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Cosmogony and Dramaturgy
The Supreme Principle The First Emanation Autogenes And The Intermediary Godhead Principles The Origin of the Archetypal Man The Gnostic Account of the Fall and Creation The Battle for the Spiritual Light The Gnostic Savior The Consummation

The First Emanation

The Supreme Principle Autogenes

Through a kind of self-mirroring or self-contemplation, this supreme First Principle produces the first "created" entity.  Thus according to the Apocryphon of John:

"He `thought' His own likeness when He saw it in the pure Light-water that surrounded Him.  And His Thought [ennoia] became efficacious and made herself manifest..."
[Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion, p.106n]

The first emanation of the Absolute, and the source of all subsequent manifestation, is a female principle, variously referred to as Thought, Providence, Fore-thought or Foreknowledge (in Greek, all these words have female gender), and "Barbelo".

Gnostic cosmology casts the female creator principle in a dual role.  In fact there are two Divine Mothers.  The higher one, Barbelo, is the creative Thought of the ineffable Parent, who may also descend for the purpose of salvation of those below.  The lower one, Sophia, is the accidental creator of the ignorant demiurge who made the cosmos, but also works to free the divine spirit captured by the demiurge in human form.

In the Apocryphon of John, Barbelo is described as "The first power, the glory, Barbelo, the perfect glory in the aions, the glory of the revelation."  [Nag Hammadi Library, p.101].  In the somewhat later external link The Gospel of the Egyptians, the emphasis shifts somewhat.  There is not one but three powers are emanated by the "Great Invisible Spirit, the unnameable Parent, the eternal light of the aions."  These are the Father, the Mother (identified with Barbelo), and the Son, each of which is an octet (eight-fold).

The writer of the Apocrphon of John continues:

"This is the First Thought, His Image; She became the womb of everything for She is prior to them  all, the Mother-Father, the First Man [Anthropos], the Holy Spirit, the Thrice-Male, the Thrice-Powerful, the Thrice-named Androgynous One, and the Eternal Aeon among the Invisible Ones, and the first to come forth."

This list of appellations is only comprehensible when taken in its correct context.  The reference to "thrice-male" reflects the chauvinistic bias that occurs even in Hellenistic Gnosticism; "male" in this context meaning "spirit" or purity (note also "Father" as the term for the Absolute; a term popular not only in Christianity, but in the Platonism that proceeded it as well; although the translation "Parent" would also be valid).  "Thrice" indicates greatness, or supremely, (as in "Thrice-greatest Hermes").  In Gnostic jargon, "male" indicates membership in the incorruptible realm, thus even Barbelo is described as "male".  "Androgynous" (including both male and female qualities) means that this first principle embodies within itself the opposites as unity.  The psychologist Carl Jung had a great deal to say regarding the Divine Androgyne as the principle for the unification of opposites.  Most interesting, however, is the reference to the Supreme Godhead as Anthropos (a non-gender-specific  term meaning "Man/Woman" or human being).  This has parallels with the Indian Vedic Purusha (Primordial Godhead Person) myth; as well as with the (possibly Gnostically derived) Kabbalistic idea of Adam Kadmon - the "Primordial Man".  In all these cosmologies  there is the representation of the original Divine Personality as a sort of supra-cosmic person.

Barbelo calls on the invisible Spirit (a typical anthropomorphism, confusing the Divine with the human; a Divine emanation does not have to request or pray to the higher Godhead in order to attain  something) to actualise four of her attributes as separate hypostases: Foreknowledge, Indestructability, Eternal Life, and Truth.  Each of these came forth in turn.  But still they are not some-thing separate from her, but rather part of a single whole, the "five-aeon", of which she is the core.

"This is the Five-Aeon of the Father which is the First Man [Anthropos], the Image of the Invisible Spirit; it is the Pronoia [Providence] which is Barbelo, the Thought  and the Foreknowledge and the Indestructability and the Eternal Life and the Truth.  This is the androgynous Five-Aeon, which is the Ten-Aeon [because each of the five principles is androgynous], which is the Father." [p.102]

In this Gnostic account we see an interesting parallel with Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, which describes the emanation of the first of the Tathagata Buddhas, Vairochana, from the Absolute or  Dharmakaya, and the other four Tathagatas from Vairochana.  In both there is the same numeric sequence: from the Absolute comes the One, from the One Four more, making a complete mandala of Five (the centre and the four cardinal points).  Clearly, what is indicated here is an account of the nature of the emanation of Divine Principles, inasmuch as such is comprehensible to the human mind.  Such religious-meditative Mandalas, with their four-fold structure, are spontaneous attempts by the human psyche to represent the nature of the manifest Godhead.

The Pleroma | The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption

The Supreme Principle Autogenes

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page uploaded 28 June 1998, last modified 6 June 2004