Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Sethians were a Gnostic sect that emerged around the 1st century C.E. and were active until at least the 4th century CE. They took their name from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve in the Hebrew Bible, whom they regarded as a divine figure who was later associated with Christ. The Sethians believed in a complex cosmology that involved multiple levels, or Aeons, of reality; with the ultimate goal being liberation from the material world and ascent to the highest level of enlightenment, or gnosis. They also held a dualistic worldview, in which the material world was seen as inherently flawed and corrupt while the spiritual realm was seen as perfect and pure.

One of the distinctive features of the Sethian system was their use of a range of mythological and symbolic motifs drawn from a variety of religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and a mix Graeco-Egyptian and Roman mythology and philosophy. They believed that this eclectic mix of symbolism allowed them to express their gnosis in ways that were accessible to people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The Sethian movement was not monolithic, and there were likely many variations in its beliefs and practices across different communities and periods. However, it is clear that the Sethians were an important and influential group within early Christianity and played a role in the development of Gnostic thought and practice. Gnostic scholar Andrew Phillip Smith (2009) even writes:

“The classic Gnostics, and those to whom the word can be applied with the least controversy, were the group known to modern scholars as the Sethians . . .” and that “[t]here is some evidence that the Sethians were not initially Christian but originated as a heterodox Jewish group.”

Smith, A. P. (2009). A Dictionary of Gnosticism. Quest Books.

One recurring theme in Gnostic literature is the use of symbolic language and hidden knowledge to communicate spiritual truths to initiates. While its precise origins are unknown, the divine name Baktiotha is one such mystical phenomenon that has captured the attention of scholars for generations, and there is a growing consensus among experts that the name can be traced to the Sethians. This belief is supported by references to divine names and figures in Coptic magical texts from the period that were essential to Sethian ideas, and which provide strong evidence that the name held special significance for Sethian practitioners, possibly as a divine epithet or invocation. Additionally or alternatively, it may provide evidence of Sethian and other Gnostic influence on magical practices that lingered on in the centuries that followed the eradication of Sethian groups.

Overview of Sethian Magic

The Sethians were known to have practiced magic as part of their religious and spiritual practices, as inferred from their writings. Like other Gnostic groups, the Sethians believed in the power of spiritual knowledge or gnosis to liberate the soul from the material world and achieve union with the divine. One of the ways that the Sethians sought to attain this gnosis was through ritual practices that involved various forms of magic, such as the use of amulets, incantations, and invocations. These rituals were often intended to invoke powerful spiritual forces or entities and to establish a connection between the practitioner and the divine realm.

Gnostic scholar April D. DeConick has also written about how Sethian Gnostics used magic for practical purposes in their everyday lives. In her book “The Gnostic New Age: How a Countercultural Spirituality Revolutionized Religion from Antiquity to Today” (2016), she shows how the Sethians drew on various sources for their magic, including Greek and Egyptian traditions. For example, she demonstrates how Gnostic groups, including the Sethians, used magical vowel chants “to maintain order in the universe, to heal their bodies, and to compel powerful divinities to do their bidding.” Throughout the book, DeConick also shows that Gnostic conduct, including magical practice, was not just about personal gain, but also had ethical and social dimensions.

Like many other ancient people, the Sethians believed that magic could be used for a wide range of purposes, including healing, protection, love spells, and divination, as evidenced in Sethian Coptic magical texts. Other texts include references to protective amulets and incantations designed to ward off evil spirits or malevolent forces. The Sethian texts also contain references to magic and magical practices, including the use of secret names and formulas, the invocation of angels and demons, and the manipulation of various symbolic and ritual objects. Some of these practices were likely influenced by earlier Jewish and pagan traditions, while others reflect the unique cosmology and symbolism of Sethian thought.

Overall, the Sethians believed in the power of spiritual knowledge to liberate the soul from the material world and achieve union with the divine, and the Sethian writings are replete with allusions to magic and various magical practices both for coping with and transcending the material world.

