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FRANCIS LEGGE, in Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, gives us his account of the genesis of the Ophites. Before we quote at length from the chapter proper, it might be worth noting that in his analysis of Simon Magus and his followers, he points out that according to Theodoret, a heresiologist,

"The Simonians spread chiefly in Syria, Phrygia, and Rome." [Vol. I, p. 199.]

This is the ground where the action has taken place and continues to take place, at least in the case of Syria. In the case of Phrygia, as we mentioned above, a long line of traditions existed there, that were openly hostile to Orthodox Christian tradition, and which were not really compatible with Orthodox Judaism. (Interestingly, it is in Asia Minor (and the Balkans) that the Shabbeteans, and the Donmeh were strongest.) Pergamon was regarded as the Devil's Throne. Well, at least we can say it was where the Dionysian Artificers made a name for themselves, and where the Mysteries were quite popular. We now present an extract from Francis Legge's Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity:


1. First extract. Volume II, Chapter 8, pages 28 - 37.

Of the country in which the Ophites first appeared, and where to the last they had their strongest following, there can, however, be little doubt. Phrygia, by which is meant the entire central part of Asia Minor or, to use its modern name, Anatolia, must from its situation have formed a great meeting-place for different creeds, among which that of the Jews occupied in the first centuries of our era a prominent place. Seleucus Nicator had followed the example of Alexander in Egypt in granting the Jews full rights of citizenship in all his cities, and Antiochus the Great took even more practical steps towards inducing them to settle there when he transported thither two thousand Jewish families from Mesopotamia and Babylon. [1] These Jews of the Eastern Diaspora or Dispersion had, however, by no means kept whole the faith of their forefathers, and there seems in consequence to have been less racial hatred between them and the earlier inhabitants of the country here than elsewhere. [2] In religious matters, these last, too, seem to have been little affected by the Euhemerism that had destroyed the faith of the more sophisticated Greeks, and the orgiastic worship of Cybele, Attis, and Sabazius found in Phrygia its principal seat. The tendency of the inhabitants towards religious hysteria was not likely to be lessened by the settlement in the centre of Asia Minor of the Celtic tribes known as the Galatae, who had gradually passed under the Roman yoke in the time of Augustus, but seem long to have retained their Celtic taste for innovations in religious matters, and to have supplied from the outset an endless number of heresies to the Church. [3] Moreover, in the Wars of Succession which followed the death of Alexander, Phrygia had been bandied about like a shuttlecock between Antigonus and Lysimachus; in the decadence of the Seleucid house, it had been repeatedly harried by the pretenders to the Syrian crown; and it had, during the temporary supremacy of Mithridates and his son-in-law Tigranes, been subject to the tyranny of the Armenians. [4] Thanks to the policy of these barbarian kings, it had in great measure been denuded of its Greek-speaking inhabitants, [5] the growth of its towns had been checked, and the country seems to have been practically divided among a crowd of dynasts or priest-kings, generally the high-priests of temples possessing vast landed estates and preserving their importance by the celebration of yearly festivals. Dr. Mahaffy compares these potentates with the prince-bishops and lordly abbots produced by nearly the same conditions in medieval Europe, [6] and Sir William Ramsay's and Mr. Hogarth's researches of late years in Anatolia have shown how much truth there is in the comparison.

