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The Gnostic Society Library

Thrice-Greatest Hermes - Volume 2

by G.R.S. Mead


LXIII. 1. The sistrum (σεῖστρον) also shows that existent things must be shaken up (σείεσθαι) and never have cessation from impulse, but as it were be wakened up and agitated when they fall asleep and die away.

2. For they say they turn aside and beat off Typhon with sistra,—signifying that when corruption binds nature fast and brings her to a stand, [then] generation frees her and raises her from death by means of motion.

3. Now the sistrum has a curved top, and its arch contains the four [things] that are shaken. For the part of the cosmos which is subject to generation and corruption, is circumscribed by the sphere of the moon, and all [things] in it are moved and changed by the four elements—fire and earth and water and air.

4. And on the arch of the sistrum, at the top, they put the metal figure of a cat with a human face, and at the bottom, below the shaken things, the face sometimes of Isis and sometimes of Nephthys,—symbolising by the faces generation and consummation (for these are the changes and motions of the elements), and by the cat the moon, on account of the variable nature, 2 night habits, and fecundity of the beast.

p. 345

5. For it is fabled to bring forth one, then two, and [then] three, and four, and five [at a birth], and then adds one by one until seven; 1 so that in all she brings forth eight-and-twenty, the number of lights of the moon.

6. This, however, is probably somewhat too mythical; anyway, the pupils of its eyes seem to become full and dilate at the full-moon, and to contract and shut out the light during the wanings of that luminary.

7. And by the human face of the cat is signified the intellectual and reasonable nature of the changes that take place in connection with the moon.


344:2 τὸ ποικίλον. King translates this “pied colour,” and deduces that “the original colour of the cat was tabby”; but, as the school-boy says, I don’t see it.

345:1 More “Physiologus”; or rather, there was a mystical theory about other things which was adapted to a popular natural history of the cat, and then the fable was cited as “proof” of the original theory.

Next: The True “Logos,” again, according to Plutarch