The word “gnosis” is Greek for knowledge, and is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “knowledge of spiritual matters; mystical knowledge.” Meanwhile, “Gnosticism” is generally said to have been a spiritual movement in which this idea of “spiritual knowledge” or “divine wisdom” was considered the ideal goal of the spiritual practitioner. These cults prevailed mainly throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East from the first to the third century AD.
“Gnosis” was not merely the intellectual possession of a body of knowledge, but a state of mind in which the practitioner’s individual being is literally united with the divine essence, which cannot be defined by mere words. Thus the achievement of gnosis is a direct contact between the practitioner and God, a personal spiritual experience not necessarily mediated by any priest or church. The gnosis itself was personified by Sophia, a goddess-figure named after the Greek word for “wisdom.” Christ was seen by these groups not as a material being but as a spiritual emanation of the divine essence, meant to bring us back into unity with our spiritual origin through the spreading of gnosis.
It was the Gnostic group known as “the Ophites” from whom Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall believed the Knights Templar had copied their ritual and secret theology. The word “Ophite” comes from the Greek word for “snake”, a reference to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, which they revered as the true savior and hero of the story of Genesis, because he brought divine wisdom, or “gnosis” to mankind in the form of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Likewise the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, is described as a “demiurge”, the evil creator of the universe who, is so doing, separated man from the divine essence by causing spirit to incarnate into matter. The word “demiurge” comes from a Greek word meaning “artisan”, “craftsman”, or “skilled worker.” The Ophites believed that the demiurge did not want mankind to be illuminated with divine gnosis, and thus reunified with the uncreated essence, because that would allow us to escape his false creation. That is why he forbade eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and that is why, in this worldview, the Serpent promoted it.
There have been several different Ophite sects throughout history, including the Naasenes, the Sethians, the Mandeans, and the Borborites. The Naasenes, named after “na‘asch”, the Hebrew word for “snake”, existed in the first century AD. They called the demiurge “Yaldabaoth”, “Samael”, or “Saklas.” The Sethians believed that Adam and Eve’s third son Seth was a divine emanation, born purely of spirit, and that it was the destiny of Seth’s descendants to eternally battle the sons of Cain, whom they thought to be the posterity of the demiurge. The Mandeans are a pseudo-Islamic sect that we will look at in greater detail later on. The Borborites, meaning “the filthy ones’, were particularly known for their rituals involving the consumption of menstrual blood, semen, and aborted human fetuses. (These are things which the Knights Templar were accused of doing also.) Allegedly, there even existed a sect called the Cainites, who, rather than seeing him as the child of the demiurge, revered Cain as a martyr for the cause against the demiurge.
In general, it was the Gnostic view that the world was created in a series of “emanations” of Godhead, or “aeons”, which descended one from another, each new generation more dense, less subtle than the last. Sophia, or “divine wisdom”, was the last and the lowest of those emanations. It was she who fell from grace and became impregnated with Ialdaboath, destined to create an evil material universe with his demigod helpers, the “Archons.”
The Gnostic concept of Sophia has been frequently compared with the mystical idea of “Chokmah” found in the Jewish cabala. In that system, the universe is represented by the Tree of Life, consisting of various “Sephiroth”, or spheres of existence. The “paths” which connect the spheres are all paved with Chokmah, the Hebrew word for wisdom. This is defined as the wisdom that existed beyond good and evil, before Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In his commentary to the Kaballistic text known as the Sefer Yetzirah (The Book of Creation), Aryeh Kaplan defines Chokmah thusly:
“Wisdom is pure thought, which has not yet been broken up into different ideas… On the level of wisdom, all men are included in a single world soul.”
In the Gnostic version of the creation story, each aeon generated a “syzygy”, or a hermaphroditic pair of male and female god-forms. Each of these pairs mated to generate the aeon that followed. Sophia’s male counterpart was Christ (whose first incarnation, in some Gnostic stories, was the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.) In this case, however, Sophia attempted to generate the next aoen without the help of her male counterpart. The result was her bastard son Ialdaboath (Jehovah), who then in turn created our current, corrupted universe. In Gnostic cosmology, the fall from perfection occurred before creation, and was in fact the cause of creation.
During this process, a portion of Sophia’s divine essence (named Ashemoth) became trapped within creation, and outside of the “Pleroma”, or the “fullness of God.” It is for this reason, according to the Gnostics, and Jesus appeared on Earth, to redeem Sophia and allow her to return to the Godhead. This return is the definition of the state of gnosis sought by Gnostic spiritual practices.
The idea of “Sophia” as an emanation of God, specifically the “wisdom” of God, is part of mainstream Christian theology as well. The word “sophia” is used six times in the New Testament. In I Corinthians 1:23-24 the text refers to “Christ the power of God, and the sophia of God.” Just as the Gnostics saw Sophia as the female counterpart to Christ (and believed that the two had originally been a single hermaphroditic being), the Eastern Orthodox Church sees Sophia as co-equal with Christ, and simultaneously an aspect of Christ as well. The Hagia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom in Constanstinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) was once the most magnificent church in all of Byzantium before it was seized in the Ottoman conquest of 1453 and turned into a mosque. “Sophiology”, or the worship of the female aspect of Christ as God’s wisdom, has influenced many Christian mystics, including Jakob Bohme and Hildegard of Bingen.
Sophia has been compared to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit, part of the Trinity, and to the cabalistic concept of the Shekinah, a.k.a. the Matronit, the female aspect of God the Father who can also be thought of as God’s consort. “Shekinah” is a word that means “whirlwind”, as well as “divine presence”, “royal residence”, and “resting place.” God used the Shekinah to manifest his presence every time he appeared to the Israelites.
Now that we understand Sophia, this may help us to understand the secret doctrine of the Knights Templar and the mystery of their idol, Baphomet. For the name “Baphomet” is thought by some scholars to have been a code for the name “Sophia”, utilizing what is known as the “Atbash cipher.” In this system, the order of the alphabet is inverted so that A is equal to Z, B is equal to Y, etc. When the letters of the name “Baphomet” are converted into Aramaic (the Greek-Hebrew mix language used in Palestine in Jesus’ time) and then run through the Atbash cipher, the result is “Sophia.” The Templars, then, could have been worshipping the Gnostic female wisdom principle under the name of Baphomet.
It does seem that the “Sophia” of the Gnostics is the same concept as that of Baphomet as held by the Templars and by Eliphas Levi. Or perhaps, rather, Baphomet is a fusion of the concept of Sophia and the concept of the demiurge. He is at once both the hidden wisdom of the universe and the hidden power that created it. He is equivalent to the Masonic concept of the Great Architecht of the Universe. Indeed, the Gnostic sect known as the Basilideans worshipped a supreme god called Abraxas who, like Baphomet, represented the unity of good and evil. He was depicted with the head of a cock and two serpents for legs (a god form also called the “Anguepede.”) To the Gnostics Sophia was the supreme Wisdom beyond polarity. As Sophia describes herself in the Gnostic text Thunder Perfect Mind:
“…I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.…
I am the mother of my father and the sister of my husband and he is my offspring.
I am the slave of him who prepared me.…
For I am the wisdom of the Greeks and the knowledge of the barbarians. …
I am the one whose image is great in Egypt, and the one who has no image among the barbarians.…
I am the one whom you have pursued, and I am the one whom you have seized.
I am the one whom you have scattered, and you have gathered me together.…
I, I am godless, and I am the one whose God is great.…
I am the one whom you have hidden from, and you appear to me.
But whenever you hide yourselves, I myself will appear.
For whenever you appear, I myself will hide from you.…
…come forward to me, you who know me, and you who know my members, and establish the great ones among the small first creatures.…
Those who are without association with me are ignorant of me, and those who are in my substance are the ones who know me.
Those who are close to me have been ignorant of me, and those who are far away from me are the ones who have known me.
On the day when I am close to you, you are far away from me, and on the day when I am far away from you, I am close to you.
I am the union and the dissolution.
I am the abiding and I am the dissolution.
I am the one below, and they come up to me.…
I, I am sinless, and the root of sin derives from me.
I am lust in (outward) appearance, and interior self-control exists within me.…
I am the knowledge of my name.”
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