says they identified the paradisical snake with the Devil!) as a royal source of knowledge by offering it bread:
For they have an actual snake, and keep it in a sort of basket. When it is time for their mysteries they bring it out of the den, spread loaves around on a table, and call the snake to come; and when the den is opened it comes out. And then the snake ...crawls onto the table and coils up on the loaves. And this is what they call a perfect sacrifice. And so, someone has told me, not only do they break the loaves the snake has coiled on and distribute them to the recipients, but they each kiss the snake besides ... and they offer a hymn to the Father on high-again, as they say, through the snake--and so conclude their mysteries.
Finally, Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis III, 2.10.1) reports that the Carpocratians celebrate an apparently nocturnal common meal that he calls a "love feast," after which they extinguish the lamps and command the women present to engage in sexual intercourse as a divine duty. Epiphanius reports similar activity on the part of the Borborites, whom he connects with the Sethians (see below on sexual sacramentalism); in particular, he mentions two communal meals of theirs: a eucharist consisting of offering up and consuming menstrual blood and spent semen withheld from intercourse as the blood and body of Christ, and a Passover meal devoted to the consumption of a mangled fetus extracted from any woman who accidentally happens to become pregnant during such sexual exchange (Panarion 26.4.5-5.6).


The metaphor of marriage and the bridal chamber in Gnostic usage can refer both to the experience of spiritual reunification as well as to overtly sexual union. In either case, the underlying myth is that of the recreation of the primal androgyne through the union of male and female, whether that be taken as man and woman, intellect and soul, or the earthly seed and its angelic counterpart. As enlightened beings, the Gnostics generally considered themselves alone capable of understanding the true significance of sexual union, considering the non-Gnostic as worldly and animalistic, experiencing not love, but only lust: "A bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins" (Gospel of Philip 69,1-3; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses I 6.3; Excerpta ex Theodoto 68). While the question of Gnostic sexual practices will be discussed under the heading of sexual sacramentalism, here I want to comment on its use as a metaphor for spiritual unification.[35]
    The application of the concept of human marriage to the achievement of unity with a transcendent reality is frequent in classical Judaism, where God is the husband of his bride Israel; the metaphor of marriage also appears in the New Testament, not only where Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom, but especially in the Pauline corpus (1 Cor 6:15-17, 2 Cor 11:1-2; Eph 5:22-23) as a symbol for the relation of Christ and the Church. Although Christian Gnostics likewise draw on these biblical concepts, uppermost in their minds as well as those of Jewish Gnostics was the notion of the primordial unity of humankind as expressed in Gen 1:26-27, according to which Adam was created as a single masculofeminine being in the image of God.
The primordial sin or fault underlying human existence that had to be overcome was the creator's ignorant act of separating this originally androgynous into separate male and female persons. In the act of physical union, the offspring was thought to receive the human form from the male, while its physical and emotional essence was provided by the female. The same held for the spiritual world as well; spiritual perfection lay in androgyny, so when a spiritual being such as Sophia undertakes to produce offspring without a male consort, the result is defective, a formless abortion lacking the male element of form. This being the character of her offspring, both her son, creator of the natural world, and his cosmic product are likewise defective. The rectification of the creation depends on introducing into it a potential source of its reunification.
    The Sethian myth conceives this to be accomplished when the image of God (Adamas), the original human androgyne, is primordially projected as the archetype upon which the creator unwittingly bases his own human copy. Once he realizes that his androgynous copy is superior to him, he splits it into male and female, but it is too late. In spite of the creator's attempts to subvert the primal couple, by reuniting themselves they can now recreate their original androgyny, which they do in the birth of Seth, the "other seed." Like the divine Adamas, he is a true ("triple," i.e., androgynous) male Child, as is the "immovable race" he engenders.
While a few Gnostic groups such as the late Sethian Borborites sought to replicate this primeval union through non-reproductive sexual union, most, like the earlier Sethians eschewed sexual union, which the they considered to typify the adulterous race of Cain. One might therefore effect a symbolic union on the transcendent plane through ritual means, the Sethians through baptismal ascension, and the Valentinians by an eschatological sacred marriage, the bridal chamber.[36] In the latter act, recourse was had not only to the myth of the primal androgyne and the NT notions of the marriage of Christ and the church, but also to Neo-Pythagorean speculation on the properties of unity.[37]
    In the Valentinian view, having abandoned her male consort, Sophia's ultimate human offspring from Adam and Eve onward, both males and females, were regarded as weak female seed lacking the element of form which could only be restored by an ascent to the Pleroma and marriage with the male angels which the savior had prepared for them. In this way they could eternally enjoy the harmonious syzygetic union experienced by all the undescended aeons there. As in the metaphysics of the Platonic psychology of the individual, every human was a split personality. One's higher rational, active--and thus masculine--aspect of the self, had been primordially sundered from one's emotional, passional, receptive, and thus essentially feminine aspect of the self. The natural link with the divine world, the intellect or highest part of the soul was still resident in the transcendent world, although cut off from the soul and body now that formed one's link with the everyday physical world. The goal of life was therefore to recover this lost unity, which would involve detaching a soul overly enamored of its bodily vehicle from the body, or detaching the rational part of the soul from its irrational and impassioned psychic vehicle, so as to effect its reunion with the higher intelligence.
    For the Gnostics who appropriated such views, the reunion of the psyche with one's intellect was thus tantamount to coming together in an act of marriage, whether enacted through contemplative union, symbolic rites, or actual physical union. The following Valentinian citations make the point clear:
As long as we were children of the female only, as of a dishonorable union, we were incomplete, childish, without understanding, weak, and without form, brought forth like abortions, in short, we were children of the woman. But having been given form by the Savior, we are the children of the man (husband) and of the bride-chamber (Excerpta ex Theodoto 68). If the woman had not separated from the man, she would not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and again unite the two, and to give life to those who died as a result of the separation and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated. Thus Eve separated from Adam because it was not in the bridal chamber that she united with him (Gospel of Philip 70,9-22).
In the Exegesis on the Soul (NHC II,6: 132,2-133,9), which seems to have certain Simonian affinities, the restoration of the helpless female soul wallowing apart from her spiritual home in the brothels of materiality is effected by the advent of the marriage of the female soul with her intellectual masculine counterpart, her true husband. The reunification of the irrational, passionate aspect of the soul with her celestial, intellectual component as her true husband and master, from whom physical embodiment has separated her, is interpreted as a reversal of the primordial separation of Eve from Adam in the Garden of Eden: "They will become a single flesh" (Gen 2:24, 3:16; cf. 1 Cor 6:15, 11:1; Eph 5:23). The Testimony of Truth (NHC IX,3: 31,24-32,16; 34,32-35,23), which also seems to have certain Simonian affinities, likewise uses the imagery of the soul as the bride who strips off this world and learns from the evangelists about the inscrutable One, adorning herself for this her true shepherd with her bridal clothing "in beauty of mind," whereupon:
She found her rising. She came to rest in him who is at rest. She reclined in the bride-chamber. She ate of the banquet for which she had hungered. She partook of the immortal food. She found what she had sought after. She received rest from her labors (NHC IX,3: 35,8-16).
The image of entrance into the bridal chamber and receipt of the new, imperishable wedding robe occurs also in the Second Treatise of the Great Seth (NHC VII,2: 57,7-58,4) as a metaphor for the soul's receipt of Intellect and entry into the heavens. It is called a "mystery" effected by the revealer's incognito descent (changing his likeness at each cosmic level), his "third baptism in a revealed image," to defeat the cosmic powers through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The Valentinian Mystery of the Bridal Chamber

