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The word Abraxas (or Abrasax or Abracax) was engraved on certain antique stones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms. The name is found in the Greek Magical Papyri, and the word may be related to the word abracadabra, although other explanations exist. The name is also found in Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of the Egyptians. Abraxas has also been variously claimed throughout the centuries to be an Egyptian god, a demon,[citation needed] and to represent God and Satan in one entity and the dual nature of its essence[1].

The initial spelling of the word as seen on stones was "Abrasax" (Αβρασαξ). The spelling seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters Sigma and Xi in the Latin transliteration.In Gnostic cosmology, the 7 letters spelling its name represents each of the 7 classic “planets” (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).


[edit] Appearance and meaning

Gemstone carved with Abraxas, obverse and reverse.

According to Irenaeus, Basilides taught that Nous (Mind) was the first to be born from the Unborn Father; from Nous was born Logos (Reason); from Logos, Phronesis (Prudence); from Phronesis, Sophia (Wisdom) and Dynamis (Strength) and from Phronesis and Dynamis the Virtues, Principalities, and Archangels.

The letters of Abraxas (αβραξας), in the Greek system of alphabetic numerology, sum to the number 365, and the Basilideans gave this name to the 365 orders of heavens which emanated in succession from the Unborn Father, each fashioned by the angelic hosts like, but inferior to that above it; and the lowest of the heavens was thought to be the abode of the spirits who formed Earth and its inhabitants, and to whom was committed the administration of its affairs.

In addition to the word Abraxas and other mystical characters, the Abraxas stones often had a symbolic figure engraved on them; the figure had a Chimera-like appearance somewhat resembling a basilisk. According to E. A. Wallis Budge, "as a Pantheus, i.e. All-God, he appears on the amulets with the head of a cock (Phoebus) or of a lion (Ra or Mithras), the body of a man, and his legs are serpents which terminate in scorpions, types of the Agathodaimon. In his right hand he grasps a club, or a flail, and in his left is a round or oval shield.” This form was also referred to as the Anguipede.

Engraving from an Abraxas stone.

C.W. King, citing J.J. Bellermann, has suggested that "the whole represents the Supreme Being, with his Five great Emanations, each one pointed out by means of an expressive emblem. Thus, from the human body, the usual form assigned to the Deity, forasmuch as it is written that God created man in his own image, issue the two supporters, Nous and Logos, symbols of the inner sense and the quickening understanding, as typified by the serpents, for the same reason that had induced the old Greeks to assign this reptile for an attribute to Pallas. His head—a cock's—represents Phronesis, the fowl being emblematical of foresight and vigilance. His two hands bear the badges of Sophia and Dynamis, the shield of Wisdom, and the scourge of Power."[2]

The subject is one which has exercised the ingenuity of many savants, but it may be said that all the engraved stones to which the name is commonly given fall into three classes:

  • Abrasax, or stones of Basilidean origin
  • Abrasaxtes, or stones originating in ancient forms of worship, and adapted by the Gnostics
  • Abraxoïdes, or stones absolutely unconnected with the doctrine of Basilides

[edit] Quotations

It is uncertain what the actual role and function of Abraxas was in the Basilidean system, as the accounts of the Church Fathers are vague and often contradictory. Irenaeus gives out that Abraxas is the "chief" of 365 heavens:

They make out the local position of the three hundred and sixty-five heavens in the same way as do mathematicians. For, accepting the theorems of these latter, they have transferred them to their own type of doctrine. They hold that their chief is Abraxas; and, on this account, that word contains in itself the numbers amounting to three hundred and sixty-five.[3]

Hippolytus likewise makes Abraxas (or, in this case, "Abrasax") out to be an Archon:

In these regions of the universe there exist, according to these heretics, creatures infinite (in number), viz., Principalities and Powers and Rulers, in regard of which there is extant among the (Basilidians) a very prolix and verbose treatise, where they allege that there are three hundred and sixty-five heavens, and that the great Archon of these is Abrasax, from the fact that his name comprises the computed number 365, so that, of course, the calculation of the title includes all (existing) things, and that for these reasons the year consists of so many days.[4]

Tertullian, however, who seems to be largely working off of Irenaeus' writings, designates Abraxas as the supreme deity:

Afterwards broke out the heretic Basilides. He affirms that there is a supreme Deity, by name Abraxas, by whom was created Mind, which in Greek he calls Nous; that thence sprang the Word; that of Him issued Providence, Virtue, and Wisdom; that out of these subsequently were made Principalities, powers, and Angels; that there ensued infinite issues and processions of angels; that by these angels 365 heavens were formed, and the world, in honor of Abraxas, whose name, if computed, has in itself this number. Now, among the last of the angels, those who made this world, he places the God of the Jews latest, that is, the God of the Law and of the Prophets, whom he denies to be a God, but affirms to be an angel. To him, he says, was allotted the seed of Abraham, and accordingly he it was who transferred the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan; affirming him to be turbulent above the other angels, and accordingly given to the frequent arousing of seditions and wars, yes, and the shedding of human blood. Christ, moreover, he affirms to have been sent, not by this maker of the world, but by the above-named Abraxas; and to have come in a phantasm, and been destitute of the substance of flesh: that it was not He who suffered among the Jews, but that Simon was crucified in His stead: whence, again, there must be no believing on him who was crucified, lest one confess to having believed on Simon.[5]

With the availability of primary sources, such as the Nag Hammadi Library, the identity of Abraxas remains unclear. The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, for instance, refers to Abrasax as an Aeon dwelling with Sophia and other Aeons of the Pleroma in the light of the luminary Eleleth.

