[NB] Ophite Planetary Variations and Kabbalistic Permutation

While Orlov is talking through the broader Gnostic and Hermetic horizon that the Slavonic both informs and is informed by, he makes an off-hand observation that I want to highlight here. 2 Enoch contains an account of God setting the planets that runs counter to most classical forms. Beginning with Kronos (Saturn), 2 Enoch proceeds inward to Aphrodite (Venus), Ares (Mars), the Sun, Zeus (Jupiter), Hermes (Mercury), and concludes with the Moon.

Now, to be clear, the text of 2 Enoch has corrupted names for these planets, like ‘Zeous’ for ‘Zeus,’ but Orlov seems to be quite right in observing that these are transparently corruptions. Besides the obvious Greek influence here, there is something else: Jupiter and Venus have swapped their classical positions and the circles begin with Saturn. Orlov notes:

“Van den Broek notes that, according to Origen’s Contra Celsum VI:31, this reversal [Saturn to Moon] of the planetary order was part of the Ophites’ cosmological system.”—Divine Scapegoats (140)

This rang a bell for me and looking back at the source for this assertion, I realize that there is more than just a reversal of the planetary order in the Ophite material. The Ophite order reported by Origen is more like the 2 Enoch material than Orlov suggests. It begins and ends with Saturn (the first and the seventh), suggesting that the figure of Ialdabaoth is both Saturn and Moon. Second, ‘Horaeus’ who is presumably the Jupiterian figure, falls to the ‘first’ gate, just prior to Saturn’s recuperation as the Moon.

In short, the Ophite model looks like this: Saturn-Sun-Mars-Venus-Mercury-Jupiter-Moon.

[ETA 3/30: Reading the ambiguity of the Saturnian power in reverse, you could also read it as: Moon-Sun-Mars-Venus-Mercury-Jupiter-Saturn]

It is a little difficult to make sense of these sorts of variations from an astrological perspective. If we think of these under the rubric of the system of permutations at the heart of the Sefer Yetzirah, however, we can start to make some sense of all this. This looks like a precise and well-developed permutation of the solar order, the transformation of the order of the planets into something like a system of meaningful morphological elements which can be reordered to express spiritual truths, truths that can only take full shape when placed at the center of a ritual complex.

It suggests that the system of permutation, while best recorded in the Sefer Yetzirah, had analogues in other contemporary Gnostic communities. In turn, this suggests a horizon from which they all diverge, which is difficult to discern. It could be that, like I suspect, they share a common root in the Babylonian world, and likely through that to more archaic material.

There is also a very real possibility that they represent independent strains of an even more ancient antiquity, which suggests the horizon of Gobekli Tepe.

There is much material on the Watchers that Orlov discusses which is relevant on these points. Such as:

  • the transformation of the Watchers into animals as they descend to the Earth (68-69)
  • Josephus’s observation that the veil of the Temple in Jerusalem included much cosmological information but explicitly excluded the figures of the zodiac (45-46)
  • the burial of the Watchers within the earth (69-73, 91)

Let me follow out a highly speculative train of thought. I’m not asserting its truth, just writing it out and seeing how it sounds.

The exclusion of the Zodiac from the temple veil suggests that they are unfit to adorn the Holy of Holies, that they may be aligned with the Fallen. The presence of zodiac-like statues at Gobekli Tepe, in turn, suggests that they may be one of the ur-sources for that iconography. Perhaps, then, what we see in the punishment of the Watchers in the Jewish mythology recalls the historical burial of Gobekli Tepe.

This suggests that the ‘mating’ of the watchers with men and animals described in the Slavonic texts may be a mythic recollection of the birth of agriculture and the domestication of animals, something that took place under the intensification of the relationship between man and the zodiac. If that intensification takes place around the making and ritual investiture of idols, this points us back out toward the long tradition of celestial worship that inheres within the region and the development of ritual techniques for making material objects the vehicle of spiritual powers. The prohibition with idolatry, too, are in part an effort to avoid repeating whatever happened at Gobekli Tepe.

Excepting the highly speculative dimension of this, let me end with a few considerations of the spiritual implications of the material. If we consider this as more evidence of the tripartite division of creation and its necessity for the realization of a higher unification, then one of the things we see in these stories is the way in which the Fall implicates human being with the materiality not just of the cosmos, but also of the animals. We must reconstitute not just our being in relationship to the highest, but also the way in which our being-with places the passing and fragile individuality of our fellow animals in relationship to the highest, too.

It also suggests, per the interactions between the Fallen and the animals, that the animal world possesses its own, independent, relationship to the highest. If we want to be a bit trad-witchy, we would have to say that the cord of witch blood runs through the animal kingdom, and perhaps even into the world of plants and other forms of life. Which gives the story of Esterah added bite, for in it we see the spirit of the world weaving the seeds of divine potency deeply and widely through the created world, asserting for herself and her children a place in the court of the heavens.

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8 thoughts on “[NB] Ophite Planetary Variations and Kabbalistic Permutation

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