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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

Autogenes as the intermediary Godhead Principle

Barbelo The Archetypal Man

From the Ennoia/Barbelo/Five-Aeon/Ten-Aeon there emanates a further Divinity, referred to as Autogenes, meaning "Self-Begotten" or "Self-Born".  It is described as the "only-begotten one of the Mother-Father" and "of the Father, the pure Light"  [Nag Hammadi Library, Apocryphon of John, p.102].

And here we have a good example of the difficulty when trying to understand what the Hellenistic Gnostics were saying: the bizarre and extraordinary richness, and indeed self-contradictoriness, of their liturgical language.  On the one hand this emanation is called "Autogenes", "Self-begotten", yet on the other it is described as being "begotten" by, or the "only-begotten" of, the Mother-Father.

The unknown writer of this text made no attempt to clarify this, nor did his successors.  Clearly the Gnostics preferred ecstatic visionary utterances to intellectual clarity and metaphysical definition.  They may have felt that too much intellectualising would detract from the actual fluid experience in itself.  Or perhaps they were just sloppy writers and didn't care.  Or maybe we are looking at a later and decadent recension, the earlier and more precise version being lost.  Or the contradiction may have been there from the beginning, and was put in on purpose to illustrate the multifaceted nature of the Godheadic-Aeons - on the one hand there is such a thing as emanation ("only-begotten") and on the one hand every principle is itself of the nature of the Source ("self-begotten").  In a related, probably late 2nd Century, Gnostic text, external link The Gospel of the Egyptians, the original First Principle is described as "Autogenes".  In the Apocryphon of John the term indicates a Divine Principle somewhat lower down the scale of Being.  It is difficult to tell whether Autogenes was originally a term for the Absolute which was then down-graded into a lower hypostasis, or vice-versa, or whether the Paradox is simply deliberate.

In the three related but somewhat later (i.e. 3rd Century) tractates external link Allogenes, external link The Three Steles of Seth, and Zostrianos, instead of a single intermediate Divine principle between the transcendent and creation, there are three: Kalyptos, Protophanes, and Autogenes.  These were originally based on the Neoplatonic Noetic triad of Being, Life, and Mind, which are intermediate principles between the Absolute or One and the Psychic realm.  But they also show many similarities to other cosmological triads, such as the Indian Kashmir Shaivite "pure tattwas" (evolutes) of Sadashiva, Ishwara, and Sadvidya, and the three supernal Kabbalistic Sefirot (Divine principles) of Keter, Hokmah, and Binah.  It is as if an occult map of Creation is being set forward here, a map that is continually rediscovered in each esoteric-spiritual tradition.

So, taking these three principles one at a time, and moving "downwards" (away from the Absolute and into manifestation), the direction of Creation, we find that the first of the Aeons after Barbelo [= Ennoia] is called Kalyptos, the "Hidden One".  This Aeon is transcendent, "unborn", "self-begotten", and the "One Hidden in the heart" [Nag Hammadi Library, external link Three Steles of Seth, pp.365, and Zostrianos, pp.372, 374].  He is the father of the other Aeons, "yet he is unknown, for he is a power and a father from himself.  Therefore he is fatherless" [Zostrianos, p.374], that is, so close to the Origin as to seem like the Origin to be without Beginning, without a higher Source.  Likewise in the Zohar (13th Century Kabbalah), the first sefirot Keter, is the unmanifest void from which the other Sefirot emerge.  Keter is identified with the Divine Will.

In occult cosmology, each higher Godhead emanates the next lower.  So in Sethian Coptic Gnosticism, Kalyptos, the Hidden One, is the source of Protophanes, the First-Appearing One.  Protophanes is knowledge, "a father-god, a foreknowledge" [Nag Hammadi Library, Zostrianos, pp.373-4], identified with the Neoplatonic principle of Divine Mind (Nous).  Interestingly, we find that the second Kashmir Shaivite principle, the Ishwara-tattwa, is associated with Jnana, transcendent experience-knowledge.  It is also at that level at which the Nada or Universal Vibration condenses into a single Bindu or point [Arthur Avalon, Shakti and Shakta, p.500], or in other words, manifestation first appears as a Centre.  In the Zohar also, Hokhmah or "Wisdom" is the first conceivable manifestation of the En Sof, represented as a single primordial point - comparable to the Tantric Bindu - the centre around which the processes of Divine manifestation crystallise. [Gershom Scholem, Link to Amazon com  Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p.218].

Protophanes in turn generates Autogenes, the Anthropos, the "self-begotten", the "child" (in the Sethian Gnostic sequence Father-Mother-Child, Kalyptos would represent the Father, Protophanes the Mother, and Autogenes the Child), the principle of Life.  Each level down becomes more accessible, more religious or soteriological (conferring salvation).  So in Christianised Sethian Gnostic texts like the Apocryphon of John, Autogenes is specifically identified with "the Great Christ", the Savior figure.

The Gnostic Aeons and equivalents in other esoteric systems
Kashmir Shaivism
aeon family relationship equivalent hypostasis tattwa polarity sefirah creation (Zohar) family relationship
(Hidden One)
Father Being(Ontos) Sadashiva/ Sadakhya Shiva Keter (Crown) (Unmanifest) n/a
(first Appearing)
Mother Mind (Nous)  Ishwara Shakti Hokmah
Point Father
Child Life (Zoe) Sadvidya Shiva-Shakt) Binah
(Archetypes) Mother

The Sethian Gnostics | The Valentinian Cosmology | Cyclic, Historical, and Dramaturgic Time| The Pleroma | The Gnostic Dramaturgy - Creation and Redemption

Barbelo The Archetypal Man

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 28 June 1998, last modified 6 June 2004