Social and Cultural Roots of Western Esotericism

A Union of Opposites: The Myth of Perfection in Esoteric Thought

“The one hope of the world is philosophy, for all the sorrows of modern life result from the lack of a proper philosophic code. Those who sense even in part the dignity of life cannot but realize the shallowness apparent in the activities of this age.”

-Manly P. Hall
The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Pg. 666

Abstract: This paper will discuss the role of perfection in esoteric thought, taking the early Christian period as the context for its most realized expression. Drawing from Jungian principles, the following essay will illustrate the role of philosophy in portraying how mankind might integrate the unconscious wisdom it holds into its waking mind, a process exemplified in the Syzygy of Simon Magus and Helene, the Gnostic couple whose mythical narrative will be shown as the basis for continuing trends in esoteric systems.

Myths have historically conveyed cultural truths to communities while providing social identity and a meaningful existence. The aim of religion is similar, utilizing this symbolic activity to reconcile members to the supreme good of an unseen order. It is this harmonization that is often considered the end of a goal-oriented process of humanity—the recognition of an individual as the perfect product of the cosmos and living embodiment of its various esoteric teachings. As society seeks to transcend the limits of a temporal experience so as to ultimately connect to the world of this supra-sensory infinite, we are provided experience of the imagined totality of existence through a constructed sense of “self-knowledge” in its entirety. Indeed, it is awareness of this hidden world that endures as the pinnacle of human maturity so we might give expression to our deeper selves, allowing us the chance to perceive more clearly the basic elements out of which experience is created for us; a process Carl Gustav Jung termed “Individuation.”

“The whole task of the individuation process involves a reintegration of the opposites—of integrating aspects of the unconscious into consciousness. Symbolically, it might be said that, in ultimate terms, the union of opposites (as the task of life) moves toward a bringing into relationship of those ‘ultimate opposites,’ God and the individual person.” (Clift 1982, pg. 76)

Yet even as the deepest patterns of cosmic and psychic functioning are made conscious through metaphors, thought models, and mythical symbols, the therapeutic effects of religion’s ability to restore our sense of identity is only effective for as long as it resonates at a personal level. For this reason, myths are recapitulated in the context of modernizing times; otherwise, the destructive projections constructed would only blind us from ever fully knowing the extent of our relationship to the world and each other, and perhaps more importantly, to the natures of our very selves. It would then seem critical to communicate the nature and origins of the perpetual “perfection myth” as it appears in western esoterica, so we might illustrate how, by developing upon such a timeless truth, humanity can be understood as participating in a presented reality to manifest its ultimate potential.

Myth and Mind in the Greek Tradition

While the early Greek poets Homer and Hesiod articulated reality in wholly mythological terms, the pre-Socratic philosophers rejected these mythological explanations, favoring reasoned discourse instead. The divinity of the gods, each expressing a feature of nature and emotion, were challenged by the 3 newly formed institutions that arose during the following centuries—the Milesian, Eleatic, and Ionian schools.

Considered the founder of the Greek tradition, Thales inspired the Milesian school of philosophy that promoted the idea of material monism, the belief that the world’s objects are composed of a single element he thought to be water due to its constantly changing state. His pupil Anaximander further developed the theory, proposing the underlying material of the world to be the first principle of existing things from which all things came and were resolved in a final state. This he termed “Apeiron,” the infinite “boundless,” understood as the divine horizon of substance encompassing all things, generating the opposites that acted on the creation and destruction of the world. Similarly, Anaximander’s younger contemporary Anaximenes also believed there to be a universal principle, proposing air, rather than water, as this eternal primordial root.

The Ionian school contrasted this monistic thinking with plurality, believing change to be real and stability illusory. Heraclitus held that everything derived from fire, flowing constantly and never standing still. For him, the Logos was the principle of order and knowledge, with Empedocles and Anaxagoras elaborating upon the notion that elements were in constant flux, seeing love and strife, or cosmic mind respectively to be the ordering force of the material world, attributing generation and disappearance to the mixture and separation of the four elements—fire, water, air, and earth.

It was Parmenides who founded the Eleatic school in southern Italy during the early 5th century. Whereas previous philosophy had contended that the world was based on one thing becoming many, the Eleatic school considered that what existed could not be destroyed nor created, since something could not arise from nothing. Influenced by Xenophanes, who had earlier satirized Homer and Hesiod’s anthropomorphized deities, Parmenides’ only known work was a poem, “On Nature,” in which a man journeyed from darkness to light, the truth revealed to him by an unnamed goddess who explained he must learn all things, namely the reality of nature’s unity, though one cannot rely upon human opinion to penetrate the illusory appearances of nature. Truth, for Parmenides, could not be known through sensory perception, but through Logos alone, or rationality.

Even as logical discourse developed, the mystical was far from removed in Greek thought, evident in Pythagoras’ mystical approach to the soul and his belief in mathematics as transcendent absolutes that structured both cosmos and mind. Taken with the mystery religions that stressed spiritual renewal, reuniting the soul with the gods, and the promise of rewards in the afterlife, myth and rationality were synthesized in the thinking of Plato, who, with Pythagoras, were thought to have reproduced the ancient wisdom of the Persians, Magi, Brahmans, Egyptians and Jews.

