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The Ogdoad

The Ogdoad The Ogdoad were the primeval forces of chaos in Egyptian mythology, represented as eight deities that existed before the creation of the sun god. The eight were considered as four couples, each embodying a different aspect of the primal world: Nun and Naunet, the god and goddess of the primordial waters; Kek and Keket, the deities of darkness; Amon and Amaunet representing invisible power; and Heh and Hehet representing infinity. Occasionally other couples were included in the Ogdoad, but eight was always the total number of deities involved.

Between and from themselves, the Ogdoad created a mound that rose from the primeval waters, and on this they formed an egg from which the young sun god emerged. Thus they were sometimes depicted as baboons heralding the first sunrise, as in this papyrus (left) from around 1350BC, showing seven of the Ogdoad and Horus, the falcon form of the sun god Ra-Harakhty. Often the Ogdoad were conceptualized as suitably primitive creatures like snakes and frogs. The site of the "Island of Flame" that saw the birth of the sun god was a place called Khemenu ("Eight Town") by the Egyptians and Hermopolis by the Greeks, and this was where the Ogdoad were principally worshipped. A piece of the shell of the cosmic egg from which the sun was born was said to be buried in a temple there.

The Gnostics and the Ogdoad

Valentinius was a prominent second century Gnostic, and he used the term Ogdoad to describe eight emanations - grouped in pairs of male/female, active/passive principles - by which Creation was effected. Initially there was the masculine principle of Bythos (the Abyss or Depth which was boundless and unqualified) from which came the feminine Silence, Grace or Thought. The uniting of these two produced Mind (masculine) and Truth (feminine). These four principles are the root of everything, bringing forth further powers called Aeons, again grouped in masculine/feminine pairs. The union of Mind and Truth brought forth Word (masculine) and Life (feminine), which together created Man (masculine) and the Church (feminine). Together, this group of eight principles formed the Ogdoad, which in turn produced further Aeons. The thirtieth of these was Sophia, the desire for wisdom, and it was the error of Sophia in not comprehending her limits that caused the Fall that made our Universe, according to Valentinian myth.

The Ogdoad and Eight

The Ogdoad is an expression of precreational infinity and always has eight as a characteristic, thus it has links with the lemniscate symbol of infinity and with the cyclical sense of eternity through the eight-spoked Wheel of the Year and the octagram. The production of all things from pairs of polar principles is analogous to yin and yang, Taoism and the eight trigrams of the I Ching.

Lemniscate Octagram Yin-Yang