Gnosticism is a common name for some religious and philosophical movements of late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
Their heyday was in the second century. It was then that the Gnostic teachings became serious “competitors” of Christianity. Subsequently Late Gnosticism with its various religious branches began to form. Their supporters included the Hermeticists, Cainites, Borborites, Carpocratians, Ophites and Rosicrucians.
In the Middle Ages and during the renaissance, hermeticism became the doctrine of european alchemists. Also, religious and philosophical magic and occult teaching had a strong influence on the development of its philosophy.
Hermeticism is the doctrine of the laws of nature, which are subject to the principles of causality and analogy. Many supporters of the movement considered it not so much a religion but as a kind of philosophical system for interpreting the laws of nature.
The principles of hermeticism are based on the existence of the one or the first cause. All living things around are parts of the one. Hermeticists also do not deny the existence of demons, deities, elementals, and great teachers. They recognise reincarnation as a cycle of rebirth before meeting the one.
It is known that the beliefs of the supporters of the movement are based on the seven principles of hermeticism:
• Mentalism. All that is in the visible and invisible world is the mental image of the one.
• Correspondence (analogy). All planes of being in the practices of hermeticism are connected. For example, the visible and invisible worlds – the microcosm and the macrocosm – are subject to uniform laws.
• Vibration. Nothing in the world is at rest. The mind and spirit, matter and energy differ only in the frequency of vibrations.
• Polarity. Everything in this world has its opposite. Antipodes are identical in nature but different in degree. Moreover, opposites are attracted to each other and can be reconciled.
• Rhythm. Everything living and inanimate in this world constantly passes from one state to the opposite and back. There is a certain rhythmic manner in the way things move.
• Cause and effect. In the laws of hermeticism, randomness does not exist. Each action has its cause and leads to certain consequences. But there are several planes of existence connected by the principle of correspondence; therefore there are several levels of causality.
• Genus. Everything in this world contains two principles—male and female. Their interaction is the cause of all creativity (physical and emotional).
The principles of Hermeticism are outlined in the Kybalion, a book that deals with the philosophy of the Hermeticists. It was published in 1912 by three anonymous authors who called themselves “three initiates.”
The Ophites (or Ophians) revered the serpent as a symbol of higher knowledge. According to some researchers, this community separated from the Basilideans in the second century. V.V.Bolotov, a Russian orientalist and church historian, believes that it originated before the birth of Christ.
According to the cult of the Ophites, it was the image of a snake that the supreme Wisdom (heavenly Aeon Sophia) took to descend to Earth and transmit true knowledge to early people. They were then able to free themselves from the power of the Demiurge, who wanted to keep all life in blind ignorance forever.
Supporters of the sect also honoured Cain, Esau, Judas Iscariot, Korea and Seth. It was believed that all these personalities possessed the true knowledge of the snake. Some surviving documents mention that even Moses and Jesus recognised the “serpentine” power. But they, together with Jacob, were only instrumenst in the hands of the Creator (Demiurge).
The circle of beliefs of the Ophites also included faith in the seven spirits that obeyed the serpent. They are reflected in a mysterious diagram of Ophites. This emblem is described by Celsus in the second century and Origen in the third century. Celsus talks about images of circles above circles. And Origen talks about a pair of concentric circles.
The teachings of the Borborites were described by Irenaeus of Lyons in his treatise. He was a theologian and one of the first Fathers of the Church, living in the second century. According to him, it is one of the Christian sects, close in its teachings to the Ophites.
Almost all the ancient texts that have been preserved about the Borborites are negative. It was believed that the supporters of the sect conducted forbidden rituals (including human sacrifices). They did not observe Christian fasts and they practised polygamy.
The Borborites had several sacred books in which they believed. Among them were the Apocalypse of Adam, The Noriaa and The Book of Seth. Supporters of the sect also recognised the Christian Old and New Testaments. But they did not identify the God described in the sacred texts with the true God who created all life on Earth.
Supporters of the sect also believed that the world consisted of eight heavens, each of them ruled by an archon (from Greek—”chief”, “ruler”).
The Borborites recognised the great Aeon, whom they called Varvelos. According to myths, one day an unnamed Father appeared before him to reveal all knowledge. Varvelos then gave birth to light in his image. It is this sacred light, according to the teachings of the Borborites, that is Christ.
The Cainites were mentioned in works by Irenaeus of Lyon and Tertullian, an early Christian theologian and apologist. It was a small sect that existed to the east of the Roman Empire in the second century.
Irenaeus of Lyon classified the Cainites as heretics, saying that their beliefs were immoral. He contrasted the beliefs of the Cainites and the Sethians. The first followed the murderer Cain, while the latter continue the traditions of the righteous Abel.
Many Gnostic sects treated the personality of the biblical Cain as the personification of evil, but not the Cainites who revered him. The sect adherents believed that Cain, having given rise to the idea of murder, allowed all living beings to achieve deliverance from original sin. In the numerous religious myths surrounding the sect’s teachings, Cain appeared as a man born of a “mighty force.” Unlike his brother Abel, who received his life from a “lower force”.
The sect had a small number of followers.
Some religious scholars believe that the teachings of the Carpocratians, which in writing have reached the present, have been greatly distorted. A few documentary pieces of evidence show that the sect was accused of an irreverent attitude to God’s Covenants. This was also written by Irenaeus of Lyon.
According to some documentary data, the sect of the Carpocratians originated in the second century in Rome. The doctrines were spread by the Platonist-Alexandrian Carpocrates, hence – the name. It had a strong influence on those who lived on the island of Kefalonia.
The Carpocratians believed that the world was created by lower spirits who went against the beginningless Father. The community strongly opposed the main elements of Judaism and its representatives believed that the Old Testament was the highest evil. The sect also believed that the fight against the Old Testament teachings was their primary purpose.
V.S.Solovyov, a Russian religious thinker, writes that the Carpocratians saw the purpose of their earthly existence as committing as many sins as possible. They believed that only un this way they could gain true freedom. According to the teachings of the Carpocratians, the soul of a person could have countless rebirths, so that in the next life a person would follow the path of sin towards the cherished goal. and then the kingdom of the beginningless Father would await him/her.
It is believed that the supporters of the sect were engaged in magic and divination. And they recognised the Gospel of Cerinthus as the main book of their beliefs. The researchers have assumed this work to be a free translation of the Gospel of Matthew.
It is believed that Rosicrucianism (also called the Order of the Rosy Cross) originated during the late Middle Ages in Germany. It was founded by the scientist Christian Rosicrucian, who lived presumably in the 14th or 15th century.
At the end of the 17th century, when the concepts of the Rosicrucians began to spread actively throughout Europe, many believed that this mysterious brotherhood had ceased to exist. But the outstanding scientists and philosophers of that time did not abandon their attempts to become members of the Rosicrucian Order. Subsequently, some claimed that they succeeded.
It is believed that the great goal of the Rosicrucians was the “worldwide reformation of mankind”. They wanted to move world progress forward. According to the cosmoconcepts of the Rosicrucians, their knowledge was built on ancient esoteric truths that were hidden from ordinary people. These truths were built on the principles of understanding the laws of nature, the universe, and the spiritual realm. The symbol of the Rosicrucians — the rose blooming on the cross — symbolises just that.
In the first three Manifestos of the followers of the Order, it was stated that their wisdom was ancient and all-encompassing; it was revealed to Adam, Enoch, Moses and Solomon by God Himself. These documents, according to the alleged authors, were conceived as an intellectual game. Having received the knowledge from them, the great minds had to know all the secrets of the Rosicrucians and find the Brotherhood. Their treatises were read and translated into different languages. It is believed that science in Europe was developed actively because of the belief in the existence of a Rosicrucian society.
Some researchers suggest that the teachings of the Rosicrucians were reflected in the beliefs of the Freemasons.
A dualistic view of the world is common to all Gnostic systems. Followers of sects believed that there are good and evil forces. But these religious movements still have many significant differences. Some of them were considered sects and even practised human sacrifice, while others, on the contrary, were characteristic of the intellectual elite.