The Strange Life of Simon Magus, Christian, Pagan, Magician, and Sorcerer
Simon the Magician, otherwise known as Simon Magus, comes down through history predominately from the New Testament account, Acts of the Apostles 8:9-24 , with all other ancient sources pertaining to him written after his death. Simon is discussed in a variety of different lights, most notably "as a Christian, a Jew, a pagan and the founder of a new religion; a magician, a sorcerer, a religious philosopher and an arch-heretic; a pseudo-apostle, a pseudo-Messiah and a pretended incarnation of God; and the 'father of all heresies.'" It is with this widespread influence in mind that Simon Magus' teachings have survived as long and as intact as they have.
Simon is thought to have been a Samaritan by birth, coming from Gitta and traveling to Rome around the time of Emperor Claudius (reign from 41 AD to 54 AD), enacting all sorts of magical acts upon the way. Most interestingly, Simon was raised a pagan, following the path of magic and sorcery for the majority of his known life. However, living in a world in which Christianity and paganism existed side by side, Simon became intensely interested in the newer Christian faith, particularly in regards to the supposed power the Holy Spirit could bequeath to pious mortals. Amazed by the teachings of Philip the Apostle, Simon was baptized along with much of his Samaritan community, and went on to trail after Philip to watch the latter work his miracles. Yet, Simon never came to obey the Christian doctrine as was intended. In the market for an enhancement of his magical powers, Simon attempted to pay the apostles Peter and John to bestow the Holy Spirit upon him when he did not feel it within him—an unsuccessful attempt that filled Peter with everlasting disgust for the magician. After this, Simon used the Greek education he was given as a youth, his supposed magical powers, and what he had of the Christian religion to formulate his own path, later called Simonianism, and culminating in churches of his own.
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Peter, Paul, Simon Magus and Nero. Photo by Sibeaster. 2008. ( Wikimedia Commons )
From the Gnostic teachings of Simon Magus, flourished the religion of the Simonians, a sect of Gnosticism arising in the 2 nd century, after the death of their namesake. The pretext of Simon's teachings was that he was "the Great Power of God", a false claim of being the Messiah in the eyes of the Christians. He wrote his own cosmology, stating that Fire was the first of all things, and as it was both female and male, it gave birth to the universe in six different "roots": Nous (mind), Ennoia (thought), Logismos (reason), nthymêsis (reflection), Phonê (voice), and Onoma (name). Nous became what is later known as Father—presumably a variation of God the Father or Zeus—and Ennoia became the equivalent of a mother goddess. Together, these two made six parallels to the aforementioned roots: Ouranos (heaven), Gê (earth), Aêr (air), Hydôr (water), Hêlios (sun), and Selênê (moon). (As one can see, these parallels (or eons) are all named after ancient Greek Titans. It was not uncommon to borrow from other religions during this period, as so many were thriving side by side.)
Peter's conflict with Simon Magus by Avanzino Nucci, 1620. Simon is on the right, dressed in black.1619. ( en.wikipedia.org)
According to the Simonians religion, the world was formed in a very different fashion than the Romans and Christians believed. Simonians claimed that Ennoia, the first thought, came from God the Father's mind and manifested into angels. According to Simon, these angels are the ones that truly created the tangible world, and sealed away the first thought because they were jealous of her power. Ennoia went forced to pass from human to human through the years, as she could never return to God, culminating in Ennoia's possession of Helena—the consort of Simon Magus himself. The Simonians continue that Simon was actually the Father in human form, attempting to reunite with the first thought and thus bringing salvation to the people of the world. It was Simon and Helena who decided the fates of the mortal race, determining who would go to heaven and hell, rather than those fates being decided after death.
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Simon traveled throughout the ancient world—from Palestine and Syria, to Caesarea and Antioch, to Egypt and Rome—forging churches of his new teachings wherever he went with his paramour Helena. According to Saint Justin (or Justin the Martyr), Simon was purportedly deified for a period in Rome under the reign of Claudius, as his powers seemed to be vast and godlike in the eyes of the still pagan citizens. (This has been disputed greatly over the years.) Meanwhile, the Jews believed that Simon was their Messiah, the Son of God, while the Samaritans—his native people—were convinced he was the aforementioned "Great Power."
Fall of Simon Magus by Leonaert Bramer. ( Wikimedia Commons )
It was the disbelief of Peter that eventually brought him to his knees, as—according to legend—in attempting to prove his magical skills to Emperor Nero (reign from 54 AD to 68 AD), Simon flew up into the air with the aid of a spell, which was broken by the hand of Peter, resulting in Simon falling to his death. Other accounts claim Simon died by either requesting to be buried alive to prove his magic by escaping the grave (and thereby suffocating), or in some peaceful manner somewhere in Antioch. Regardless, despite all the efforts by the early era of the Christian church to stifle Simon Magus' teachings and followers, the Gnostic faith of Simonianism survived two thousand years, remaining a religious sect still functioning today.
Top Image: Relief on the Miègeville's gate of the basilica Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. The relief shows Simon magus, demons, and birth of the wine. Photo by: PierreSelim. 2012. ( Wikimedia Commons )
By Riley Winters
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Acts (8: 9-24).