A student of Socrates, who considered the quest of the philosopher to be the inner realization of the archetypal world reason so as to attain virtue, Plato expounded on the logical mind, proposing that true knowledge was eternal and could be “remembered” as one directly experienced the implicit transcendent Forms. His own student Aristotle stated that while material beings existed through Forms, this emphasis on transcendence could be reconciled with material substance, proposing a “Supreme Form” that existed eternally apart from matter to contemplate its own being through perpetual consciousness of itself, where material movement fulfilled its own purpose by realizing its true Form. Here then, was the process of emanation, by which Greek philosophy formed a “divinely prearranged matrix for the rational explication of the Christian faith” in order to know the purpose of the Cosmos’ universal essence, originating from the highest Form called God. (Tarnas 1991, pg. 100)

As Aristotle became the tutor of Alexander the Great, who unified Greece and much of the surrounding area, Rome emerged as the new power locus to appropriate Greek thought and culture, emphasizing the Logos in legal thought as it tried to maintain a unified empire. Indeed, much of Roman philosophy was based in Greek Stoic teaching, which found expression at Alexander’s city namesake, Alexandria, in the form of a Hellenized Jew named Philo.

Jewish Messianic Expectations

Self-identifying as “God’s Chosen People,” the Jewish people denounced immorality and expected to be liberated from the oppression of the Roman Empire by a Messiah, the redeemer sent by their own single, all-powerful God. Their homeland Israel would thereafter endure, as the Kingdom of Heaven would end Jewish subjugation to Rome, allowing for a Golden Age when the blessed nation would at last be wholly obedient to Yahweh alone.

“Taxes were a heavy burden on people, weighing particularly on those with no political power…It is not surprising then to see communities looking back to the past, keeping fervently to the tradition as to a well-trodden path, anxiously watching any change, and warning of it in so-called apocalyptic texts.” (Hamel 1986, pg. 148)

This hope in the future sustained the Jewish people and permeated the political atmosphere with zealous ferocity. Alternate to the more popular Pharisees and Sadducees Jewish sects were the Essenes, commonly associated with the apocryphal “Dead Sea Scrolls,” who dedicated themselves to asceticism, voluntary poverty, and eschatological beliefs.

One individual in particular, John the Baptist, aroused similar expectations, anticipating a messianic figure greater even than he. Thought to be the one-time leader of the Nosoraean, or Notzrim Gnostic sect (literally meaning “Truth”), John is claimed by modern-day Mandaeans as an initiate of their religion, while often connected to the later Naasenes, another Gnostic sect who perhaps blended Nosoraean and Essene elements together, possibly representing the earliest stages of Gnostic development in Samaria. Unlike the Pharisees who claimed the Messiah would be a descendent of David, the Samaritan Jews, identified with the line of Joseph, awaited their own Messiah who would restore the northern Kingdom of Israel, perhaps finding such a figure in the persona of a Samaritan magician named Simon.

Identified as the disciple and successor to John the Baptist, Simon’s fame was widespread and, according to the Church Father Irenaeus, he taught that it was himself who appeared among the Jews as the Son of God, descended in Samaria as the Father, and came to other nations in the character of the Holy Spirit. Nicknamed Simon Magus, the accounts of his life and teachings seem predominantly mythological in character, developed over the first four centuries of what is called the Christian era. (Palmer and More 1965, pg. 11) Spending time as a student of the Baptist, Simon spent time in Alexandria before returning upon John’s death to depose the reigning successor of the sect, Dositheus, who had reportedly spread lies of Simon’s death, of his leadership role, assuming it for himself. [Interestingly, in Celtic folklore, a student of Simon’s named Mog Ruith, an Irish druid, is reported to have carried out the execution of John, thereby cursing the Irish from then on.]

That Simon spent time in Alexandria is not inconsequential in itself. The city held a mixture of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Jewish cultures, each discipline woven together in this world center to incite a pluralistic synthesis of religious tradition heavily influenced by the East. Being a contemporary of Philo of Alexandria, it is likely that Simon would have been familiar with his allegorical teachings and Stoic influence, a school of philosophy connected to Cynicism, whose own founder, Antisthenes, had been a disciple of Socrates. Interpreting the Greek translation of the Jewish Old Testament philosophically by adhering closely to the Greek tradition, Philo synthesized both worldviews in his teachings on the Logos. The Persian influence, expounded on by Zoroaster in his postulation of a spirit intermediary between Godhead and universe, was thereby shown to correspond with Anaxagoras’ concept of Mind, the regulating principle of existence and Plato’s idea of a universal World-Soul, created by the Demiurge considered to be the Supreme Deity. It was Philo who united the Greek notion of Logos with Solomon’s understanding of Wisdom (from the Book of Wisdom) as the mediator of an unknowable God, a position similarly held by Mithras, whom the Persian Magi invoked as a Sun God in a holy triumvirate, along with Ahura Mazda and Apam Nahat, proclaimed by Zoroaster in the sacred texts to be the uncreated God and divinity of water respectively. (Peterson and Dastur, 2003)