Sethian Magical Texts

While the relationship between the Coptic Magical Papyri and Sethian Gnosticism is complex and multifaceted, there is clear evidence of reciprocal Sethian influence between many of the magical texts in the collection. This influence can be seen in the use of specific names, symbols, and ritual actions that are associated with Sethian cosmology and mythology. For example, the Coptic magical texts and authentic Gnostic texts, such as those found in the Nag Hammadi Library, both contain features reminiscent of the Sethians, such as the use of Greek vowels, cosmologies featuring hybrid animal-human beings, and peculiar names like Abrasax and the less common Sethian Luminaries: Davithe, Eleleth, Oriael, and Harmozel. Some scholars argue that this is likely due to a shared cultural background rather than textual dependence; however, Iain Gardner suggests that one specific Coptic magical text, P.Macq. I 1, may have a closer relationship with Sethian ritual because of its inclusion of an invocation to this mysterious Baktiotha (Dosoo, 2015)

The P. Macq. I 1 is one of several magical texts stored at the MacQuarie University in Sydney, Australia, and contains a spell or incantation that invokes the name Baktiotha along with other names and phrases in order to protect against various forms of harm or danger. The manuscript likely dates to the 5th or 6th century C.E. and contains a series of spells and incantations aimed at achieving various goals, such as for love, curing illnesses, warding off evil spirits, and protecting against harm. Interestingly, following the invocation to Baktiotha, the manuscript includes an invocation to “the Barbelo, the living Sophia, who was filled from the two loins of the father and has begotten for us a perfect living Man.” (Trompf, 2004) The text also features an invocation to Sabaoth, referred to as the “king of all aeons,” and mentions the existence of the “four great lights.” Lastly, it includes a version of the invocation of the Incorruptible Child which refers to “Seth, the living Christ.” (Trompf, 2004)

According to the manuscript’s translators, Choate and Gardner, this particular codex appears to have been written before all Sethian invocations were purged from magical texts, as this would have been carried out as part of a broader process of suppressing Gnostic ideas competing with orthodox Christianity. Gnostics were often seen as heretics by orthodox Christians, and their teachings were condemned by various church councils. (Dosoo, 2019).

The London Oriental Manuscript 5987, also known as the “Coptic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden,” contains a Coptic magical text that includes an invocation to Baktiotha. This manuscript likely dates to the 6th or 7th century C.E. and is currently housed in the British Museum. (Meyer & Smith, 1999) Like the P. Macq. I 1 manuscript, it contains a series of spells and incantations aimed at achieving various goals, such as healing illnesses, protecting against harm, and ensuring success in love. In addition to the invocation to Baktiotha, the text includes invocations to other deities, including Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and various angels and saints. The use of Christian imagery alongside traditional Egyptian religious elements is a common feature of Coptic magical texts from this period.

Korshi Dosoo is an accomplished researcher with a keen interest in the subject of magic and lived religion in Egypt. He currently works as the junior research group leader for the project, “The Coptic Magical Papyri: Vernacular Religion in Late Antique and Early Islamic Egypt,” at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg. We’ve already discussed some of his research, now let’s take a closer look.

The Astrological-Messianic Origins of Baktiotha

In his article Baktiotha: The Origin of a Magical Name in P.Macq. I 1, Dosoo examines the origins and meanings of the name, proposing a connection to the decans, groups of stars used in ancient Egyptian astrology. According to Dosoo, “Baktiotha” may have been derived from the Greek word “dekate,” meaning “decade,” and he explores its astrological associations with the sun, moon, and planets. Although “Baktiotha” cannot be linked directly to a single mythological figure, the name and attributes place the figure within a broad cosmological scheme widely recognized in the Mediterranean world during late antiquity. The invocation implies that Baktiotha is situated above the serpents, which suggests that it may be an angelic being whose power restrains that of the decans – stellar powers associated with malevolent forces such as fate, death, and disease. Being the first entity called upon in the invocation, Baktiotha would be the master of the liminal space between the air and the abyss, similar to the unnamed entity controlling the underworld’s iron bolt in two similar invocations – also linked to two and three decans, respectively.

And according to Dr. Stephen Skinner’s book Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magical, astrology played a significant role in the magical practices of the Graeco-Egyptian tradition, as evidenced by the use of astrological concepts and methods in the Greek Magical Papyri. The magical spells and rituals in the papyri often incorporate astrological symbols, planetary correspondences, and timing based on the positions of the stars and planets. The papyri also include instructions on using astrological techniques to identify the best times for performing certain rituals, as well as to enhance the potency of magical workings. The use of astrological timing in magical practices was intended to enhance their potency and effectiveness, and the astrological associations of Baktiotha with the sun, moon, and planets could suggest that its invocation was similarly timed for greater efficacy. Additionally, the idea that Baktiotha may be an angelic being with the power to restrain malevolent forces could suggest that its invocation was associated with specific astrological configurations that could help counteract or mitigate those forces.