The religion practised by these priest-kings throughout the whole of Asia Minor differed slightly in form, but was one in substance. [7] It was in effect the worship of the bisexual and mortal gods whom we have already seen worshipped under varying names in the Eastern basin of the Mediterranean. These deities, whose alternate appearance as male and female, infant and adult, could only be explained to Western ears as the result of incestuous unions, could all on final analysis be reduced to one great divinity in whom all Nature was contained. The essence of the Anatolian religion, says Sir William Ramsay, when describing the state of things that existed in Phrygia immediately before the preaching of St. Paul, was 'the adoration of the life of Nature - that life apparently subject to death, yet never dying, but reproducing itself in new forms, different and yet the same. This perpetual self-identity under varying forms, this annihilation of death through the power of self-reproduction, was the object of an enthusiastic worship, characterized by remarkable self-abandonment and immersion in the divine, by a mixture of obscene symbolism and sublime truths, by negation of the moral distinctions and family ties that exist in a more developed society, but do not exist in the free life of Nature. The mystery of self-reproduction, of eternal unity amid temporary diversity, is the key to explain all the repulsive legends and ceremonies that cluster round that worship, and all the manifold manifestations or diverse embodiments of the ultimate single divine life that are carved on the rocks of Asia Minor.' [8]

Whether the Phrygians of Apostolic times actually saw all these sublime ideas underlying the religion of their country may be doubted; but it is fairly certain that at the time in question there was worshipped throughout Anatolia a divine family comprizing a goddess known as the Mother of the Gods, together with a male deity, who was at once her son, her spouse, her brother, and sometimes her father. [9] The worship of this pair, who were in the last resort considered as one bisexual being, was celebrated in the form of festivals and mystery-plays like those of the Middle Ages, in which the birth, nuptials, death, and resurrection of the divinities were acted in dramatic form. At these festivals, the worshippers gave themselves up to religious excitement alternating between continence sometimes carried to the extent of self-mutilation on the part of the men, and hysterical or religious prostitution on the part of the women. [10] The gathering of foreign merchants and slaves in the Anatolian cities, and the constant shifting of their inhabitants by their successive masters, had forced on the votaries of these Phrygian deities a theocrasia of the most complete kind, and the Phrygian god and goddess were in turn identified with the deities of Eleusis, of whom indeed they may have been the prototypes, with the Syrian Aphrodite and Adonis, with the Egypto-Greek Serapis and Isis, and probably with many Oriental deities as well. [11] At the same time, their fame and their worship had spread far beyond Phrygia. The primitive statue of the goddess of Pessinus, a black stone or baetyl dignified by the name of the Mother of the Gods, was transported to Rome in the stress of the Second Punic War and there became the centre of a ritual served by eunuch priests supported by the State; [12] while, later, her analogue, the Syrian goddess, whose temple at Hierapolis, according to Lucian, required a personnel of over three hundred ministrants, became the object of the special devotion of the Emperor Nero. [13] As with the Alexandrian divinities, the respect paid to these stranger deities by the legions carried their worship into every part of the Roman world. [14]

The element which the Jews of Asia contributed to Anatolian religion at this period was probably more important than has been generally supposed. M. Cumont's theory that the epithet of the "Highest" ( /Uyistoj) {@} often applied to the God of Anatolia and Syria really covers the personality of Yahweh of Israel rests upon little proof at present. [15] It may be conceded that the tendency to monotheism - or to speak strictly their hatred for the worshippers of many gods - rooted in the Jews from the Captivity onwards may at first have done much to hasten the progress of the theocrasia which was welding all the gods of the Mysteries into one great God of Nature. But the Babylonian or Oriental Jews, called in the Talmud and elsewhere the Ten Tribes, probably had some inborn sympathy with the more or less exalted divinities of the West. Even in the temple of Jerusalem, Ezekiel sees in his vision "women weeping for Tammuz", [16] while Jeremiah complains of the Jews making cakes to the Queen of Heaven, which seems to be another name for the Mother of the Gods. [17] The feminine side of the Anatolian worship can therefore have to come to them as no new thing. Perhaps it was due to this that they so soon fell away from their ancestral faith, and that, in the words of the Talmud, "the baths and wines of Phrygia separated the Ten Tribes from their brethren." [18] That their collection of money for the Temple in Roman times was due not so much to any religious motive, as to some of the financial operations in which the Jews were always engaging, Cicero hints with fair plainness in his Oration in defence of Flaccus. [19] They seem, too, to have intermarried freely with the Greek citizens, while the sons of these mixed marriages did not undergo the circumcision which the Jews of the Western Dispersion demanded not only from native Jews but also from proselytes of alien blood. [20]