In the Valentinian system, Horos, the "limit," functioned as a boundary between the Supermundane and the Mundane, equivalent to what Basilides termed the Methorion Pneuma. It is possible that Abrasax held a similar role. Valentinus held that Horos contained within itself the totality of the 30 Æons, much as Abrasax contained within itself 365 heavens. It can also be noted that the name of the Persian god Mithras, another solar deity, was known in antiquity to contain the numerical value of 365.[6]

[edit] Abraxas in modern culture

[edit] Carl Jung (The Seven Sermons to the Dead)

"Abraxas speaketh that hallowed and accursed word which is life and death at the same time. Abraxas begetteth truth and lying, good and evil, light and darkness in the same word and in the same act. Wherefore is Abraxas terrible."

[edit] Aleister Crowley

Medieval Seal representing Abraxas


This mass is mainly taken from Epiphanius' account of a Phibionite mass,[7] from which Crowley borrowed liberally in writing this rite. Crowley's "Gnostic Mass" contains highly sexual material, as well as references to the author's modern religion of Thelema. The highly biased polemics of the heresiologists often deliberately mischaracterized Gnostic rituals as orgiastic; many scholars nowadays only peripherally utilize the church fathers' accounts of the Gnostics as materials for the study of Gnosticism, as primary sources such as the Nag Hammadi Library have been available for years.

[edit] Books

In the novel Utopia by Thomas More, the island with the same name of the novel once had the name "Abraxas".

A reference to the god Abraxas appears in the following passage of Hermann Hesse's novel, Demian:

"The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must destroy a world. The bird flies to God. That God's name is Abraxas."

In Hugo Pratt's story Favola di Venezia - Sirat Al-Bunduqiyyah (Fable of Venice), Corto Maltese encounters several Abraxas in Venice.

In the German book "Die kleine Hexe" ("The Little Witch") by Otfried Preußler the witche's raven is called "Abraxas".

In Small Gods by Terry Pratchett 'Charcoal' Abraxas is a lightning-singed philosopher who claimed that 'The Gods like an atheist - it gives them something to aim at'

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it is revealed that Draco Malfoy's grandfather is named Abraxas.

Abraxas is a fictional cosmic entity from Marvel Comics that was introduced in Galactus: The Devourer.

In Alan Moore's series Miracleman, the word "abraxas" is shown to transform the titular character back to his original human form.

In Dan Simmon's science fiction novella "Muse of Fire", the setting is thousands of years in the future, and Abraxas is the predominant religion amongst humans, synonymous with God.

[edit] Television

The Abraxas passage in Demian is later adapted in the anime version of Chiho Saito's comic Revolutionary Girl Utena in a verse that is recited by Ohtori Academy Student Council members before meetings:

If the chick cannot break the shell if its egg, it will die without being born. We are the chick; the world is our egg. If we cannot break the world's shell, we will die without being born. Smash the world's shell - for the revolution of the world.

The name of the song that typically plays during this sequence is Legend: That God's Name is Abraxas.

Abraxas (played by Walter Phelan) appears as a demon in the second season premier of the TV series Charmed[8]; the episode is entitled "Witch Trials."

In the television series, Babylon 5, "Abraxas" is Captain John Sheridan's password to arm the tactical nukes aboard his ship.

In the television series The L Word, Abraxas is referred as the demon of lies and deceit.

[edit] Music

The second album of the musical group Santana is entitled Abraxas. That album has the following quote from Demian on the album cover: "We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...."

The Swedish symphonic metal band Therion has a song named Abraxas.

The band Integrity also has a song called "Abraxas Annihilation" on their album "Humanity is the Devil".

The Anglo-German band, Seelenlicht, refer to Abraxas in their song "Demian" (Cold Spring Records, 2008). One verse runs: "Our god is Abraxas / Both God and Devil at the same time,"

Boyd Rice & Death in June also include references to Abraxas in their song, titled The Cruelty of the Heavens, from their 1996 album, titled Scorpion Wind.

Moje Mantry published a musical piece "Abraxas".

The album 'Hysterics' (Hassle Records, 2008) by Sheffield based band Rolo Tomassi features a song called 'Abraxas'.

[edit] Other

The 1986 point-and-click adventure video game Uninvited features a set of spells that can be cast by the player, all of which end in the word "Abraxas".

Charles Manson referred to himself as "Abraxas", both God and the Devil, in his 1986 letter to his parole board.

Abraxas is the name of a coffee shop in Amsterdam.

Abraxas is the name of a kitchenware shop in Northampton, UK.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. ^ Carl Jung, "The Seven Sermons to the Dead", 1916
  2. ^ King, Charles William (1887). The Gnostics and Their Remains. p. 246. http://sacred-texts.com/gno/gar/. 
  3. ^ Irenaeus, Adversus Haeresis i. 24,7
  4. ^ Hippolytus, Philosophumena 7, 14
  5. ^ Tertullian, Against All Heresies ch. 1
  6. ^ Jerome in Amos 3; Opp. Vallarsi VI. i. 257
  7. ^ Epiphanius, Panarion chapter xxv, xxvi
  8. ^ http://imdb.com/title/tt0158552/

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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