This article is cited in Not in His Image, Ch. 9, p 147
of the Gnostic Movement
A Tangled Tale
The Nag Hammadi treatises are late scribal handiwork,
poorly and erratically executed. They were copied down and translated — not
written — by Coptic scribes using an improvised language.
The desert monks who may have understood precious little of what
they were translating. We do not know anything about the condition
of the Greek texts they used, or why they were charged to make
these translations. This being so, my educated guess is probably
as good as anyone’s: I’d say the “originals” were
rough notes taken by students in the Mystery Schools, or what
remained of them. The notes may have been translated into Coptic — in
my opinion, a form of scribal shorthand or stenography, rather
than a genuine language — as a writing exercise for the
scribes, rather than to faithfully preserve the materials. This
is hard to imagine, perhaps, and painful to admit. But the awful
fact is, these precious documents are appallingly shoddy, flawed,
Beyond the question of textual origins for surviving
Gnostic documents looms the larger question of the origins of
the Gnostics themselves? Scholars today ignore this problem as
insoluble, and unworthy of their time. Their only take interest
in the Coptic materials as they reveal something about the origins
of Christianity, not Gnosticism. No serious scholar considers
the content of Gnostic teachings and Mystery School instruction
as such to be worthy of discussion. This disregarding attitude
extends to the cultural, historical, and geographical origins
of the Gnostic movement.
And thereby hangs a long and tangled tale.
In plain English it leads to Azerbaijan, on the border of northwestern Iran. There, bounded to the north by the Araxes River, a high plateau fed by Lake Urmia marks the geographic matrix of the Gnostic movement. Doresse wrote: “There we find legends anterior to Gnosticism — those, for instance, which attributed a sacred character to Mount Hermon, the supposed residence of the Children of Seth at the beginning of human existence (p. 255).
“Children of Seth” is the legendary
name that Gnostics assigned to a sacred lineage of phosters,
or revealers. The name Seth occurs in the Bible, in Genesis 4:25: “And
Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son, and called his
name Seth. For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed
instead of Abel, whom Adam slew.” Significantly, this is
the only time it occurs. Seth belongs to “another seed,” a
lineage set apart from the Judeo-Christian narrative of “sacred
history.” From the inception of their story, Gnostics are
situated outside the conventional narrative of Western spiritual
Persian duality is the great enigma in the history
of religions. So far no scholar in the world, not even Mircea
Eliade, has cracked the Zoroastrian nut.
In his elegant little book on the Gnostics, Jacques Lacarriere asserts that Gnosis was a path of illumination based upon ancient star-wisdom. The Jewish historian Josephus says that the Children of Seth were widely revered as celestial seers who “discovered the sciences of the heavenly bodies and their patterns” (Antiquities, I.68-72). All through the Near East and into Europa, the astronomer-priests of the Magian Order was known in late times as "Chaldeans," a rather misleading nickname. This term is a derivation of the Sumerian Kasdim, related to the Hebrew Chesed (a sepiroth of the Tree of Life) and Chassidim, "the pious," an ultra-conservative sect linked to the Zaddikim. The tendency of Biblical editing is to conflate Chaldean motifs with the Magian Order, conferring legitimacy on the patriarchs by way of association. Abraham's father, Terah, was a priest of the temple of the lunar god, Sin, in the city of Ur. There is a great deal of astro-mythological lore encoded in the Old Testament — evidence of Magian and Sethian influences. And, of course, the Magi figure vividly in the New Testament fable of the birth of the savior.
A scribal note written on the margin of Alciabides
I, a work attributed to Plato, attests to the legend that
Zoroaster lived in the 7th millenium BCE. Several other classical
sources, including Aristotle, Pliny, and Plutarch, also tell
us that “the Magian,” lived 6,000 years before
the death of Plato. In her extraordinary and little-known book, Plato
Prehistorian, Mary Settegast situates the rise of the
Magian Order, the original priesthood of ancient Iranian religion,
in the Age of the Twins, around 5500 BCE, a date supported
by the Greek sources. Settegast refers here to Zodiacal timing
based on the precession of the equinoxes.
