Gnostic Definitions

List compiled by Allen Peters

Abraxas (or Abrasax): The letters of this word add up to 365. Sometimes the word has been used to describe the Demiurge or a lower emanation. More often however the word is used to imply what is beyond the thing it measures out, thus pointing to the Prime Source through the circular cycle of our time. It is roughly the same as the Hebrew "Ein Soph", which is in both cases a reference to the true non-anthropomorphic God.

Aeon: These are the emanations from Bythos. 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. So the Prime Source is not anthropomorphic but as it spills forth into the field of time it becomes more recognizable, at least in a mythological fashion.

Agape: Unconditional love. A love that stems from the ability of the initiate to see the divine spark in all life, which in turn points to a single source. This is not to say that we ARE the source, but that pieces of it are within us which is why we are led back to it.

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

Agnosia: The state of not having insight or Gnosis. It is from this word that "agnostic" also comes, meaning a person who does not have Gnosis.

Allogenes: Means "alien". The Gnostic views their self as a spirit, thus they are "alien" to the world.

Anthropos: "Man" (neutral gender). There are three levels to the Anthropos. One is the autogenes that is the first principle of cognosance that is "the image of God". The next is the image of that image, or mind. The last is the third image, which is the physical existence. In this way every person is a three fold being including the Christ spirit, the soul, and the body.

Antinomianism: While this word literally refers to the belief that legal precepts are no longer applicable to a "saved" individual, it has come to be used in regards to any libertine doctrines in common parlance concerning Gnosticism. Thus the groups that are experiential rather than ascetic have been referred to as antinomian. While it is pretty obvious that the "any thing goes" ideas that have been ascribed to Gnostics like Carpocrates and Corinthus are off mark, the inverse theories that some scholars have forwarded are also unlikely. Truth is more likely closer to the center in that while there have been movements that place an emphasis on experience (semi-libertine), and others on separation (semi-ascetic), neither sets of ideas were necessarily mutually exclusive.

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 is an archon, as are his offspring the 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 (usually the Logos, but sometimes Barbelos).

Barbelos: This word has been used in different ways, creating some confusion. It is in the masculine gender but is used to denote Sophia. As the woman who is "the first male virgin", she has a androgynous connotation. It is the highest or lowest form of Sophia depending on the myth, with Zoe being the other end.

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

Bythos: Is both 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. The literal historical existence or happenings of Jesus is not the point to a Gnostic, nor is it thought that the bloody sacrifice of a scapegoat is our salvation. Instead it is the meaning of the allegories contained in scripture, the Gnosis they impart, that is thought to be true salvation.

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 "enlightenment". Rather than an intellectual understanding then, it is a "knowledge of the heart" or wisdom (which is not meant to imply mere emotionalism). While any religion that places an emphasis on esoteric understanding as a spiritual goal can be said to have gnosis (small "g") it has become common practice to spell it "Gnosis" (capital "G") when referring to the syncratic movements of the late antiquities. Some extend this definition to include related movements such as Kabbalah, Classical Hermeticism. This system is of course arbitrary and not used by all, but is very useful in written dialogue.

Gnostic: This word, like Gnosis, has been differentiated according to the use of upper or lower case letters. Spelled "gnosticism" it refers to the form which is used by various related, but externally different groups. These include Kabbalah, etc.. The Hellenic Gnostics, etc (this modern usage of the word that started in about the 1800s). Spelled "Gnosticism" it refers specifically to the Christian and Jewish groups from the 1st through 5th centuries A.D. who believed salvation to be in gnosis rather than faith. 

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 worlds) deals with the lowest portion of human nature. The world and the instinctual drives with no sublimation.

Kyclos: "Circles". Something like the Chakras of Kundalini, or the Sephirot of the Kabbalah. A system of worlds that effect both the macro and the micro. Aeons as applied to the psyche.

Leviathan: The world serpent. This is kind of like the Ouroboros in the negative worldly aspect. Just as the Ouroborus refers to infinity and the cycle, Leviathan is inside the cycle. Some systems has them of basically the same thing with one referring to the inside, and the other the outside.

Logos: Means "word". The Logos is the light that gives us Gnosis via communication. Thus it is the Christ (not to be confused with Jesus). First there was a thought, then the word, and thus God spake to create. 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: The soul, which is not the same as the pneuma or spirit. It is the part of the anima (also translated as "soul") that gives us reason. 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 in the Gnostic sense of the word.

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 perception of some, gnosticism is against any form of sympathetic magic or divination. The reason for this is not that it doesn't necessarily work, that idea is up to the individual, 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". Faith is seen as the origin of gnosis, but also as something that must be given up. One must come from "believing" to "knowing" so to speak. In other words, faith creates wisdom and is in turn destroyed by it.

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 and Archons and of our own spark, or spirit.

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. Both a Sophia and a Logos, the Christiological implication of the name is pretty obvious.

Pronoia: "Providence"

Prunikus: "Whore" Sophia is sometimes referred to as "Pistis Sophia Prunikus". The fallen Sophia is also the object of desire that brings us back to the goal.

Psychic: This level of thinking is the one right above "hylic". It's drive is the intellect, or normal understanding of the mind. Normal religion, politics etc, fall into this world.

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".

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 and sensual. The basic idea is comparable to the Shekinah, or "Holy Spirit". Soter: "Savior" is a name for the Logos.

Spinther: Literally "spark". The thing that is awakened with Gnosis is the spirit (not the same as soul see "nous"), which is a "spark" or shard of the divine source Abraxas. Also see "pneumatic".

Syncratism: Syncratism 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 syncratism. 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. In other words what we like comes together in a mishmash. 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 realization 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. Sometimes however the word is used for the higher aspect of Sophia.