In “Ancient Christian Magic,” Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith discuss the connection between Baktiotha and Christ as described by the German scholar Angelicus Kropp. According to Kropp, the name Baktiotha can be traced back to the Hebrew word for “firstborn,” which is “bekhor.” In his book “Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte,” Kropp suggests that Baktiotha may have been an early Christian attempt to translate the concept of “firstborn” into a magical name or symbol that could be invoked for protection or exorcism. Perhaps the name Baktiotha could be related to other names or titles used for Christ in early Christian and Gnostic texts, such as the Greek word “Logos,” or represent a distinct aspect of Christ’s nature or identity, perhaps emphasizing his role as a revealer of hidden truths or as a guide to spiritual enlightenment.

If Baktiotha was indeed an early Christian attempt to translate this concept into a magical name or symbol, this could suggest that Christ was seen as a powerful figure whose protection could be invoked for magical purposes. Even the astrological associations of Baktiotha with the sun, moon, and planets could also suggest a connection to Christ, who is also often associated with the light of the world and the movements of the heavens in Christian theology. Therefore, the discussion of Baktiotha’s origins and associations could shed light on both the magical and theological practices of Gnostics and early Christians and their relationship to the larger Graeco-Egyptian syncretism.

Other Similarities to the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM)

The rituals described in P. Macq. I 1 share many similarities with other spells and rituals found in the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), indicating that it was part of a broader magical tradition practiced in ancient Greece and Egypt. The elements mentioned in these rituals appear in various other spells contained in the PGM. The use of phylacteries, or protective amulets worn on the body, is common in many magical traditions and can be found in several spells in the PGM. Similarly, the use of offerings such as mastic, frankincense, and styrax, as well as the practice of purifying oneself through washing and ritual practices, appears in many PGM spells.

One of the main similarities is the use of ritual actions and objects, such as amulets, incantations, and magical formulae. Both collections of texts rely heavily on ritual actions and the manipulation of material objects to achieve their desired effects. Another similarity is the invocation of divine or supernatural forces, including gods, angels, and demons. In both collections, the magician seeks to establish a connection with these forces through various means, such as prayer, offerings, and invocations, in order to gain their assistance in achieving their goals.

Finally, both collections of texts share a belief in the power of words and symbols to effect change both in the psychospiritual realms, and in the material world. As the Hermeticists might say, “as above, so below; as below, so above.” Overall, the use of powerful names, symbols, and spells is a common feature between the P. Macq. I 1 collection and other Coptic magical texts, and the PGM, reflecting a belief in the ability of language and symbolism to manipulate reality.

P. Macq. I 1 Invocation as a Shortened Version of the London Oriental Manuscript 5987

Is it possible that the invocation to Baktiotha found in P. Macq. I 1 is a shortened version of the invocation found in the London Oriental Manuscript 5987? One argument in favor of the idea that the two manuscripts draw from a common source text, or a heritage of Gnostic ideas from the Sethians, is the presence of shared themes and concepts; in that, both invocations mention several figures who are central to Gnostic cosmology, such as “Barbelo,” “Sabaoth,” and “Sophia.” As we have already noted, these figures also appear in other Gnostic texts, suggesting that they were part of a broader set of ideas and motifs within the Gnostic tradition.

In addition, scholars have noted that some of the language used in the P. Macq. I 1 invocation resembles phrases found in other Gnostic texts, including the Nag Hammadi library. This suggests that the invocation may have been influenced by broader Gnostic trends and ideas, rather than being an isolated composition. Both texts employ a cosmological framework that distinguishes between higher and lower realms, with the invocation seeking to bring down divine power from the higher realm into the earthly plane. This framework is characteristic of many Gnostic texts, indicating a shared heritage of ideas and themes.

While there is currently no consensus among experts regarding the potential connection between the two invocations, it seems the evidence would suggest that they likely draw from a common source text, or texts, based on the broader tradition of Gnostic ideas. Moreover, it is a plausible explanation that the invocation to Baktiotha found in P. Macq. I 1 represents a shortened version of the invocation found in the London Oriental Manuscript 5987. The similarities in language, structure, and content between the two invocations are too significant to be mere coincidence. Perhaps more research or ancient textual discoveries will shed more light on this hypothesis.