Of course, it was the Valentinians who made the most extensive use of the metaphor of marriage as a designation for the eschatological reunion of the Savior Jesus with Sophia and of her spiritual seed with the male angels of the Savior:[38]
When the whole seed is perfected, then, they say, will the mother, Achamoth leave the place of the Middle, enter into the Pleroma, and receive her bridegroom, the Savior, who came into being from all (the aeons), with result that the Savior and Sophia, who is Achamoth, form a pair (syzygy These then are said to be bridegroom and bride, but the bridal chamber is the entire Pleroma. The spiritual beings will divest themselves of their souls and become intelligent spirits, and, without being hindered or seen, they will enter into the Pleroma, and will be bestowed as brides on the angels around the Savior. The Demiurge passes into the place of his mother Sophia, that is, into the Middle. The souls of the righteous will also repose in the place of the Middle, for nothing psychic enters the Pleroma. When this has taken place, then (they assert) the fire that is hidden in the world will blaze forth and burn: when it has consumed all matter it will be consumed with it and pass into non-existence. According to them the Demiurge knew none of these things before the advent of the Savior (Ptolemaeus, apud Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses I, 1.7.1; cf. Excerpta ex Theodoto 63-65).
The Savior and Sophia are interpreted as the bridegroom and bride, and the place of their union is the "bridal chamber," the divine realm of the Pleroma of spiritual aeons. Thus the Pauline metaphors of the Church as bride and Christ as bridegroom are combined with the story of the fall and restoration of Wisdom, the cosmic soul, and the restoration of the individual psychic beings created by her. As Christians, the Valentinians maintained the Christian rites of baptism, eucharist, and the chrism, but seem to have developed their own ritual enactment of their expected eschatological marriage to their celestial angelic counterparts.
    In Adversus Haereses I, 13.1-21.5, Irenaeus describes some of the Valentinian rituals known to him. In so doing he polemically contrasts the disagreement among the Gnostics with the supposed unified practice of his own church. They include a mystic rite with certain invocations designed to effect a spiritual marriage, mirroring the syzygetic union of the pleromatic aeons, in a bridal chamber prepared beforehand. Others perform a water baptism in the name of the Father of All, Truth the Mother of All, and the Christ who descended on Jesus. Some utilize Hebrew invocations of Achamoth to effect redemption as a communion with the pleromatic powers, and others replace this with a "redemption" in which a mixture of oil and water is poured on the head with certain invocations. Some boast an angelic redemption or restitution (apokatastasis) featuring an anointing with balsam oil in the names of Iao (Yahu) and Jesus of Nazareth that frees one's soul from the powers of this age. Still others, he says, reject all such tangible symbolic acts involving the body or soul which derive from deficiency, claiming that the true redemption occurs only through inner, spiritual man's knowledge of the ineffable Greatness.
    In the Nag Hammadi corpus, the Tripartite Tractate (NHC I,5: 122,12) portrays the Pleroma as the bridal chamber in which the elect spiritual beings will experience ultimate restoration as the bride of the savior, while the "called" psychic humans, the "men of the Church," will serve as attendants outside the pleroma in the aeon of "images," until they receive instruction, upon which all will receive the restoration together; in Irenaeus' account of the Ptolemaic theology (Adversus Haereses I, 7.1), the lower Sophia, Achamoth, enters the Pleroma or bridal chamber as the bride of the Savior, while the spiritual ones put off their souls, enter the Pleroma and unite with the savior's angels. In the Tripartite Tractate (NHC I,5: 128,30), the bridal chamber is also identified with baptism, as another expression of the agreement and indivisible union of the knower (the Valentinian gnostic) with the known (the Savior).
    In the Gospel of Philip, the sacral marriage has multiple symbolic referents. The fundamental mythical motif of the restoration of the broken unity of Adam is still present (NHC II,3: 68,22-26, 70,9-22), but, as in the introductory quote from Irenaeus, the biblical legend is now overshadowed by theogonic myths of the Valentinian school. The sacramental union in the Bridal Chamber has its archetype in the union of the Savior with the previously barren Sophia. According to 71,3-15, the body of Jesus the Savior was produced in the pleromatic bridal chamber from the union of the Father of the All with the "virgin who came down," presumably the higher Sophia before her fall from the Pleroma; from this origin, it descended to establish this union of bride and bridegroom as the way for his true disciples to enter into his pleromatic rest.[39] This union is perhaps represented on another level by the legends of Christ's association with Mary Magdalene,[40] and its fulfillment in the eschatological union of the Gnostic's true self (the female bride, or "seed," or eikôn) with its corresponding male "angel" as bridegroom (58,10-14; 65,23-25: cf. 78,33-127,5). According to the Gospel of Philip 86,1-18, becoming a son of the bridal chamber is the only means to receive the light. Although in this world it is present only as an image of the truth, this light grants absolute imperturbability throughout the rest of this life as though he were already living in the Pleroma. The theme of restoration of man's primeval unity is thereby projected onto the macrocosmic plane, where it symbolizes the reintegration of the Pleroma to its precosmic state. The Gospel of Philip (84,14-85,21) represents the bridal chamber or Pleroma, Christ, and the spiritual elect with the imagery of the heavenly temple and high priesthood similar to that found in the NT Letter to the Hebrews (6:19-20; 9:2-5). The reality of the Pleroma, symbolized as the Holy of Holies, has been concealed from those inhabiting the outer courts of the cosmos from the time that the inferior creator fashioned the world, available to those outside only in types and images. But now the veil separating the Holy of holies from the outer courts of the cosmos has been rent, and these outer courts of the temple-like cosmos will be destroyed. Their creator, the demiurge, will not enter the Holy of holies, but will ascend to the Hebdomad below Horos, the lower boundary of the Pleroma. When the outer precincts of the cosmic temple are destroyed, the merely psychic members of the Valentinian community will be saved by the church, symbolized by the ark, while the truly pneumatic members, those belonging to the priesthood, will be able to go through the veil into the Pleroma in the company of the high priest, the Savior.
The actual ritual involved in the sacred marriage of the Valentinians cannot be determined with certainty. Given its eschatological reference, Gaffron considers it to have been the believer's last sacrament, a "death sacrament" rather like the Mandaean Masiqta.[41]
    As one might expect of any mystery rite, the Gospel of Philip (NHC II,3: 82,7-26 makes it clear that the mystery of the bride chamber is reserved for the pneumatic members of the Valentinian community alone. The intercourse of bride and bridegroom is private, pure and undefiled; the pneumatic bride may reveal her true nature only to those who may enter the bridal chamber every day: her father, mother, and the friend and sons of the bridegroom. The Gospel of Philip (69.1-5) specifies that "a bridal chamber is not for the animals, nor is it for the slaves, nor is it for defiled women; but it is for free men and virgins." Meeks notes the parallel in Gospel of Thomas logion 75: "The monachoi are the [only] ones who will enter the bridal chamber," but here the bridal chamber seems only a metaphor, rather than a cultic anticipation, of "the kingdom."[42]
    Although no cultic acts are described in the Gospel of Thomas, baptism is presumably presupposed. "Male and female" are to be made "one," but it is an unequal union, since the female must become male if she is to become a "living spirit" (logion 114).[43] As Meeks notes, the monachos in the Gospel of Thomas is beyond sexuality, "like a little child" (Gos. Thom. 22), whose innocence of sexuality is portrayed in the removal of clothing without shame--like Adam before the Fall (logion 37, cf. logion 21).[44]
    The heresiologists, most of whose information about ritual details was likely inferred from reading Gnostic treatises, concluded, sometimes correctly, that the rite of the bride chamber involved physical sex relations.[45] The Gospel of Philip disparages actual cohabitation, even though it is an "image" of the true union "in the Aiôn."[46] As early as 1959, H.-M. Schenke speculated that the outward symbol of the Valentinian rite of the bridal chamber was the "holy kiss," on the basis of the Gospel of Philip 59,2-6 ("For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another"), and 63,30-64,2 naming Mary Magdalene as Christ's most beloved disciple, whom he often used to kiss.[47] The popular practice of the wider church tends to confirm that the kiss did have an important place.[48] As Meeks concludes, "whatever the Gnostics did in the marriage sacrament, it clearly distinguished them, in their opinion, from those who were merely baptized and anointed. It was the sacrament of the elite, the teleioi".[49]


The Simonians and Valentinians

While many gnostic groups of the second and third century advocated and practiced a sexual and dietary encratism approaching a true demonization of sexuality, other groups rejected such as practice as ineffective and deceptive, transforming the moral indifference typical of its libertine opposite, free sexual exchange, into sacred ritual. According to Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses I, 23.4), the Simonians worship images of Simon Magus and Helen, as well as engage in various occult practices, including exorcisms, incantations, philters, and erotic magic. Hippolytus, (Refutatio VI, 19.5) specifies further specifies that this erotic magic took the form of sexual intercourse as a means of experiencing spiritual union. In Adversus Haereses I, 13.1-5, Irenaeus indicates that the Valentinian Marcus interpreted the rite of the bride-chamber in a sexually explicit way, claiming himself to be the Grace whose luminous seed should be deposited "in her bridal chamber" as a way of imitating the pleromatic syzygetic union of male and female aeons, thus entering into the One together with him.

A Sethian Offshoot: the Borborites

According to Epiphanius (Panarion 26.3-12), the later Sethians, whom he calls Borborites, Barbelites, Phibionites, Stratiotici and Coddians, engaged in a thorough-going sexual sacramentalism. Their symbolic actions included a ritual handshake (featuring tickling beneath the palms of joined hands), a love feast in which spouses were exchanged, homosexual intercourse on the part of a special class called Levites, naked prayer featuring the elevation to the 365 Archons (e.g., Iao, Saklas, Seth, Daveithai, Eloaeus, Yaldabaoth, Sabaoth, Barbelo, the Autogenes Christ, and the supreme Autopater) of hands smeared with semen and menstrual blood (apparently symbolizing the elevation of the host and wine commemorating the "passion" of Christ), and consumption of the same as a form of eucharist. If one of the women accidentally conceived, the fetus was extracted and sacramentally consumed to prevent the further dispersal of the divine spirit in another human body.
    According to Stephen Gero,[50] "the central, distinguishing feature of the sect, its devotion to the so-called sperma cult, described by [Epiphanius] in vivid detail, can hardly be dismissed as a prurient invention. In the simplest of terms it involved the extraction, collection and solemn, sacramental consecration and consumption of bodily fluids, male and female, which contributed to the further propagation of the human race, and thus to the continued entrapment of the divine substance by the evil archons. In these fluids is concentrated the spiritual element, found scattered in the world, in particular in food-stuffs (including meat!), of which the initiates can and should partake. The mythology proper is a version of the Barbelo-gnostic myth, as known from Irenaeus and the Apocryphon of John." Although Epiphanius does not say that they called this rather unrestrained ritual sex a "mystery" or rite of the bridal chamber, it seems clear that its intent was the same, effecting a restoration of the lost primordial unity by physical coupling and attempting to reverse the natural course of the propagation of the species.


A large and varied class of ritual expression can be loosely gathered under the head of ritual speech, which can include glossalalia, traditional verbal formulae, spells, oaths, conjuration, invocations, evocations, voces mysticae, sunthêmata, and prayers of various sorts addressed to transcendent powers, good and evil alike.
The Basilideans (Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses I, 24.4) are said to engage in magic, conjuring of the dead, spells, calling up of spirits, and the invocation by name of each of the angelic beings belonging to the 365 heavens: "The person who has learnt these things, and knows all the angels and their origins, becomes invisible and incomprehensible to all the angels and powers." In his Contra Celsum (VI, 31), Origen describes numerous verbal formulae employed by the Ophites as passwords used by the ascending soul to mollify the hostility of the heavenly rulers blocking their entrance into the divine world. These formulas bear a striking resemblance to the first person self-predicatory recognition formulas attributed to the Gnostic revealer who likewise used them in the course of his own descent and reascent to disarm the hostile cosmic powers. As the ascending soul traverses the spheres of the powers (the solitary king, Yaldabaoth/Saturn, Iao, Sabaoth, Astaphaios, Ailoaios, Horaios), it announces to the respective rulers its special status as purified and freed from the archontic powers, possessing the divine light and life, imbued with the power of the Mother. Thus:
But you, archon Yaldabaoth, to whom power belongs as first and seventh, I go with confidence as a ruling Logos of pure Nous, as a perfect work for the Son and the Father, bearing by the imprint of a stamp the symbol of life, having opened for the world the gate which you had by your aeon closed; as a free man I go past your power. Grace be with me, yes, Father, be it with me (Contra Celsum VI, 31).
Irenaeus (Adversus Haereses I, 21.5) also attributes similar formulas to Valentinians who, in the context of a death-bed anointing are provided with recognition formulas by which they identify themselves to the demiurge as a son of the pre-existent Father who invokes the higher Sophia as the supreme Mother whose power greatly transcends that of the demiurge's mother, the lower Sophia Achamoth.
    The ultimate ancestor of this genre of passwords seems to be found either in the dialogues of Egyptian Book of the Dead, or, more likely, in the Orphic-Bacchic gold leaves inscribed with hexameter instructions to the dead about the path to be followed in the other world, such as this one from Hipponion:
In the house of Hades there is a spring [i.e. Lethe, of forgetfulness] to the right; by it stands a white cypress. Here the souls, descending, are cooled. Do not approach this spring! Further you will find cool water flowing from the lake of recollection. Guardians stand over it who will ask you in their sensible mind why you are wandering through the darkness of corruptible Hades. Answer: "I am a son of the earth and of the starry sky, but I am desiccated with thirst and am perishing; therefore quickly give me cool water flowing from the lake of recollection." And then the subjects of the Chthonic King (?) will have pity and will give you to drink from the lake of recollection.... And indeed you are going a long, sacred way which also other mystai and bacchoi gloriously walk.
In Gnostic literature, one finds verbal formulae, often in the context of ecstatic prayer and praise, which are clearly intended as syllables of power. Sometimes these syllables are enigmatic abbreviations for articulate utterances, sometimes they have nearly the character of Hindu mantras, as in the chanting of strings of vowels in semi-numerical groupings, where the emphasis seems to lie in the sonority and repetitiveness of the verbal performance. In this regard, the following passage from the Gospel of the Egyptians (NHC III,2: 66,9-68,1) is exemplary:
IH IEUS HW OU HW WUA! Really truly, O Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus, O living water, O child of the child, O glorious name, really truly AIWN O WN (i.e., 'O existing aeon'), IIII HHHH EEEE OOOO UUUU WWWW AAAA{A}, really truly, HI AAAA WWWW, O existing one who sees the aeons! Really truly, AEE HHH IIII UUUUUU WWWWWWW, who is eternally eternal, really truly, IHA AIW, in the heart, who exists, U AEI EIS AEI, EI O EI, EI OS EI (or: Son forever, Thou art what Thou art, Thou art who Thou art)! This great name of thine is upon me, O self-begotten Perfect one, who art not outside me. I see thee, O thou who art visible to everyone. For who will be able to comprehend thee in another tongue? Now that I have known thee, I have mixed myself with the immutable. I have armed myself with an armor of light, I have become light. For the Mother was at that place because of the splendid beauty of grace. Therefore I have stretched out my hands while they were folded. I was shaped in the circle of the riches of the light which is in my bosom, which gives shape to the many begotten ones in the light into which no complaint reaches. I shall declare thy glory truly, for I have comprehended thee, SOU IHS IDE AEIW AEIE OIS, O aeon, aeon, O God of silence! I honor thee completely. Thou art my place of rest, O son HS HS O E, the formless one who exists in the formless ones, who exists, raising up the man in whom thou wilt purify me into thy life, according to thine imperishable name. Therefore the incense of life is in me. I mixed it with water after the model of all archons, in order that I may live with thee in the peace of the saints, thou who existeth really truly for ever.
This presentation of ecstatic prayer is notable in that it mentions the bodily gesture, rather like a Hindu mudra,[51] of extending ones hands in the act of prayer (cf. 3 Mac 2:2; in Odes of Solomon 21, 27, 37, 42 a sign of the crucifixion), indeed while they are folded, forming a circle to symbolize one's containment of the inner light. The prayer also contains an apparent reference to water baptism, in which ordinary physical water ("in the type of the archons") is converted into living water by mixing it with the spirit ("incense of life") possessed by the baptizand; rather than being purified prior to of baptism by invocation of the Spirit or by holy oil, the baptismal water is here purified by the one undergoing baptism, since he has already received the light.
    In the Gnostic treatises one finds also extended doxologies in praise of the aeonic powers. In the Sethian treatises, there are the four particularly striking parallel doxologies in Allogenes (XI,3: 53,32-54,37), the Three Steles of Seth (VII,5: 126,5-13), and Zostrianos (VIII,1: 51,6-52,25 and 88,9-25). They recite a traditional list of nomina barbara designating divine beings invoked in the course of the mystical ascent through the Aeon of Barbelo.[52] In fact the entire Three Steles of Seth is essentially an extended doxology in praise of the Sethian Father, Mother, and Son triad, praising the powers and deeds of Autogenes, Barbelo and the supreme Invisible Spirit; it appears to have been composed for use in a community-oriented practice of contemplative ascent.
    Aretalogical doxologies also are found in the Hermetic Corpus. In the Nag Hammadi library, the Prayer of Thanksgiving (NHC VI,7), which occurs also in Greek (Papyrus Mimaut) and at the end of the Latin Asclepius, is a combination of petitions with doxological praise , which is concluded by a mutual embrace (aspazesthai, cf. the "kiss of peace) and a communal meal of "sacred food that has no blood in it" (65,3-7). This prayer follows the Hermetic treatise The Discourse on the Eighth and the Ninth, which itself contains the extended prayer of an unnamed initiate to his spiritual father Hermes Trismegistus. Having attained Hebdomad, Hermes guides the initiate towards the Ogdoad and Ennead, where he sees that his guide is Intellect itself and, along with other angels and souls, he sings a hymn of praise to the Father in silence. The prayer seems to be regarded as "spiritual sacrifice" (cf. Rom 12:1), and contains petition, aretalogical doxology, and ecstatic chanting of vowels spoken in the first person plural; it is followed later by a hymn with a similar chant in the first person singular (NHC VI,6: 55,23-61,18). Taken with other Hermetic prayers (Corpus Hermeticum I, 31-32; XIII, 16-20; Asclepius 41), these prayers indicate an established community ritual in which visionary experience is expressed in prayers of praise, thanksgiving and ecstatic formulae, and celebrated in a meal.
    There is also the very similar doxological Prayer of the Apostle Paul included in the front of the Jung Codex (NHC I,1).[53] Three of the five supplements A Valentinian Exposition (NHC XI,2a, XI,2d, and XI,2e) are prayers, separated by two short catacheses on the nature of baptism. The first is a pre-baptismal invocation of Christ to anoint baptismal candidates with the power to "trample on the heads of snakes and scorpions and all the power of the Devil" (Lk 10:19; cf. Excerpta ex Theodoto 76); this is very similar to the pre-baptismal practice of exorcising the devil through the acts of anointing with oil and penitence by standing on sackcloth or goatskin.[54] The other two prayers are pre-eucharistic thanksgivings. Although not part of a ritual setting, two other prayers might be mentioned, which are petitions for release form the troubles of this life, one at the conclusion of the Book of Thomas the Contender (NHC II,7: 145,8-16), and James' prayer for a speedy death at the conclusion of the Second Apocalypse of James (NHC V,3: 62,13-63,29).
    The frequent use of nomina barbara, syllables of power, and phrases in languages other than one's own (cf. the Aramaic baptismal formulae quoted in Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses I, 21.3) is succinctly explained in Corpus Hermeticum XVI,2 (Asclepius to King Ammon):
Expressed in our own native (Egyptian) tongue, the discourse (logos) keeps clear the meaning (nous) of the words (logoi) [at any rate], for its very quality of sound, the very intonation of the Egyptian names, have in themselves the actuality (energeia) of what is said. So as far as you can, O King--and you can do all things--keep this our discourse from translation, in order that such mighty mysteries may not come to the Greeks, and the disdainful speech of Greece with all its looseness and its surface beauty, so to speak, take all the strength out of the solemn and the strong--the energetic speech of Names. The Greeks, O King, have novel words, effecting demonstration only; and thus is the philosophizing of the Greeks--the noise of words. But we do not use words; we rather use sounds filled full with deeds.
As Socrates says in the Cratylus (439a; 424bc), "names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things they name." He who would imitate the essence of things in speech must give them a name; to analyze them, one must "separate" the syllables and letters, "first the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, into classes according to the traditional distinctions of the learned, also the semivowels, which are neither vowels nor yet mutes, and distinguish into classes the vowels themselves." Of course, more desirable is a kind of knowledge that grasps reality directly, without names.
    The most striking instance of Gnostic texts containing words and symbols of power is the Books of Jeu in the Bruce Codex. Nearly every page portrays tables and lists of divine names, powers and attributes in the form of voces mysticae et barbara intended to be pronounced, as well as numerous graphic images that were perhaps intended to be gazed upon until a trance-like state resulted. The graphic sunthêmata (tokens), appearing as they do on the pages of a codex, seem to presuppose private appropriation on the part of the reader rather than communal recitation, and thus approach the phenomenon of the "reading mystery" (Lesemysterium), a term coined by Reitzenstein to characterize the gradated reading of the Corpus Hermeticum.
    Although apparently independent of ritual contexts, the alphabet mysticism and magic scattered throughout the pages of Gnostic literature are to be used as words of power.[55] It consists of mysterious combinations of letters, syllables, the seven vowels and seventeen consonants of the Greek alphabet, and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet which are arranged in various sequences and patterns (klimata), where each permutation of order is significant, as is the pronouncing of these sounds. Particularly important is the use of names, especially the Tetragrammaton and other Semitic formations such as Sabaoth and Abrasax, names for the daimones of the planetary Hebdomad, as well as a multitude of phtikta onomata and onomata asêma kai barbara, whose significance is hard to ascertain.[56] The primary example of these is of course the Greek magical papyri. Although space and complexity forbids treating these phenomena here, perhaps the most extensive Gnostic examples are Irenaeus' account (Adversus Haereses I, 13-22) of the alphabetic and numerical speculations of the Valentinian Marcus, and the unfortunately very fragmentary phonological, arithmological, and astral speculations on the shape of the soul in the Sethian treatise Marsanes (NHC X,1).


The Sethian Platonizing Treatises

In the treatises Allogenes, Three Steles of Seth, Zostrianos and Marsanes, salvation is not brought from above to below by divine visitations, but rather occurs through the Gnostic's contemplative ascent through ever higher levels of the divine realm. Here one finds an exemplary visionary, Allogenes or Marsanes (probably alternative designations for Seth), utilizing a self-performable technique of successive stages of mental detachment from the world of multiplicity, and a corresponding assimilation of the self to the evermore refined levels of being to which one's contemplation ascends, until one achieves an absolute stasis and cognitive vacancy characteristic of deification. The Three Steles of Seth presupposes a three-stage ascent to the Autogenes, the aeon of Barbelo, and the supreme One. Allogenes depicts a similar three-stage ascent, but begins at the aeon of Barbelo, and adds an ascent through the supra-intelligible levels of the Triple-Powered One of the Invisible Spirit, culminating in a "primary revelation" of the Unknowable One. A similar ascent is portrayed in Zostrianos, except that it has been supplemented by a series of initial stages within the sense-perceptible realm, and each successive stage of ascent after these is associated with a certain baptismal sealings. Marsanes merely comments on certain features of the ascent, which its author claims to have already undergone.
    The text that most warrants the treatment of this contemplative ascent as an established ritual is the Three Steles of Seth, in which the aretalogical doxologies of Seth in honor of his father Geradamas, the Aeon of Barbelo, and the ultimate pre-existent One are provided for the use of both individuals and a community: "Whoever remembers these and always glorifies shall be perfect among those who are perfect and impassive beyond all things; for individually and collectively they all praise these: and afterward they shall be silent. And just as it has been ordained for them, they will ascend. After silence, they will descend from the third, they will bless the second, and afterward, the first. The way of ascent is the way of descent" (NHC VII,5: 127, 6-21). In the first Stele, Seth praises his father Geradamas as his intellect, as Autogenes (self-begotten), the "Mirotheid" (Mirothea is the mother of Adamas in the Gospel of the Egyptians, NHC III,2: 49,1-12) who presides over Seth's "alien" seed, the immovable race; then Seth and Geradamas praise the thrice-masculine aeon Barbelo who came forth to the middle to empower and bestow crowns and perfection upon them. The second Stele is directed by the "perfect individuals" to Barbelo as their three-in-one source, the source of all multiplicity, the projected image ("shadow") of the "first pre-existent One," the bestower of divinity, goodness and blessing; the "individuals" petition her to save them by uniting them. The third Stele is directed to the pre-existent One, the only and living Spirit, the Existence, Life and Mind of the All, whom they entreat to present a "command" that they might be saved; at that point, the petitioners recognize that they have been saved, and therefore offer praise and glory. Each stele marks a stage on the contemplative ascent to the One. Just as Seth, spiritual ancestor of the Sethians, praised and joined his father Adamas in the praise of the Mother Barbelo, and of her source, the pre-existent One, so the members of the Sethian community are to follow the same pattern in their own ascent to the aeon of Barbelo and receive the revelation of the Invisible Spirit.
    The treatise that most likely contains the key to the ritual origins of the Sethian ascensional rite is Zostrianos, since, as noted above, it marks the various stages of Zostrianos' visionary ascent with certain baptisms, sealings, washings in various "waters." It is perhaps also significant that Marsanes (NHC X,1: 2,12-4,24) enumerates the entire sequence of the ontological levels underlying these treatises as thirteen "seals." Of these texts, it is Allogenes that most clearly portrays the method of this ascent, so it will form the basis of the following exposition, even though it narrates the ascent as that of an individual, and enumerates the levels of ascent slightly differently than the others.
    The cosmology of these treatises is tripartite, but belongs to the four-level ontology of Speusippus, the Neopythagoreans and Plotinus, which posits a highest realm beyond even being itself, below which one finds an atemporal, intelligible realm of pure being, followed by a psychic realm, characterized by time and motion, and finally a physical realm at the bottom of the scale. The following summary of the ontology of Allogenes will suffice to indicate the ontological structure of the entire group:
    The highest being, corresponding the Plotinian One, is the Unknowable One or Invisible Spirit, characterized by non-being existence, silence and stillness; he is not an existing thing and is completely unknowable (XI,3: 62,23-64,14). Marsanes (X,1: 2,12-23)appears to add yet another level, the "unknown, silent One" beyond even the Invisible Spirit.
    The second major level is that of the Aeon of Barbelo, the First Thought of the Invisible Spirit, characterized as a non-discriminating, incorporeal, [timeless] knowledge (XI,3: 51,10-11). The Barbelo Aeon is subdivided into three levels which correspond to aspects of the Plotinian hypostases of Intellect and Soul: 1) the domain of "the authentic existents" (ta ontôs onta, the noêta) presided over by Kalyptos (the Hidden One, a sort of nous noêtos) rather like the Plotinian Intellect; 2) the domain of "those who are unified" (i.e. "exist together," cf. Ennead IV.1.1: ekei [en tôi nôi] homou men pas mous ... homou de pasai psychaiv) presided over by Protophanes (the First Appearing One, a sort of nous theôrêtikos), rather like the Plotinian cosmic Soul; and 3) the domain of the "(perfect) individuals" (perhaps individual souls) presided over by Autogenes (the Self-begotten One, a sort of demiurgic nous dianooumenos) who operates to rectify the realm of Nature, rather like the Plotinian individuated soul.
    The third level, Nature, is merely mentioned in passing as a realm whose defects are continually rectified by Autogenes, and appears to hold no interest for the author of Allogenes, although the treatise Marsanes (X,1: 5,23-26) regards this realm as entirely worthy of salvation.
The mediator between the Invisible Spirit and the Aeon of Barbelo is an entity called the Triple-Powered One. This being is mentioned sometimes independently, and sometimes in conjunction with the Invisible Spirit.[57] By a static self-extension, the Invisible Spirit through his Triple-Powered One becomes the Aeon of Barbelo (XI,3: 45,21-30; cf. Zostrianos VIII,1: 76,7-19; 78,10-81,20; Three Steles VII, 5: 121,20-122,8; Marsanes X, 1: 8,18-9,28). Thus the Triple-Powered One is the potency (dunamis) of the Unknown One and/or Invisible Spirit by which he unfolds himself into the world of Being and Intellect. It is said to consist of three modalities or phases: That-which-is (Being or Existence), Vitality, and Mentality (XI,3: 49,26-38)
In Allogenes, the Triple-Powered One is identical with the Invisible Spirit in its Existence-phase, discontinuous with the Invisible Spirit but identical with Barbelo in its Mentality-phase, and in its emanative or Vitality-phase, it is simultaneously continuous and discontinuous with both the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo. Allogenes attributes also to the Unknowable One / Invisible Spirit a similar triad of attributes, but characterizes them as acts rather than qualities or substances: "he exists, lives and knows without mind, life or existence" (61, 32-39).
    Bearing in mind that the Aeon of Barbelo is considered to be 1) the "knowledge" or "first thought" of the Invisible Spirit (51, 8-32), that 2) it contains the perfect Mind Protophanes, and 3) contains in its Kalyptos-level the realm of pure being (to ontôs onta), one arrives at an enneadic structure for the metaphysical ontology of Allogenes. At the level of the Invisible Spirit, the Being-Life-Mind triad is present as the pure activity of existing, living, and thinking (expressed as verbal infinitives); on the level of the Triple-Powered One, it is present as a triad of abstract qualities (existence, vitality, mentality), and on the level of the Barbelo Aeon, as a triad of substantial realities: being, life and mind (Kalyptos as Being and Protophanes as Mind, although its life-component is not given a distinct identification).
    In reality, all three levels are only separate phases of the unfolding of the Invisible Spirit by means of its Triple-Powered One into the Aeon of Barbelo. Rather than being a triad of principles distributed vertically among different planes of reality, the Existence, Life, Intellect triad is seen as a dynamic three-in-one principle in which each phase of the triad, while containing the other two, is named by the phase of the triad that predominates at each stage of its unfolding. In the accompanying diagram, the underlined term indicates the relative predominance of one of the three modalities. The first phase coincides with the Invisible Spirit and the third phase with the Aeon of Barbelo, in effect giving rise to a median phase in which the Triple-Powered One is discontinuous with both the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo, having a quasi-hypostatic character of its own.
Unknowable One / Invisible Spirit  Exists Lives Knows
Triple-Powered One / Eternal Life  Existence Vitality Mentality
Barbelo / First Thought  Being (Life) Mind

The Visionary Ascent

Allogenes (XI, 3: 58,26-61,21) tripartitions the contemplative ascent into separate but successive stages in accord with the tripartitioning of its general ontology, since the object of the ascent is to become assimilated with each higher level of being through which one passes. Each stage of the ascent is prefaced by instruction from a revealer. The technique of the initial ascent through the lowest level of the intelligible realm, the Aeon of Barbelo is revealed by the "male virgin" Youel (57,29-58,26). The technique of the culminating ascent through the Triple-Powered One is revealed by the three "luminaries of the Aeon of Barbelo" (58,26-61,22), and is structured in terms of the tripartite nomenclature previously applied to the Triple-Powered One in 49,26-38. The technique of the final union with the Unknowable One, however, cannot be conveyed by a positive descriptive revelation, but only by a "primary revelation of the Unknowable One"; this turns out to be the long negative theology in 61,32-64,36, by which one acquires the saving gift of learned ignorance. On completion of the ascent and revelation, Allogenes' appropriate response will be to record and safeguard the revelation (68,16-23) and entrust its proclamation to his confidant Messos (68,26-end).

Stage 1: The Ascent through the Aeon of Barbelo

The revealer Youel instructs Allogenes concerning the initial part of the ascent to "the God who truly [pre-exists]," which requires a perfect seeking of the Good within oneself, by which one knows oneself as one who exists with the pre-existent God. According to 50,10-36, the wisdom conveyed by Youel's initial revelation of the Aeon of Barbelo and of the Triple-Powered One will restore Allogenes to his primordial, unfallen condition. It will invest Allogenes' "thought" with the power requisite to distinguish between "immeasurable and unknowable" things, the contents of the Barbelo Aeon and the principles beyond it, causing Allogenes to fear that his learning has exceeded normal limits. One notes again the metaphor of putting on a garment.
    In 52,7-21, after Youel's initial revelation of the contents of the Aeon of Barbelo, Allogenes reports that his soul went slack with disturbance. Turning to himself, he sees the light surrounding him and the Good within him and becomes divine, which Youel interprets as a completion of wisdom sufficient to receive a revelation of the Triple-Powered One.
    Interpreted in the light of the ontology of the treatise, it seems as if Allogenes has become successively assimilated to the various levels of the Barbelo Aeon: first, to the level of the "individuals" within Autogenes, and second, to the level of "those who are unified" within Protophanes, and third, to "those who truly exist" in Kalyptos.
    In her fifth discourse (55,33-57,24), Youel promises Allogenes that, after an incubation period of a "hundred years" (during which he presumably is to engage in self-contemplation, experiencing "a great light and a blessed path," 57,27-58,7), he will receive a revelation from the "luminaries of the Aeon of Barbelo." This revelation will convey only so much as is necessary to know without Allogenes forfeiting his own kind. If Allogenes is successful in this, he will receive a conception (ennoia) of the pre-existent One and know himself as one "who exists with the God who truly pre-exists" (56,18-36), which will make him divine and perfect.
At the conclusion of the "hundred years" of preparation, Allogenes reports that he saw Autogenes, the Triple Male, Protophanes, Kalyptos, the Aeon of Barbelo, and the "primal origin of the of the One without origin," that is, the Triple-Powered One of the Invisible Spirit (57,29-58,26). One should probably understand this as Allogenes' ascent through the various levels of the Aeon of Barbelo up to and including the lowest aspect ("blessedness" or Mentality) of the Triple-Powered One, which would be identical with the entirety of the Aeon of Barbelo itself. Up to this point, Allogenes still bears his earthly "garment" (58,29-30).
This initial vision culminates with Allogenes' receipt of a luminous garment by which he is taken up to "a pure place" (58,31), where he transcends ("stands upon") his knowledge (characterized by blessedness and self-knowledge) of the individual constituents of the Barbelo-Aeon. He is now ready for "holy powers" revealed to him by the "luminaries of the Aeon of Barbelo" to encourage him to "strive for" an even higher knowledge toward which he had already "inclined," namely "the knowledge of the Universal Ones," that is, of the Triple-Powered One and the Invisible Spirit (59,2-3).

Stage 2: The Ascent through the Triple-Powered One

The ascent beyond the Aeon of Barbelo to the Unknowable One is first revealed to Allogenes by holy powers (59,4-60,12) and then actually narrated (60,12-61,22) by Allogenes in a way quite similar to the revelation, yielding what amounts to two accounts of the ascent. Having surpassed his active, earthly knowledge and inclining toward the passive knowledge of the Universal Ones (the Triple-Powered One and the Invisible Spirit, 59,2-3), Allogenes attains first the level of blessedness (i.e., Mentality), at which one knows one's proper self, sees the good in oneself and becomes divine (59,9-13; 60,14-18). Next, as he "seeks himself," he ascends (anachôrein) to the level of Vitality, characterized by an undivided, eternal, intellectual motion, a supra-eidetic realm, where one achieves partial stability (he stands not firmly but quietly, 59,14-16; 60,19-28). Finally Allogenes achieves the level of Existence, characterized by a completely inactive "stillness" and "standing" (59,19-26; 60,28-37). He is filled with a "primary revelation of the unknowable One" that empowers and permanently strengthens him, enabling him to receive an incognizant knowledge of the unknowable One.
    At this point, having assimilated himself to the primal modality of the Triple-Powered One, Allogenes can no longer ascend to any higher level; only in the case that he becomes afraid can he further withdraw, and that only "to the rear because of the activities" (59,34-35; cf. Plotinus, Ennead III,8.9,29-40; VI,9.3,1-13). He must not "seek incomprehensible matters," but must avoid any further effort lest he dissipate his inactivity and fall away from the passivity, concentratedness, and instantaneousness of the primary revelation to follow (59,26-60,12; cf. 64,14-26; 67,22-38). Allogenes is told be "incognizant" ("ignorant" or "non-knowing") of the Unknowable One, that is, not to exercise any faculties of the active intellect, lest this activity initiate a movement that would destroy the stability he has achieved. Even to fear this extreme inertness is such a mental activity, and necessitates a withdrawal to a previous level of contemplation. Once he receives the primary revelation, he must therefore "still himself" and remain completely self-concentrated ("do not further dissipate") and refrain from any exercise of the active intellect, even if it should be a "luminous ennoia," which might replace and therefore destroy the inactivity conveyed to him by the Unknowable One.[58] In a state of utter passivity, Allogenes receives a "primary revelation of the Unknowable One" (59,28-29; 60,39-61,1) characterized as a cognitively vacant knowledge of the Unknowable One (59,30-32; 60,8-12; 61,1-4). This knowledge can be articulated only by an extensive negative theology (61,32-62,13; supplemented by a more affirmative theology, 62,14-67,20).
    The sequence of Allogenes' mental states therefore moves from relative to permanent stability, and from self-knowledge to mental vacancy: 1) At the level of Mentality, characterized by silent stillness, he "hears" the Blessedness of true self-knowledge. 2) At the level of Vitality, characterized by the eternal circular ("undivided") motion of the supra-eidetic realm, and still seeking himself, he achieves partial stability. 3) At the level of Existence, characterized by total stability and inactivity, he achieves a complete stability, permanently strengthened by the indwelling of the Triple-Powered One. 4) Allogenes is filled with the "primary revelation of the Unknowable One," which allows him to know the Unknowable One and his Triple-Powered One insofar as he maintains a state of complete incognizance and mental vacuity.
    The sequence of Allogenes' mental states is also the reverse of the sequence of the dominant phases or ontological modalities in which the Triple Powered One unfolds into the Aeon of Barbelo. His initial state is called Blessedness, a condition associated with a silent (non-discursive?) self-contemplation characteristic of "Mentality," which designates also the lowest phase of the Triple-Powered One's three phases of Mentality, Vitality and Existence. He is then instructed to move from this state to a less stable state, that of "Vitality," which is characterized by an eternal circular motion that still includes a "seeking of oneself." Then, in order to gain a state of ultimate stability, he is to move on to the level of Existence, the phase in which the Triple-Powered One is identical with the Invisible Spirit, who is absolutely at rest and contains all in total silence and inactivity. In each case, the contemplation of entities on ever higher ontological levels is characterized as a form of the contemplator's self-knowledge, suggesting that the consciousness of the knowing subject is actually assimilated to the ontological character of the level that one intelligizes at any given point.
    Allogenes thus presents two levels of knowing: One is achievable in the world, and is characterized by the actual vision of what was communicated in the auditory revelations imparted by the emissary-revealer Youel; it suffices to have a vision of each of the beings comprising the Aeon of Barbelo up to and including the lower aspect of the Triple-Powered One. The other is achievable, not in the world, but only after elevation to a pure place, and is to be imparted by an apophatic "primary revelation" from the Luminaries of Barbelo's Aeon; it enables one to experience directly the realm beyond intellect and even being itself occupied by the upper levels of the Triple-Powered One and the Unknowable One. The first level of knowing is active and discursive, involving knowledge of one's self as well as the ability to experience one's assimilation to the various levels comprising the intellectual and psychic realm of the Barbelo Aeon (58,38-59,3; 59,9-16): from individuated soul to unity with the cosmic soul to the intellectual domain of the authentic existents. The second level of knowing is passive; strictly speaking it is not knowledge at all, but culminates in a non-knowing, non-discursive knowledge with no awareness of distinctions, even that between knower and known, an utter vacancy of the cognitive intellect, a "learned ignorance" (59,30-35; 60,5-12; 61,1-4) called a "primary revelation of the Unknowable One" (59,28-29; 60,39-61,1).