The Jews also brought with them into Phrygia superstitions or side-beliefs to which they were probably much more firmly attached than to their national religion. The practice of magic had always been popular among the Chosen People as far back as the time of Saul, {*} and the bowls inscribed with spells against enchantments and evil spirits form almost the only relics which they have left in the mounds which mark their settlement at Hilleh on the site of the ancient Babylon. [21] From this and other evidence, it would seem that the Babylonian Jews had borrowed from their Chaldaean captors many of their views as to the importance of the Name in magic, especially when used for the purposes of exorcism or of spells; that they thought the name of their national god Yahweh particularly efficacious; and that the different names of God used in the Old Testament were supposed, according to a well-known rule in magic, to be of greater efficiency as the memory of their meaning and actual significance died out among them. [22] The Babylonian Jews, moreover, as is evident from the Book of Daniel, no sooner found themselves among the well-to-do citizens of a great city than they turned to the professional practice of divination and of those curious arts whereby they could make a living from their Gentile neighbors. [23]

Hence it is that Phrygia, like the rest of Asia Minor during the Apostolic Age, was full of strolling Jewish sorcerers who undertook for money to cast out devils, to effect and destroy enchantments, to send and interpret dreams, and to manufacture love philtres. [24] That in doing so they made great use of the name of their national deity seems plain from Origen's remark that "not only do those belonging to the Jewish nation employ in their prayers to God and in the exorcising of demons the words: God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob, but so also do most of those who occupy themselves with magical rites. For there is found in treatises on magic in many countries such an invocation of God and assumption of the divine name, as implies a familiar use of it by these men in their dealing with demons." [25] This is abundantly borne out by the spells preserved for us by the Magic Papyri before mentioned, where the expressions "God of Abraham," "God of Isaac," "God of Jacob" constantly occur. One spell given above contains, as we have seen, along with many unfamiliar expressions drawn from Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and even Sumerian sources, the words "Blessed be the Lord God of Abraham". [26] and in nearly every one do we find the Tetragrammaton or four-lettered name of God transliterated in the A. V. Jehovah, either with or without some of the other Divine names used in the Old Testament. The names of the angels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael given in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha are also common in all this literature. [27]

Did the Babylonian Jews bring with them into Phrygia any theory of the universe other than the direct and unfettered rule of Jehovah and the creation of the world from nothing, which they gathered from their sacred books? There is little evidence on the point, save some expressions of doubtful import in the Magic Papyri [28] and the statement of Origen that "the name Sabaoth, and Adonai and the other names treated with so much reverence among the Hebrews... belong to a secret theology which refers to the Framer of all things." [29] It might be possible to deduce from this that the elaborate system known as the Cabala or secret tradition of the Jews was already in existence. [30] This system, on its theoretical or speculative side, attempts to explain the existence of the physical universe by postulating a whole series of intermediate powers emanating from the Supreme Being of whom they are the attributes or names; while, on the other or "practical", it professes to perform wonders and to reveal mysteries by a childish juggling with letters in the shape of anagrams and acrostics or with their numerical values. [31] {**} As has been said above, follies of this last-named kind were unknown neither to the later Orphics, nor to the primitive Church, and might well be thought to have been acquired by the Jews during their stay in Babylon, where the Semitic inhabitants seem from a very early date and for magical reasons to have used numbers instead of letters in writing the names of their gods. [32] It would not have been difficult for them to have acquired at the same time from the Persian masters of Babylon the doctrine of emanation instead of creation which is to be found in the Zend Avesta as well as in all the post-Christian Gnostic systems. But there are other channels besides the Anatolian religion through which these ideas might have come into the West, [33] and it will be better not to lay any stress upon this. That the Cabala in the complete form in which it appears in the books known as the Sepher Jetzirah and the Sepher Zohar does not go further back than the 6th or 7th Century of our era, seems to be the opinion of all those best qualified to judge in the matter. M. Isidore Loeb, who has given the most coherent and compact summary of Cabalistic teaching that has appeared of late years,{***} finds its germs in Babylonian Judaism at or about the same period which saw the blossoming of the Christian Gnostic sects, without going so far as to derive either of the later doctrines from the other. [34]

