Intaglio Jewelry :
Loose Intaglios : Gnostic Agate Intaglio depicting a Scorpion.
Gnostic Agate Intaglio depicting a Scorpion. - OS.435
0.7" (1.8cm) high
Collection: Intaglio Jewelry
Additional Information: H. 0.7/F
Location: Great Britain
| Photo Gallery
Name of original owner engraved in Greek.
Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement
which started in pre-Christian times. The term is
derived from the Greek word gnosis which means
"knowledge". Gnostics claimed to have secret
knowledge about God, humanity and the rest of the
universe of which the general population was
unaware. It became one of the three main belief
systems within 1st century Christianity, and was
noted for its:
novel beliefs about Gods, the Bible and the world
which differed from those of other Christian groups
tolerance of different religious beliefs within and
outside of Gnosticism
lack of discrimination against women
Gnosticism consisted of many syncretistic belief
systems which combined elements taken from Asian,
Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Syrian pagan
religions, from astrology, and from Judaism and
Little is known about the rituals, organizational
structure and practices of the ancient Gnostics.
Almost all Gnostic texts were destroyed during
various campaigns to suppress the movement.
Although some of their religious writings survive,
there is little information about how the groups
actually functioned. Historians believe that:
Many Gnostics were probably solitary practitioners.
Others were members of mainline Christian
congregations, probably forming a clique within each
There was no consensus on a "canon of Gnostic
scripture." Many books were circulated in different
versions; various schools within the movement had
their own preferred rendition.
Many Gnostic texts were written by (or attributed to)
women. Mary Magdalene played an important role in
many Gnostic writings, often being second only to
Jesus in status. They used both female and male
images for the Supreme God.
Some groups poured a substance over the head of a
member when they were dead or dying, and recited
certain ritual phrases. This was intended to help the
individual's soul ascend through the dangerous
heavens of the Archons towards the Supreme God.
Some Gnostic groups had a ritual in which new
members were baptized saying: "In the name of the
Father unknown to all, in the Truth, Mother of All, in
the One who came down upon Jesus, in the union,
redemption and communion of powers."
Sexual expression seems to have been suppressed in
some Gnostic groups; members were expected to
remain celibate. In others, ritual sex magic appears to
have been practiced.
Ancient Gnostic Leaders
Simon Magus: He was one of the earliest Gnostics He
was skilled in the arts of magic. He interpreted the
Garden of Eden, exodus from Egypt and the crossing
of the Red Sea as allegories.
Marcion: (85-160 A.D.) He organized a series of
Gnostic congregations in the eastern Mediterranean
which survived into the 3rd century A.D.. He wrote a
book called Antitheses which earned him
excommunication by the Christian leaders of Rome.
He rejected the institution of marriage. He believed
that the Demiurge arranged Jesus' persecution and
crucifixion. But the death of Christ on the cross was
only a hallucination, since Jesus did not have a
Valentinus: He was born in Egypt, traveled to Rome
about 140 A.D. and then moved to Cyprus. He was
the founder of perhaps the largest and most
influential school of Gnosticism which lasted until it
was suppressed in the 4th century A.D.. He taught
that groups of Aeons made up the "pleroma"
(fullness) of the high god. One group, the Ogoad are
called: Depth, Silence, Mind, Truth, Word, Life, Man
and Church. Another group was the Decad (10) and
Dodecad (12). The last of the Docecad was Wisdom,
also called Sophia.
Carpocrates: (circa 140 A.D.); He taught
reincarnation. An individual had to live many lives and
adsorb a full range of experiences before being able
to return to God. They practiced free sexuality. They
believed that Jesus was the son of Joseph.
They believed that they alone truly understood
Christ's message, and that other streams of thought
within Christianity had misinterpreted Jesus' mission
They believe that knowledge has a redeeming and
liberating function that helps the individual break free
of bondage to the world.
They believe the Supreme Father god or Supreme
god of Truth is remote from human affairs; he is
unknowable and undetectable by human senses.
She/he created a series of supernatural but finite
beings called Aeons. One of these was Sophia, a
virgin, who in turn gave birth to an defective, inferior
creator-god, also known as the Demiurge (public
craftsman). This lower god created the earth and its
life forms. This is the God of the Old Testament, a
deity who was viewed as fundamentally evil, jealous,
rigid, lacking in compassion and prone to genocide.
The Demiurge "thinks that he is supreme. His pride
and incompetence have resulted in the sorry state of
the world as we know it, and in the blind and ignorant
condition of most of mankind."
They believe in the duality of spirit and body: Spirit is
of divine origin and good; the body is inherently
earthly and evil. Gnostics were hostile to the physical
world, to matter and the human body. But they
believed that trapped within some people's bodies
were the sparks of divinity or seeds of light that were
supplied to humanity by Sophia.
The believe a person attains salvation by learning
secret knowledge of their spiritual essence: a divine
spark of light or spirit. They then have the
opportunity to escape from the prison of their bodies
at death. Their soul can ascend to be reunited with
the Supreme God at the time of their death. Gnostics
divided humanity into three groups:
the spiritual, who would be saved irrespective of their
behavior while on earth
the soulish, who could be saved if they followed the
the carnal who are hopelessly lost
They did not look upon the world as having been
created perfectly and then having degenerated as a
result of the sin of Adam and Eve. Rather the world
was seen as being evil at the time of its origin, having
been created by an inferior God.
Some Gnostic sects honored the snake. They did not
view the snake as a seducer who led the Adam and
Eve into sinful behavior. Rather, they saw the snake
as a liberator who brought knowledge to Adam and
Eve by convincing them to eat of the Tree of the
Knowledge of Good and Evil and thus to become fully
The role of the redeemer in Gnostic belief is heavily
debated at this time. Gnostics seem to have looked
upon Christ as a revealer or liberator, rather than a
savior or judge. His purpose was to spread
knowledge which would free individuals from the
Demiurge's control and allow them to return to their
spiritual home with the Supreme God at death. Some
Gnostic groups promoted Docetism, the belief that
Christ was pure spirit and only had a phantom body;
Jesus just appeared to be human to his followers.
They reasoned that a true emissary from the
Supreme God could not have been overcome by the
evil of the world, and to have suffered and died.
Some Gnostics believed that Christ's resurrection
occurred at or before Jesus' death on the cross. They
defined his resurrection as occurring when his spirit
was liberated from his body.
The Universe: This is divided into three kingdoms:
The "Earthly Cosmos": The earth is the center of the
universe, and is composed of the world that we know
of and an underworld. It is surrounded by air and by 7
concentric heavenly spheres: one for each of the
Moon, Venus, Mercury, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and
Saturn. (Although the planet Uranus is visible to the
naked eye, it was not recognized as a planet in
ancient times.) Beyond Saturn resides Leviathan, a
snake coiled in a single circle, devouring its own tail.
Within these spheres live demonic, tyrannical entities
called Archons. Beyond them lies Paradise which
contains the "Tree of Life", the "Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil", and the flaming, turning sword of
Genesis 3:24. Beyond Paradise was the sphere of the
fixed stars, divided into the 12 signs of the zodiac.
The "Intermediate Kingdom is composed of an inner
blue circle of darkness and an outer yellow ring of
light. Within these rings is a sphere which is the
realm of Sophia.
The "Kingdom of God" consists of two spheres: an
outer one of the unknowable Supreme God, and inner
ring of the Son.