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Other Ancient Gnostic Traditions: Welcome

Diversity of Revelation

Gnosticism was a rich and diverse mosaic of thinkers, communities, and theological movements. Some of them we have described on their individual pages, but the 'Gnostic family' was considerably wider. Some of the other Gnostic movments included:


Founded by the eponymous Carpocrates, an Alexandrian Greek Gnostic teacher from the early second century, the Carpocratians in some ways, represented a "margin" of Gnosticism in the sense that their theology seems to have been perhaps the closest to "mainstream" Greek philosophical positions of the day (Middle Platonism with, somewhat surprisingly in this context, an unmistakable influence of Stoicism). The Carpocratian cosmos, having been imperfectly created by God's angels (rather than maliciously, arrogantly or ignorantly by a single demiurge), is fraught and difficult but ethically neutral. The function of gnosis is that it enables the sage Jesus (and his followers) to understand and transcend the unfortunate cycle of metemphsychosis - but curiously, the active salvific power is attributed to love. 

In elevating love above other aspects of Christian life to the point of marked antinomianism (a phenomenon with strong Pauline resonances), and in their usage of some form of the Gospel of Mark rather than later Gospels, the Carpocratians can perhaps be said to have utilised an early (if slightly more radical) form of Pauline/Gentile Christian thought as the basic framework for their theology. In the context of wider Gnostic thought, Carpocratians also stand out for their only surviving work, On Righteousness - which articulates a distinctly antinomian social ethics, based largely on Stoic utopian ideals (egalitarianism, natural-law justification, communitarianism).

A brief reference in the Patristic corpus suggests that they attributed the transmission of their teachings to Salome (who is present, in interesting ways, in other parts of the Gnostic corpus). Irenaeus devoted a significantly lengthier part of his theological critique against Marcellina, a Carpocratian teacher in Rome, whose disciples were probably the first surviving example of people claiming to posses a portrait of Jesus and revering it as a kind of proto-icon (by decorating it and probably offering incense and/or libations). Interestingly, they are said to have offered similar reverence to other philosophical sages - illustrating their low/humanitarian Christology. However, they also explicitly described themselves as Gnostics and Christians. 


Though attested by multiple secondary sources, sadly none of the original texts of this ancient Gnostic tradition have survived into the modern era. The Perates (meaning 'Travellers', or 'wanderers') were a syncretic 2nd century group that synthesised radical biblical exegesis with Hellenism and grandiose astrological speculations. Classified by Prof Birger Pearson as adhering to a 'tripple power system', the three principle powers in their cosmology were the unknowable Father (the unbegotten), the Son (the self-begotten), and Matter (the begotten), interspersed with both other aeonic and archonic powers. The Perates (or Peratics) are perhps distinctive for their explicit association of the archonic powers common to Gnostic traditions with the old pagan gods - seen as of holy origin yet in open rebellion within the world of Matter. While Kronos (Saturn) is equated with the Demiurge - the chief shaper of Matter that seeks to keep the divine souls of humanity trapped within an eternal cycle of incarnation under his governance. The Son, also associated with the Serpent, was primarily seen as an intermediary between the ineffible divinity of the Father and the rest of creation, while the figure of Christ was seen as a new aeon, emanated by the heavenly Son yet composed of all elements of the Pleroma (similiar to the Valentinian concept of the Aeon of Aeons) and sent down into the material cosmos to teach gnosis and open the way for holy souls to return to the Pleroma.

The constellation of Draco, whose snaking tail was associated with the river that ran through the garden of Eden, was of especial significance to the Perates, being associated both with the figure of Christ as well as a kind of celestial doorway back to the Pleroma (John 10:7 'I am the door'). As attested in the account of Hyppolytus, the Perates were also said to have possessed a rich and complex ritual tradition, with rites of initiation and a meditative ritual of spiritual ascent known as the 'Mystery of Eden' that has parralel in Sethian Gnostic tradition.


The historcal Simon Magus was a 1st century Samaritan​ prophet who claimed a role for himself as a divine emanation incarnated on Earth. While it seems possible or even likely that a Gnostic or proto-Gnostic myth underpinned Simon's status as a religious leader, what seems clearer historically is that he is unlikely to have become a Christian himself - as a spiritual teacher Simon seems to have been active in Samaria before the arrival of the Christian message, while his own message had little to do with Christianity. Instead he fits in more closely with other 1st century baptist sects such as that led by John (from whom Simon may have learned), while the Simonian mythos, from what we know of it, has much in common with other highly developed Gnostic traditions.

