Simon Magus

Great Teacher Series @ Theosophy Trust


Rome's expansion into the Greek, Egyptian and Middle Eastern worlds was ostensibly for glory, a prerequisite for political authority in the capital, for power, a self-consuming necessity of imperial structures, and for goods including food, since the Romans at the governing centre became increasingly less capable of self-sufficiency. Less visible though far more important was the opening of channels with the East. When coupled with the magnetic attraction of Rome itself, this allowed the whole Eastern cultural spectrum to flood westward and take root, often in distorted forms, in the soil from which European thought, culture and legal governance, though not its elusive socio-political unity, were to emerge. Along with the torrent of Greek art and philosophy, exotic Egyptian religion and social practice and Phoenician trade, came Syrian, Palestinian, Arabian, Persian and Indian ideas, cults and teachings. If Alexandria was the hot-house for every possible hybridization, Rome was the granary which poured the potentials into the field of emerging Europe. The remorseless erosion of the Greek world and the decay of Egypt had taken their toll on the Mysteries, and the spread of Judaic and broadly Semitic legalistic religious conceptions encouraged a purely exoteric notion of orthodoxy. Within this welter of competing and sometimes violently conflicting forces, a new current of spiritual force had to be established in a mode that could withstand sudden social change and the vicious attack of selfish sectarian and grey magical interests. Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, freed the highest ethics from Judaic legalism as well as from Greek rationalism, deriving them directly from the heart-wisdom of spiritual intuition. Simon Magus provided the metaphysical basis for soul-growth and self-transformation.

As with the lives of many exalted spiritual Teachers, almost nothing is known of Simon's personal life. A few canards are provided by hostile Christian writers who freely distorted what facts they had and uncritically accepted any tale which could be used to blacken his name. Simon was, however, born in the little town of Gitta in Samaria, a region despised by more orthodox Judaea for its famous healers and magicians, and for its unorthodox thought. Nothing is known of the childhood of Simon or of his training, save that he was the disciple of the Tanaim of Samaria, adept magicians and mystics who openly taught the doctrine of reincarnation. According to Eusebius, Dositheus may have been his teacher. Dositheus is the purported revealer of The Three Steles of Seth recovered from the Coptic Gnostic library found at Nag Hammadi, and some scholars identify him with the great Samaritan teacher Dunstan. By the time Simon comes into the light of recorded history, he is already an accomplished teacher of extraordinary influence. When Philip brought the emerging apostolic doctrines, which purported to embody the teachings of Jesus, into Samaria, he found Simon with thirty close disciples gathering large followings in every city he visited. So astounding were Simon's powers to heal and perform wonders – turning stones into bread, travelling through the air, standing unharmed in fire, assuming various shapes, causing heavy objects to move and opening locked doors without contact – that the early Church Fathers made no attempt to deny them. Rather, they argued that since such things could be done only in the name of Jesus – and their own performances often left something to be desired – or through demonic means, it followed that Simon must be in league with the devil. They could not but agree, nevertheless, that he fully deserved the title Magus, for he was a magician of the highest order. Simon laughed at this ludicrous apostolic rationalization and pointed to its dogmatic core – that Jesus alone in the whole of human history was the exclusive Son of God. Pointing out that Jesus made no such claim, Simon taught that every being who attains divine knowledge through self-discipline and meditation upon the divine is a Son of God and evinces seemingly superhuman powers and knowledge. Those beings whose consciousness reflects the primordial formless spiritual essences – the source of both the manifest universe and the powers in man – cannot subscribe to a formal material conception of individuation. Thus they are in nature one and in operation interchangeable, however precise and distinct their functions on heterogeneous planes of existence. Simon therefore taught that in an esoteric sense he had appeared in Palestine as Jesus, in Samaria as the Father – though not as the lower archon who is the Deity of the Old Testament – and in other nations as the Hagion Pneuma, the Holy Spirit.

Simon eventually journeyed to Rome, where he was as enthusiastically received as he had been in his homeland. Tradition holds that he engaged in debates with Peter – recorded in the Clementine Homilies and preserved in Christian literature – in which Peter's orthodox dogmatism was easily outshone by Simon's philosophical genius and esoteric interpretation of Jesus' sayings. History, on the other hand, offers some evidence that Peter feared to enter Rome while Simon was there. Legend also pretends that Peter challenged Simon to fly through the air, and that when he easily did so, Peter caused him to fall to earth by a prayer. According to one version, Simon broke his legs and retired in shame, dying in ignominy some time later. According to another, Simon was killed on the spot by the fall. Yet a third version, not favoured by Christian authors but more plausible, given Peter's tendencies to doubts, held that Peter, and not Simon, broke his legs in the attempt to imitate the great Mage. Except for such unreliable rumours and guesses, nothing is known of the latter portion of Simon's life. Some say he was baptized by Philip in Samaria, and the book of Acts asserts that Simon became a Christian and tried to purchase the secret of apostolic healing with money, but it is just as likely that both stories simply invert the truth. For Philip was much impressed by Simon, and the apostles were themselves wanting in the healing arts. Neither story is believable, given Simon's life and teaching. Simon taught an esoteric doctrine, phrased in the language of mythology, Neo-Platonic philosophy and Oriental aeonology. He left disciples who carried on his work in the ancient tradition of direct and largely oral instruction of the teacher to the pupil, without relying upon the institutionalization of particular formulations, dogmas, rites and customs. And he left the course of history as mysteriously as he entered it – in silence and secrecy.

The written works Simon left behind have been destroyed by clerics who found his gnosis too metaphysical to comprehend and too threatening to tolerate. Nevertheless, so profound was his influence in Gnostic, pagan and even early Christian circles that the central themes of his message to humanity have survived massive and sustained efforts to eradicate them.

There is one Power, differentiated into upper and lower, self-creating, self-increasing, seeking itself, discovering itself – its own mother, its own father, its own sister, its own consort, its own daughter, its own son – Mother-Father, One, the root of the All.

This universal principle is an infinite power, the transcendental root of all that is or can be. In mythic imagery, this substance-principle is called uncreated Fire, and it has two aspects, the dark and invisible Fire, the absolute Root of All, and the manifest fire, the source of all existence. The relationship between these aspects consists in an inexplicable inner process which is the secret working of the Fire itself. This inaccessible activity is the same as that indicated in the philosophical Kabbalah as the emergence of Kether, the Crown and Seed of manifestation, from Ain-Soph Aur, That which cannot be said to exist or to not exist. According to Hippolytus, the most conscientious of Simon's critics:

What is hidden is hidden in what is manifest in fire; and what is manifest in fire originates in the hidden. What is involved is what Aristotle calls dynamei (potentiality) and energeia (actuality), or Plato, the noeton (intelligible) and aistheton (perceptible).

Though an impenetrable mystery is intimated, reminiscent of the Hymn to Purusha in the Rig Veda, its fundamental implication for the manifest universe can be seen in the only surviving words of Simon, the opening of his Great Revelation:

This is the scripture of revelation of the Voice and of the Word, deriving from the Thought of the Great Infinite Power. Therefore shall it be sealed away, hidden, and lie in the house in which is established the Root of All.

This house is humanity collectively as well as each individual human being. While the great mystery – the Dark Fire – constitutes the core of each human being, one whose consciousness has realized this primordial truth can be called a Son of God. Thus, according to Acts, Simon allowed himself to be known as "the Power of God that is called the Great". He is the illuminated sage and perfected Magus.

This fire unfolds its manifest aspect through a series of emanations which together form the Tree of Life.

The treasure of all that exists, whether sensually perceptible or spiritually comprehensible, which is termed by Simon hidden or manifest, is the supreme heavenly fire, like a giant tree resembling the one seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, from which all flesh is nourished. Simon deems that the manifestation of fire is trunk, branches, foliage and bark surrounding it on the outside.

Obviously, this luminous image of the creative forces vivifying the cosmos has the same ancestry as the Kabbalistic Sephirothal Tree, the Ladder of Fiery Lights, which are at once potencies and intelligences. This conception of cosmogenesis rests upon an ontological basis:

The created world originated in uncreated fire. Its origin was as follows: the created world adopted the first six roots of the principle of origin from the principle of that fire. The roots developed out of the fire in pairs. These he called Reason and Thought, Voice and Name, Judgement and Reflection. In these six roots, potentially but immaterially, the whole power of the Infinite is contained.

These six pairs, called syzygies in Gnostic thought, represented the stages of potentiality becoming actuality and, simultaneously, the purely intelligible becoming the perceptible. When put in the language of transcendental psychology, Sige – Silence – rather than Fire is the ultimate principle.

The Silence, which, as the seventh, overbroods and synthesizes the six pairs, emits Reason (Nous), which becomes active through the emanation of its active complement, Thought (Epinoia). This syzygy, a united pair, reflects in the world of ethereal differentiation the double aspect of the Silence or Fire itself, and so can emanate in turn Voice (Phone), which releases as its active aspect Name (Onoma). Again, this second syzygy repeats the process in the emanation of Judgement (Logismos) and Reflection (Enthymesis). These three syzygies are the three primordial Aeons which are, with their parent Fire, the four and seven cosmic principles. Just as the Atzilothic and Briatic worlds, wholly abstract, must give rise to the Yetziratic or formative world in the Kabbalah, so the three syzygies project themselves at a more concrete level of differentiation as six Aeons – six intelligences which are periodicities in time and levels of space. These constitute the six invisible powers of Nature, and reflect themselves as six further Aeons of concrete existence. These six are the activities of hidden Nature, found most fully engaged in the house of the root, that is, in the sevenfold human being. According to Simon, man's essential nature is these six living Aeons overbrooded by the Fire and the eternal Silence.

Simon explained the purpose of the Magus – completely misunderstood by the followers of Jesus – in mythic imagery. Being enlightened, the consciousness of the Magus is one with Nous. Hence he does not reincarnate blindly as do those who have yet to awaken to their true nature, but rather descends into the world. But Nous (Reason) cannot be active without Thought (Epinoia) and so must be united with it. Simon therefore called himself "the Power of God" (Nous) and denominated his thought Helena, a Greek term meaning 'light'. Since thought is involved in the manifestation of existence, and since it can become trapped in the very forms or images it creates, thought is prostituted by the lower forces which arise from the highest Aeons. Nous must therefore first redeem Thought so that it can become the beacon-light of humanity and illuminate the way back to the source of all. Applied to himself, Simon is Nous and Helena is his faithful consort, mythically rescued from a brothel in Tyre. Early Christian theologians, conveniently forgetting that Jesus also rescued his faithful Mary from a life of prostitution in what is probably the same symbolic teaching, seized upon this story as an excuse to scandalize Simon on grounds of aberrant personal conduct. Thus they dismissed his vital message, which is the ageless teaching of all Adepts of the mysteries of man and nature – that each human being has within him the power to redeem himself through his own purified and sanctified thought, for it comes from and is nourished by the One Dark Fire, which is the source of all that exists.