This Logos, called by Philo the “first-born son of God,” was regarded as the prototypal man, a divine intermediary that bridged the Platonic Form with the realm of imperfect matter, as well as the World Soul that permeated and animated the cosmos to bind everything together and prevent the dissolution or separation of reality. The clear and unbiased thinker could thus understand the universal Logos to free oneself from suffering and attain peace of mind. As all souls were considered emanations of the Universal intelligent Aether, all people were therefore seen as manifestations of the one Spirit and could therefore live in brotherly love, readily helping one another achieve happiness by living in accordance with nature. Through this Stoic ideal, the Greek universal Logos transcended all material oppositions, remaining implicit in human reason and governing society as well as the cosmos while remaining potentially available to all. Philo took this idea of a perfect intermediary for an impersonal, universal God and applied it to the Jewish tribal God, Yahweh, identifying the Logos with the Angel of the Lord, God’s instrument of creation in the universe. As he incorporated Platonic, Neo-Pythagorean, and Jewish elements into his philosophy, Philo may have further combined ideas present in the rising and dying Primal/God man mystery religions, the Attic orators, historians, and poets, as well as the divine pronouncements of Jewish prophets.

Thus it was in Alexandria, the intellectual cosmopolitan city where East met West, that the Jewish conception of a supreme ruling will merged with the Greek conception of a divine ruling intelligence. Jewish mythology was reinterpreted according to Philo’s emphasis on the exegesis of allegorical myth, influenced by Egyptian and Pagan mystery religions, and syncretized by Hellenized philosophers fluent in the medium of common spiritual truths. Emerging from Homer’s mythological conception of a reality that divided humanity from divinity, empiricism and rational thought led to the personification of the underlying structure of the cosmos as Divine Mind, readily accessible to those individuals with the correct spiritual training.

The Great Power of God

As previously mentioned, Simon was thought to be in Alexandria learning magic at the time of John the Baptist’s death, so that Dositheus, teacher and later pupil of Simon, succeeded to the leader of the day-Baptist sect. Of Arab descent, Dositheus may have been allied with the Essenes as well as Philo’s Therapeutae, and educated by the “wise men” of Arabia, the Magi, a Persian/Iranian priesthood founded by Zoroaster that practiced magic, astrology, and other arcane sciences held in high esteem by the Pythagoreans and Platonists. (Mead 1900, pg. 162) This emphasis on Zoroastrian magic, along with the Jewish and Egyptian magical practices, no doubt provided the social milieu in which belief in miracles was rampant, as was the practice of divination, astrology, and alchemy so that the phenomenon of magic “can hardly be overestimated in their importance for the daily life of people in the ancient Mediterranean world.” (Haar 2003 pg. 139)

Even so, to be a magician would hardly have been socially acceptable for the Greeks and Romans, who used the label as a mode of segregating those they perceived to be different from their religious practices. The consequence was the radical characterization of Simon as an evil sorcerer and Arch-heretic, the so-called Father of heresies from which the Gnostic sects were assumed to be derived from.
“This rhetoric reveals on a basic level that in the Greek and Roman worlds, “magic” (at least after its initial appearance as the practice of the Persian magi) is the name given to a collection of practices that are in conflict with the rules of the larger society, whatever these practices may be.” (Asirvatham et. al 2001, pg. xiv)

Yet were the derogatory titles of the Christian fathers justified? Several historians have traced Gnosticism’s roots to Iranian Primal Man traditions, in which a heavenly messenger, the image of the Primal Man, redeems the soul that is imprisoned on earth. The soul is granted salvation through the liberation of the Primal Man, revealed by divine wisdom. (King 2003, pg. 103) This runs parallel to the idea of the Logos Spermatikos, the Stoic belief of the principle of active reason working in inanimate matter, contained within each individual as the germ from which all is generated and the force guiding all to its common end. The theme of male-female union is apparent in both cases, perhaps why Simon Magus himself taught that “in semen and milk there is a small spark which becomes a power boundless and immutable,” and why his followers were believed to have engaged in emissionum virorum, feminarum menstruorum, rites that included semen and menstrual blood. (Jung 1968, pg. 220) Moreover, in accordance with their exegetical interpretation, Stoic philosophy “made of the different gods personifications of the Logos, e.g. of Zeus and above all of Hermes,” (Lebreton 1910) the one who “interpreted and fashioned what has been, is, and will be.” (Jung 1968, pg. 201) Philo further identified the masculine Logos with the feminine Sophia (wisdom), leading to a divine consort of sorts, similar to the soul and Primal Man who were necessarily paired for their common salvation.

Similar to the Iranian Primal Man traditions was the Pagan dying-resurrected God-man traditions. These fertility cults adopted the Egyptian Osiris-Isis regenerative vegetation myth in local stories, assimilating them into their Mystery Religions as the Syzygies Dionysus-Ariadne, in Greece; Attis-Cybele, in Asia Minor; Adonis-Aphrodite, in Syria; Mithras-Anahita (conflated with Ishtar), in Persia; and Serapis-Isis, in Alexandria. These divine pairs were also evident in Jewish mythology as Yahweh-Asherah, where the feminine companion was associated with “wisdom,” only to be later written out almost completely of the Bible, her presence disguised as a mere sacred object. (Freke and Gandy 2005, pg. 48) However, regarded as the Queen of Heaven, Asherah could thus be equated to a number of ancient goddesses in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, including Inanna, Astarte (associated with Aphrodite), and Hera.