The central Simonian myth posits a highest 'First God' or 'Great Power', who in turn emanates a female 'First Thought' or 'Mother of all'; eventually, along the chain of enamation angels and archangels are generated, who in turn create the material world yet are ignorant of the primal Father above. During a descent, the First Thought and divine feminine is ensnared by the world-creating Powers and forced into matter - symbolising the plight of the human soul. Part of the Father above then descends to rescue his consort, with Simon and his partner Helen fulfilling the roles of earthly incarnations for the Great Power and his First Thought who saw it as their purpose to save and enlighten others in whom the divine spark was scattered. According to one story, Simon is said to have recued Helen from a whorehouse in Tyre in an act symbolicly redeeming the First Though from her debasement in matter. There are many parallels in what seem to be the basic elements of the Simonian system with the classic Gnostic myth and parts of Sethian cosmology, especially as put forth in their early texts, while contemporaries also cited Simonianism as having had an influence on the Valentinian school of thought. Parts of a Simonian work titled The Great Declaration survive in quotation by hostile heresiological sources, and it is also possible that both The Concept of Our Great Power and The Exegesis of The Soul are surviving Simonian texts (see our Ancient Gnostic Scriptures page).

The Simonian tradition survived the passing of Simon and Helen under the leadership of their successor, Menander, who likewise seemed to have no identifiably Christian elements in his teachings. Menander in turn is said to have been the teacher of both Saturninus of Antioch who may well have been the earliest definitively Christian Gnostic teacher known by name, and of Basilides whose school of thought may have rivaled the Sethian and Valentinian traditions for a time.


Named 'Jeuians' by scholars after the governing role ascribed by them to the being called 'Jeu' in their texts, this little-known late Gnostic group remains understudied even today. Flourishing in the 4th century, the Jeuians were a highly ecclectic group, demonstrating influences from Sethianism, Valentinianism, Manichaeism, and the echoes of classical Egyptian mysticism. Complex cosmological speculations dominate much of their surviving texts, in which the route and ritual keys to ascend through the spiritual cosmos were provided. The Jeauians saw three main divisions to the universe: the Place of the Left, or the material realms including the stars, planets, and the rest of the cosmos; the Place of the Right, or the Treasury or Kingdom of Light (otherwise known as the Pleroma to most Gnostic traditions); and the Midst, an intermediate realm between the two. There are some variations in the details of this outline between texts, but this basic division remains essentially the same.

They believed the only way to achieve true salvation and freedom from eternal incarnation was through the mysteries that Jesus (curiously the term 'Christ' appears completely absent from Jeuian terminology) came down into the world to deliver. These mysteries, giving access to the divine realms and the Treasury of Light, were possesed and taught by the Jeuians, however initiates had to demonstrate both belief and dedication to the group’s precepts through a lengthy period of living in acordance with their strict moral code. After a sufficient period, a complex sequence of baptismal rites were performed involving sacred seals, bread and wine. After being thus purified, group members were taught a further series of sacred names, and seals for use in postmortem ascension, a process which may have been practiced meditavely by the group in life as well.

There are indications that during at least one period of their history the group was persecuted for its beliefs, creating a stronger a sense of identity among what what was probably more of a secretive organised group that lose religious movement. Breaching their ethical and moral rules however did not automatically cause one to be cast out, as higher mysteries could be received to wipe out past sin, and the mystery of the Ineffable could forgive any wrong. For those who lived righteously but did not find the mysteries, it was believed they would be reincarnated into a wiser body that would then find them in the next life. For those who lived in wickedness, after a period of punishment, they, too, would be reincarnated and given a chance to find the light. The surviving Jeuian texts are clearly the product of a unique Gnostic tradition with a defined structure and system of belief. They feature a largely consistent cast of divine figures and cosmological theory. Throughout all of the texts, gnosis brought by the mysteries of light - combined with adherence to a strict moral code - remained the only way to attain true spiritual liberation and entry into the Treasury of Light. For links to the surviving Jeuian texts, please see our Ancient Gnostic Scriptures page.

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