top of page


Manichaeism: Image

Followers of the Prophet Mani

Manichaeism is a Dualistic Gnostic religion centred around the eternal conflict between Light and Darkness - good and evil. As one of the first 'world religions', it once had a following that stretched between Britain in the west all the way to China in the east. A syncretic mixture of Gnostic Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism, it was founded in the 3rd century by the Prophet Mani, a Parthian noble turned religious preacher. Manichaeism teaches of a prehistoric battle between Light and Darkness, lead by God (referred to as the Father of Greatness or Zurvan in Manichaean texts) and the ruler of demons (referred to as the 'King of Darkness' or Ahriman) respectively. After this battle, Light became tangled and mixed with darkness, forming our present material universe and eventually Humanity itself, a microcosm reflecting the macrocosmic battle of light and dark. Manichaeism reveres and follows the teachings of four principal prophets: Mani, Jesus, Zoroaster/Zarathustra and the Buddha.

Manichaean theology is heavily tied to its intricate cosmology. In Manichaean thought God creates through a process very familiar to other gnostics, namedly Emanation, in which he creates other beings from his own essence (light). This process of Emanations began as a
direct and defensive response to Ahriman's invasion of the realm of light in order to keep the darkness at bay. These eminations can be categorised into three phases:

The First Creation - Originally, good and evil existed in two completely separate realms, one the World of Light, ruled by the Father of Greatness together with his five Shekhinas (divine attributes of light: reason, mind, intelligence, thought, and understanding), and the other the World of Darkness, ruled by the King of Darkness. At a certain point, the Kingdom of Darkness notices the World of Light, becomes greedy for it, and attacks it. The Father of Greatness, in the first of three "creations" (or "calls"), calls to the Mother of Life, who sends her son Original Man (Nāšā Qaḏmāyā in Aramaic), to battle with the attacking powers of Darkness, which include the Demon of Greed. The Original Man is armed with five different shields of light (reflections of the five Shekhinas), which he loses to the forces of darkness in the ensuing battle - described as a kind of "bait" to trick the forces of darkness, as the forces of darkness greedily consume as much light as they can. When the Original Man comes to, he is trapped among the forces of darkness.

The Second Creation - Then the Father of Greatness begins the Second Creation, calling to the Living Spirit, who calls to his five sons, and sends a call to the Original Man (Call then becomes a Manichaean deity). An answer (Answer becomes another Manichaean deity) then returns from the Original Man to the World of Light. The Mother of Life, the Living Spirit, and his five sons begin to create the universe from the bodies of the evil beings of the World of Darkness, together with the light that they have swallowed. Ten heavens and planets are created, all consisting of various mixtures of the evil material beings from the World of Darkness and the swallowed light. The sun, moon, and stars are all created from light recovered from the World of Darkness. The sun being the source of the light which fills the moon and the earth, both being instrumental in extracting the trapped light from matter and sending it back to the land of light.

The Third Creation - Great demons (called archons in bar-Khonai's account) are hung out over the heavens, and then the Father of Greatness begins the Third Creation. Light is recovered from out of the material bodies of the male and female evil beings and demons, by causing them to become sexually aroused in greed towards beautiful images of the beings of light, such as the Third Messenger and the Virgins of Light. However, as soon as the light is expelled from their bodies and falls to the earth (some in the form of abortions – the source of fallen angels in the Manichaean myth), the evil beings continue to swallow up as much of it as they can to keep the light inside of them. This results eventually in the evil beings swallowing huge quantities of light, copulating, and producing Adam and Eve. The Father of Greatness then sends the Radiant Jesus to awaken Adam (often described in the form of a snake, mirroring the story from Genesis) and to enlighten him to the true source of the light that is trapped in his material body. Adam and Eve, however, eventually copulate, and produce more human beings, trapping the light in bodies of mankind throughout human history. The appearance of all the prophets, including the Prophet Mani, are attempts by the World of Light to reveal to mankind the true source of the spiritual light imprisoned within their material bodies, and to teach mankind how to break themselves out of the material world and return home to the land of light.

Mani taught that the way to salvation was to avoid materialism and give victory to good over evil by doing good deeds like prayer and fasting and avoiding sins. Mani and his religion placed great emphasis on non-violence as all living beings contain the light of God, thus harming these beings was tantamount to harming the light within them. Manichaeans, much like Jains, are encouraged to be vegetarian and lower their gaze to avoid treading on insects and other small living beings. All living beings contain the living soul (the trapped light) also called "the cross of light", mirroring the suffering of the Jesus on the cross with the suffering of the light of God trapped within matter.

Manichaeism rapidly spread across Asia and Europe from its starting place in Persian Mesopotamia, eventually becoming extinct due to oppression and governmental edicts against them. Aside from the possibility of a continued survival among certain rural communities in China and emerging reconstructionist groups in the West, today Manichaeism is all but extinct.

Consider these words, written by a Manichaean scribe aproximately 1700 years ago:

"A thousand books will be preserved ... they will come into the hand of the just and the faithful, the Gospel and the Treasury of Life, the Pragmateia and the Book of Mysteries, the Book of Giants and the Epistles, the psalms and the prayers of my Lord, his Icon and his Revelations, his Parables and his Mysteries ... How many will be lost? How many will be destroyed? A thousand lost, another thousand recovered; for they will find them at the end. They will kiss them, and say: "O Wisdom of Greatness, O Armor of the Apostle of Light! When you were lost ... where did they find you?" ... And you shall find them reading them aloud, uttering the name of each book among them: the name of its lord .. and the name of those who gave all for it to be written and the name of the scribe who wrote it..".  - Manichaean Homilies 23.13-25.19

Manichaeism: About
bottom of page