Most historians do not use Zodiacal timing to frame historical and pre-historical research, but Settegast does so outstandingly. Indologist and mythologist Alain Danielou and cultural historian William Irwin Thompson also adopt this technique. I myself have applied it extensively for over thirty years.
take note: Plotting events by precession does
not require adopting the belief that the stars affect human
affairs. A Zodiacal Age is framing device, comparable
to a geological age (Pleistocene), an historical period (Bronze
Age), or a cultural epoch (Tang Dynasty). The framework of
the Ages is an heuristic tool, not an astrological con.
Settegast uses precession deftly to coordinate ancient testimony on the Magian Order with archeological research, on the one hand, and historical-religious analysis, on the other.In my own researches with the master tool of precession, the Dendera Zodiac, I have found that Zodiacal Ages correlate to known historical and archeological evidents with impressive consistency, and often in astonishing detail. Axis C of the Dendera Zodiac, dated to 5,600 BCE, marks the Age of the Twins. A white marble figure of the "double goddess" from Catal Huyuk VI (pictured here, from Mellaart, The Archeology of Ancient Turkey, p. 21) clearly present the Twins motif. At Catal Huyuk archeologists have found twelve successive layers of building, representing distinct stages of the city and reflecting different eras of its history. The top layers of the mound, containing the most recent buildings, are dated at 5,600 BCE, the date of Axis C and the double goddess relic. I could offer dozens of similar examples....
Astronomer priests of the Magian Order and other
skywatching seers from Hibernia to the Indus Valley would have
used precessional timing to track the course of human experience
over the long term. The Magi brought this method down from the
Urmian Plateau and spread it throughout the Fertile Crescent.
At Eridu (Ur in the Chaldees), directly south from the hidden
navel of the Gnostic movement, precessional timing would have
been imparted to the first Sumerian theocrats. But once it was
turned over to state-supported priests and social controllers
of the early Near Eastern theocracies, precession lost its value
as a tool for educational planning and guidance. The telestai consecrated
to guiding humanity fell into conflict with other Magians whose
aims were political. The eventual split in the Magian Order devolved
upon such arcane matters.
A legend hinted in Coptic codices says that the Revealer lineage began at the Mountain of Seir with one illumined couple, Seth and his consort, Norea. Mandaeans of the Iraq marshes, whose beliefs show many similarities to Gnosticism, recount a parallel legend of a founding couple, Anosh-Uthra and Yohanna, who established their base at the White Mountain. Seir is an Indo-Iranian root, cognate with Syr and Shri, “holy, hallowed, sacred.” Urmia derives from the ancient Persian word for water. Lake Urmia is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
According to an ancient legend that survives
locally to this day, the lakeside city of Urmia was the birthplace
The Magian Order spread from the Urmia basin in all directions: northward into the Caucasus mountains, southward into Iraq, eastward toward India, and westward into Asia Minor and Europe. But as dissemination proceeded, the Order gradually split into two distinct branches, Gnostics and Illuminati, as we might now call them. Each branch operated on different motives and methods.
Within the Order, Gnostics were given the title
of vaedemna, “seer, wise one,” as distinguished
from the priest, the zoatar, who officiated openly in
society and advised Middle Eastern theocrats on matters of statecraft
and social morality, not to mention agricultural planning — for
Zoroaster was by all accounts responsible for the introduction
of planned, large-scale agriculture.