Common Divine or Metaphysical Source?

Caveat: While it is natural to be curious about the origins of historical texts and to speculate about shared sources of inspiration or knowledge, it is important to approach the following ideas with caution. Readers should be careful when synthesizing such ideas and incorporating them into their own worldview. It is always important to critically evaluate sources of information and consider alternative perspectives before accepting any theory or speculation as fact.

It is not uncommon for lay persons and scholars alike to speculate that certain ideas or texts may have had a common source of inspiration or influence, sometimes even possibly divine or metaphysical in nature. In the case of the P. Macq. I 1 and London Oriental Manuscript 5987 invocations, one could speculate that both texts drew from a shared pool of inspired or revealed knowledge, rather than one text directly influencing the other.

For example, Stephan Hoeller, a prominent Gnostic scholar and author, has written extensively about the connections between Gnosticism and other ancient spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Neoplatonism (2002). Hoeller argues that these traditions share a common worldview and set of beliefs, which suggests that they may have been influenced by a common source. He also notes that many Gnostic texts contain themes and ideas that are similar to those found in other ancient spiritual texts, such as the concept of an inner divine spark or the idea that the material world is illusory (Hoeller, 2002).

Regarding this idea, the pioneering depth psychologist (and Freud’s protégé), Carl Jung believed that there was a collective unconscious that contained inherited psychological knowledge shared by all humans. He described it as a storehouse of instinctual memories and experiences, going back to our ancestral past. He believed that the collective unconscious could be accessed through dreams, myths, and symbols. While working with respected physicists, Jung also introduced the concept of synchronicity, which he defined as meaningful coincidences that cannot be explained by cause and effect. He saw these events as indications of underlying patterns in the universe that connected mind and matter. Jung suggested that synchronicities often occur when an individual is going through a significant psychological transformation or facing a major life decision. In essence, Jung’s theories suggest that there is a deeper layer of reality than what can be observed directly, and that we can tap into this reality through introspection and paying attention to the signs and symbols around us. Additionally, Sir Roger Penrose has proposed several ideas on the nature of consciousness that challenge traditional views, including the suggestion that that consciousness arises from deeper levels of reality, beyond the physical world, proposing that the brain acts as a kind of receiver or filter for consciousness, which exists in a more fundamental level of the universe.

While these ideas do not relate directly to the P. Macq. I 1 or London Oriental Manuscript 5987 invocations, or any other alleged “inspired” text, they do suggest a larger framework for considering the possibility of shared sources of inspiration or knowledge that is exciting to contemplate. Ultimately, however, it is up to each individual to weigh the evidence and decide the truth or falsity of the information and ideas presented.

The Quest for Knowledge Continues

The Sethians were known to practice magic as part of their religious and spiritual practices, including various forms of chanting and divine invocations, including the divine name Baktiotha, which may have served as a means of accessing the protective power of the heavens, as embodied by the decans and their astrological associations. In-depth study of the name can also shed light on the interplay between Greco-Egyptian magic, early Christian theology, and Gnostic thought and practice. Unfortunately, little more is currently known regarding Baktiotha and Sethian magical practices and further study and research will be needed to better understand these ancient mythical phenomena.


DeConick, A. D. (2016). The Gnostic new age: How a countercultural spirituality revolutionized religion from antiquity to today. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dosoo, K. (2015). Baktiotha: The origin of a magical name in P.Macq.I 1. Journal of Coptic Studies, 17, 129-139

Dosoo, K. (2019). Religion in the Coptic Magical Papyri IV: Sethian Gnosticism and Magical Texts. Coptic Magical Papyri. Retrieved from

Dosoo, K. (2019). Religion in Coptic Magic V: Magic and Gnostic Ritual. Coptic Magical Papyri. Retrieved from

Hoeller, S. (2002). Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing. Quest Books.

Kropp, Angelicus M. (1972). Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte. Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz.

Meyer, Marvin W., and Richard Smith (1999). Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power. Princeton University Press.

Skinner, S. (2014). Techniques of Graeco-Egyptian Magic. Golden Hoard Press.

Smith, A. P. (2009). A Dictionary of Gnosticism. Quest Books.

Trompf, G. W. (Ed.). (2014). The Gnostic World. Routledge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *