A to Z: Abraxas

Published April 1, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, so I’m kind of failing right off the bat here.  I mean, my theme is supposed to be taking a Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen for short) version of a demon/deity/what-have-you and displaying how the game represents them, then talking about the real myth/folktale/etc.

But what I really wanted to post for “A” was this guy:

Image copyright Atlus.  Provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

Which is all well and good, ’cause Abraxas is totally an “A” name.  And I have here the text from the Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker compendium describing him:

A fallen angel with the head of a rooster and the lower half of a snake.  It wields a flail and shield.

It was originally the ultimate entity in Gnosticism, but eventually came to be regarded as a fallen angel in Christian lore.  He created the physical world, but on the day of judgement, this too will vanish.  His figure is often carved into gems and stones as charms known as Abraxas Stones.

So what’s the problem, you may ask?

Well…

…it turns out Gnosticism is very complicated, and there’s no clear consensus on much of it.  So it’s really hard for me to say “and here’s the reality of the myth” in this case.  Therefore, I am resorting to the super-pathetic tactic of quoting online sources as the bulk of the post…

Here’s what the MegaTen wiki has to say about Abraxas:

In Gnosticism, Abrasax, or Abraxas, is an Aeon, a divine being residing in the Pleroma. In a great majority of instances the name Abrasax is associated with a singular composite figure, having a Chimera-like appearance somewhat resembling a basilisk or the Greek primordial god Chronos (not to be confused with the Greek titan Cronus). According to E. A. Wallis Budge, “as a Pantheus, i.e. All-God, he appears on the amulets with the head of a cock (Phœbus) 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. Budge surmised that Abrasax was “a form of the Adam Kadmon of the Kabbalists and the Primal Man whom God made in His own image”. Some theorize that he is an Egyptian god, but there seems to be no evidence of this.

One thing I can clarify here is that “Agathodaimon” comes from the Greek words “agathon,” meaning “good,” and “daimon,” which (while an obvious source of our word “demon”) is more or less a spirit or even a less powerful god.  (Socrates used the word to talk about his personal god(s), giving the Athenians an excuse to have him put to death.)  I’m not familiar with the compound word “Agathodaimon,” as such, but I thought I’d at least give what little etymological context I was aware of.  Because that was I come off as slightly less ignorant.  (Also, maybe he’s become associated with the Egyptians because Budge was writing about him?  He was primarily an Egyptologist…)

And here’s the opening of the Wikipedia page (which is actually the source of a large chunk of the text from the MegaTen wiki)…

Abraxas (Gk. ΑΒΡΑΞΑΣ, variant form Abrasax, ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ) is a word of mystic meaning in the system of the GnosticBasilides, being there applied to the “Great Archon” (Gk., megas archōn), the princeps of the 365 spheres (Gk., ouranoi).[1] The word is found in Gnostic texts such as the Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit, and also appears in the Greek Magical Papyri. It was engraved on certain antique gemstones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms.[2] As the initial spelling on stones was ‘Abrasax’ (Αβρασαξ), the spelling of ‘Abraxas’ seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters Sigma and Xi in the Latin transliteration.

The seven letters spelling its name may represent each of the seven classic planets.[3] The word may be related to Abracadabra, although other explanations exist.

There are similarities and differences between such figures in reports about Basilides’s teaching, ancient Gnostic texts, the larger Greco-Roman magical traditions, and modern magical and esoteric writings. Opinions abound on Abraxas, who in recent centuries has been claimed to be both an Egyptian god and a demon.[4]

Particularly interesting is this illustration of some of the Abraxas/Abrasax stones:

From Wikipedia. Click for link.

It’s very rare that a MegaTen illustration is so dead-on accurate to an ancient depiction.

So…um…yeah.  I’ll avoid Gnostic figures in future posts, because what we do know is way too complicated for me to take in fully by reading a few Wikipedia articles.  (And I don’t really have time for anything more in-depth right now.)

But, of course, I must not forget his feline counterpart, Abraxhiss.  Um, who probably doesn’t exist outside of that series of pins I backed on Kickstarter…  *cough*  (Actually, I only backed for two of them, Abraxhiss and Mewer.  I’m trying to stop buying so many enamel pins…)

*cough*  Yes, I mostly wanted to use Abraxas so I could post the link to those pins.  It was either him or Baphomet, and I have other things I’d rather use “B” for…

4 comments on “A to Z: Abraxas

  • Well, Mad Grad Student, I LOVE all things mythological and I know about Abraxas – he’s in Jung’s The Red Book and The Seven Sermons to the Dead .. so a big thank you on your post – I much enjoyed it … 🙂

    Like

  • Comments are closed.

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