The Parsi word zoatar is the origin of the Greek word soter, “savior.” Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition presents various permutations of the soter or redeemer figure. Redemptive religion, based on a superhuman agent who implements the will of the paternal deity, is termed soteriological. In Hebrew religion, this agent is the messiah, conceived either as a human person, the King of the Jews, or a superhuman entity such as Melchizedek (Zaddikim cult). In Christianity, it is Jesus as the incarnation of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, following the hybrid theology of Saint Paul. In Islam, the redeemer figure is plural, assuming the form of various Imams and hidden masters. The Sunni-Shi'ite conflict is about the succession of Imans after Mohammed. In all cases the soter is a patriarchal figure, the central authority in a theocratic cult whose ultimate aim, make no mistake, is to dominate the entire world by imposing a social-spiritual order based on the dictates of an off-planet father god who speaks exclusively to white male demagogues (WMDs).
Persian soteriology is the origin of the One World Order shared today by neocon schemers and New Age fantatists alike Over centuries, it produced the master plan of the Magians who went into social engineering, "the Illuminati," by contrast to the telestai or Gnostics who restricted their work to educational and spiritual guidance. In the Coptic codices soter occurs frequently to designate the Gnostic master or teacher. But another term, phoster, is closer to the meaning of vaedemna, a wise or illuminated person (cognates: veda, vidya, wisdom, wit). Lest the reader despair, believing that I am unduly quibbling over terms, I must point out that a huge problem for humanity hinges on the difference between a seer and a priest, especially a state-sponsored priest. Mary Settegast astutely notes that Iraniologists “hold conflicting views regarding the historical milieu of the prophet.” The crucial problem is this:
Here is that distinction that has baffled all scholars: between the shaman-seer and the sacerdotal priest who plays a hand in court politics. For the latter, agriculture was part of a sacred vocation. Since the cultivation of the earth was central to Zoroaster’s message, “missionary priests would presumably have been as well-versed in agricultural technique as in religious dogma… Irrigation, fertilization, cattle breeding, would have been part of a missionary’s wisdom” (p. 220). Does this sound creepily familiar? In the mission of the Zoroastrian Magi who took control of social organization under the theocratic paradigm, we have the ancient model of invasive colonialism and all it entails, a model still in operation today.
Now consider the other side to the story. According to scholarly opinion today and popular tradition in ancient times, the Magi were regarded, not as missionaries with a state agenda to execute, but “dedicated servants of the Gods” and “masters of learning, credited with initiating the ‘cosmological sciences,’ the study of not only the heavens, but the elements and kingdoms of earth” (p. 215ff). Who are we describing here? Missionaries or visionaries? Enlightened emissaries of high culture or self-seeking colonialists?
Guides and Leaders
Within the limits of the present (long) article,
I can do no more than introduce the issue of the Magi, “one
of the most compelling, as well as one of the most difficult,
in the history of the ancient world,” as Mary Settegast
observes. This is not just a problem for scholars, however, it
is a matter that concerns the very fate of humanity. It determines
the way we view human potential and how we frame moral and ethical
criteria by which society is guided. This long and tangled
tale from northwestern Iran brings us to the core issue of human
social experience: how we define what is evil, what works against
Today, delivering the State of the Union address,
the American president relies heavily on the rhetoric of split-source
dualism. We the good guys, them the bad guys. Gnostics considered
that the problem facing humanity was not evil, but error. Absolute
opposition of good and evil was an erroneous concept, and completely
alien to their worldview. Gnostic ideas are wonderfully finessed,
and their teachings are most finely nuanced when it comes to
the problems of error and human responsibility. One finds none
of this sophistication in the rigid, conflictual dualism of Zoroaster.
As Dylan sang long ago, "Don't follow leaders, watch ya
In his definitive study, “The History of the Term 'Gnostikos' ”, religious historian Morton Smith wrote that “gnostikos was not a common word.” He notes that respected initiates such as the Pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius did not use it. Neither was it common in Greek-language Judaism. It seems to have been used for the first time by Plato! In the Politicus 258e-267a, Plato refers to gnostike techne, “the art of knowing,” or perhaps “the art of managing things known,” in order to argue that “the ideal politician is defined as the master of the gnostic art” (italics mine). Plato asserts that “if such a being were to appear he would be a god come down to rule mankind.”
