In the Gnostic system, the Devil plays an indispensable role as destroyer, an organic part of the One, necessary to a polymorphous cosmos. There is no “accidental lack of perfection,” no flaw in his being. Medieval demonologists often mention a demon called Abraxas.
They represent him as a fat-bellied character with the head of a king, a dragon’s tail, and serpents instead of legs. He also carries a whip in his hand. He is often featured with the head of a cock. Abraxas was a name used by the Gnostics to express the unspeakable name of the Supreme Being and to symbolize its solar power.
It is said to be compounded from two ancient worlds: ‘abir’ meaning ‘bull,’ and ‘axis’ meaning ‘pole.’ This etymology refers to the motion of the earth commonly called the alteration of the poles. It resulted at one time in the vernal equinox taking place in the constellation of Taurus, the celestial bull.
Abraxas is also associated with the god, Iao, who bears a cock’s head and has the legs of a serpent. The name is also said to come from the Egyptian “Abrak” which means “bow down” or “adore.” Another representation shows four white horses drawing the chariot of Abraxas. These stand for the four ethers by means of which the solar power is circulated in the universe.
The seven letters of his name signify the seven creative powers, or the seven planetary angels, recognized by the ancients. In numerology, the value of the letters in Abraxas adds up to three hundred and sixty-five, the number of days and powers of the year, and the three hundred and sixty-five spirits occupying the heavens. The name Abraxas seems also to have been the origin of the word ‘abracadabra,’ a magic spell said to be of very great power.
Basilides of Egypt, an early 2nd-century Gnostic teacher, viewed Abraxas as the supreme deity and the source of divine emanations, the ruler of all the 365 heavens, or circles of creation–one for each day of the year. The number 365 corresponds to the numerical value of the seven Greek letters that form the word abraxas.
‘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.’ From Tertullian