My notes on:

Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism – Sunday 4pm

April De Conick

Star Gates: What Were the Gnostics Doing?

The Peratics (perasai, Greek for “Transcendentalists”) say:

We alone have known that genesis is necessary and (we alone have known) have know the roads by which humans have entered into the cosmos. We have been instructed precisely so we alone can pass through and treverse over the perishable. Hip. Ref. 5:16.1

We generally think that Gnostics didn’t know astrology, that it wasn’t a scientific knowledge – W. Forester (in his collection of Gnostic texts) failed to translate the chapter on astrological statements – he evidently considered them not relevant to Gnosticism.

We must become acquainted with ancient cosmology (cosmic architecture) to understand what the Gnostics were doing.


Earth is the navel of the cosmos – in the middle of the earth is a pole (axis mundi) — the earth is stationary and the various  celestial spheres revolve around it.

The sublunar realm includes

  • The Earth
  • Tartarus
  • The Skies
  • The Firmament

The Heavens include:

  • the seven planetary spheres
  • one zodiacal sphere
  • these were considered to be deities


The zodiac band crosses the horizon and is divided into twelve units–zodiacal signs. The stars wander below zodiacal band. Each zodiac sign was a “place” or “house”. Each of the planets rules over a particular sign.


Egyptian Decans (groups of stars) – had 36 divisions instead of 12 – each was a deity – 72 spirits for every 5 degrees of the zodiac for a total of 365 gods.


The Egyptian system was merged into the Greco-Roman system. There were seven main rulers whose houses have a number of assistants. These assistants became demons and the fallen angels. They needed to be regularly appeased with acts of magic.

The skies were populated by demonic archons for the Gnostics. In their view, the Jewish creator god (demiurge) was a powerful, but angry god.

A common Gnostic belief existed that there are paths that allow for a journey out of cosmos into heavens beyond – these stem from a mix of Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Christian religions. The Gnostics claimed to know certain  greetings, prayers, and secret words that were necessary to pass through the “stargates” into the heavens. For example, they were required to know and give the correct names of all gods that they would have to pass by.


They knew of three journeys that one would have to undertake:

–1st journey is through the sublunar realm and Hades, beginning at the soul’s release from the body

–2nd jouney is through the several planetary spheres and the zodiac, beginning at the star or planet gate

–3rd journey is through the transcosmic realm beginning at the star or planet gate

In the first journey, the individual would have to pass through waters of Tartarus before reaching the heavens.

One must pass the “twelve controlled pyramid” – the guardians of the zodiac. He/she goes through a  gate in the zodiac pyramid which Chronos and assistants guard.


Ou, Aoai, Ouo, Ouoab –  are the first four names of assistant guardians (the fifth name isn’t given).

–Soclam (= Egyptian Osiris) guards hours of the night

–Uno (Isis) guards hours of the day

Why did the Peratics write down the names of gods/demons? These were the deities that soul would initially meet after death. They have the charge of judging the dead on their journey to Hades – they control the fate of the soul after death and before re-embodiment.

The “hymn” of the guardian controls a chasm filled with water in the deepest depths of Tartarus

Book of Suburbs ? –- the soul is escorted to a chasm – there are two chasms on the left and two on the right. The left go to prison, the right go to heaven. If you are allowed to take the chasm on the right, you journey four days until you reach a pillar of light, then go up the pillar to heaven. Those going down the chasm on the left end up drinking from the forgetful river.

Chronos is understood as a likeness of the Red Sea that one must cross before reaching heaven. The Gnostics had passwords, names, and seals necessary to cross the waters and enter the gate that opens up to Zodiac.

Book 4 of Pistis Sophia – the gates of hell open and release prisoners when certain signs of the zodiac align – souls enter the zodiac before being embodied again. These gates are located at intersection of milky way and the zodiac or at different zodiacal signs.


Sometimes the focus is on planetary gates – the sun and moon, etc. Sometimes the journey is described as an ascent through the sun and descent through the moon or vice versa. The descent through the several planets to the earth involves a series of changes from the  spiritual body to the physical.

On the way one has to get past Chronos and his five assistants and the five chasms. This involves offering prayers to persuade them to let you past.

The planetary spheres are likened to the “desert” of Israel. On the way, one meets fiery serpents who attack the individual. These are also symbolized as stars who want to return them to the world and to their body – the stars are like serpents. In order to pass by these unharmed, one must gaze to the top of the planetary spheres to the constellation “Draco the Serpent”, who is Christ. Draco is located at the roof of the cosmic dome – he started this pattern of ascent and descent. He gets power from the Father and passes it to humans.


The Father is above Draco and is the source of his powers. In some traditions, the Demiurge is the evil god who transfers heavenly powers to earth. Draco is also the river that flows out of Eden and flows to heaven.

Knowing the secrets of Draco causes rebirth and ability to travel to realm of the Father – one must go through Draco/Christ  –you are drawn up like a magnet through him.

Chronos must be crossed and the individual must pass through his gate into the Zodiac. The stars and planets must be overcome and then the individual must travel up the tail of Draco to his mouth and then be spit out into the heavens. Then he/she can travel to the realm of the Father, which is far above the heavens in his own realm.

After the presentation, in the discussion period, this question was asked by BYU professor John Hall:

John Hall – As I listened to your presentation, there is a correspondence on every point with the ancient Egyptian cult. Has ancient Egyptian religion been kept alive in Gnostic tradition?

April DeConick – Yes, I do believe so. The names of the deities are preserved.  Egyptian and Greek myths are both preserved in Gnosticism – its a synthesis of all these national religions.

(I take responsibility for the contents of these notes. They are but my own paraphrasing of what she said in her presentation, and are missing a good amount of the detail she put into it. Hopefully these notes help provide, in a small way, some of the great insights that she meant to pass on.)

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