The name, also spelled – Abrasax, Abraxis, is defined by Dictionary.com as a “noun: a word of unknown significance found on charms, especially amulets, of the late Greco-Roman world and linked with both Gnostic beliefs and magical practices by the early church fathers.”
So, is Abraxas an ancient god or a demon?
The answer depends on which legend you read. To find answers let us first look at Gnosticism.
According to Gnosticwarrior.com the god Abraxas came to Gnosticism through the ancient Egypt and Greece. This information led me to research the Egyptian goddess Isis. According to the Britannica encyclopedia Isis was one of the most important goddess of Egypt in part due to the priests of Heliopolis, followers of the Sun god Re. Their myth raised Isis from obscure goddess without temples to a powerful and diverse goddess associated with many other Greek gods/goddesses.
How does the Isis legend take us to Abraxas?
One of the legends puts Abraxas as the name of a sun mounting an ouroboros held by Isis. The abraxas represented Isis as the creator of the sun and mistress of all gods.
Isis eventually found her way into Gnosticism. Taking the abraxas with her. From her the research muddies as to how abraxas went from symbol to a god but the information I could find did say Abraxas was also associated with Mithra, a religion of Persian origin dating back to 140 B.C.E. From here it looks as if Abraxas went from symbol to sun god.
Both Gnosticism and Mithraism focused heavily on astrology and numerology. Is it a coincidence that the numerical value of Mithra’s and Abraxas’ names each total 365?
Three-hundred-sixty-five are the number of days in year. The number of days it takes for Earth to complete one full orbit around the sun. Maybe this is why Abraxas became more than a symbol of the sun, evolving into a god whom light and darkness both united and transcended?
It would make sense.
But how does he then make the descent from a god to demon?
Again, my research could not uncover an exact cause. All I read stated it was Orthodox Christianity that viewed Abraxas as a demon. According to The Encyclopedia of Demons by Rosemary Guiley, it was because of his status as a god associated with both light and darkness that caused the church to view him as an irresistible force of pleasure. Since Christianity believes in one true God and his Holy Son, Jesus Christ as all powerful they could not have another being touted as the Supreme Ruler of both light and darkness. In turn their thinking, most probably, was that any being that could sway both powers, lead people to indulge in sinful pleasures must be a demon and a powerful one at that.
The Gnostic talismans did not help either. Their talismans of carved opal depicted Abraxas with a human body, head of a rooster, with serpent legs. Each part is there for a specific reason, including the whip and shield – usually inscribed with the name lao – and represents wisdom, a great protector of divine warriors. Lao represents the Jewish four-letter name of God. The head of a rooster represents wakefulness of the human heart and the Sun. He was given the body of a human to show articulated thought. His serpent legs represent prudence. His whip represents the power of life. On some talismans he rides a chariot drawn by four white horses (the horses of the apocalypse perhaps? That is a topic for another post).
Carl G. Jung referred to Abraxas as the terrible one because he generated falsehood and truth with the same word and same deed. Jung believed there was no easy way out of psychic conflict, that one must come to terms with both darkness and light. He believed that to fear Abraxas is the beginning of wisdom, of liberation. That by not resisting one could achieve gnosis.
Meanwhile the church views Abraxas as one of Hell’s rulers.
It appears over the many millennia that Abraxas has gone under quite the transformation. Or has he finally been seen for what he really is?
Demon or demi-god?
I’m afraid that is a choice only you can make.
Websites I visited in my research: