AskDefine | Define demiurge

Dictionary Definition

demiurge n : a subordinate deity, in some philosophies the creator of the universe

User Contributed Dictionary

see Demiurge



  1. Something (as an institution, idea, or individual) conceived as an autonomous creative force or decisive power.
    that too was a gain in spiritual balance, provided the machine was not conceived as a demiurge that ruled all other human needs — Lewis Mumford


Extensive Definition

Demiurge the Latinized form of Gk. demiourgos (δημιουργός), lit. "public or skilled worker" (from demos "common people" + ergos "work") and hence a "maker", "artisan" or "craftsman". In later philosophical and religious language it became a term for a creator deity, responsible for the creation of the physical universe.
In the sense of a divine creative principle as expressed in ergon or en-erg-y, the word was first introduced by Plato in Timaeus, 41a (ca. 360 BC). It subsequently appears in a number of different religious and philosophical systems of Late Antiquity besides Platonic realism, most notably in Neoplatonism. In Neoplatonism Plotinus identified the demiurge as nous (divine mind), the first emanation of "the One" (see monad). Neoplatonists personified the demiurge as Zeus, the high god of the Greeks.
The term also appears in Gnosticism and within Gnosticism, the material universe is seen as evil or at least created by a lesser and or inferior creator deity.
The Gnostics attributed much of the actions and laws that in the Tanach or Old Testament are attributed to the Hebrew God Yehovah referred to as the Demiurge (see the Sethians and Ophites). Alternative Gnostic names for the Demiurge, include Yaldabaoth, "Samael", "Saklas", and "Kosmokrator", and several other variants. He is known as Ptahil in Mandaeanism. The figures of the "Angel of YHWH" and the "Angel of Death" may have contributed to the Gnostic view of the Demiurge.

Platonism and Neoplatonism

Plato has the speaker Timaeus refer to the demiurge frequently in the Socratic dialogue Timaeus circa 360 BC. The title character refers to the demiurge as the entity who “fashioned and shaped” the material world. Timaeus describes the Demiurge as unreservedly benevolent and hence desirous of a world as good as possible. The world remains allegedly imperfect, however, because the demiurge had to work on pre-existing chaotic matter.
Plato's Timaeus is a fleshing out of Hesiod's cosmology, from Hesiod's work Theogeny reconcilling Hesiod to Homer, in a dialectical discourse between Timaeus and the other guests at a gathering, in the dialog of Timaeus (see also Plato's Symposium). The concept of artist or creator and even the Platonist conflict between the poet and philosopher (see Plato's The Republic) has a link in Plato's expression of the demiurge in his works.
For Neoplatonist writers like Plotinus, however, the demiurge represents a second cause (see Dyad). The first and highest aspect of God is the One, the source or the Monad. The Monad emanated the Nous, which Plotinus referred to figuratively as the demiurge. In this he claimed to reveal Plato's true meaning, a doctrine he learned from Platonic tradition that did not appear outside the academy or in Plato's text. Plotinus also elucidates the equation of matter with nothing or non-being in his Enneads which is to express the concept of idealism in connection with the nous or contemplative faculty within man. This tradition of creator God as nous can be validated in the works of pre Plotinus philosophers such as Numenius. As well as a connection between Hebrew cosmology and the Hellenic Platoistic one (see also Philo).
The Demiurge of Neoplatonism is the Nous (mind of God), and is one of the three ordering principles:
  • arche (Gr. "beginning") - the source of all things,
  • logos (Gr. "word") - the underlying order that is hidden beneath appearances,
  • harmonia (Gr. "harmony") - numerical ratios in mathematics.
Before Numenius of Apamea and Plotinus' Enneads, no Platonic works ontologically clarified the Demiurge from the allegory in Plato's Timaeus. The idea of Demiurge was, however, addressed before Plotinus in the works of Christian writer Justin Martyr who built his understanding of the demiurge on the works of Numenius.
In relation to the Gods familiar from mythology the Demiurge is identified as Zeus within Plotinus' works.