Stage 3: The Primary Revelation

The extensive negative theology occupying the last third of Allogenes exhibits a close relationship between the negative ontological (apophatic) predications of the Invisible Spirit and the non-cognitive contemplation of him.[59] It turns out that the primary revelation conveying the ultimate vision of the supreme reality is identical with its object: the Invisible Spirit is the very primary revelation by which he is known (Allogenes 63,9-19). The Invisible Spirit is so unknowable that he is in some sense his own unknowable knowledge, and forms a unity with the ignorance that sees him; in fact he seems to be equated with the state of mental vacancy itself (Allogenes 63,28-64,14). Yet one cannot simply use the equation between the unknowable deity and the primary revelation or incognizant knowledge by which he is known as a way of knowing or speaking about him. To equate him with either knowledge or non-knowledge is to miss the goal of ones' quest (Allogenes 64:14-36). It is nevertheless clear that Allogenes assumes that it is possible to achieve a consubstantiality between the known, the means of knowledge and the knower: the unknowable deity is united with the ignorance that sees him, which is identical with his own self-knowledge. By implication, he is also united with the non-knowing visionary as well. Thus there is an isomorphism, indeed an identity, between both the epistemic and ontic states of the knower, the known and the means of knowledge at each stage of the ascent.
    The prototype of this threefold ascent is found in Plato's Symposium (210a-212a), in the speech where Socrates recounts the path to the vision of absolute beauty into which he had been initiated by the wise Diotima. The method consists of a three-stage qualitative and quantitative purification or purgation of the soul by a redirection of Eros, the moving force of the soul, away from the lower realm to the higher.[60] The qualitative purgation is a progressive shift of attention from the sensible to the intelligible realm in three levels of knowing, which correspond to three levels of experience: physical beauty, moral beauty and intellectual beauty; these are the objects respectively of the bodily senses, the ethical components of the soul, and the intelligizing, contemplative faculty of the reflective soul. The quantitative purgation is a shift of attention away from individual instances of beauty, to the ideal beauty of all forms, and finally to absolute beauty itself, which then discloses itself as a sudden and immediate intuition. The next higher stage is therefore achieved by a purifying and unifying synthesis of the experience of the lower stage. As in the Symposium, so also in the Republic (532A-B) the final moment of attainment is conceived as a revelation of the supreme form. After long preliminary effort, one's soul or mind has transcended discursive science, dialectic itself, for an unmediated vision of or direct contact with the object sought. No longer does one "know about" the object things that can be predicated of it, but one actually possesses and is possessed by the object of one's quest.
    In the first four centuries of our era to which the Barbeloite treatises belong, the Platonic tradition regarded metaphysics or theology as the highest of the three stages of enlightenment or spiritual progress.[61] It corresponded to the highest stage of initiation into the mysteries and was in fact called epopteia, the supreme vision of the highest reality, tantamount to assimilating oneself to God insofar as possible (Theaetetus 176B).[62] This traditional Platonic quest is found not only in Plato, but also later in Philo of Alexandria (who however shunned the notion of assimilation to God), Numenius, Valentinus, Albinus (i.e., Alcinous, the viae analogiae, negationis, additionis and eminentiae of Didaskalikos 10.5-6; cf. 28,1-3), Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis V, 11.70.8-71.5), Origen (Contra Celsum VII, 42) and especially Plotinus (Ennead VI,7.36). What is generally common to these visionary ascents is initial purification, usually through some form of instruction involving the use of analogies, negations, and successive abstraction until the contemplative mind has become absorbed in its single object (the One, the Good, the Beautiful, etc.) at which point one "suddenly" sees the ultimate source of all these;[63] here philosophy and intellection give way to ecstasy.


By way of conclusion, it can be seen that the purpose of Gnostic ritual was uniformly salvific, a means to restore the primordial unity of the human person. This process might be conceived on a relatively more biblical basis, as uniting the male and female components of an original androgyne that wrongfully underwent a primeval division. Or, on a more Platonic basis, as the restoration of the soul to the original psychic substance from which its ungrudging maker extracted and incarnated it; its (metaphorically feminine) irrationality acquired from contact with materiality must be subjected to its higher, undescended, rational or intellectual (metaphorically masculine) component. The Gnostics illustrated the original perfection of the soul by the pairing and agreement of the pleromatic aeons, and its degradation is illustrated by the lack of cooperation between male and female at the moment of the inception of the physical cosmos and its creator, which become characterized by victimization and oblivion on the one hand, and by presumption and antagonism on the other. The physical bodies into which the divine substance was thereby incarnated must be stripped away like an old garment and replaced with the luminous garment made of that substance; they must be thoroughly washed away and the inner person immersed in the living water of wisdom, anointed with the fragrance of the divine spirit, and wed with its other but higher self.
    In contrast to Gnostic rites of baptism, investiture, chrismation, and the sacral meal--whose effect depends on a combination of divine initiative and revealed insight (Gnosis)--the practice of ritual speech, sexual sacramentalism, and to some extent contemplative ascent, come closest to the kind of ritual acts which effect their own work (ex opere operato). Baptism, investiture, chrismation, and even the sacral meal are typically said to be received or undergone. Similarly, the rite of sacral marriage is usually portrayed as an eschatological gift, something to be awaited. On the other hand, ritual sex, speech, gesture, and contemplative ascent depend much more on individual initiative and technique. In this sense, they border on theurgical rites insofar as they exploit acquired knowledge of certain cosmic sympathies and/or properties of physical actions that serve to assimilate oneself to transcendent forces or levels of reality. Simonian, Valentinian, and especially Sethian materials witness both self-actualized and conferred ritual procedures, and portray salvation sometimes as "self help" and "other help" process. Particularly notable is the distinction between Sethian texts which portray the advent of salvation as brought from above to below by the supreme Mother and those that portray it as the result of a self-actualized contemplative ascent. To be sure, a divine revelation showing the path is required; Allogenes is still dependent on divine powers like Youel and the luminaries of the aeon of Barbelo to reveal to him the way of ascent, yet once he receives the revelation, he makes the ascent in an unaided fashion. Of course, in almost all texts that portray an ascent to the supreme One, Gnostic and Platonic alike, the final vision of the One is ultimately vouchsafed. Nevertheless, the salvific goal seems to involve the transfer of one's inner essence from below to above, rather than conjuring the manifestation of the divine powers here below. Vivid manifestations of divine beings occur in the Gnostic texts, yet they are uncoerced, free manifestations of the divine unrelated to any causal connection or affinities innate to the created realm, and usually are witnessed by august figures who themselves have a heavenly origin (Seth, Jesus) or by figures who are singled out by divine choice (Zostrianos, Marsanes, Allogenes, Thomas and other disciples of Jesus). Salvation is achieved by the return of the soul to its original state, not by a rectification of the physical world it has come to inhabit. This is not merely to repeat the old adages about the anticosmicism and antisomaticism often ascribed to the Gnostics, many of whom valued corporeality as a vehicle of revelation.[64]
Because of the wide variation of Gnostic attitude and implementation, the relation of Gnostic ritual to later Platonic, especially thurgical, ritual cannot be simply characterized. It cannot be said that one is fundamentally based on biblical motifs and the other on Platonic concepts. Although the theurgists do not seem to employ the myth of the primal androgyne, even given its fundamental significance for gnostic myth and ritual, it cannot be said that all Gnostics employed it. Nor can it be said that one is anticosmic while the other is procosmic, or that one is individualistic and noetic while the other is communal and dependent on revelation, or that the one is self-actualized while the other is divinely initiated.
    As stated in the introduction, it may be taken that theurgy is a ritual practice in which embodied souls were brought into a sympathetic resonance with the divine Logoi that informed the natural world and that these divine powers were invoked to enter the phenomenal world in order to reveal their divine source. And yet, apart from an appeal to a Posidonian doctrine of cosmic sumpatheia, that seems precisely the intent of the invocation of the numerous divine beings, the living water itself, and those who preside over it and the Name, and the receivers, guardians, and purifiers necessary to effectuate the Sethian baptismal rite. Indeed, it remains that ultimate salvation in both outlooks is ultimately a matter of revelation and divine initiative, for at the summit of all ritual and contemplative effort, the Supreme "suddenly" manifests itself, as both Plato and the Gnostics discovered.

[1] I have here paraphrased the admirably succinct definition of ritual given by W. Burkert, Greek Religion (transl. J. Raffan, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 54-55.
[2] Of course the ultimate goal of theurgists was the soul's return to its stellar origin (Proclus, Hymn 3). Iamblichus (de mysteriis V, 26.9-18) describes the stages of prayer, whose efficacy lies entirely with the gods: initial contact and acquaintance with the divine, establishing a common noetic bond, petition for divine gifts, and finally the "sealing" of the ineffable union.
[3] Symposium 189d-191a: "For in the beginning there were three races of men, not the two of male and female as now, but also a third sharing the nature of both, whose name is extant but the creature not. For at that time there was an androgyne, a single species and name shared by both male and female...their strength and vigor was awesome and their arrogance was great....taking thought, Zeus said, 'It seems to me that there is a strategy by which these humans might both survive and cease from their intemperance by becoming weaker; I propose to split them in half, and therewith they will be weaker'...having said this, he split the humans in two...since their nature was bisected, each yearned to unite with its other half." The themes of original androgynous unity and its superiority, the divine jealousy, the split, the attendant weakness and the urge to reunite all return in Gnostic thought.
[4] On this myth and its application to the Pauline baptismal reunification formula of Gal 3:8, see W. Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity," History of Religions 13 (1974), 165-211. Among the references cited by Meeks, op. cit. p. 188, n. 102 are the Marcosians, apud Irenaeus, Haer. I, 18.2 = Epiphanius Panarion 34.16.4-5; Naasenes, apud Hippolytus, Refutatio V, 7.7-15; Ap. John, BG 8502, 27,20-25 = NHC III, 1: 7,23-8,5; NHC II,1: 5,5-14; Gos. Phil., passim; Simonians, apud Hippolytus Refutatio VI, 18; Exegesis on the Soul, NHC II,6: 127,24; the lists of paradoxes found in Hippolytus Refutatio VI, 17.3 and The Thunder, NHC VI,2: 13,16-14,5 || Orig. World, NHC II,5: 114,7-16 || Hyp. Arch., NHC II,4: 11-17. On the whole, see Jacob Jervell, Imago Dei, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1960, 161-65.
[5] The main passages are: Gos. Egypt. (the series of prayers in III,2: 65,26-68,1 and the doxologies in IV,2: 59,13-29; III,2: 49,22-50,17; 53, 12-54,11; 55,16-56,3; 61,23-62,13); Apoc. Adam (the visions of the thirteen kingdoms, V,5: 77,27-82,19, and the concluding sections in 82,19-85,31); Melch. (the aretalogies of Gamaliel and Melchizedek in IX, 1: 5,17-6,10 and 14,16-18,7 respectively); Zost. (esp. NHC VIII, 1: 5,11-7,22; 15,1-21; 47,1-63,9); the Pronoia hymn of Ap. John (II, 1: 30,11-31,25); Trim. Prot. (sporadically throughout the aretalogical passages and especially in the recitation of XIII, 1: 48,15-35 and in other, more expository passages, e.g., 36,5b-7a; 37,1b-3a; 37,35; 41,21b-24a; 45,12b- 20; 46,16-19a and 48,top-48,12a). The term "the Five Seals," mostly referring to some kind of baptism, occurs in Ap. John II,1: 31,24; IV,1: 49,4; Gos. Egypt. IV,2: 56,25; 58,6; 58,27-28; 59,27-28; 66,25-26; 74,16; 78,4-5; III, 2: 55,12; 63,3; 66,3; the Bruce untitled treatise 32,10 [Schmidt-MacDermot]; and Trim. Prot. XIII,1: 48,31; 49,27-28; 47,29; 50,9-10). The fundamental study of these remains that of J.-M. Sevrin, Le dossier baptismal Séthien (BCNH Études 2, Québec: Presses de l'Université Laval, 1986.
[6] By mid-second century, the Christian baptismal ritual comprised (with regional variations) approximately the following sequence of acts (in certain regions preceded by a two-day fast and an all-night vigil culminating with the rite performed in darkness): 1) renunciation of sin and Satan (later spoken with outstretched arms and facing westwards), sometimes coupled with removal of the outer garments, standing in penance on sackcloth or goatskin, and a pre-baptismal anointing with olive oil (a gesture of healing) and cruciform signation on the forehead, (either as a kind of exorcism or as an epiclêsis of the Holy Spirit); 2) an optional signation with oil on the forehead, after which the postulant strips naked (reminding the postulant of the primal nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden; in cases where there was a baptistery, stripping occurred after entrance into the inner chamber, called by Cyril the Holy of Holies); 3) an optional complete pre-baptismal anointing with oil; 4) water baptism by immersion accompanied by invocation of "the Names" (usually threefold and including affirmations of creedal interrogations, later spoken eastward); 5) emergence from the water (in which the baptizand is to imagine himself as clothed in a radiant garment); 6) an optional post-baptismal anointing of various parts of the body with oil or myrrh (absent in the Syrian rite, and thus likely a secondary addition); 7) investiture (usually in white clothing, signifying receipt of the light of immortality, supplemented in Egypt much later with a crowning); 8) in the Western Church, a post-baptismal anointing (chrismation) of the head by the priest or bishop with oil or myrrh; and 9) an imposition of hands, usually by the bishop, which may include a further anointing and "sealing" on the forehead. Any one of these acts, the anointings (prior to baptism conceived as apotropaic, after baprism as confirmation), the imposition of hands or the baptism itself might be called a "seal." To judge from the Acts of Thomas 26-27, the ascent from the water (Syriac version) or the chrismation (Greek version) may also involve luminous appearances of the Savior; Justin Martyr (Apol. 1.61.11-12) characterizes the baptismal washing as "enlightenment" (phôtismos). See J. Ysebaert, Greek Baptismal Terminology: Its Origins and Early Development (Graecitus Christianorum Primeva 1, Nijmegen: Dekker & Van de Vegt, 1962), Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, sec. 21 in the editions by both Dix (London, 1937) and Botte (Paris, 1946), the ancient Syrian liturgy reconstructed by A.F.J. Klijn from the Syriac "Life of John" and other sources ("An Early Christian Baptismal Liturgy," in Charis kai Sophia: Festchrift Karl Rengstorf [Leiden: E.J. Brill, l964], 216-28), and the convenient collection of texts in E.C. Whitaker, Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy, [London: SPCK, 1970]). While for non-Sethian Christians this ceremony would be followed by a kiss of peace and the Eucharist, the Sethian ritual appears to have been complete in itself, and effective of salvation. The Sethian rite of the Five Seals (investiture, baptism in the Living Water, enthronement, glorification and enlightenment in Trim. Prot. 48,15-35; 45,12-20), includes acts similar to those in 2 Enoch 22 (stripping of earthly garments, anointing, investing, enlightening) and in The Testament of Levi 8,2-10 (investing as priest and king, anointing, washing, feeding, drinking, further investing and crowning). In Test. Levi 18,6-7 at the advent of the eschatological priest, a star arises, emitting the light of knowledge, the Father's Voice issues from the heavenly temple, and the spirit of understanding rests upon him in the water. The similarity of these motifs to those of the synoptic accounts of Jesus' baptism is obvious. Similar baptismal motifs occur in the Odes of Solomon (11,7-16: drinking Living Water, stripping away of folly, investing with radiance and enlightenment; 24,1-5: the Voice of the dove above the Messiah and the opening of the abysses). The sequence of acts in the Sethian Five Seals is also nearly duplicated in the Mandaean Mabuta as summarized by Kurt Rudolph, Die Mandäer: II. Der Kult (Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments, N.F. 57; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1961), 88-89: investiture, entrance into the "jordan," triple self-immersion, triple immersion by the priest, triple signation with water, triple drink, crowning or wreathing, invocation of divine names, ritual handshake (ku[sinvcircumflex]ta), and ascent from the "jordan." Like many of these baptismal materials, the Sethian baptismal materials seem consistently to link the descent of the savior (Seth or Christ as the Logos) into the world with the descent of the baptizand into the water or world of chaos, and the visionary ascent of the baptizand out of the water or world into the light with a sort of royal enthronement of the baptizand. The similar pattern of various of the NT Christological hymns may also be seen against such a baptismal environment (e.g., Phil 2:6-11; Col 2:9-15, Jn 1:1-16).
[7] Such stripping, disrobing and attendant nakedness denote separation from the profane condition of ignorance and entrance into a liminal state. At this point, the initiate or the visionary is "neither this nor that, and yet is both" (V.W. Turner, "Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage" in Forest of Symbols [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1967], 98), neither enlightened nor unenlightened, but inhabiting a liminal state of literal or figurative nakedness, humility, and passivity, with no claim to status or possession of knowledge. The third phase of the initiatory "rite of passage," aggregation, means incorporation not only into a new state of awareness and into the elect group which inhabits this state, but also the advent of a new cosmic situation, such as the defeat of the hostile cosmic powers and the dissolution of chaos. In the Sethian treatises, typical metaphors for aggregation are Pronoia's gathering of all her members, or in the contemplatve ascent, "standing," and being assimilated to increasingly higher levels of reality. As Plotinus observed, such transformed persons thought themselves superior in rank to the very stars, even to the gods themselves (Ennead II, 9.9.43-60).
[8] The Sethian scheme of salvation is centered around the supreme trinity of the Father, Mother and Son: the Invisible Spirit, the male virgin Barbelo who is the Invisible Spirit's First Thought (Ennoia, Protennoia), and their offspring, the divine Autogenes (identified as Christ in the Christian Sethian treatises; in an unpublished paper, "The Feminine Principle in Platonic and Gnostic Metaphysics," I have tried to show that the Father-Mother-Son nomenclature is likely to be an adaptation of the Father, Mother, Child triad developed by Plato in Timaeus 48-52, representing respectively the transcendent Forms as father, the receptacle and nurse of becoming as mother, and the images comprising the phenomenal world as child or offspring). The main agent of salvation is the Mother Barbelo, who in various guises descends into the world to rescue the spiritual substance which had been captured in human bodies through the ignorant act of the Archon Yaldabaoth, the aborted offspring of Barbelo's lower double, Sophia. Typically, Barbelo descends thrice into the world. First she projects the image of Adamas, the archetypal human, which the Archon undiscerningly incorporated into a psycho-somatic human copy. Second, once the Archon had sundered Eve from Adam, the Mother (as the Epinoia of light) descends to enlighten the primeval couple by causing them to eat of the tree of knowledge and enabling them to produce their son Seth in the true image of God. Seth becomes the father of an "immovable race" of potentially enlightened people destined to live a perilous life among the mass of immoral humanity descended from Cain, the illegitimate son of the physical Eve by the Archon. Her third and final salvational act is her descent to the contemporary members of that race, the contemporary Sethian Gnostics, taking on the form of the divine Logos, or Christ, or of Seth himself.