These regenerative mystery religions deified the sun as a mostly male personality, with the moon being its natural female counterpart. Simon Magus was likewise syncretized with the sun and, with his consort Helene (perhaps a misinterpretation of Selene), or Luna, the two may have been identified with the Sun-Moon deities Shamash and Astarte, two popular cults in Tyre, from where Helene was said to come from. (CCEL) Indeed, this is likely why the Baptist’s sect was limited to 29 ½ members (Helene representing only ½ being a woman), so as to correspond with the lunar calendar. Jung makes clear the significance of the divine Syzygy, elaborating:

“Together they form a divine pair, one of whom, in accordance with his Logos nature, is characterized by Pneuma and Nous, rather like Hermes with his ever-shifting hues, while the other, in accordance with her Eros nature, wears the features of Aphrodite, Helen (Selene), Persephone, and Hecate. Both of them are unconscious powers, “gods” in fact, as the ancient world quite rightly conceived them to be. To call them by this name is to give them that central position in the scale of psychological values which has always been theirs whether consciously acknowledged or not; for their power grows in proportion to the degree that they remain unconscious.” (Jung, 1979 pg. 21)

Together, Simon and his consort (a reformed prostitute) acted out what has been heralded as the prototypical Gnostic myth, whereby Helene, considered the first Thought (Ennoia) emanating from Divine Mind, created the angelic powers that produced the world, only to trap and imprison her, forcing her soul to migrate from body to body until the Father, embodied as Simon Magus, came to rescue her and mankind from the slavery of the powers. This story emulated the origin of Athena, springing from the head of Zeus to manifest the thought of the highest God, so that Simon’s followers worshipped the pair as Zeus and Athena respectively.

We are told from Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions that Simon was well versed in Greek literature, and his writings indeed portray an allegorical interpretation of Biblical scripture. Simon’s school employed Philo’s method of allegory, envisioning Eden as a womb, the river flowing from it symbolizing an umbilical cord with the Tree of Life perhaps corresponding to the human body, and the five books of Moses representing the five human senses. Further, in his lost “Four Quarters of the World,” and “Sermons of the Refuter,” Simon argues that the God of Eden is an imposter, while the serpent is taken to be a benevolent character. (Hoeller, 2002) Hippolytus’ paraphrase of his Apophasis Megale, or “Great Revelation” likewise demonstrates the degree to which Greek thought was incorporated into the Simonian system:

From the First Principle of Fire springs one inapprehensible Root (Silence), by which two branches appear, one from above (Universal Mind) and the other from below (Great Thought). The first is male and pervades all things, the other female, giving birth to all things. These unite to bring an eternal Aether of the Middle Space, the Father who stands forever as a male-female power like the Boundless Power existing in Oneness. From this, Thought, previously hidden in Oneness, becomes two—the Father (though not the “First”) contains Thought within Himself, who contemplates the Father to produce the male-female Power-Thought, Nous-Ennoia. Nous and Ennoia are divided from each other to form the Father-Mother of the Middle Space, manifested as 6 Aeons that parallel the Roots of Fire—Heaven-Earth, Sun-Moon, Air-Water—and through the 3 Syzygies, Mind/Power-Thought; Voice-Name; and Reason-Reflection; the Cosmos are created out of this Middle Space while Ennoia, comprehending the Father’s will, descends to the “third world” to produce the lower authorities, transporting the Spirit (Pneuma) of the Father into the Cosmos to rule it, and creates the Primeval Man as the male-female image of the Father. As the powers capture Ennoia, the Boundless Power present in Simon offers salvation through divine knowledge of the divided Male-Female essence pervading Humanity. (Hermetic Library)

The result of Simon’s system can be seen as the culmination of Mediterranean culture, philosophy, and religious thinking of the era. Drawing from the Milesian school’s material monism as well as Heraclitus’ first principle of Fire, Simon constructed a Cosmology in which from the Great Silence (referred to in the Chaldaean Oracles, written in Alexandria and ascribed to Zoroaster), Greek Mind (Nous) united with Jewish Wisdom (Sophia) to create the infinite Boundless space spoken of by Anaximander, generating opposites from which all things came and would be resolved. Duality was understood to emanate from the Pythagorean Monad, while the Perfect Form of Plato was given Aristotelian substance in the persona of the Jewish Messiah (Simon himself) who had been educated in Egyptian and Arabic magic, personified and worshipped with Helena as the divine Syzygy of the mystery religions, from whose allegorized Gnostic insight would lead to the spiritual salvation alluded to in Parmenides’ ideal that everything is One, nature improving and freeing itself from error only in and through itself. In this way, Simon could be seen as the manifested Logos, sent by God to redeem the mythologized soul, similar to the original Androgynous Man while simultaneously taking on traits of the magical Hermes.

