Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gnostic Lexicon

The beginning of my Gnostic Lexicon:

Allogenes – Literally “foreigner” in Greek, this is the title of one Sethian Gnostic text (found here). The “foreigner” in this case is seen to be the Gnostic, who, while in the physical world, is foreign to it (having his/her true origin in God).

Apocryphon – Literally “secret book” in Greek (plural: apocrypha), this is appended to many Gnostic texts (such as the Secret Book of John) to show that it is a text, unlike other texts, that explores the secret truth (which many Gnostics felt was withheld from more generic texts that Christians, etc., used). This is generally employed by Sethian Gnostics (the Valentinians would have seen the secret truth in the more generic texts as well).

Archon – Literally “ruler” in Greek, this is the name of one of the adversary forces that rule the Cosmos, under the dominion of the Demiurge. Some Gnostics saw these as numbering into hundreds (i.e. angels), while others saw seven Archons (i.e. the seven old planets), one of which was the Demiurge (Saturn).

Cosmos – From the Greek (kosmos), meaning “system”, this is seen as the cage from which the Gnostics are to break free from. A good modern myth of this is the Matrix.

Demiurge – Literally “artisan” or “craftsman” (from the Greek demiurgos), this is the name/title of the main adversarial force in Gnostic cosmology. He is variously seen as the Creator God (differentiated from the True God who is beyond Creation), Saturn, Satan, or a more abstract force of bondage. The term was first introduced by Plato, who influenced many of the Gnostic movements.

Gnosis – Literally “knowledge” in Greek, this is the experiential knowledge of the divine that turns a person into a Gnostic. It is a revelatory and salvational experience of communion with God, not to be confused with intellectual or book knowledge (known as episteme in Greek).

Hylic – Literally “of matter” (from the Greek hulikos), this was a Valentinian title for the people who were devoid of spirituality entirely, those who had rejected God in any of his guises (even non-Gnostic ones). They were the people who clung to matter (hyle), and made up the first group of the Valentinian three-fold division of souls.

Logos – Literally “word” in Greek (though that is but an approximate translation). Originally introduced by Plato, it was taken by many Gnostics (via the introductory passages of the Gospel of John) as a title of the Christ, and is often seen as one of the primary Aeons.

Pistis – Literally “faith” or “trust” in Greek, this is often seen as the opposite of Gnosis (upheld by the psychic group of the Outer Church), but the Valentinian Gnostics saw it as a necessary prerequisite of the attainment of Gnosis (though it was never seen as offering salvation).

Pleroma – Literally “fullness” in Greek, this is a title for the totality of the Divine, the realm of the Aeons and the True God. Reunion with the Fullness is seen as one of the primary goals of Gnosticism.

Pneumatic – Literally “of spirit” (from the Greek pneumatikos [from pneuma – spirit]), this was a Valentinian title for the people who belonged to the third of their three-fold system of grouping. These were the Gnostics, the Valentinians themselves (among others of similar theology), and were seen to be members of the “Inner Church”, the Church of Gnosis, and the highest of all three groups.

Praxis – Literally “practice” in Greek, this is a common term for practical (as opposed to intellectual) exercises that a Gnostic might undertake as part of spiritual observance or attempts towards Gnosis. Examples include ritual, prayer, and community action.

Psychic – Literally “of soul” (from the Greek psychikos [from psyche – soul]), this was a Valentinian title for the people who belonged to the second of their three-fold system of grouping. They were seen as people who had embraced a limited aspect of the divine (given in Faith), and were members of the “Outer Church”. This generally referred to the orthodox Christians.

Saklas – Literally “fool” in Aramaic, this is a common title for the Demiurge (who is seen as foolish for denying the reality of the God above him).

Samael – Literally “blind god” (or “god of the blind”) in Aramaic, this is a title for the Demiurge. The name is also found in Jewish and Christian works, variously as the Angel of Death or a demon, often equated with Satan (further enforcing its usage for the Demiurge, who was sometimes seen as Satan).

Sethian – This is the name of a dominant group of Gnostics (who were the only ones to actually use the term “Gnostic” [calling themselves the Gnostikoi], generally of a strong Jewish background. They usually refrained from using Christian references, but upheld similar theology to the Valentinians (gnosis as salvational, emanationist cosmogony, etc.). They saw themselves as the followers/children of the biblical Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, who was seen as the balancing of the forces of Abel and Cain.

Somatic – Literally “of flesh” (from the Greek soma – flesh), this is an alternative title for a Hylic. See the entry entitled “Hylic” for more information.

Sophia – Literally “wisdom” in Greek (giving rise to the word philosophy, love of wisdom [from philo love/r and sophia wisdom), this is the name of one of the primary Aeons in Gnostic cosmology, variously seen as the feminine aspect of the Divine, as the mother of the Demiurge (who created him in an attempt to mimic the actions of God), as the fallen aspect of Divinity (in much the same way as Eve) trapped in Creation, and as the spiritual consort of the Christ (in various forms, most notable of which is Mary Magdalene).

Soter – Literally “saviour” in Greek, this is a title of the Christ. Just as Jesus is seen to be the Saviour in orthodox Christianity, Gnostics saw the Logos/Christ as the salvational Aeon that descended to rescue Sophia (and the trapped sparks of the divine within humanity) from the Cosmos and the bondage of the Demiurge.

Soteriology – Literally “study of salvation”, this is a common term in theology to describe the discussions on what is required to save humanity. In orthodox Christianity it is seen as Faith, but Gnostics taught that Gnosis was the only thing that could grant salvation.

Valentinian – This is the name of perhaps the most dominant group of Gnostics to date, the followers of the teachings of Valentinus and his disciples. They upheld a moderate form of Gnosticism, embracing the ecclesia of Christianity with Gnostic and Platonic theology, doctrine, and practice. Most modern Gnostics and Gnostic Churches are seen as Valentinian.

Valentinus – The founder of the Valentinian Gnostic movement, he was a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church (who was narrowly defeated for the honour of Bishop of Rome [i.e. Pope]) and the most influential and popular Gnostic to date. He taught a more moderate form of Gnosticism, which was less adversarial to the Church and its teachings, and was therefore considered more dangerous as he converted more and more members of the Church to Gnosticism. His name is sometimes spelled Valentinius, and he is sometimes considered (mostly by Gnostics) as the saint to which Saint Valentine’s Day is named.

Yaldabaoth – Literally “come here, child” in a Semitic tongue (alternatively spelled Ialdabaoth or Jaldabaoth), this is a title of the Demiurge. There is no direct and accurate translation available of this, so any provided can only be an educated guess on the part of scholars.

Yaweh – A pronounced form of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH), the four-lettered name of God. This is the Creator God of Genesis, and he was often described as the Demiurge by Gnostics (especially those who raised how contradictory he seemed to the God shown in the New Testament), especially those with an anti-Semitic bent. This led to further conflict with Jews and Christians alike.

Zoe – Literally “life” in Greek, this is a name used for Eve. In this context she is seen as the daughter of Sophia (or an emanated aspect of her as the fallen goddess).


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for such a wonderful -though brief- glossary! I will definitely use it whenever I read more on gnosticism (or at least while I learn the terms). Blessings.

--Javier, from Costa Rica

Dean Wilson said...

You are most welcome, Javier.

I intend to add more to the Lexicon over time, but we all have to start somewhere, and it's better brief than not at all ;)


calvin said...

Just recently researching Gnosticism... you might want to add "Agnosis" on that lexicon, because it's the greek for ignorance. :)