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Category: Khnoubis

Abrasax, the Invincible Name of Power

“The last class of documents undoubtedly contains a very large proportion of the magical ideas, beliefs, formulæ, etc., which were current in Egypt from the time of the Ptolemies to the end of the Roman Period, but from about B.C. 150 to A.D. 200 the papyri exhibit traces of the influence of Greek, Hebrew, and Syrian philosophers and magicians, and from a passage like the following (see Goodwin, Fragment of a Græco-Egyptian Work upon Magic, p. 7) we may get a proof of this:—

“I call thee, the headless one, that didst create earth and heaven, that didst create night and day, thee the creator of light and darkness. Thou art Osoronnophris, whom no man hath seen at any time; thou art Iabas, thou art Iapôs, thou hast distinguished the just and the unjust, thou didst make female and male, thou didst produce seeds and fruits, thou didst make men to love one another and to hate one another.”

“I am Moses thy prophet, to whom thou didst commit thy mysteries, the ceremonies of Israel; thou didst produce the moist and the dry and all manner of food.”

“Listen to me: I am an angel of Phapro Osoronnophris; this is thy true name, handed down to the prophets of Israel. Listen to me. (Here follow a number of names of which Reibet, Athelebersthe, Blatha, Abeu, Ebenphi, are examples) . . .”

In this passage the name Osoronnophris is clearly a corruption of the old Egyptian names of the great god of the dead “Ausar Unnefer,” and Phapro seems to represent the Egyptian Per-âa (literally, “great house”) or “Pharaoh,” with the article pa “the” prefixed.

It is interesting to note that Moses is mentioned, a fact which seems to indicate Jewish influence.

In another magical formula we read, (Goodwin, op. cit., p. 21) “I call upon thee that didst create the earth and bones, and all flesh and all spirit, that didst establish the sea and that shakest the heavens, that didst divide the light from the darkness, the great regulative mind, that disposest everything, eye of the world, spirit of spirits, god of gods, the lord of spirits, the immoveable Aeon, IAOOUÊI, hear my voice.”

“I call upon thee, the ruler of the gods, high-thundering Zeus, Zeus, king, Adonai, lord, Iaoouêe. I am he that invokes thee in the Syrian tongue, the great god, Zaalaêr, Iphphou, do thou not disregard the Hebrew appellation Ablanathanalb, Abrasilôa.”

“For I am Silthakhôoukh, Lailam, Blasalôth, Iaô, Ieô, Nebouth, Sabiothar, Bôth, Arbathiaô, Iaoth, Sabaôth, Patoure, Zagourê, Baroukh Adonai, Elôai, Iabraam, Barbarauô, Nau, Siph,” etc.

The spell ends with the statement that it “loosens chains, blinds, brings dreams, creates favour; it may be used in common for whatever purpose you will.”

In the above we notice at once the use of the seven vowels which form “a name wherein be contained all Names, and all Lights, and all Powers” (see Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, London, 1893, p. 63). The seven vowels have, of course, reference to the three vowels “Iaô” (for Iaoouêi we should probably read Iaô ouêi) which were intended to represent one of the Hebrew names for Almighty God, “Jâh.”

The names “Adonai, Elôai,” are also derived through the Hebrew from the Bible, and Sabaôth is another well-known Hebrew word meaning “hosts”; some of the remaining names could be explained, if space permitted, by Hebrew and Syriac words.

On papyri and amulets the vowels are written in magical combinations in such a manner as to form triangles and other shapes; with them are often found the names of the seven archangels of God; the following are examples:–

 (British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33). (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123). (Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel).


(British Museum, Gnostic gem, No. G. 33).
(Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).
(Ibid., p. 123. These names read Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Souriel, Zaziel, Badakiel, and Suliel)

In combination with a number of signs which owe their origin to the Gnostics the seven vowels were sometimes engraved upon plaques, or written upon papyri, with the view of giving the possessor power over gods or demons or his fellow creatures.

The example printed below is found on a papyrus in the British Museum and accompanies a spell written for the purpose of overcoming the malice of enemies, and for giving security against alarms and nocturnal visions. (Kenyon, op. cit., P. 121).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.--4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

Amulet inscribed with signs and letters of magical power for overcoming the malice of enemies. (From Brit. Mus., Greek Papyrus, Nu. CXXIV.–4th or 5th century.) (Kenyon, Greek Papyri, p. 123).

But of all the names found upon Gnostic gems two, i.e., Khnoubis (or Khnoumis), and Abrasax (or Abraxas), are of the most frequent occurrence. The first is usually represented as a huge serpent having the head of a lion surrounded by seven or twelve rays.

Over the seven rays, one on the point of each, are the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet, which some suppose to refer to the seven heavens; and on the back of the amulet, on which the figure of Khnoumis occurs, is usually found the sign of the triple S and bar.

Khnoumis is, of course, a form of the ancient Egyptian god Khnemu, or “Fashioner” of man and beast, the god to whom many of the attributes of the Creator of the universe were ascribed.

Khnemu is, however, often depicted with the head of a ram, and in the later times, as the “beautiful ram of Râ,” he has four heads; in the Egyptian monuments he has at times the head of a hawk, but never that of a lion.

The god Abrasax is represented in a form which has a human body, the bead of a hawk or cock, and legs terminating in serpents; in one hand he holds a knife or dagger, and in the other a shield upon which is inscribed the great name ΙΑΩ {Greek IAW}, or JÂH.

Considerable difference of opinion exists as to the meaning and derivation of the name Abrasax, but there is no doubt that the god who bore it was a form of the Sun-god, and that he was intended to represent some aspect of the Creator of the world.