[9] According to it, the exalted Sophia is the fountain or spring (cf. Sirach 15:3; 24:30; Philo, Fuga 195) from which flows the Word like a river (Philo, Somn. 2.242; cf. Fuga 97). She is also equated with the living water of which God is the source (cf. Prov 16:22; 14:27; Cant 4:15 and Bar 3:12 with Jer 2:13; 17:13 [LXX], Jn 4:10; 7:38 and Odes of Solomon 11:5-9; 30:1-6). She is the Mother of the Word through whom the universe came to be (Philo, Fuga 109), the mother of all creatures (Philo, Det. 115-116). To be baptized in her water is to receive true Gnosis. Her Voice is the revelation of the truth. The same sort of myth of descent applied to Barbelo or the First Thought in the Sethian treatises figures also in the story of Sophia in 1 Enoch 42 and other sources--such as the Johannine prologue--where Wisdom (or the Logos) descends to find a place to dwell among men, but meeting with initial failure, reascends or tries again.
[10] They include: Yesseus Mazareus Yessedekeus the living water, Micheus, Michar and Mnesinous, who preside over the "spring of truth" or "the gate of the waters," Seldao and Elainos who preside over the "mountain" (perhaps Charaxiô [III,2: 68,13], "mountain [Heb. har] of the worthy [Gk. axiôn]"), the Four Lights Harmozel, Oroiael, Davithe, and Eleleth along with their "ministers" Gamaliel, Gabriel, Samblo and Abrasax, and finally Yoel, who presides over the divine name with which one is baptized.
[11] Here one might interpret the Five Seals as five renunciations, but it seems to me unlikely.
[12] The components are similar to those found in early Christian baptismal liturgies; see above, note 6.
[13] They include the Invisible Spirit, Barbelo, the thrice-male Child, the male virgin Youel, Ephesek the Chikd of the Child, and the Doxomedon aeon. A similar set of beings as are invoked in the doxologies of Melchizedek (IX,1: 5,17-6,10; 14,16-18,7), there revealed by Gamaliel and pronounced by Melchizedek as he is baptized.
[14] In the Sethian theogony and cosmogony, a similar distinction is maintained between the transcendent luminous living water in which Barbelo emerges as a faithful reflection of the Invisible Spirit's thought (cf. Ap. John NHC II, 1: 4,18-28) and the dark and chaotic waters below produced by the downward inclination of Sophia, from which the demiurge produces the physical cosmos as merely a pale and inauthentic reflection of the divine aeons (e.g. Zost. NHC VIII, 1: 9,16-10,18; Hyp. Arch. NHC II, 4: 87,11-20 and parallels). See Hippolytus, Refutatio 5.19.21, and below on Justin's Baruch.
[15] Clearly these 13 "birth stories" about the Illuminator are being reinterpreted in the light of earlier traditions about the descent of the spirit upon Jesus at his baptism. See below on the Basilideans, and J.M. Robinson, "On the Gattung of Mark (and John)," in Jesus and Man's Hope (175th Anniversary Festival on the Gospels at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) Perspective 11, 2(1970), 99-129, especially 119-129.
[16] She appears in three successive forms: First, as Father, she is the divine but as yet inarticulate Voice of the First Thought of the Invisible Spirit who presides over the establishing of the heavenly dwellings for her members and descends to chaos to loosen their bonds. Second, as Mother, she is the articulate Speech of the Thought who overthrows the old aeon ruled by the evil powers and announces the dawn of the new age. Third, as the Son, she is the fully articulate Logos who adopts the guise of successively lower powers, descends to and enters the "tents" of her members, puts on Jesus, thus rescuing him from the cross, and leads her members back to the light by means of the celestial ascent ritual of the Five Seals.
[17] Gnosis, or perhaps the seed of Seth; cf. Gos. Egypt. III,2: 56,4-13. Cf. the radiant light with which the Invisible Spirit is surrounded in Ap. John II, 1: 4,18-26, as well as the important place given to the Four Lights. The Word, bearing Living Fruit, pays the tribute of this Fruit to the Living Water, which it pours out upon Protennoia's "Spirit" (i.e., her gnostic "members" who share affinity with her) which originated from the Living Water but is now trapped in the soul (i.e. the psychic realm) below. The baptismal rite of the Five Seals is the celestial ascent by which one strips off the psychic and somatic garments of ignorance (cf. Col 2:11-15). It transforms and purifies Protennoia's members within those aeons from which Protennoia initially revealed her masculine likeness (43,20-25; probably in the form of the Autogenes who established the Four Lights), and it clothes them with radiant light (48, 7-14).
[18] NHC XIII, 1: 49:29-30: titie n-sfagis n-te neeiran ete naï ne. The use of the Coptic relative clause ete naï ne in the absolute seems odd; perhaps it once had a predicate, now lost, providing a more specific gloss on the Five Seals. As it stands, its antecedent is "these names," presumably the names of the beings named in 48:15-35. The effect of this phrase is to identify the Five Seals with a (ritual) invocation of the names of these spiritual beings, the baptizers, guardians, investitors, rapturers, glorifiers, enthroners and others associated with the baptismal rite.
[19] According to the detailed analysis of M.R. Desjardins, "Baptism in Valentinianism," a paper delivered at the 1987 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.
[20] For sacraments in the Gospel of Philip, see R. M. Grant, "The Mystery of Marriage in the Gospel of Philip," Vigiliae Christianae 15 [1961]: 129-40; H.-M. Schenke [and Johannes Leipoldt], "Koptisch-gnostiche Schriften aus den Papyus-Codices von Nag-Hammadi," Theologische Forschung, no. 20 [Hamburg-Bergstadt: Reich, 1960], 35-38; Eric Segelberg, "The Coptic-Gnostic Gospel according to Philip and its Sacramental System," Numen 7 (1960), 189-200; idem, "The Baptismal Rite according to the Coptic-Gnostic Texts of Nag Hammadi," in Studia Patristica V, ed. F.L. Cross, TU 80 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1962), 117-28; idem. "The Gospel of Philip and the New Testament," in The New Testament and Gnosis: Essays in honour of Robert McL. Wilson, ed. A.H.B. Logan and A.J.M. Wedderburn (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1983); D.H. Tripp, "The 'Sacramental System' of the Gospel of Philip," in Studia Patristica in Three Parts, ed. E.A. Livingstone, (Oxford: Pergamon, 1982), 1.251-60; Wilson, The Gospel of Philip, 17-23; and C. Trautmann, "Organization communautaire et pratiques rituelles," Histoire et archéologie 70 (1983), 44-51; and H. Green, "Ritual in Valentinian Gnosticism, Journal of Religious History 12 (1982), 109-24. Cf. especially the doctoral dissertations of H.-G. Gaffron, "Studien zum koptischen Philippusevangelium unter besonderer Berücksichtigkeit der Sakramente" (Bonn, 1969) and J.-M. Sevrin, "Practique et doctrine des sacraments dans l'Evagile selon Philippe" (Louvain, 1972).
[21] "The Image of the Androgyne," 190-191.
[22] So M.R. Desjardins, Sin in Valentinianism (SBL Dissertation 108; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 95. It may be that the very positive evaluation of baptism the Gospel of Philip 61,12-20; 64,22-31; 69,4-14; 73,1-8 and 75, 21-25 belongs to an early stratum of this work in contrast with other material that deprecates baptism in favor of chrism and especially the Bridal Chamber.
[23] Sin in Valentinianism, 95-6; "Baptism in Valentinianism," p. 18.
[24] See D. Vigne, "Enquête sur Basilide," in Recherches et Tradition: Mélanges patistriques offerts à Henri Crouzel, S.J. (Théologie Historique 88, Paris: Beauchesne, 1992), 285-313. Basilidean Christology is based, not on the passion, but the baptism of Jesus; according to Hippolytus (Ref. VII, 26.8-10), the third Sonship receives the light from the Holy Spirit descending with a fragrant ointment like a bird from the Ogdoad at the time of his baptism, which Hippolytus misinterprets as the coming of the Spirit on Mary at the time of Jesus' birth (a similar confusion appears in the Apocalypse of Adam).
[25] Perhaps an allusion to eastern gate of the heavenly temple through which the glory of the Lord entered, as envisioned in Ezekiel 43:1-5.
[26] The Hermetica (CH IV 3-6, "The Cup") interprets the receipt of Gnosis as a baptism in the "cup" of intellect (nous) reserved only for a few, who by immersing themselves become perfect men, able to see the Good, despise the body, and hasten upward to the One.
[27] See E. Haenchen, "Gab es eine vorchristliche Gnosis?" in Gott und Mensch [Tübingen: Mohr, 1965], 289-91, 297 f.; contra, K. Beyschlag, "Zur Simon-Magus-Frage," Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 68 [1971]: 395-426, and R. Bergmeier, "Quellen vorchristlicher Gnosis," in Tradition und Glaube, ed. G. Jeremias et al. [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971], 200-220.
[28] According to Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne," 191-193., the primary allusion is the anthropogony of Genesis 1, but the in the clause, "if he be fully formed [ean exeikonisthêi]," the verb (ex)eikonisthai (be "iconized") appears to be a technical term in the Megale Apophasis, equivalent to "to become perfect" (genomenos teleios, Refutatio 6.18.1).
[29] Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne," 193-4, connects this peculiar simile with the metaphor of making "the inner like the outer" in Gospel of Thomas logion 22: "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]." Variant forms of this saying occur in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.13.92 (citing the Gospel of the Egyptians and Julius Cassianus), 2 Clement 12:2, and, without mention of male and female, Acts of Peter 38 and Acts of Philip 140. Meeks also cites logion 106, "When you make the two one, you shall become sons of man;" logion 11, "On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you have become two, what will you do?" and logion 4, "Many who are first shall become last and they shall become a single one."
[30] Jonathan Z. Smith, "The Garments of Shame," History of Religions 5 (1965), 217-38, shows that the main elements of logion 37, undressing, being naked without shame, treading upon the garments, and being as little children, all point to an origin of this saying "within archaic Christian baptismal practices and attendant interpretation of Genesis 1-3" (p. 218).
[31] In Mark 1 par. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan by John, and coming out of the water, he sees the heavens opened and the spirit of God descending upon him and hears the heavenly voice pronounce him as Son of God. The parallel in Matthew agrees, but has reservations about Jesus' submission to John's baptism. The Fourth Gospel, like Luke, suppresses Jesus' explicit baptism by John, and furthermore demotes John to a mere Voice of one crying in the wilderness, whose only subsequent function is to bear witness to the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus (cf. Heracleon, Frg. 5, apud Origen, Comm. in Joh. VI, 20-21). Rather than being the subject of John's water baptism, the Fourth Gospel (Jn 4:7-15) understands Jesus as the source of Living Water, which to drink means eternal life; although he has baptized Judaean people in water (3:22; 4:1), there will be a time when he will baptize with the Holy Spirit, which the author identifies with living water (Jn 7:37-39). In John 3:3-5, rebirth as a condition of seeing the kingdom is equated with being born of water and spirit; one thus reborn through baptism is uniquely empowered to "see" the Kingdom. While the obvious reference seems to be to Johannine Christians, the Fourth Gospel's lack of explicit accounts of Jesus' birth and baptism on the earthly plane combine with this conception of being born from above as an additional reference to the untraceable--and thus divine--origin of the Savior who brings light into the world. The parallel with the explanation of the origins of the Illuminator in the Apocalypse of Adam is obvious. Like the Johannine Gospel's conception of Jesus as the one who will provide living water, the Trimorphic Protennoia regards the Logos who descends with the Five Seals as the one who pours forth Living Water upon the Spirit below out of its source, which is the Father / Voice aspect of Protennoia, called the unpolluted spring of Living Water. Perhaps it would not be going too far to suppose that Johannine and Sethian conceptions of baptism had a common origin.
[32] Erik Peterson, "Einige Bemerkungen zum Hamburger Papyrus ...," in Frühkirche, Judentum und Gnosis [Rome, Freiburg, Vienna: Herder, 1959], 194-96, collects numerous texts recounting epiphanies of Jesus at baptism in the form of a paidion, neaniskos, or the like.
[33] Meeks, "Image of the Androgyne," 184 cites examples; behavioral change: Col 3:8, Eph 4:17-24, Philo, Som. 1. 224-5, Acts of Thomas 58, Teachings of Sylvanus (NHC VII,4: 105,13-17), Testament of Levi 8:2; donning armor for the eschatological holy war (Isa 59,17; Sirach 5:18-20): 1 Thess 5:8; Rom 13:12; Eph 6:10-17, Gos. Egypt. NHC III,2: 67,2-3; shift in life-style from indulgence to austerity: Col 2:11, 3:9-10; Philostratus, Vita Apollonii 4.20, Acts of Thomas 58; initiatiory investiture: Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11. 24.
[34] I repeat some useful references of Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne," 183-88; for the "garments of skin" signifying the body: Philo, QG 1.53); Clement of Alexandria, Exc. Theod. 55.1 and Strom. 3.95.2; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, 1.10; Tertullian De resurrectione 7; Apocalypse of Moses 20: 1-3; Val. Exp. (NHC XI,2: 38,14-21); the garments of light: Acts of Thomas, chs. 112-3; Odes of Solomon 25:8; Tertullian De baptismo 5; ps-Clement, Homilies 17. 16; Mandaean Canonical Prayerbook [Drower] no. 51, p. 47, no. 49, pp. 43-4 (Masiqta), no. 9, p. 8 (Mabuta; cf. E. Segelberg, Masbuta: Studies in the Ritual of Mandaean Baptism [Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksells, 1958], 115-30). See A.F.J. Klijn, "An Early Christian Baptismal Liturgy," in Charis kai Sophia: Festchrift Karl Rengstorf (Leiden: Brill, l964), 216-28, and of course J.Z. Smith, "The Garments of Shame," History of Religions 5 (1965), 224-30.
[35] See especially J.-M. Sevrin, "Les noces spiritualles dans l'Evangile selon Philippe," Le Museon, 87 (1974), 143-193.
[36] The Sethians effected the return to androgyny by stripping away the "psychic and corporeal thought" in the acts of baptism and contemplative ascent, by which they could "flee from the madness and the bondage of femaleness and choose the salvation of maleness" (Zostrianos, NHC VIII,1: 131,5-8).
[37] Even quantities could always be divided in such a way as to leave a space in the middle capable of receiving an extra member, while the division of odd quantities always left over precisely such a single member in the middle. The number one, being indivisible, was thought to embrace both these properties, and thus androgynous, while even quantities were female and odd quantities were male. Thus the unity of the One could best be approximated by the union of male and female. In the ideal realm of the Pleroma, all spiritual beings dwelt in the form of syzygetic pairs.
[38] See R. M. Grant, "The Mystery of Marriage in the Gospel of Philip," Vigiliae Christianae 15 (1969), 129-140.
[39] Gos. Phil. 63,30-32: cf. Irenaeus Adv. Haer. I 1-8 ; Excerpta ex Theodoto 43-65; H.-M. Schenke [and Johannes Leipoldt], "Koptisch-gnostiche Schriften aus den Papyus-Codices von Nag-Hamadi," Theologische Forschung, no. 20 [Hamburg-Bergstadt: Reich, 1960], 35-38.
[40] This is a typical example of the favored or "beloved" disciple theme found in Mat 16, throughout the Fourth Gospel, and in the Thomas literature (Gos. Thom. 14, the Book of Thomas the Contender). Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne," 190, n. 111 refers to Gos. Phil. 63,30-32: "[Sophia], called the barren, is the mother of the angels, and the consort (koinônos) of [Christ] is Mary Magdalene." In Gos. Phil. 61,10-11, koinônia means sexual intercourse, though perhaps not physical; in 63,30-36 Christ is said to love Mary and to have kissed her often, presumably impregnating her (as the Savior, in the Valentinian scheme, made the barren lower Sophia pregnant), since "it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason I we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace (charis) which is in one another." (59, 1-6).
[41] "Studien zum koptischen Philippusevangelium," 191-222.
[42] Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne," 193-196, citing also the parallel in logion 49. "Blessed are the solitary (monachos) and elect [or, "blessed and elect are the solitary"] for you shall find the Kingdom, ... because you come from it (and) you shall go there again" (trans. Guillaumont et al.). The gnostic conception of "the kingdom" here is reinforced by the following logion, "We have come from the Light, where the Light has originated through itself. It [stood] and it revealed itself in their image."
[43] The phrase "become a living spirit" is perhaps an allusion to Gen. 2:7, possibly even a pun on "Eve." In Exc. ex Theod. 79 the female "seed" becomes male when it is "formed" (morphôthen).
[44] "The Image of the Androgyne," 194, referring to J.Z. Smith's "The Garments of Shame," comparison of the homilies of Theodore of Mopsuestia, who contrasts nudity at baptism, when shame is still felt, with an eschatological nudity without shame. Meeks also adduces logion 21, where clothing represents the physical body by which one is connected temporarily to the world, "the field."
[45] Grant thinks this likely (Vigiliae Christianae 15, p. 139). Gos. Phil.. 61, 5-12 redefines adultery as "koinônia between those who are not alike," i.e. between Gnostics and non-Gnostics (cf. 78,25-79,12). See below under sexual sacramentalism.
[46] 64,30-65,1, 76.6-9, 85,29-86,4. Clement of Alexandria Stromateis 3. 29, describes the Valentinian "marriage" as "spiritual."
[47][ Schenke,"Das Evangelium nach Philippus," Theologische Literaturzeitung 84 (1959), 1-26, and "Koptisch-gnostiche Schriften aus den Papyus-Codices von Nag-Hamadi," p. 38; contra Grant, Vigiliae Christianae 15, p. 139.
48] Cf. 58,30-59,6. According to the Apostolic tradition of Hippolytus, only those are admitted to the kiss of peace who have received both baptism and chrismation. The catholic rite, however, keeps men and women separate for the kiss (18.3-4; 22.3,6).
[49] "The Image of the Androgyne," 191.
[50] S. Gero, "With Walter Bauer on the Tigris: Encratite Orthodoxy and Libertine Heresy in Syro-Mesopotamian Christianity," in C. W. Hedrick and R. Hodgson, eds., Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), 287-307.
[51] E.g. the very ancient anjali-mudra is a gesture of adoration and prayer with hands joined; see Poduval, Kathkil and the Diagram of Hand Poses, Trivandrum, 1930.
[52] The names of these beings stand out in contrast to most Sethian nomina barbara by the fact that most of them are Greek compounds in -eus, -os, -nis, -is and -ios, in keeping with the Graecisizing, Platonizing terminology of these treatises.
[53] On prayer in Gnostic sources, see E. Segelberg, "Prayer among the Gnostics? The evidence of some Nag Hammadi Documents," in Gnosis and Gnosticism, Papers Read at the Seventh International Conference on Patristic Studies (Oxford, September 8th-13th, 1975), ed. M. Krause, (Nag hammadi Studies 7, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977), 55-69.
[54] See Smith, "The Garments of Shame," 225-233.
[55] See F. Dornseiff, Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie, 2nd. ed, Berlin: B.G. Teubner, 1925 and A. Dieterich, "ABC-Denkmäler," Reinisches Museum für Philologie 56 (1901), 77-105.
[56] See P.C. Miller, "In Praise of Nonsense," in Classical Mediterranean Spirituality: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, ed. A.H. Armstrong (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 481-505.
[57] This being is mentioned sometimes separately (XI, 3:45,13-30; 52,19; 52,30-33; 53,30; 55,26; 61,1-22; regularly in Marsanes) and sometimes in conjunction with the Invisible Spirit (XI,3: 47,8-9, 51,8-9; 58,25; 66,33-34; cf. Zost. VIII,1: 20,15-18; 24,12-13; 97,2-3; 128,20-21) as "the Triple-powered Invisible Spirit" or "the invisible spiritual Triple Powered One."
[58] Cf. Plotinus, Ennead V, 8.11.23-24; 33-34.
[59] See R.T. Wallis, "The Spiritual Importance of Not Knowing," in Classical Mediterranean Spirituality: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, ed. A.H. Armstrong (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 460-480; as Wallis notes, the knowledge of God as divine silence in Corpus Hermeticum X is similar.
[60] See the analysis of E. O'Brien, The Essential Plotinus (New York: Mentor Books, 1964), 16-17.
[61] P. Hadot, "La métaphysique de Porphyre," in Porphyre (Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique XII; Vandoeuvres-Geneva: Fondation Hardt, I960), 127-129 (citing Chalcidius, In Tim. 272; 335, and Proclus, In Tim. I, p. 202 Diehl) points out that Porphyry's systematic arrangement of Plotinus' Enneads conforms to this scheme (Enn. I = ethics; Enn. II, III = physics; Enn. IV, V, VI = epoptic, the objects of contemplation), as do certain Neoplatonic prescriptions for the order of the study of Plato's dialogues (Republic = ethics; Timaeus = physics; Parmenides = theology).
[62] See Plutarch, de Is. et Os 382D-E; Clem. Alex., Strom I.28.176.1-3; Theon. Smyr., Expos. p. 14,18-16,2; Origen, In cant. cant. p. 75,6 [Baehrens].
[63] So also Plotinus, Ennead VI, 7.34.8.
[64] Cf. the veneration of the visible Jesus in the Valentinian Gospel of Truth and Gospel of Philip, in the "Carpocratian" Marcellina's worship of Christ's image (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, 25.6), and Zostrianos' willing post-ascensional re-adoption and invigoration of his "image" so as to preach the truth (NHC VIII,1: 130:5-9). Indeed, according to the Gospel of Philip (77,2-6), "the holy person is completely holy, even including his body. Taking up bread, he makes it holy, as also the cup or anything else that he takes up and sanctifies. Then how will he not sanctify the body too?" To be sure, one can find anti-cosmic passages, particularly in the earlier Sethian texts, yet in this corpus one also finds Marsanes at the conclusion of his ascent saying "<I have come to know> in detail the entire realm of incorporeal being, and <I> have come to know the intelligible world. <I have come to know>, while deliberating, that in every respect the sense-perceptible world is [worthy] of being saved entirely" (NHC X,1: 5,19-26). The demiurgic activity of the divine Autogenes in Allogenes (NHC XI,3: 51,25-35), by which he rectifies the defects of nature, likewise affirms the value of the cosmos without overlooking its problematic nature (which Platonists, including theurgists like Iamblichus, also recognized). Late Sethian ritual, such as the sexual rites of the Borborites, is ambiguous: on the one hand, the unrestrained practice of intercourse seems affirmative of bodily existence, yet the practice of coitus interruptus and consuming the aborted and mangled bodies of accidentally conceived fetuses is certainly a denial of the value of bodily life. Real contempt for the body arises mostly in the encratite movement with which Judas the Twin was associated; witness the uncompromising hatred of the body and its natural passions in the Book of Thomas the Contender: "Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind and polluted intercourse with them! Woe to you in the grip of your bodily faculties, for they will afflict you! Woe to you in the grip of the evil demons! Woe to you who beguile your limbs in the fire!" (NHC II,7: 144,91-4). And yet the underlying core of this text is an epitome of Plato's teaching on the transmigration of the soul gathered principally from the Phaedo, Phaedrus, Republic, and Timaeus that has undergone a radical encratite reworking. Persons of this stripe would have no truck with Platonic theurgists who sought to embody the demiurgic powers of nature through ritual means. Any hint of cosmic sympathies and affinities would be attributed by them to demonic forces; theirs was a dualism of absolute opposition, not mimetic dependence.