The figure of the Demiurge also emerges in the theoretic of Iamblichus (a Neoplatonist), in which it acts as a conjunction between the transcendent, incommunicable “One”. The One or Source that resides at the summit of his system, and the material realm. Through the Neoplatonic theurgy of Iamblichus one unites with the demiurge and therefore the monad, this process and end result of return, is called henosis (see Theurgy, Iamblichus and henosis). Iamblichus' description consists of the One, a monad whose first principle or emanation is intellect (nous); between this monad and "the many" that follow it. Iamblichus posited a second, superexistent "One" that is the producer of intellect or soul ("psyche"), completing the dyad mentioned above. The former and superior "One" is further distinguished by Iamblichus as the spheres of the intelligible and the intellective; the latter sphere is the domain of thought, while the former comprises the objects of thought. Thus, a triad is formed of the intelligible nous, the intellective nous, and the psyche.
Of this intellectual triad Iamblichus assigned the third rank to the Demiurge. The figure is thus identified with the perfected or Divine nous, the intellectual triad being increased to a hebdomad. As in the theoretic of Plotinus, nous produces nature by the mediation of the intellect, so here the intelligible gods are followed by a triad of psychic gods.


Gnosticism also presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable “alien God” and the demiurgic “creator” of the material. In contrast to Plato, several systems of Gnostic thought present the demiurge as antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Being: his act of creation occurs in unconscious imitation of the divine model, and thus is fundamentally flawed, or else is formed with the malevolent intention of entrapping aspects of the divine in materiality. Thus, in such systems, the demiurge acts as a solution to the problem of evil. In the Apocryphon of John circa 200 AD, the demiurge has the name “Yaltabaoth,” and proclaims himself as God:
"Now the archon (ruler) who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas (“fool”), and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, ‘I am God and there is no other God beside me,’ for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come."


Gnostic myth recounts that Sophia (Greek, literally meaning "wisdom"), the Demiurge’s mother and a partial aspect of the divine Pleroma or “Fullness,” desired to create something apart from the divine totality, and without the receipt of divine assent. In this abortive act of separate creation, she gave birth to the monstrous Demiurge and, being ashamed of her deed, she wrapped him in a cloud and created a throne for him within it. The Demiurge, isolated, did not behold his mother, nor anyone else, and thus concluded that only he himself existed, being ignorant of the superior levels of reality that were his birth-place.
The Gnostic myths describing these events are full of intricate nuances portraying the declination of aspects of the divine into human form; this process occurs through the agency of the Demiurge who, having stolen a portion of power from his mother, sets about a work of creation in unconscious imitation of the superior Pleromatic realm. Thus Sophia’s power becomes enclosed within the material forms of humanity, themselves entrapped within the material universe: the goal of Gnostic movements was typically the awakening of this spark, which permitted a return by the subject to the superior, non-material realities which were its primal source. (See Sethian Gnosticism.)
Under the name of Nebro (rebel), Yaldabaoth is called an angel in the apocryphal Gospel of Judas. He is first mentioned in "The Cosmos, Chaos, and the Underworld" as one of the twelve angels to come "into being [to] rule over chaos and the [underworld]". He comes from heaven, his "face flashed with fire and whose appearance was defiled with blood". Nebro creates six angels in addition to the angel Saklas to be his assistants. These six in turn create another twelve angels “with each one receiving a portion in the heavens.”


Samael” literally means “Blind God” or “God of the Blind” in Aramaic (Syriac sæmʕa-ʔel). This being is considered not only blind, or ignorant of its own origins, but may in addition be evil; its name is also found in Judaica as the Angel of Death and in Christian demonology. This leads to a further comparison with Satan.


Another alternative title for the Demiurge, “Saklas,” is Aramaic for “fool” (Syriac sækla “the foolish one”).


Some Gnostic teachers (notably Marcion of Sinope and the Sethians) seem to have identified the evil Demiurge with Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, in opposition and contrast to the God of the New Testament. Still others equated the being with Satan. Catharism apparently inherited their idea of Satan as the creator of the evil world directly or indirectly from Gnosticism. However, "YHWH" is generally not used as a name of the demiurge in Gnostic texts. Yaldabaoth isn't likely from "YHWH Sabaoth" since Yaldabaoth has an "L" at the end of "ya", suggesting the name of an angel is the origin of the term. The names of most angels of Jewish origin end with the syllable "el". On the other hand, some angels were called by some YHWH because they represented God's power and authority. This was especially true of the supreme angel that represented God, who was sometimes called the "lesser YHWH". A Jewish sect of first century B.C., called the Maghariyyah, held that angels organized the world and ordained the Law. Such views may have been part of the origin of Gnostic Christian belief in the Demiurge and his archons.
Nowhere in the Old testament, or New Testament canon, is the creator of the world or the universe identified as Satan. Nor in the Old (see the Septuagint) or New Testament is the cosmos, nature or earth created by the creator referred to as evil. Rather than presenting Satan as the creator of the world as we know it, orthodox Christianity holds that the New Testament presents the view that creation has been subjected to his rule through mankind's defection from the creator Yahweh. As a result, Satan is called "the god of this world" at (2 Cor. 4:4), and John states that "the whole world lies in the grip of the Wicked One." (1 John 5:19) The vilification of the Creator of the material world is to both traditions orthodox Christian and Jewish movements, foreign and not documented as a traditional perspective.
This, in fact, is a crucial doctrine often overlooked by those who have difficulty harmonizing the goodness of Yahweh the Creator with the evil that is evident in the world (see the problem of evil).
While concepts such as syzygies (see Valentinus) and the soul and spiritual as good and the body and the material universe as evil would indeed reflect a very distinct and clear duality as it is expressed within the Sethian and other gnostic traditions (also see Mind-body dichotomy).
An example of vilifying the Creator would be to attribute the term “Kosmokrator” (found in the New Testament) to the Old Testament creator as the fallen Gnostic demiurge (see Marcion and the Cathars). If one sees the attribute of organizor of the cosmos as inherent in the concept of God, then the title “The God of this Aeon”, becomes a powerful indicator that Satan is indeed the creator. Modern-day Cathars see the epithet κοσμοκράτορας (Kosmokrator) (Koine Greek kosmokratoras (lit. "world ruler", κόσμο cosmos + κράτορας ("kratia"), which is applied to Satan in Ephesians 6:12, as a possible further indication of the creatorship of Satan and his identity with the Demiurge.
This usage would, according to some, vilify the logos as it was used by Heraclitus, meaning the ruling or guiding principle of the universe.
Some people think St. Paul's passage was referring to men of power falling under the influence of evil as in the world-rulers (since the word Kosmokrators in Ephesians is plural meaning many rulers not one ruler) of the darkness of the age this then meaning many evil rulers not just one. The Gnostics held there were several archons under the supreme archon of the cosmos, the Demiurge.

Neoplatonism and Gnosticism

Gnosticism attributed falsehood, fallen or evil, to the concept of a Creator in at least the Judeo-Christian and Hellenic paganism traditions (see Zeus and Prometheus), though sometimes the creator is from a fallen, ignorant or lesser rather than evil perspective in some Gnosticism traditions (see Valentinian). The Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus addressed within his works what he saw as un-Hellenic and blasphemous to the demiurge or creator of Plato.

Neoplatonic Criticism

Gnosticism's conception of the Demiurge was criticised by the Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus is noted as the founder of Neoplatonism (along with his teacher Ammonius Saccas), His criticism is contained in the ninth tractate of the second of the Enneads. Therein, Plotinus criticizes his opponents for their appropriation of ideas from Plato:
From Plato come their punishments, their rivers of the underworld and the changing from body to body; as for the plurality they assert in the Intellectual Realm—the Authentic Existent, the Intellectual-Principle, the Second Creator and the Soul—all this is taken over from the Timaeus. (Ennead; emphasis added from A. H. Armstrong's introduction to Ennead 2.9)
Of note here is the remark concerning the second Creator and Soul. Plotinus criticizes his opponents for “all the novelties through which they seek to establish a philosophy of their own” which, he declares, “have been picked up outside of the truth”; they attempt to conceal rather than admit their indebtedness to ancient philosophy, which they have corrupted by their extraneous and misguided embellishments. Thus their understanding of the Demiurge is similarly flawed in comparison to Plato’s original intentions.
Whereas Plato's demiurge is good wishing good on his creation, gnosticism contends that the demiurge is not only the originator of evil but is evil as well. Hence the title of Plotinus' refutation "Enneads" The Second Ennead, Ninth Tractate - Against Those That Affirm the Creator of the Kosmos and the Kosmos Itself to be Evil: [Generally Quoted as "Against the Gnostics"]. Plotinus marks his arguments with the disconnect or great barrier that is created between the nous or mind's noumenon (see Heraclitus) and the material world (phenomenon) by believing the material world is evil.
The majority view tends to understand Plotinus’ opponents as being a Gnostic sect—certainly, (specifically Sethian) several such groups were present in Alexandria and elsewhere about the Mediterranean during Plotinus’ lifetime, and several of his criticisms bear specific similarity to Gnostic doctrine (Plotinus pointing to the gnostic doctrine of Sophia and her emission of the Demiurge is most notable among these similarities).
However, other scholars such as Christos Evangeliou have contended that Plotinus’ opponents might be better described as simply “Christian Gnostics,” since several of Plotinus’ criticisms are as applicable to orthodox Christian doctrine as they are to Gnosticism. Also, considering the evidence from the time, Evangeliou felt the definition of the term “Gnostics” was unclear. Thus, though the former understanding certainly enjoys the greatest popularity, the identification of Plotinus’ opponents as Gnostic is not without some contention.
A. H. Armstrong identified the “Gnostics” that Plotinus was attacking as Jewish and Pagan in his introduction to the tract in his translation of the Enneads. Armstrong alluding to Gnosticism being a sort of Hellenic philosophical heresy of sorts, which later engaged Christianity and Neoplatonism.
John D. Turner professor of religious studies at the University of Nebraska and famed translator and editor of the Nag Hammadi library stated that the text Plotinus and his students read was Sethian gnosticism which predates Christianity. It appears that Plotinus attempted to clarify how the philosophers of the academy had not arrived at the same erroneous conclusions (such as Dystheism or misotheism for the creator God as an answer to the problem of evil) as the targets of his criticism.