However this may be, there is a fair concensus of opinion among the Fathers of the Church as to the doctrines current among those whom, for reasons to be presently seen, they called the Ophites or worshippers of the Serpent. The aim of the sect seems to have been to produce an eclectic system which should reconcile the religious traditions current from time immemorial in Western Asia with the worship of the Hellenized gods of Asia Minor, and the teachings of the already powerful Christian Church. With this view they went back to what is probably the earliest philosophical theory of the origin of the universe, and declared that before anything was, there existed God, but God conceived as an infinite ocean of divinity, {#} too great and too remote to be apprehended by man's intelligence, of whom and of whose attributes nothing could be known or said, and who could only be likened to a boundless sea. Something like this was the view of the earliest inhabitants of Babylonia, who declared that before heaven or earth or the gods came into being there was nothing but a vast waste of waters. [35] {##} At some time or another, the same idea passed into Egypt, when the Egyptians attributed the beginning of things to Nu or the primeval deep, [36]; and it was probably the spread of this tradition into Ionia which induced Thales of Miletus, the earliest of the Ionian philosophers, to assert that water was the first of all things. [37] {###} This unknowable and inaccessible power, the Ophites declared to be ineffable or impossible to name, and he was only referred to by them as Bythos or the Deep. The same idea and the same name were adopted by most of the later Gnostics. [38] {+}



{@} See, however, Kramer, ed., Mythology of the Ancient World. The section on Hittite Myths, by Hans G. Guterbock indicates that Hypsistos syncretized with Elyon:

"In Hesiod, the sequence is Ouranos ("Sky") - Kronos - Zeus; the fight between Ouranos and Kronos includes the motif of castration as does the fight between Anu and Kumarbi in the Hittite text. There is in Hesiod no generation corresponding to Alalu. Phylo Byblius, however, in the outline of Phoenician mythology which he ascribes to a certain Sankhuniaton, has that generation. Here the sequence is:

1. Phoenician Elioun, Greek Hypsistos "The Highest", corresponding to Alalu.

2. Greek Ouranos "Sky", Phoenician name not given, corresponding to Anu.

3. Phoenician El, Greek Kronos, corresponding to Kumarbi.

4. elsewhere Ba'al-Hadad is mentioned as the chief god, corresponding to Teshub and Zeus." - pp. 160-161.

And we know from the Hittite mythos, that Alalu was King in Heaven prior to Anu. Anu was Alalu's cupbearer, until he deposed Alalu. Alalu was banished from Heaven by Anu, and came to Earth in exile. Later on, Anu and his family blazed the trail to Earth. Interestingly, Elyon and Olahm are gods in the Saba region.


[1] Josephus, Antiq. Bk. XII, c. 3.

[2] Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, II. pp. 667 sqq; St. Paul, pp. 142 sqq; Commentary on Galatians, pp. 189 sqq. The fact that Timothy, the son of the Jewess Eunice by a Greek father, was not circumcised (see Acts XVI:1) is quoted in support.

[3] E.g. the Montanist, the most formidable of the heresies which attacked the primitive Church, apart from Gnosticism. Cf. also Galatians 1:6.

[4] Mahaffy, Greek World under Roman Sway, p. 168. For the tyranny of the Armenians, see Plutarch, Lucullus, cc. XIV, XXI.

[5] Mahaffy, Gk. World, p. 100.

[6] Mahaffy, ibid., p. 225.

[7] Ramsay, Cities, etc., I., p. 9.

[8] Ramsay, Cities, etc., I., p. 87.

[9] Ramsay, ibid., I., p. 92.

[10] Ramsay, ibid., I., pp. 93, 94. The Galli or priests of Cybele, who mutilated themselves in religious ecstasy, seem to have been the feature of Anatolian religion which most struck the Romans, when the statue of the Mother of the Gods first appeared among them. Cf., next page. For the other side of the religion, see Lucian, de Dea Syria, cc. VI, XLIII, and Apuleius, Metamorph. Bk. VIII, c. 29.

[11] As in the hymn to Attis said to have been sung in the Great Mysteries, given in the Philosophumena, (see p. 54 infra). Cf. Ramsay, Cities, etc., I., pp. 132, 263, 264, for other identifications. The Anatolian name of the Dea Syria to whose cult Nero was addicted, was Atargatis, which Prof. Garstang would derive from the Babylonian Ishtar (Strong, Syrian Goddess, 1913, p. vii); see Cumont, Les Religions Orientales dans le Paganisme Romain, Paris, 1906, p. 126. The whole of Cumont's chapters on Syria and Asia Minor (op. cit., pp. 57-89), can be consulted with advantage. The American edition, 1911, contains some additional notes. See, too, Decharme's article on Cybele in Daremberg and Staglio's Dict. des. Antiq.

[12] Dill, Nero to Marcus Aurelius, pp. 548 sqq.

[13] See n. 1, above; Suetonius, Nero, c. LVI.

[14] Dill, loc. cit., and authorities there quoted.

[15] Cumont, Rel. Or. p. 77, and see index to American Edition, 1911.

[16] Ezekiel 8:14.

[17] Jeremiah 7:18; 64:17-19.

[18] Ramsay, Cities, etc., II. p. 674, quoting Neubauer, Géographie du Talmud.

[19] Cicero, pro. Flaccus. chapter 28. The Jews of the Dispersion in Egypt had temples of their own, in one at least of which Yahweh had for assessors a goddess Anat and a subordinate god Bethel. See René Dussaud, 'Les Papyrus judéo-araméens d'Elephantiné,' R.H.R. tome 64 (1911) p. 350.

[20] Acts 16:2-3. See note 2, supra.

[21] Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, 1853, pp. 509 sqq. Was this why Daniel was called 'Master of the Magicians'? Dan. 4:9; 5:11.

[22] Thus, in a Coptic spell, the Words from the Cross: "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani," are described as "the revered names of God." See Rossi, "Trattato gnostico" in Mem. della Real. Accad. di Torino, Ser. B. xlii. fol. 9. So in medieval magic the word "Eieazareie" or "Escherie" is frequently used, apparently without any suspicion that it covers the hyh) r#) hyh) 'Ehyeh 'Asher 'Ehyeh - "I am that I am" of Exodus.

[23] Hausrath, Hist. of New Testament Times, Eng. Ed. 1878, I. pp. 126, 127, and authorities there quoted.

[24] See last note. In the Acts, Bar-jesus or Elymas the sorcerer, the seven sons of Sceva, and some of those who burned their magical books at Ephesus, are said to be Jews. Harnack, Expansion of Christianity, Eng. ed. I. pp. 156, 157, says the Jews were known as exorcisers of demons throughout the Roman Empire.

[25] Origen, cont. Cels. Bk IV. c. 33. Cf. ibid., c. 34 and Bk I. c. 22. Also Justin Martyr's Dial. c. Tryph. c. LXXXV.

[26] See Chapter III, Vol. I, note 6, p. 106, supra.

[27] Karl Wessely, in Expositor, series III, vol. iv, (1886), pp. 194 sqq, gives many specimens of these spells. The papyri from which they are taken are printed in full in his Griechische Zauberpapyrus von Paris und London, Wien, 1888, and his Neue Griechische Zauberpapyri, Wien, 1893. See also Parthey, Zwei griechische Zauberpapyri des Berliner Museums, Berlin, 1866; Leemans, Papyri Graeci Mus. Ant. Publ. Lugduni Batavi, t. II, Leyden, 1885, and Kenyon, Gk. Papyri in B. M., before quoted.