Well, there it is, as plain as day: Plato plays the deification card. His notion of a gnostikos is an expert advisor in theocratic government. i.e., rulership by the gods or those descended from gods. Buyt how can this be. It is known that Plato was initiated at Eleusis. If he had intimate contact with telestai, how could he have embraced and endorsed the program of the Illuminati, the Magians who run the theocratic agenda?
I would suggest that the answer lies in well-known analogy of Plato's Cave. According to this metaphor, objects in the sensory world are mere shadows cast by the Eidos, the divine Forms in the supersensory realm. But the Organic Light casts no shadow. I conclude that Plato, though initiated, never witnessed the Organic Light, the secret medium of Mystery instruction. Had he done so, he would never have invented the analogy of the Cave.
A fragment of Plato's manifesto of Illuminati statecraft, The Republic, is found translated into Coptic at Nag Hammadi (Codex VI, 5). This is the oldest text in the NHL, dating to almost 700 years earlier than the other documents. Yet no scholar has remarked on the highly unusual fact of its inclusion into the corpus. I have pointed out before that the guardians of the Mysteries did not call themselves gnostikoi, but telestai, "those who are aimed." It is known that gnostokoi was the term directed at them in ridicule by the Church Fathers: "smart-ass, know-it-all." I maintain that the telestai renounced this name because it was associated (via Plato) with the social engineers and special advisors of theocracy.
It is significant that the sole instance of a Gnostic sect known to have called themselves gnostokoi was a group of Carpocratians led by a woman named Marcellina. The Carpocratians tended to embrace the Hindu doctrine of avataric descent, i.e., flesh-and-blood embodiment of superhuman beings — an element of the theocratic scenario. The group led by Marcellina "had pictures and statues of many great teachers who were held in honor by their school, such as Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, and also a portrait of Jesus," according to the report of Origen (G. R. S. Mead, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, p. 232ff). The cult of personality was totally incompatible with the mission and demeanor of the telestai. They would never have tolerated such statues, but glorification of "great men" is typical of the theocratic agenda.
The telestai maintained
anonymity within their role as mystics and guardians of the Mysteries,
although as teachers working openly in society, they of course
had names and social identities. In other words, they did not
parade their connection to the Mysteries for social standing
or prestige. The names ascribed to Gnostics and initiates were
actually titles rather than proper names: Asklepios (Aesculapius),
for instance. The names of very few Gnostics - Simon Magus, Valentinus,
Basilides, Hypatia - have come down to us.
Today we use the insult "Gnostic" to characterize the ancient movement whose members opposed, not only their own self-glorification, but the theocratic program of great men and male leaders established and enforced by the politically oriented Magians.
From their ancestral ground in the northwestern Iran, Gnostics would have been able to observe developments in the Fertile Crescent, including the rise of mass-scale agriculture and urbanization. Their status as nomadic sages, the famous “Chaldeans” of antiquity, would have given them every advantage to observe three momentous developments: the shift from the sacrificial king (primary scapegoating, the pharmakon method), to the sacred king (modified rite, requiring the hieros gamos, sacred mating with the Goddess, to assure the human worthiness of the king ), to the redeemer king (men anointing men, and to hell with sacred mating). They could not have closely analyzed this progression, not detected the pathological violence driven by redemptive beliefs as deeply as we can, however. At least, I don’t think so. The sheer force of it may even have taken them by surprise, not to mention the insidiousness of Illuminati techniques, perverting the regenerative rites of the Mysteries....
View of Lake Urmia with salt crystals and island
We are at the other end of the long drama that
began by the shore of Lake Urmia, with 2000 years worth
of hindsight on the Illuminati program and what the message of
packaged in the redeemer complex can do to life on a small, lonely
jll: OCT 2006 Flanders
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2015 by John Lash.