The name was believed to possess magical powers of the highest class, and Basileides, (he of Alexandria, who lived about A.D. 120. He was a disciple of Menander, and declared that he had received the esoteric doctrine of Saint Peter from Glaucias, a disciple of the Apostle) who gave it currency in the second century, seems to have regarded it as an invincible name.

It is probable, however, that its exact meaning was lost at an early date, and that it soon degenerated into a mere magical symbol, for it is often found inscribed on amulets side by side with scenes and figures with which, seemingly, it cannot have any connexion whatever.

Judging from certain Gnostic gems in the British Museum, Abrasax is to be identified with the polytheistic figure that stands in the upper part of the Metternich stele depicted on p. 153 and below.

Metternich Stele.

Metternich Stele.

This figure has two bodies, one being that of a man, and the other that of a bird; from these extend four wings, and from each of his knees projects a serpent.

He has two pairs of hands and arms; one pair is extended along the wings, each hand holding the symbols of “life,” “stability,” and “power,” and two knives and two serpents; the other pair is pendent, the right hand grasping the sign of life, and the other a sceptre.

His face is grotesque, and probably represents that of Bes, or the sun as an old man; on his head is a pylon-shaped object with figures of various animals, and above it a pair of horns which support eight knives and the figure of a god with raised hands and arms, which typifies “millions of years.”

The god stands upon an oval wherein are depicted figures of various “typhonic” animals, and from each side of his crown proceed several symbols of fire.

Whether in the Gnostic system Abraxas absorbed all the names and attributes of this god of many forms cannot be said with certainty.”

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. P. 177-80.

Hypocephalus

Now the cow is, of course, Isis-Hathor, and both the words and the picture refer to some event in the life of Râ, or Horus. It is quite evident that the words of power, or charm, uttered by Isis-Hathor delivered the god out of some trouble, and the idea is that as it delivered the god, and was of benefit to him, even so will it deliver the deceased and be of benefit to him. The words of power read:—

“O Amen, O Amen, who art in heaven, turn thy face upon the dead body of thy son, and make him sound and strong in the underworld.”

And again we are warned that the words are “a great mystery” and that “the eye of no man whatsoever must see it, for it is a thing of abomination for [every man] to know it. Hide it, therefore; the Book of the lady of the hidden temple is its name.”

An examination of mummies of the late period shews that the Egyptians did actually draw a figure of the cow upon papyrus and lay it under the head of the deceased, and that the cow is only one figure among a number of others which were drawn on the same papyrus.

With the figures magical texts were inscribed and in course of time, when the papyrus had been mounted upon linen, it superseded the gold figure of the cow which was fastened to the neck of the deceased, and became, strictly speaking an amulet, though its usual name among archaeologists is “hypocephalus.” The figure on the opposite page well illustrates the object. It will be noticed that the hypocephalus is round; this is due to the fact that it represents the pupil of the Eye of Horus, which from time immemorial in Egypt was regarded as the source of all generative power, and of reproduction and life.

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Hypocephalus

Hypocephalus or object placed under the head.

 Hypocephalus or object placed under the head 
of the deceased Shai-enen to keep warmth in the body.

The first group of gods are:—

Nehebka offering to Horus his Eye, a goddess with the Eye of Horus for a head, the cow of Isis-Hathor described above, the four children of Horus, two lions, a member of the human body, the pylon of heads of Khnemu the god of reproduction, and Horus-Râ.

In the second are the boat of the Sun being poled along by Horus, and the boat of the Moon, with Harpocrates in the bow. In the other scenes we have the god Khepera in his boat, Horus in his boat, and Horus-Sept in his boat.

The god with two faces represents the double aspect of the sun in setting and rising, and the god with the rams’ heads, who is being adored by apes, is a mystical form of Khnemu, one of the great gods of reproduction, who in still later times became the being whose name under the form of Khnumis or Khnoubis occupied such an important position among the magical names which were in use among the Gnostics.

The two following prayers from the hypocephalus will illustrate the words of power addressed to Amen, i.e., the Hidden One, quoted above:—

1. “I am the Hidden One in the hidden place. I am a perfect spirit among the companions of Râ, and I have gone in and come forth among the perfect souls. I am the mighty Soul of saffron-coloured form.

“I have come forth from the underworld at pleasure. I have come. I have come forth from the Eye of Horus. I have come forth from the underworld with Râ from the House of the Great Aged One in Heliopolis.

“I am one of the spirits who come forth from the underworld: grant thou unto me the things which my body needeth, and heaven for my soul, and a hidden place for my mummy.”

2. “May the god, who himself is hidden, and whose face is concealed, who shineth upon the world in his forms of existence, and in the underworld, grant that my soul may live for ever!

“May the great god in his disk give his rays in the underworld of Heliopolis! Grant thou unto me an entrance and an exit in the underworld without let or hindrance.”

Chapter CLXIII. of the Book of the Dead was written to prevent the body of a man mouldering away in the underworld, and to deliver him from the souls which were so unfortunate as to be shut in the various places thereof, but in order to make it thoroughly efficacious it was ordered to be recited over three pictures:

(1) a serpent with legs, having a disk and two horns upon its head;

(2) an utchat, (see above, p. 55) or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of a divine soul, and having plumes and a back like a hawk”;

(3) an utchat, or Eye of Horus, “in the pupil of which there shall be a figure of the God of the lifted hand with the face of the goddess Neith, and having plumes and a back like a hawk.”

If these things be done for the deceased “he shall not be turned back at any gate of the underworld, he shall eat, and drink, and perform the natural functions of his body as he did when he was upon earth; and none shall rise up to cry out against him; and he shall be protected from the hands of the enemy for ever and ever.” (See Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, p. 292).

E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1901. Pp. 115-21.

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