Indeed, the Hermetic Emerald Tablet makes similar statements to the declarations of Simon Magus, i.e. that what is above and below are united in essence, springing from a single projection, a fire manifesting materiality, perfect in power, whose father is the sun and its mother the moon, and whose hidden truths shall be sealed up. Like Hermes, Simon was regarded as the “Standing One” who embodied the most directly expressed formation of a microcosm in accordance with the divinity of a heavenly macrocosm: the ever-present Logos.

“Therefore, the essential of moral and spiritual training in ancient times was the attainment of Self-Knowledge—that is to say, the attainment of the certitude that there is a divine nature within every man, which is of infinite capacity to absorb universal Wisdom; that, in brief, Man was essentially one with Deity. With Simon, as with the Hermetic philosophers of ancient Egypt, all things were interrelated by correspondence, analogy, and similitude… whatever happened to the divine Epinoia, the Supreme Mother, among the Aeons, happened also to the human Spiritual Soul or Monadic Essence, in its evolution through all stages of manifestation. This Soul is shut into all forms and bodies, successively up to the stage of man.” (Mead 1892)

Simon recognized himself to be a hominized form of the cosmological process, interpreted as the holistic blending of its processes and powers so that an exorbitant number of miracles and wonders were attributed to him. This is no doubt why he was given the name, “The Great Power of God,” thought even to be the Christ by some, founding a number of churches along the Palestinian-Syrian coastline from Caesaria to Antioch, as well as in the capital of the empire, Rome.

Containing the Diffusion of Magical Thought

As various religious and intellectual systems emerged out of the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East, each with its own esoteric trends, the separation from earlier “classical” stages of western culture appeared to threaten the “foundational” texts and conceptions so that compendiums of Jewish and Greek Orthodoxies became necessary. Samaria, thought to be the birthplace of heresy, challenged both, practicing a heterodox form of Judaism that rejected the Jerusalem Temple for Mount Gerizim, considered their own holy place. This synthesis was most representative in the philosophy of Simon Magus and the Nasorean sect, who, influenced by Pythagorean, Egyptian, and Zoroastrian thought, allegorized Jewish Law like Philo and the Therapeutae, culminating in the Sophia archetype. This hermeneutic interpretation of Truth—the myth of the fallen feminine soul incarnated in the body and redeemed by a heavenly masculine teacher to ultimately return home to the One Divine Mind—was adopted and developed differently in Jewish Kabala, Egyptian Hermeticism, Pagan Neoplatonism, and Gnostic systems, each stemming in part from this Alexandrian syncretism. (Picknett and Prince 1997, pg. 357)

Further, Philo interpreted the name change of the Jewish nationalistic hero Joshua from “Hosea” (“He rescues”) to “Yehoshua” (“His saving cry”) as commemorating God’s realized salvation for mankind. Yehoshua changed to Yeshua, translated to Greek as Iēsoûs, then Latin as Iesus, and finally to the English Jesus, while the Hebrew “Messiah” that was expected to lead the Jewish people to freedom was conflated with the Greek term “Christ,” or “Anointed One,” who was represented as the regenerative primordial God-man. The first followers of this newly formed Jesus, considered to be the cousin of the Nasoraean leader John the Baptist, were the Nazoreans, led by Jesus’ brother James, leader of the militant Church of Jerusalem, whom the Gnostic Book of Thomas declared to be Jesus’ successor. That James and his followers proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah is compounded with James’ close association with the eschatological Essene community who, on December 4th, 7 B.C. watched as Jupiter (Zeus), Saturn (Yahweh), and Mercury (Hermes) came together in the constellation of Pisces, signaling the commencement of the Piscean Age with the advent of the Messiah. (Robinson 1995) With this picture can we see that within the Essene community 2 different groups emerged: the anti-Torah Nasoraeans of Samaria, led by John whose savior was Simon, and the pro-Torah Nazoraeans of Jerusalem, led by James whose savior was Jesus.

Yet another individual claiming Jesus as Messiah was Paul of Tarsus, a Hellenized Jew with strong ties to Mithraism. In radical contradistinction to the militancy of the Essene sects, Paul stressed Jesus as a personal savior, inventing mythical inflations to characterize him as the Primal man, encompassing many of the attributes of Mithras to seem more God-like. (Harris, Integral World) This in turn divided the burgeoning Christian faith between those who favored strict adherence to Jewish law and those who believed the Savior had fulfilled the law through his sacrificial death for humanity and therefore available to all. The dispute between the political nationalism of the Jewish Messiah and the universalizing tendencies of the more accessible Pagan Christ was resolved as the two divisions found common cause in the vilification and ultimate destruction of the Samaritan magician Simon, recognizable in his confrontation with Peter (closely aligned to the Jewish emphasis of James) and Paul at Rome.

The esoteric interpretation of philosophy that Simon had systematized and reproduced stated that he himself was the Great Power of God, by which he could act out innumerable miracles. Likely spiritually trained in Alexandria and well-versed in the Zoroastrian priesthood closely associated with the Persian Mithraic Sun-cult, Simon had enormous success in Samaria and Rome personifying the intermediary of divine power, even being given the role as Nero’s court magician as the emperor was obsessed with magic. Yet the esoteric exegesis of Simon implied elitism since only a small, initiated group knowledgeable in the apocryphal hermeneutics were able to achieve the gnosis he and the Gnostics purported to have achieved, a position incompatible with Peter’s belief that salvation applied to all:

“When [Peter] lays bare Simon’s conception during the open Disputatio, Simon accuses him angrily of revealing plainly the secret doctrines before the unlearned multitudes. Peter explains to Simon the nature of revelation, stating the Son will Reveal Him to those whom he wishes, not by instruction, but by revelation.” (Stroumsa 1996 pg. 77)

In an attempt to control the ruling conception of the faith, Peter and Paul, formerly cast as enemies bitterly divided, at last resolved their differences through their mutual hostility towards the magician who rivaled Jesus for the title of Christ, literally sending him crashing down from the heavens by the power of their prayers as he flew over Rome, proved in their embedded knee prints that can be seen even to this day at the church of Santa Francesca Romana, built on the spot of Simon’s purported death.

Yet Peter, whom Jesus was said to have been the rock on which the lord built his Church, clearly resembles the rock from which the sun god Mithras was born. As there is no historical evidence to suggest that Peter was ever in Rome, the story instead suggests that Peter is actually conflated with the Pagan term “Paeter,” or “interpreter of mysteries,” so that Simon Peter becomes Simon Paeter, with the entire event becoming an allegory for Simon’s triumph of setting up a universal church at Rome, his identification with Zoroastrianism and Mithraism making him an ideal candidate for the position of the Mithraic High Priest, the “Paeter Patrum.” (Martin, Reformation)

Regardless of this claim, a series of Church Fathers developed the story of Simon in the subsequent years so that his power became Satanic and attributed to the Devil, taking on characteristics of other magicians of the times, for instance Apollonius of Tyana and the Neoplatonist and theurgist Iamblichus. Their aim to identify and refute those Gnostic groups with alternative interpretations of the Christ myths reconsidered the miracles produced by Simon as illusory, self-serving, and of no practical value, while Jesus, in contrast, was shown to have the abilities of the various Pagan sun Gods (most notably Mithras), helpful to men—healing the blind, curing the sick, raising the dead…—performed gratis and confirmed by the greatest miracle of all, his resurrection from the dead. The result contrasted Simon with Jesus, with morality being the difference between the magician and the Son of God:

“Moreover, it is typical of early Christianity in representing the Antichrist as a miracle worker, an evil magician, vis a vis Christ. This antithesis, and also the eschatological expectations and the role of Satan as opponent of God, recall the teachings of the magi as reported by Plutarch…” (Smith 1978, pg. 109)

Christian polemicists asserted the purity and authenticity of the Christian myth by tracing all Gnostic heresies to Simon, so that “whereas diversity illustrated their falsehood, a common genealogy proved that they possessed a common root and essence in demonic error.” (King 2003, pg. 32) Paul was later reinterpreted to function within the boundaries of an anti-syncretic orthodox Christianity no longer resembling the Pagan myths, made evident in the burning of magical texts worth 20,000 pieces of silver reported in Acts of the Apostles 19:19.

Christianity, formed out of the esoteric traditions of Palestinian and Hellenized Jewish Apocryphal texts, claimed to offer universal salvation. Yet in an attempt to distance itself from the many varieties of heresies, the newly formed orthodoxy expunged the Gnostic elements from its corpus so that redemption was available for not just the philosophers, perfects, or Gnostics extracting Truth from mythological accounts; but all could partake in a salvation now offered by Christ to those who believed in him. By the time Constantine’s Edict of 312 A.D legalized Christianity so that its tenets could be officially determined by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D, the various sun cults (most notably Sol Invictus, the official sun god of the late Roman empire) had been absorbed into Rome’s new official religion with the Mithraic cave-temple complex on Vatican Hill being seized in 376, so that the title of the head Mithraic priest, “Pater Patrum,” was changed to Pope. A literalist Christian interpretation obscured the syncretic blending that had given rise to it, and the exegetical Gnostic myth, foundational to the origins of the esoteric literature Jesus arose out of, passed into obscurity. Even so, the Syzygy remained present as Jesus’ “bride of Christ,” the Christian Church, remaining central to public religious thought.

Echoes of Wisdom

While Christianity developed with the character of Jesus central to its religion, other Gnostics held that it was Jesus who in fact was the false messiah, a sorcerer who corrupted the original teachings of the Baptist John. The Nasoraean/Notzrim, emerging later as the Mandaeans, regarded Jesus as the literary invention of Paul, accusing “Christ the Roman” of deception, to be exposed at a later point by a savior of light. Even so, most Gnostic sects ultimately merged with Christianity, incorporating Jesus and Pagan (Neoplatonism, Hermetic) elements into their systems at times, teaching that the savior was at war with the creator, or demiurge, and would redeem the spiritually inclined so they might transcend the imprisoning illusion. Instead of the Jewish God Yahweh, identified with the planet Saturn who represented finite temporality (the Greek Kronos), Divine Mind became God, immanent throughout the cosmos. Logically then, an intellectual mystical experience of union could similarly verify the divinity of the human mind which, “having attained unity with the God whose thought was the universe…was presumably empowered to work magic by commanding his thoughts,” thus equating the practitioner with divinity. (Merkur pg. 90)

Enlightened consciousness made the knowledge of the secret laws and supernatural powers of nature and the universe accessible to the magician, whose intentionality, or direction of thoughts and beliefs, impacted the course of healing one’s self and others, creating and recreating reality as the magician saw fit. The Emerald Tablet declared that the material world mirrored the spiritual—the microcosm like the macrocosm—so that all of being remained interconnected. Consciousness was assumed to affect matter so that Alchemists sought to speed the natural evolution of perfection through a mysterious chemical process involving magical concepts and properties of the cosmos.

Perfection could thus be accomplished through the production of the philosopher’s stone which had the power to transmute the impure to the pure, similarly perfecting the human being through enlightenment (a role similar to the Christ figure that became synonymous with the Lapis Philosophorum), influencing the Renaissance Magi, Rosicrucians and Freemasons along with later esoteric groups, whose contributions in turn furthered the development of ritual magic, all the while attempting to instill in mainstream society an affinity for perfection:

“To be sure, the hypothesis of a sudden proliferation of gold, reversing economic and moral values, had at one time shocked adepts and worried or tempted princes. But to realize the social Great Work can also be, because of the unity of matter and the analogies everywhere present between matter and spirit, to incite peoples to “rectify” societies corrupted by individualism and mercantilism—unity reconstructed in this way “working” in turn for a higher cosmic unity.” (Bonardel 1992, pg. 89)

Alchemy can then be shown to represent the most complete manifestation of spiritual enlightenment, so that by extension those communities practicing the “Art of Hermes” would be necessarily participating in a form of social renewal. Imperfection is merely a symptom of ignorance, while individuals have only to remember their inherent divinity emanating from Divine Mind, according their behavior in such a way that directly expresses this impulse. The New Age preoccupation with the Age of Aquarius in indicative of this belief, with the desire to overcome a sense of alienation in an environment incompatible with personal potential implying the need for an alternative archetype to encompass spiritual perfection as a guide, or example, to emulate, creating and summoning ideal thought forms that would perform the task of cultural healing and social regeneration. In this way, the New Age movement has much in common with the early Gnostic sects that advocated knowledge for redemption, since “the only practical limits to our ability to create a perfect reality for ourselves are those imposed by the limits of our self-knowledge and understanding at any given moment.” (Hanegraaff pg. 235)

In each of these cases, the myth of perfection is embodied in the flesh as the Autogenes, the Christ, First Man, Son of Man, Adam, Anthropos, Messiah, Liberator, Lapis Philosophorum, Age of Aquarius, etc., the archetype of the realized human being’s spiritual renewal denoting the soul’s (or psyche’s) capacity to change through imagination. Nowhere is this demonstrated more explicit than in the Gospel of Philip, where the divine presence of God (Sophia) is revealed in the breath of the Spirit (Pneuma) to animate the divine flesh of Logos, transcending duality through the embrace of male and female as it is united in the mystery of the Bridal Chamber, representing sexual union:

“Ignorance is slavery, knowledge [gnosis] is freedom…the mysteries of Truth are manifested to us in the form of archetypes or images. The bridal chamber, where Union is realized, is hidden from us; it is the holy of holies. The veil conceals what we cannot see: the way in which God informs creation. When the veil is torn and the inner is made manifest, we will abandon our house of desolation, and it will be destroyed.” (Leloup pg. 167)

Fullness, or divine totality is offered only in secret, the pleromic union of the pre-existent male-female division manifested through the sacred embrace and union of opposites, allowing us into our own interiors to reunite the unconscious parts we have separated from our conscious minds. Duality is transcended in this “temple space” of our imagination, allowing us to summon our potential power from deep within our subconscious to dismantle the negative assumptions we project onto the world, liberating the eternal feminine soul that has fallen into unconsciousness, or ignorance, by magical power. It is the “Great Work” of alchemy that rectifies this division so that “a mysterious chaotic source material called materia prima, containing opposites still incompatible and in the most violent conflict, is gradually guided towards a redeemed state of perfect harmony, the healing 'Philosophers' Stone' or lapis philosophorum…in this way is One made from man and woman.” (Roob 2006, pg. 111)

Ouroborus: Concluding the Circle

The Magus is an adept, whose creation of the philosopher’s stone is achieved by the mystical marriage of the archetypal mother (moon) and father (sun), represented in the physical union of the king and queen. The offspring, a male-female hermaphrodite signaling the first material of the cosmos, was considered the beginnings of the philosopher’s stone, to be perfected like Parmenides’ One creation whose ideal state lay dormant within itself. The precise procedures necessary to control the planetary influences is called magic, so that with proper training one can essentially command the hidden forces of nature, influencing and controlling the essence pervading all things. In this way, the Magus can be seen to be a God unto himself, a manifestation of the divine first principle from which all emanates, yet also a symbol of our own perfected selves. As Jung reminds us:

