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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Simon Magus

Simon Magus is an interesting guy. He reminds me of Timothy Leary.

Simon is one of that obscure and disparate bunch who go by the name of early Gnostics. They are obscure because we don't know much about them at all, really, and most of the info comes in the form of vicious put-down by rival early Christian dudes. And they are disparate because there are loads of different Gnostic groups or 'sects'; though just how much of this has any real basis, and how much is later commentators trying to bring order to delicious chaos, is unclear.

Simon first caught my eye in the final couple of pages of Jung's 'adventures' in the Red Book. It's not exactly climactic-apocalyptic stuff: events in the book do not proceed in linear fashion. Rather, the path is serpentine in nature (in more ways than one, it transpires). It may even, I surmise, take on the form of the Uroboros, the snake that bites its own tail, circular, never to end.

Anyhow...... , here, right near the end, Christ, a rare player in the Book, makes a cameo appearance. He is spied lurking in the shades, and Jung's 'I' realises who he is. Christ has a bit of a chat with Philemon, another obscure Gnostic who has taken on a bit of a Wise Old Man role in the life of Jung. Christ is not overly impressed with this aged Gnostic, and at one point - it always reads to me as expressed in dismissive irritation - calls Philemon 'Simon Magus, or whatever your name may be.' Funny this, taking Philemon to be Simon Magus.

It is from Simon, apparently, that the word 'simony' derives. He was, after all, Simon Magus: Simon the Magician. And when he caught sight of Peter doing some magic tricks with the Holy Ghost, he couldn't resist asking the price for letting him in on the secret. This didn't go down too well.

More interestingly (personally at least) is the way that Simon goes around with as his constant companion one Helen or Helena. This young lady it seems was a slave and a prostitute, who Simon picked up in Tyre. She was in a previous life Helen of Troy, no less. So the story goes.

Gnostic metaphysics have far more room and respect for the feminine than does orthodox Christianity. This was one of the focal points which led to the early Christians demonising and intending to get rid of the Gnostics. You see, in the Gnostic systems, God is female. Or, rather, God's first thought, the Ennoia, is feminine. God is Goddess, at least in so far as the divinity impinges upon our life here on planet Earth. There are many variations, but the main drift goes like this. Sophia, the Goddess, falls from the Pleroma, the abode of the gods and goddesses, eventually touching base on this planet, the life on which is her creation. She is stuck here, however, unable to get back to the Pleroma. In Simon's version of events, Sophia incarnates in female forms, eventually turning up in the body of Helena the divine prostitute.

In alchemy, and for Jung, Helena is the soror mystica. She is the divine companion who accompanies the alchemist in his work. Without her presence, her assistance, he has no hope of success. Jung of course talks of 'anima', the sacred other, a term which a number of readers of this blog don't like. Be that as it may. It is significant, I suggest, that in the life of Simon Magus the soror turns up, not as a Virgin Mary type, or Princess Diana, not even as an inspired Pre-Raphaelite muse. She's a divine prostitute-slave. Sexy, no doubt, sensuous, possessing dark, dangerous beauty.

Equally, the female alchemist may find turning up on her doorstep unannounced one morning the frater, her mystic beloved counterpart. I am conflating alchemy and Gnosticism here; I am aware of this. They are not the same, but the similarities outweigh the differences on the theme getting an airing here. Simon Magus, Simon the Gnostic, is Simon the Great Magician, after all. Magic is essentially the art of transformation. And there is nothing that will get Simon going more than the transmutation of transmutations, that of base metal into gold.

The females in the stories from the orthodox solar, masculine religions always get a bad rap. Get this. Helen the prostitute does not fit in to the prostitute-and-whore demeaning fantasy of orthodox-based renunciate religiosity. She is sacred, she comes dripping sexy divinity. She is Sophia. Without her the great Simon Magus is lost, nothing.

The women are always the seductresses, luring the young male hero away from his noble quest. They're the bad guys (or gals). Take Odysseus of Greek mythology fame. There he is, doing all sort of important stuff. Then he gets seduced by the goddess-nymph Calypso. Seven years he wastes in her arms, before finally escaping her evil clutches and getting back on track. A similar fate befalls Aeneas in Virgil's 'Aeneid', captivated by the lovely Dido until he is reminded of his 'true purpose' and leaves her in the lurch.

What rubbish stories. Who are these pathetic guys, who allow themselves to get diverted for so long? I always thought that spiritual life involved taking personal responsibility for your actions. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book: get waylaid by the beauty of a girl, then blame her for your own lack of conviction. Or there is another take on the story. Maybe Odysseus's seven years with the lovely nymph were not a waste of time at all. Maybe he was learning a whole bundle of stuff from her. Maybe his time with her was a necessary part of his journey through life. Maybe she was the soror mystica all the while, but he was too much of a wimp to own up. Just maybe....

P.S. In an unpredictable turn, I can report that the Wikipedia entry on Simon Magus is not bad at all, a decent reference for anybody wanting a little closer acquaintance with our wacky hero.

Images: The Magician from the Hermetic Tarot
             Calypso's Isle by Herbert James Draper. Those Victorians liked to lay it on thick ....