[28] They sometimes speak of certain expressions being used by the arxiereij "high priests", Leemans, op. cit., T. II, p. 29. Does this mean the adepts in magic or the heads of a sect?

[29] Origen, cont., Cels. Bk. I. c. 24.

[30] So Kuenen, Religion of Israel (Eng. Ed.), III. p. 314, says that the existence of the Cabala is indicated in the Talmud.

[31] See Chapter V, vol I., pp. 169, 170, supra.

[32] The Sumerian moon god, Nannar, was denoted by the number 30, Marduk called 50 and so on. See King, Seven Tablets of Creation, 1902, I. p. 66.

[33] See Chapter VII, supra.

[34] Isidore Loeb, La Grande Encyclopédie, s.v. La Cabbale Juive; ibid., F. Herman Kruger, s.v. Gnosticisme, and Franck, La Kabbale, Paris, 1843, p. 203, both notice the likeness between Gnosticism and the Cabala and say that they are derived from the same source.

[35] See the Sumerian Hymn of Creation translated by Sayce, Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia (Gifford Lectures), Edinburg, 1902, p. 380; Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, U.S.A., 1898, p. 490; King, Seven Tablets, p. 3; Rogers, Rel. of Bab., p. 108.

[36] "Au commencement était le Nun, l'océan primordial, dans les profondeurs infinies duquel flottaient les germes des choses. De toute éternité Dieu s'engendra et s'enfanta lui-même au sein de cette masse liquide sans forme encore et sans usage." Maspero, Hist. Ancienne des Peuples de l'Orient, p. 326.

[37] Diogenes Laertius, Vit. Philosoph. Bk. I, c. 6.

[38] Including in that name some who attained to high office in the Catholic Church. Thus Hatch, H. L., p. 255, says with apparent truth that Clement of Alexandria "anticipated Plotinus in conceiving of God as being 'beyond the One and higher than the Monad itself', which was the highest abstraction of current philosophy." The passage he here relies on is in Clement's Paedagogus, Bk. I., c. 8. Hatch goes on to say,. "There is no name that can properly be named of Him: 'Neither the One nor the Good, nor Mind, nor Absolute Being, nor Father, nor Creator, nor Lord'" - expressions to be found in Clement's Stromata, Bk. V., ch. 12. Clement's orthodoxy may be called in question; but no fault has been found in that respect with Synesius, Bishop of Ptolemais and the friend of Hypatia. Yet in his Hymns he uses expressions which would have come naturally to the lips of any Ophite. Thus:


"Male thou and female,
Voice thou and silence,
Nature engendered of Nature.
Thou King, Aeon of Aeons,
What is it lawful to call thee?

Father of all Fathers,
Father of thyself,
Propator [Forefather] who hast no father,
O Son of thyself

But the initiated mind
Says this and that,
Celebrating with dances
The Ineffable Bythos."
[Hymn III]


The ineffability of divine names was an old idea in Egypt, especially in the Osirian religion, where it forms the base of the story of Ra and Isis. So the name of Osiris himself was said to be ineffable. See Eug. Lefébure in Sphinx, Stockholm, vol. I, pp. 99-102. The name of Marduk of Babylon is in the same way declared ineffable in an inscription of Neriglissar, Trans. Roy. Soc. Litt. 2nd Series, vol. VIII. p. 276. The name of Yahweh became ineffable directly after Alexander. See Halévy, Revue des Études juives, t. ix. (1884), p. 172. In every case, the magical idea that the god might be compelled by utterance of his secret name seems to be at the root of the practice. Cf. Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, Eng. ed., p. 354.


2. Second extract. Volume II, Chapter 8, pages 76 - 77.

Of the amount of success which the speculations of the Ophites enjoyed we know very little. Origen, as we have seen, speaks of them as being in his day "an insignificant sect"; and we have no proof that their numbers were ever very large. [1] Father Giraud asserts on the faith of some of the smaller heresiologists and Conciliar Acts that they spread over the whole of Asia Minor, through Syria and Palestine into Egypt on the one hand, and, on the other, to Mesopotamia, Armenia, and even to India, and this is probably more or less correct. [2] But those who had actually read their writings, as Irenaeus and Hippolytus evidently had done, seem to have looked upon them more as the source of many later heresies than as formidable by their own members. Whether the Sethians with whom Irenaeus would identify them were really a subdivision of the Ophite sect may be doubted, because in Hippolytus' account of the Sethian doctrines, the existence of Jesus is never mentioned or referred to, and there is some reason for thinking them a non-Christian sect.[3] But the heresies of the Peratae and of Justinus, which Hippolytus describes as not differing much from the Ophites, certainly resemble that which has been summarized above too closely for the resemblance to be accidental; while the same remark applies to those of the Barbeliotae and Cainites described by Irenaeus, and to the Gnostics, Archontics, and others of whom we read in Epiphanius' Panarion. Most of these sects seem to have flourished on the Eastern or Asiatic outskirts of the Roman Empire, although some of them probably had settlements also in Egypt, Greece, Crete, and Cyrene. As the first Ophites had contrived to make an amalgam of the fervent and hysterical worship of nature in Anatolia with the Jewish and Christian tenets, so no doubt these daughter sects contrived to fit in with them the legends of the local cults among which they found themselves. But such comprimises were not likely to last long when the Catholic Church began to define and enforce the orthodox faith, and the Ophites seem to have been one of the first to succumb. In the 5th century a.d., there were still Ophite "colleges" to be found in the province of Bithynia; for Theocritus and Evander, the bishops of Chalcedon and Nicomedia, "refuted" their leaders publicly with such effect, says Praedestinatus, that they afterwards broke into their "secret places" at the head of a furious mob, drove away their priests, killed the sacred serpents, and "delivered the people from that danger." [4] This is the last that we hear of them as an organized sect, and although Justinian in A. D. 530 thought right to include them by name in his law against heretics, it is probable that by then their opinions had long since passed into other forms. [5]


[1] Origen's testimony on this point can be the better relied upon, because his good faith, unlike that of writers like Epiphanius, is above suspicion. He and Clement of Alexandria are the only two writers on Gnosticism among the Fathers to whom M. de Faye (Introd. p. 1) will allow "intelligence" and "impartialité".

[2] He gives, op. cit., p. 79, a map showing their chief seats from the head of the Persian Gulf on the one hand to Crete and the Adriatic on the other.

[3] In the Bruce Papyrus mentioned in chapter X, there is much said about a god called Sitheus, so that it is by no means certain that the Seth after whom they were named was the patriarch of Genesis. He might be the Egyptian Set, whose name is transliterated in the Magic Papyri as Shiq . His appearance in Egypt first as the brother and then as the enemy of Osiris has never been fully accounted for. See "The Legend of Osiris" P. S. B. A. for 1911, pp. 145 sqq. Epiphanius' attempt in the Panarion (Haer. xxxix. c. 3, p. 524 Oehler) to connect the genealogy of Jesus with the Seth of Genesis is not even said to depend on the doctrines of the sect, and the whole chapter reads like an interpolation. Cf. Friedlander, Vorchristliche judische Gnosticismus, Gottingen, 1898, p. 25.

[4] Praedestinatus, de Haeresibus, Bk. I, c. 17, p. 237. Oehler.

[5] Matter, Hist. du Gnost. T. II., p. 176.

As we are primarily interested in the historical developments, we aren't going to describe in detail the system of the Ophites. We shall add, as a part of this section of Readings in the Authentic Tradition, Hippolytus' account of the Naassenes, since it applies here. We recommend Bentley Layton's The Gnostic Scriptures, because he gives a lot of extracts, from Classic Gnostic Scripture, as well as from some of the Church Fathers and other Heresiologists. A good early parallel is that of the Enuma Elish, or Creation Epic of the Sumerians and Babylonians. Also, we can recommend the Phoenician mythos which has been preserved in Eusebius' Preparation. We ran an extract in the readings to "The City of Sin", in Section Two.

These Sumerian stories have become modified over time. Time and desctruction have allowed the preserved records to be lost. The Authorities, or Rulers, in the Gnostic Mythos, are the Elder Gods of the Sumerian and Lovecraftian Mythos. The Totality, Sophia / Zoe, is NinHarsag.

EnKi can be seen as "God" in some cases, but really as the Instructor, or the Serpent God, in most of these. For in Christian yarn-spinning, the Serpent, aka Lucifer, Satan, etc., is Evil, because He gave acquaintance to humankind. This is evil to those who serve the hive mind.

In the Bible, however, God, i.e., Yahweh, etc., tells Noah to prepare for the Flood. In the Sumerian story, it is EnKi who a) gives acquaintance to the first couple; b) tells Utnapishtim to build an ark to prepare for the coming Deluge. So, in the Ophite Mythos, Ialdabaoth is given the role Yahweh plays in the Bible. Sophia/Zoe is at once Great Mother and the Spiritual Being animating Eve's body, and the Instructor Serpent, who is called The Beast, by the followers of the Rulers.

Rather than dismissing all this as mere bunk, it must be paid attention to, especially in light of discoveries that continue to change our ideas about the past. The Orthodox view of Christianity has plagued us for nearly two millennia. Yet our closest connection to the past, and to the future, is the same as it has always been. The Worship of the Serpent, not out of superstition, but as a principle, the Fire, the Force of Sexual Power, transmuted to a higher plane than abstinence will do, through the Rites peculiar to the Cultus, as we shall demonstrate.

The Hive must be maintained at all costs, and anything that threatens to break up the hive must be regarded with suspicion, as Evil. Not all Catholics are Roman Catholics, it is true, but not all people care to prop up Roman Catholics, and should not be condemned for regarding them as bearing the lion's share of culpability in an Ideological War that has been in progress since the Pauline and Petrine churches began, by people who are trapped in their own semantic prisons. Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, s.v., Ophitism, tells us:

"It is impossible to ignore the strong affinities between the Ophite doctrines and those of the pagan sects which are known to us through the Hermetic literature. These sects were probably pre-Christian, and were certainly anterior to the emergence of historical Gnosticism. ... In spite of occasional details which suggest the influence of the great Gnostic schools, we have scarcely a trace in Ophitism of their more characteristic developments - e.g., the aeonology, the fall of Sophia. If the Ophite myths had arisen from a re-combination of the larger systems, these features would almost certainly have found a prominent place.

"On these grounds it may be concluded that Ophitism, although at a later time it may have been modified by the influence of other Gnostic schools, represents in the main a primitive phase of the Gnostic movement. It had its true antecedents in those theosophical sects which had grown up in Egypt and the East during the age of syncretism, and it marks the beginning of the alliance of those alien sects with Christianity. In this consists the historical importance of Ophitism. It reflects the Gnostic movement in its earlier stages, and helps us to determine the sources and intrinsic character of its beliefs. From the evidence which it thus affords we may reasonably infer that Gnosticism, although it assumed the form of a Christian heresy, was in substance non-Christian, and that its speculations were for the most part a mere colouring for mythological ideas." - E. F. Scott. [Hastings, E. R. E., Volume IX, pp. 501a.]

We have less to do today with ensuring good herds or crops, but the rites exist and they ensure what is important to us for our existence. Perhaps the fact that our food supply is what it is, should be telling us something about the laxity in practice that exists today. Today we don't need a dying savior because we have grown up, or some of us at least, and have saved ourselves. And that is exactly what the Law of Thelema sets out to do.