“The dual being born of the alchemical union of opposites, the [hermaphrodite born of royal marriage] or Lapis Philosophorum, is so distinctively marked in the literature that we have no difficulty in recognizing it as a symbol of the self. Psychologically the self is a union of conscious (masculine) and unconscious (feminine). It stands for the psychic totality. So formulated, it is a psychological concept. Empirically, however, the self appears spontaneously in the shape of specific symbols, and its totality is discernible above all in the mandala and its countless variants. Historically, these symbols are authenticated as God-images.” (Jung 1979, pg. 268)

Simon Magus likely represented the prototype of this perfected individual, bringing together the most prominent traditions he was familiar with to act out a narrative that apotheosized himself and his female counterpart Helene as the wisdom fallen into unconsciousness, redeemed and made conscious by the Power of God, or Divine Mind. As this system influenced other sects and developed in different ways, Orthodox Christianity reacted against the various heresies by completely eliminating the allegorical interpretations of the Pagan Christ myth it had originated and evolved from, so that as Christianity separated and distanced itself from alternative spiritualities while healing internal divisions, it identified Simon as a common enemy and the root from which all deviation could be blamed on.

While it is certain that the majority of Simon’s character is so shrouded in mythological stories manufactured by the early Christian Fathers as to be rendered virtually indistinguishable from the historical figure, the same can likely be said for his Christian counterpart Jesus. Even so, there is value in confronting what can only be interpreted to be the figure of the Christian Shadow, relegated for the most part to the unconscious psyche of exoteric Christianity. By coming to terms with such an elusive character, tracing the history of his ideas and the influences that spawned them, we can understand to a greater degree the relevance of Simon in the development of world religion and comparative mythology, integrating this (until now) unconscious process into our conscious minds to regain insight into the creative nature of our own beings. In this way we too might embody the folklore of Simon and the wisdom of Jesus, in which the Great Power of God is made explicit as the unconscious awareness of our own divine essence manifests in our conscious minds: “verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”

Works Cited

Asirvatham, Sulochana Ruth, Corinne Ondine Pache, and John Watrous. Between Magic and Religion: Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Mediterranean Religion and Society. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001. Print.

Bonardel, Francoise. "Alchemical Esotericism and the Hermeneutics of Culture." Modern Esoteric Spirituality. By Antoine Faivre, Jacob Needleman, and Karen Voss. New York: Crossroad, 1992. Print.

CCEL. "Simon Magus." Welcome to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library! | Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. .

Clift, Wallace B. Jung and Christianity: the Challenge of Reconciliation. New York: Crossroad, 1994. Print.

Freke, Timothy, and Peter Gandy. The Laughing Jesus: Religious Lies and Gnostic Wisdom. New York: Harmony, 2005. Print.

Haar, Stephen. Simon Magus: the First Gnostic? Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2003. Print.

Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages: an Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic, and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy : Being an Interpretation of the Secret Teachings Concealed within the Rituals, Allegories, and Mysteries of the Ages. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2003. Print.

Hamel, Gildas H. Poverty and Charity in Roman Palestine: First 3 Centuries C. E. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. Microfilms Internat., 1986. Print.

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1998. Print.

Harris, Ray. "Christianity: the Great Lie." Integral World. Web. 7 Oct. 2010. .

Hoeller, Stephan A. Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2002. Print.

Hermetic Library "The Invisible Basilica: The Apophasis Megalê of Simon Magus." The Hermetic Library at Hermetic.com. Web. 4 Nov. 2010. .

Jung, C. G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1979. Print.

King, Karen L. What Is Gnosticism? Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2003. Print.

Lebreton, Jules. "The Logos." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 28 Nov. 2010

Leloup, Jean-Yves and Joseph Rowe. The Gospel of Philip: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Gnosis of Sacred Union. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2004. Print.

Martin, Ernest L. "Simon Peter versus Simon the Sorcerer." The Reformation Online - The Most Timely, Scientific, and Patriotic Site on the Internet. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. .

Mead, G. R. S. Simon Magus: an Essay on the Founder of Simonianism Based on the Ancient Sources with a Re-evaluation of His Philosophy and Teachings. Chicago: Ares, 1892. Simon Magus, by G.R.S. Mead. The Gnostic Society Library. Web. .

Mead, G.R.S. "Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Gnosis According to Its Foes: Dositheus." Internet Sacred Text Archive Home, 1900. Web. 1 Nov. 2010. .

Merkur, Dan. "Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth." Esoterica. Michigan State University. Web. 29 Nov. 2010. http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/Merkur.html

Palmer, Philip Mason, and Robert Pattison More. The Sources of the Faust Tradition; from Simon Magus to Lessing,. New York: Haskell House, 1965. Print.

Peterson, By Joseph H., and Soli Dastur. "M.N. Dhalla: History of Zoroastrianism (1938), Part 3." AVESTA -- Zoroastrian Archives. 2003. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. .

Picknett, Lynn, and Clive Prince. The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ. London: Bantam, 1997. Print.

Robinson, Rev. Michael. "Essene Nazarean Church of Mount Carmel." Essene Nazarean Church of Mount Carmel. 18 May 1995. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

Roob, Alexander. Alchemy & Mysticism: the Hermetic Museum. Köln: Taschen, 2006. Print.

Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978. Print.

Stroumsa, Guy G. Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996. Print.

Tarnas, Richard. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. New York: Harmony, 1991. Print.

No comments: