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Sexuality and sexual symbolism in hermetic and gnostic thought and practice (second–fourth centuries)

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Chapter Summary

This first chapter deals with two broad, variegated, and partly interconnected religious currents that both flourished in Late Antiquity and emphasized the importance of spiritual knowledge ( gnosis). One of them is known as Hermetism, and the other is usually called Gnosticism. The hermetic current claimed to transmit the teachings of the ancient Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus. The gnostic current was characterized by a strong emphasis on the esoteric and salvific character of the spiritual knowledge it claimed to possess. This chapter also concentrates on the hermetic views of sexuality, as expressed in the Poimandres and the Asclepius, and on the sexual practices of the gnostic sect of the Borborites. An analysis of the hermetic views on sexuality and sex demonstrates the great variety of opinions and practices that went under the umbrella of ancient Hermetism.

Keywords: (Second-fourth Centuries); Asclepius; Borborites; Gnostic Thought; Gnosticism; Hermes Trismegistus; Hermetism; Poimandres; Sexual Symbolism; Sexuality

10.1163/ej.9789004168732.i-544.11
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