New and Updated
Gnosticism index page Introduction Origins Teachings Schools Search entire Site The Western Hermetic Tradition
Influences Glossary Books Links


glossary by Karl Nygren

Abraxas (or Abrasax); The letters of this word add up to 365. In Tertullian's outline of the beliefs of Basilides, the term seems to refer to the unknown Father, the Prime Source. In Hyppolitus, what is described seems to be the Demiurge. In the surviving Gnostic texts, Abrasax is one of a number of "light bringers".

Aeon; These are the emanations from first cause, the Father. The word not only refers to the "worlds" of emanation, but to the personalities as well. Sophia, Logos, and the other high principles are aeons.

Agape; Unconditional love. A love that stems from the ability of the initiate to see the divine spark in all life.

Agnoia; Literally "ignorance" or the act of not paying attention.

Agnosia; The state of not having insight or Gnosis.

Allogenes; Means "alien". The existance of spiritual force in the material realm is "alien" to it. This includes both aeons, such as the Logos, as well as the Gnostic him/her self.

Anthropos; "Man". This is the cosmic human as well as the philosophical form of the regular human.
More on the Anthropos

Antinomianism; While this word literally refers to the belief that legal precepts are no longer applicable to a "saved" individual, it has come to be used in regards to any libertine doctrines in common parlance. Thus, the groups that are experiential rather than ascetic have been referred to as antinomian. There is reason to doubt that the "any thing goes" ideas that have been ascribed to Gnostics like Carpocrates and Corinthus are accurate.

Apochryphon; "Secret Book". The notion of secrecy was important for a wide variety of reasons. Thus the development of the "secret writings" amongst the Gnostics.

Apolutrosis; Secret "Redemption" is seen as being helped by the rite of initiation which helps to impart gnosis. This word refers to both the rite and what is received from it.

Aponoia; "Unreason" is the misuse of thought. This is different than simply not having thought, as the inability to "put things together" can be worse than not even knowing they do in fact fit.

Archigenitor; The "first begetter". A Greek reference to Yaldabaoth.

Archon; "Ruler". Refers to the creators and governing forces in the material world. The Demiurge and his angels.

Arete; Means "virtue". In Platonic ideal it is a reference to the importance of meaning above technical skill (techne). In other words it denotes mythological value within a literate framework or craft. Later philosophical movements Would refer to this notion as "High Art" vs. "Low Art".

Autogenes; "Self Generated" is a reference to the first Aeon or the guiding light (Barbelos).
More on The Autogenes

Barbelos; This word has been used in different ways, creating some confusion. Generally it is the first aeon. It is in the masculine gender but is used to denote Sophia. As the woman who is "the first male virgin", she has an androgynous connotation.

Boule; the "will" of God which in turn leads to the word (Logos) of God.

Bythos; the "Void". Its the "primal ground" and the pre-beginning forefather.

Choic; "Earthly" same as "hylic".

Chrestos; "Friendly" Is a play on the word Christ (anointed). Both refer to the Logos.

Demiurge; The "Craftsman" or creator of the material world. Usually viewed in a negative fashion. If nothing else, the material is less than the spirit so that the creator is lower than the prime source.

Docetism; From the root word "image". This is a theological premise that states that Christ's actions on the earth (including the "passion") is illusory.

Ennoia; Means "thought" Sophia in her high form Barbelo is the first thought (so she is the first Aeon and the last one as well). Creation happens in the triad of thought, word, action.

Epinoia; Means "insight" as it comes from the higher connections of spirit. I can be translated as "wisdom" in the modern sense of the word. Without it one cannot gain Gnosis.

Eros; This is the love that comes from the desire to reunite. It is a passion contrast with agape which is compassion). Eros originates when the Demiurge sees "light Adam" or the primal man (see Anthropos).

Esaldaios; This is the name that the Naasenes used for the Demiurge.

Gnosis; While the literal translation for this word is "knowledge", it's meaning is closer to "insight" or, to use a more modern concept, "enlightenment". Rather than purely an intellectual understanding then, it is a "knowledge of the heart" (which is not meant to imply mere emotionalism) or wisdom. It is the complete comprehension that comes from both rational and intuited means.
More on Gnosis

Gnostic; Both a specific sect mentioned by heresiologists, and a category for a number of sects that believed "Gnosis" had a salvational purpose.

Gnosticism; the word was created by modern scholors to refer to the sects of the Late Antiquities that shared a similar cosmology and soteriology. More recently the definition has been widened in some circles to mean any form of mysticism or esotericism. However, this has largely happened as a result of ignorance as to the technical purpose of the term.

Hebdomas; The kingdom of the "Seven", referring to the spheres of the planets and thus the Archons and heimarene.

Heimarene; Literally "destiny". Hylics are controlled by the spheres of the stars, which represent different base drives. Destiny does not apply to the pneumatic, who has broken past such connections.

Hylic; "of matter" This level of thinking (one of the three aspects of existance) deals with the lowest portion of human nature. The world and the instinctual drives with no sublimation.

Logos; often translated as "word", it's true meaning is much more multifunctional (a better translation would be "reason"). The Logos is the light that gives Gnosis via communication. It is the Christ (not to be confused with Jesus). First there was a thought, then the word. We pass on knowledge in this world through words. It is something that gives us guidance by "seeing" or a certain amount of comprehension.

Metennoia; This is the "change of mind" or perspective that happens to the initiate.

Monogenes; The "Only begotten", See Autogenes and Logos.

Nous; "Mind", The soul, which is not the same as the pneuma or spirit. It is the part of the anima that gives us conciousness. The anima as a whole gives life (or literally movement.. "animates") to our bodies.

Ogdoad; This is the "eighth" kingdom above the hebdomas (7). It is the realm of the Demiurgos (or sometimes that is the 7th, with the eighth being that of Sabaoth), as well as usually being the realm of the zodiac (dodecon). Sometimes it is also seen as the beginning of freedom from the Archons, and the beginning of connection to the Aeons.

Ouroboros; This familiar image of the serpent biting it's own tail is meant to imply infinity. Or, possibly, eternally being stuck in the material cycle.

Paraklete; "Comforter". This is a familiar word used for the Holy Spirit or for the Logos.

Pharmakeia; Is roughly equivalent to witchcraft. Contrary to the accusations of the heresiologists, Gnostic writers seemed to be against any form of sympathetic magic or divination. The reason for this is not that it doesn't necessarily work, but that it's focus is still within the hylic and psychic spheres of thought. ESP, astrology etc are only applicable to the realm of Heimarene.

Pistis; "Faith".

Plane; means "error" and can be used for both the cosmic mistake, and a personal lack of understanding.

Pleroma; The word means "fullness". It refers to all existence beyond matter but not including Bythos who is beyond it. In other words it is the world of the Aeons, the heavens or spiritual universe.
More on The Pleroma

Pneumatic; One who identifies with the spirit (pneuma) as opposed to the material world (hylic) or the intellect alone (psychic). The pneuma is the spark (spinther) that came from and is drawn to reunite with the Father. One who awakens it within the self does it through gnosis.

Poimandres; "Good Shepard" This is a reference to the first androgynous emanation which guides us back. A Hermetic (rather than Gnostic) term that is basically a Sophia and a Logos.

Praxis; practice.

Pronoia; "Providence"

Prunikus; "Whore" Sophia is sometimes referred to as "Pistis Sophia Prunikus". The fallen Sophia.

Psychic; This level of thinking is the one right above "hylic". It's drive is the intellect, or normal understanding of the mind.

Saklas; Literally means "fool". It is another name for the Demiurge.

Samael; The word "Samael" means "blind god" and is another name for the Demiurge.

Sarkic; "Fleshly". Same as "hylic".

Sethian; It is a name for a specific sect of Gnostics, but also a category created by scholors to refer to a number of sects that are similar in their difference to Valentinians
More on the Sethian Gnostics

Sophia; Means "wisdom". Like the Logos this is a primal form. While the Logos is personified as male, Sophia is female. Logos has a direct and intellectual basis for guidance, Sophia is inspirational (sometimes even sensual). The basic idea is comparable to the Shekinah, or "Holy Spirit".

Soter; "Savior" is a name for the Logos.

Soteriology; the study of principles of salvation within a religion.

Spinther; The "spark" or "splinter" that is awakened with Gnosis is the spirit (not the same as soul see "nous"), which is a piece of the divine source. Also see "pneumatic".

Syncretism; Syncretism is the interworking of two or more cultural perspectives into one system. Gnosticism (and therefore Christianity), as well as Kabbalah and the Mysteries of Mithras etc grew from syncretism. This has often been confused with eclecticism but is not the same thing. The latter is a picking and choosing according to taste, without the internal framework of a genuine understanding of function. The former is when two systems come together with cultural perspectives that need to be worked out. Thus the important deeper "hard parts" of a system will still be included after syncratism, but lost on eclecticism.

Synesis; Means "insight" in a relization of the physical inter-workings and is an aspect of Gnosis. It is one of the lower powers that was bound into man from the Aeons, by the Demiurge.

Syzygos; Literally means "consort". Sometimes used to refer to the twin. Is generally meant to imply the thing to which one is driven to connect with. A person's syzygos is their spirit. Sophia's mistake was said to be her drive to create without her syzygos.

Yaldabaoth (Ialdabaoth Jaldabaoth); From the Aramaic, meaning "begetter of the Heavens". A name for the Demiurge.

Zoe; Means "Life" and is usually equated with "Eve" which means the same thing. This is essentially the fallen Sophia.

Kheper Home | Gnosticism main page | Topics Index | New or updated | Search

images not loading? | error messages? | broken links? | suggestions? | criticism?

contact me

glossary © by Karl Nygren
page uploaded 26 December 2003