Gnostic Doctrine

Friday, 23 July 2021

The Five Seals

The Five Seals


- The Five Seals are mentioned in the Sethian Gnostic texts such as The Gospel of the Egyptians, The Trimorphic Protennoia and The Apocryphon of John.

Before we look at the Five seals in the Sethian Gnostic texts we will first look at the meaning of sealing and the number five


Number 5 is a symbol of God’s grace. It is also one of the most widely mentioned words in the God’s word. It is also a number that symbolizes God’s kindness and favor to humankind. 25 is 5*5 and it makes “grace upon grace”. (John 1:16).

The instruction given by God in order to build a “tabernacle in the wilderness” were all centered around number five, everything was made out of five components, like 5 curtains, 5 pillars, 5 bars, etc. Also there were 5 ingredients in the holy oil, which was needed to sanctify the tabernacle.

Five Pentad, quintet; realm of the divine father, consisting of Barbelo and four personified attributes (foreknowledge, incorruptibility, life eternal, and truth) in Sethian texts. Since the five is androgynous, it is also called the ten, and it constitutes the divine father in emanation. In the Mother of Books the divine realm of five includes Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn, and ten is a perfect number. In the Valentinian Gospel of Philip there are five sacraments. Five trees of paradise are referred to in Gospel of Thomas 19, Manichaean sources, and the Mother of Books. In Manichaean and neomanichaean texts many things are presented in groups of five

"Having the seal of the living God"—The Truth is the seal of God (Job 33:16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). As the image on a seal is impressed upon soft wax, so the Truth of God makes its impressions on the heart, which is seen by the manifestation of a changed life (Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:6-7). Christ was thus sealed by the Father (John 6:27).

People perceived in his words, his works, his character, a manifestation of Yahweh. His teaching, therefore, had the stamp of Divine authority. As a person in authority who wished to communicate his mind, or purpose, to someone at a distance authenticated the written message with his seal, so the Father die in communicating to men through the Son (Heb. 1:1). The saints are referred to as a sealed community (Song 4:12; 8:6), being mentally sealed with divine teaching (Rev. 14:1; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13), manifested in action (Rom. 4:11; 10:17; Eph. 2:10; Col. 3:10). As the sealed of God, they are known of Him, though they may be unkown to others as such (see 2 Tim. 2:19). The seal of the living God, therefore, describes the Truth in action.

"And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea"—The loud" voice suggests the urgency of the request.

"Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees"—The angel is represented as praying for peace in order that the preaching of the Gospel might be advanced. This is the attitude of the Ecclesia in the midst of the world (Matt. 10:13; 1 Tim. 2:1-2).

"Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads"—The expression is derived from Ezek. 9:4. The priests of Israel were "sealed" in their foreheads with a gold band bearing an inscription ascribing Holiness to Yahweh (Exod 28:36-39). Those sealed in the forehead, are mentally impressed with the things of God; and this characteristic is required of all those who will be saved (Rev. 14:1).

The Apocalypse was specifically given for the illumination of the "servants of God" (Rev. 1:1; 22:6). The prayer requests a delay in judgment whilst a certain work is accomplished. It therefore appealed to the "longsuffering of God" which in previous ages "had waited" for a similar purpose (2 Pet. 3:15; 1 Pet. 3:20). Christ will not return until this work of sealing is completed.

Rev. 7:2-4 "Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God ... saying, 'Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.' And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel."

The twelve tribes of Israel symbolize the twelve spiritual faculties of man. The "seal of God" symbolizes the identity of the Christ consciousness. The twelve faculties originate as emanations from the divine mind.

144,000 is twelve times twelve, followed by three zeros. Zeros always symbolize "unlimited or unspecified." Here we have reference to the perfected human consciousness, which would be the twelve faculties combined and blended and integrated so that they, in a sense, "multiply one another to an unlimited degree (144,000)."

The rite of baptism is sometimes called a seal and recognized as a seal. (The author is contending against Christian baptism): “There are some, who upon entering the faith, receive a baptism on the ground that they have it as a hope of salvation, which they call the "seal", not knowing that the fathers of the world are manifest (in) that place. But he himself knows that he is sealed.” (Testimony of Truth)
The Five Seals

Five seals form part of the Sethian ritual of baptism. 
- By receiving the Five Seals, the Gnostic could ascend to the Upper Aeons.

- The Five Seals exist in the uppermost light (i.e. the Upper Aeons?): 

“These are the glories that are higher than every glory, that is, the Five Seals...” (Trimorphic Protennoia 49:26)

- The Five Seals come from the Father in the Upper Aeons: 

“the five seals which the Father brought forth from his bosom” (Gospel of the Egyptians)

- Christ gives the seals: 

“There is a sonship in their midst, which is called Christ the Verifier. It is he who verifies each one, and he seals him with the seal of the Father as he sends them in to the first Father, who exists in himself.” (Untitled Bruce)

- Through the Five Seals, the saviour (here, Protennoia) dwells in the Elect, just as they will come to dwell with the saviour in the Upper Aeons - Protennoia: 

“And I proclaimed to them the ineffable Five Seals in order that I might abide in them and they also might abide in me.” (Trimorphic Protennoia 50:9)

In the Trimorphic Protennoia, the Five Seals are granted during a five-fold ritual that resembles a baptism and visionary ascent to the Upper Aeons. Five orders of angels (with three angels in each order) initiate the initiate.

- First, the initiate receives water (presumeably in a baptism) which ‘strips off’ from him the psychic and material garments before ‘putting on’ him a garment of light (which is knowledge of the Father): “I gave to him from the Water of Life, which strips him of the chaos that is in the uttermost darkness that exists inside the entire abyss, that is, the thought of the corporeal and the psychic. All these I put on. And I stripped him of it, and I put upon him a shining Light, that is, the knowledge of the Thought of the Fatherhood.” (Trimorphic Protennoia)

In Trimorphic Protennoia, we find a key passage which gives the names of various angelic beings, and the acts they perform in the rite. The section is spoken by Protennoia (“Forethought”):

- During the visionary portion of the baptism, the initiate is delivered to five orders of angels: ‘those who give robes of light’, ‘the baptizers’, ‘those who enthrone’, ‘those who glorify’, and ‘those who snatch away’:  The section is spoken by Protennoia (“Forethought”):

“And I delivered him to those who give robes - AMMÔN, ELASSÔ, AMÊNAI - and they covere him with a robe from the robes of the Light; and I delivered him to the baptizers, and they baptized him - MIKHEUS, MIKHAR, MNÊSINOUS - and they immersed him in the spring of the Water of Life. And I delivered him to those who enthrone - BARIÊL, NOUTHAN, SABENAI - and they enthroned him from the Throne of Glory. And I delivered him to those who glorify - ARIÔM, ÊLIEN, PHARIÊL - and they glorified him with the glory of the Fatherhood. And those who snatch away snatched away - KAMALIÊL, [...]ANÊN (this name has not survived, but other texts give ABRASAX), SAMBLÔ, and the servants of <the> great holy luminaries - and they took him into the light-place of his Fatherhood. And he received the Five seals from the Light of the Mother, Protennoia, and it was granted him to partake of the mystery of knowledge, and he became a Light in Light.”

From this passage we may deduce that the 5 “seals” are the actions here described, symbolically performed by the 5 triads of 15 angels: donning of ceremonial robes (probably after undressing), baptism in ‘living water’ (i.e. running water in a river, spring or stream), enthronement (possibly crowning or anointing with oil symbolizing kingship), and a “snatching away”, which probably refers to an ecstatic visionary ritual at the culmination of the ceremony.

 Thus, the five-seals consists of the five actions mentioned in the rite of baptism   :
1. Receiving a robe of light
2. Baptism in the water of life
3. Enthronement on the throne of glory
4. Glorified in the glory of the Father
5. Snatched away (visionary ascent)

Presumably, each of the 5 Seals involved an invocation to the respective triad of angels; in other Gnostic texts which are rich in rituals, such as the Pistis Sophia, and Books of Jeu, such angelic beings are an integral part of most ceremonies and baptisms, and they are usually invoked in the name of God to descend and perform their respective duty on the initiate. E.g., in the Baptism of Water (Books of Jeu), the formula involves the recital of secret names of God, followed by a prayer to Him to send angelic beings (“helpers”) to baptize the disciples. Interestingly enough, these ‘helpers’ are also 15 in number, just as in the ritual of the 5 Seals:

“Hear me my Father, thou father of all fatherhoods, thou infinite light who art in the Treasury
of the Light. May the fifteen helpers come, which serve the seven virgins of the light which are
over the baptism of life, whose unutterable names are these: ASTRAPA, TESPHOIODE,
DIAKTIOS, KNÊSION, DROMOS, EUIDETOS POLUPAIDOS, ENTROPON. May they come and baptise my disciples in the water of life, of the seven virgins of the light and forgive their sins, and purify their iniquities….”

The baptismal portion of the 5 Seals is described in greater detail in the Gospel of the Egyptians, wherein a prayer\adoration seemingly from it has been preserved. Presumably, it is to be recited by the initiate right after the baptism:

“IÊ IEUS ÊÔ OU ÊÔ ÔUA! Really, truly, O IESSEUS MAZAREUS IESSEDEKEUS, O living water, O child of the child, O glorious name! Really truly, AIÔN O ÔN, IIII ÊÊÊÊ EEEE OOOO UUUU ÔÔÔÔ AAAAA. Really, truly, ÊI AAAA ÔÔÔÔ, O existing one who sees the aeons! Really, truly,AEE ÊÊÊ IIII UUUUUU ÔÔÔÔÔÔÔÔ, who is eternally eternal! Really, truly, IÊA AIÔ, in the heart, who exists, U AEI EIS AEI, EI O EI, EI OS EI. This great name of Thine is upon me, O self begotten

Perfect one, who art not outside me. I see thee, O thou who art visible to everyone. For who will be able to comprehend thee in another tongue? Now that I have known thee, I have mixed myself with the immutable. I have armed myself with an armour of light; I have become light! For the Mother was at that place because of the splendid beauty of grace. Therefore, I have stretched out my hands while they were folded. I was shaped in the circle of the riches of the light which is in my bosom, which gives shape to the many begotten ones in the light into which no complaint reaches. I shall declare thy glory truly, for I have comprehended thee, SOU IÊS IDE AEIÔ AEIE OIS, O aeon, aeon, O God of silence! I honour thee completely. Thou art my place of rest, O Son, ÊS ÊS O E, the formless one who exists in the formless ones, who exists raising up the man in whom thou wilt purify me into Thy life, according to Thine imperishable name. Therefore, the incense of life is in me. I mixed it with water after the model of all archons, in order that I may live with Thee in the peace of the saints, Thou who exist really truly forever.”
The baptism itself was probably done in the name of the Father, Mother, and Son, and the angels MIKHEUS, MIKHAR, MNÊSINOUS, as well as SESENGENPHARANGÊS a spirit or angel (frequently mentioned in the magical papyri) who is said to preside over the “baptism of the living”. According to the above invocation, part of the baptism may have included the initiate folding his\her hands and stretching them forward in a circle, symbolizing his divine part; according to late antique philosophers, especially Neoplatonists, the Soul was circular or spherical in shape, and thus this gesture may be a reflection of that concept.

The Gospel of the Egyptians also mentions “renunciations” as being part of the rite. This probably involved similar declarations as conventional Catholic baptism, where the person baptized (or their sponsor) has to renounce Satan and sin. In the Sethian version, it may have entailed renouncing the various Archons and the Demiurge. The same text also talks about the 5 Seals as being the triad of the Father, Mother, and Son, plus the angels IOUÊL (called “Male Virgin”), and ÊSÊPHÊKH (“The Child of the Child”).

The “enthronement” portion of the ritual probably involved an anointing with oil and\or a crowning of the initiate (both gestures symbolic of kingship, and used in enthronement ceremonies in the ancient world), rather than a real enthronement. This is supported by the rituals of the Mandeans, an Iraqi Gnostic group that still exists today, and whose baptism ceremony has many striking parallels to its Sethian counterpart.

Mandaean baptism involves immersion in a river several times, drinking from the water,
crowning with a myrtle wreath, sealing with specific angelic and divine names, anointing with
oil, and a ritual handshake on leaving the water (among other steps I have not mentioned here). It is thus quite probable that Sethian and Mandaean rituals can be traced back to a common source. The oil used in the anointing was most likely aromatic oil or balsam, or olive oil mixed with myrrh. Some scholars have proposed that the anointing involved a sealing of the 5 organs of sense as symbolic of the 5 Seals.

- The complete rite may be recomposed as follows:
- First, the initiate was ritually ‘stripped’ of certain garments, which symbolized his material and psychic existence.
- In the preliminary rite of ‘the renunciation’, he received secret names and signs to protect him against the Archons. This may have been during a visionary ascent through the Lower Aeons, which was recited aloud with the aid of a sacramental text. Otherwise, the demons and Archons may have been cursed aloud and execrated (as still occurs in the Roman Catholic rite of baptism, where ‘enrobing’ also occurs).
- In the preliminary rite of ‘the invocation’, more names and signs were recited to gain the protection of the angels. This would also have been during a visionary ascent through the Upper Aeons. Otherwise, the initiate would have confessed his belief in the existence of the angels.
- Since Gnostics practised multiple baptisms, the initiate may have been baptized a first time at the end of the renunciation, and second time at the end of the invocation, to prepare him for a third and final baptism.
- The final baptism was experienced as an immersion into the watery light of the Upper Aeons. The initiate may have received a special sign or signet, which symbolized that his unique image had been ‘sealed’ or impressed in the watery light that moment. Through this image, the Father would reflect upon himself. The initiate may also have received a special name, which symbolized that the Father himself had uttered this name to name himself.
- Along with an image and a name, the initiate also received his ‘garment of light’. This garment would protect him for the rest of his life in this world and also during his ascent through the aeons after his death.
- Since baptism was understood as an immersion in the watery light of the Upper Aeons, the initiate emerged from the glowing baptismal waters with his ‘garment of light’. Such a baptism was interpreted, at the same time, as a union or marriage with the light in the Bridal Chamber. The initiate was seen to be the feminine soul and the Father was the masculine light. These two were ‘united in the Bridal Chamber’, and from that time onward, the soul wore the ‘garment of light’ in remembrance of her union with the Father. Hence, the rite of the Bridal Chamber may have followed the baptism, in the form of a ritual kiss to welcome the initiate into the community of Gnostics. 
- In conjunction with the baptism, the initiate may have been anointed with holy oil in the rite of the chrism. 
- At the end, the rite of the eucharist may have been celebrated with all those present. 
- In this way five different rites were granted over the course of one complex rite, which granted the initiate Five Seals: the redemption, baptism, bridal chamber, chrism and eucharist. The initiate emerged from this rite with a name, an image, and a garment of light.

- In the Acts of Thomas, Judas Thomas performs four of the rites mentioned above: chrism, baptism and the eucharist, as well as the enrobing. Through this complex rite, the initiate (a woman named Mygdonia) receives her ‘seal’: “And when Narcia had brought these things, Mygdonia stood before the apostle with her head bare; and he took the oil and poured it on her head, saying: Thou holy oil given unto us for sanctification, secret mystery whereby the cross was shown unto us, thou art the straightener of the crooked limbs, thou art the humbler (softener) of hard things (works), thou art it that showeth the hidden treasures, thou art the sprout of goodness; let thy power come, let it be established upon thy servant Mygdonia, and heal thou her by this freedom. And when the oil was poured upon her he bade her nurse unclothe her and gird a linen cloth about her; and there was there a fountain of water upon which the apostle went up, and baptized Mygdonia in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And when she was baptized and clad, he brake bread and took a cup of water and made her a partaker in the body of Christ and the cup of the Son of God, and said: Thou hast received thy seal, get for thyself eternal life. And immediately there was heard from above a voice saying: Yea, amen. And when Narcia heard that voice, she was amazed, and besought the apostle that she also might receive the seal; and the apostle gave it her and said: Let the care of the Lord be about thee as about the rest.” (Acts of Thomas 121)


  1. Many of the recovered Sethian Gnostic Texts treat the Seals as actual occult or mystical design, the book linked below presents quite a few examples.