Abraxas is a mystical word, probably of Gnostic or Kabbalistic origins, which conveys gematrically the number 365 and is connected with the solar cycle. The word is also associated with the highest Gnostic deity and eventually became the name of a demon in occultism.
The word Abraxas (or Abrasax or Abracax) was engraved on certain stones, called on that account Abraxas stones, which were used as amulets or charms (the word may be related to the word abracadabra) . The initial spelling of the word as seen on stones was Abrasax (Αβρασαξ). The spelling seen today probably originates in the confusion made between the Greek letters Sigma and Xi in the Latin transliteration.
Abraxas is described as a fat-bellied character with the head of a lion or a cock, sometimes crowned, with a dragon's tail, and serpents instead of legs. He also carries a whip in his hand.
Ancient mythologists placed Abraxas among the Egyptian gods. Abraxas was also the Persian sun god, and in Syria he was a form of Iao (aspect or name for Yahveh, Yahweh, or Jehovah). It is said that the name was created to replace the unmentionable name of the Supreme Being.
Abraxas is known from the Gnostic writings of Simon Magus, father of the Gnostics and Basilides of Egypt, an early 2nd-century Gnostic teacher. The Gnostics, a sect of the 2nd century, claimed Abraxas as their supreme god, and said that Jesus Christ was only a phantom sent to earth by him. They believed that his name contained great mysteries, as it was composed of the seven Greek letters that formed the number 365, which is also number of days in a year. Abraxas, they thought, had under his command 365 gods, to whom they attributed 365 virtues, one for each day.
Afterwards broke out the heretic Basilides. He affirms that there is a supreme Deity, by name Abraxas, by whom was created Mind, which in Greek he calls Nous; that thence sprang the Word; that of Him issued Providence, Virtue, and Wisdom; that out of these subsequently were made Principalities, powers, and Angels; that there ensued infinite issues and processions of angels; that by these angels 365 heavens were formed, and the world, in honour of Abraxas, whose name, if computed, has in itself this number. Now, among the last of the angels, those who made this world, he places the God of the Jews latest, that is, the God of the Law and of the Prophets, whom he denies to be a God, but affirms to be an angel. To him, he says, was allotted the seed of Abraham, and accordingly he it was who transferred the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan; affirming him to be turbulent above the other angels, and accordingly given to the frequent arousing of seditions and wars, yes, and the shedding of human blood. Christ, moreover, he affirms to have been sent, not by this maker of the world, but by the above-named Abraxas; and to have come in a phantasm, and been destitute of the substance of flesh: that it was not He who suffered among the Jews, but that Simon was crucified in His stead: whence, again, there must be no believing on him who was crucified, lest one confess to having believed on Simon. Martyrdoms, he says, are not to be endured. The resurrection of the flesh he strenuously impugns, affirming that salvation has not been promised to bodies.
Abrasax represented the 365 Aeons or emanations from the First Cause, and as a Pantheus, i.e. All-God, he appears on the amulets with the head of a cock (Phoebus) 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.
(E. A. Wallis Budge's Amulets and Talismans)
Other occultists, mainly demonologists, thought of Abraxas as a demon, with similar appearance to the Gnostic god of the same name. It was very common for the gods and goddesses of pagan religions and heretic cults to be lessen to the status of demons by Christian writers. In fact, deities of heretic religions were the main source for Christian demons.
A god in certain Asian theogonies. From his name is derived the magical word Abracadabra. He is represented on amulets as having the head of a cock, the feet of a dragon, and a whip in his hand. Demonologists have made him a demon with the head of a king and with serpents for his legs. The Egyptian Basilides, second-century heretics, looked upon him as their supreme god. Finding that the seven Greek letters contained in his name amounted to 365, the number of days in the year, they placed at his command several spirits who presided over the 365 heavens and to whom they attributed 365 virtues, one for each day. The Basilides also said that Jesus Christ, Our Savior, was but a benevolent spirit sent to earth by Abrasax. They deviated from the doctrine of their leader."
(Collin de Plancy, 'Dictionnaire Infernal', 1863)
Carl Jung described a three stage development in the human perception of God. The first stage was that God appears undifferentiated. The second stage is the perception of a benevolent Lord and an evil Devil in which each are separated to the point where the Devil is finally banished. The final stage is the integration of the Lord and the Devil. In his The Seven Sermons to the Dead he says:
Abraxas is the god whom it is difficult to know. His power is the very greatest, because man does not perceive it. Man sees the summum bonuum (supreme good) of the sun, and also the infinum malum (endless evil) of the devil, but Abraxas he does not see, for he is indefinable life itself, which is the mother of good and evil alike.
[Abraxas] is truly the terrible one... the sun and also the eternally gaping abyss of emptiness...magnificent even as the lion at the very moment when he strikes his prey down. His beauty is like the beauty of a spring morn... He is the monster of the underworld... He is the bright light of day and the deepest night of madness... He is the mightiest manifest being, and in him creation becomes frightened of itself..."
Carl Jung, quoted in Stuart Holroyd's The Elements of Gnosticism)
[Abraxas] is... a thousand-armed ployp, coiled knot of winged serpents... the hermaphrodite of the earliest beginning... the lord of toads and frogs, which live in the water... abundance that seeketh union with emptiness."
Carl Jung, quoted in The Gnostic Jung, Ed. Robert Segal)
- Jung, Carl G., The Gnostic Jung, Princeton University Press;
- de Plancy, Colin, Dictionnaire Infernal, Editions;
- Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing;
- Budge, E. A. Wallis, Amulets and Talismans, Carol Publishing Corporation;
- Holroyd, Stuart, The Elements of Gnosticism, Element Books;
- Turner, Patricia and Coulter, Charles R., Dictionary of Ancient Deities, Oxford University Press;
- Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, Carol Publishing Group.