Modern Philosophical views

The symptom of disconnectedness, alienation, or somnolence first expressed by Plotinus in his Against the Gnostics, was also later expressed by Eric Voegelin in his critique of Gnosticism. Voegelin as well as V. Soloviev sought to reconcile the concepts of Platonism, Neoplatonic philosophy, and gnosticism with Christianity. Soloviev, under the intent of sobornost, sought to reconcile Neoplatonic, Patristic Orthodox Christianity, gnosticism, and nihilism. Soloviev (and by proxy Dostoevsky--see Demons and the Russian Symbolist movements) represented the demiurge and or creativeness as nous and stated that to vilify the nous caused social crises, crises that manifest in scientism or positivism. Voegelin, Dostoevsky, and Soloviev among others believe that it is the vilification and or denial of the nous or man's inner experience that manifests as scientism and or positivism and causes most of the social ills that plague modern mankind.

Christian heresies


According to the heresy of Cerinthus (who shows Ebionite influence), the ancient Hebrew term Elohim, the “uni-plural name,” a name of God throughout Genesis 1, can be interpreted as indicating that a hierarchy of ancient spirits (angels or gods) were co-creators with a Supreme Being, and were partially responsible for creation within the context of a “master plan” exemplified theologically by the Greek word Logos. Psalm 82.1 describes a plurality of gods (ʔelōhim), which an older version in the Septuagint calls the “assembly of the gods”; however, it does not indicate that these gods were co-actors in creation.
Also, an abstract similarity can be found between the Logos (as applied to Jesus in the Gospel according to St John) and Plato’s Demiurge, as in John 1:1, which reads: “in the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God and the Word was God”. However, typical Christian theology identifies Jesus as the second person in the holy and undivided Trinity, thus rejecting the notion that the world was created by an ignorant or even malevolent demiurge in co-action with a separate, higher and unknowable god.

Non-Western mythologies


A figure which closely appears to resemble the Platonic Demiurge in Hinduism is Isvara, inasmuch as the Demiurge is a personal, creator God. In comparison with Brahman which equates with the transcendent and ineffable One.
Brahma, a member of the Hindu Trinity (Trimurti), figures as the creator of the universe in Hindu mythology.
In the Matsya Purana, the actual act of creating the current material universe is performed by the human Manu after its last version is destroyed in pralaya while he is rescued by Vishnu. Manu then sings/chants the universe into existence and creates the various gods along the way.

Pirahã cosmology

Among the Pirahã of Amazonas, Brazil, the demiurge Igagai recreated the world after its destruction in a cataclysm that came about when the moon was destroyed. In the cataclysm, all the animals died and all light disappeared from the world, and the higher levels of the cosmos almost fell on top of the earth. Igagai restored the structure of the cosmos, and created the animals that the Pirahã know today.

Chinese Mythology

Pangu can be interpreted as another creator deity. In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos. However this chaos began to coalesce into a cosmic egg for eighteen thousand years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of yin and yang became balanced and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant with horns on his head (like the Greek Pan) and clad in furs. Pangu set about the task of creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. This task took eighteen thousand years, with each day the sky grew ten feet higher, the Earth ten feet wider, and Pangu ten feet taller. In some versions of the story, Pangu is aided in this task by the four most prominent beasts, namely the Turtle, the Qilin, the Phoenix, and the Dragon. After the eighteen thousand years had elapsed, Pangu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his body became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became human beings all over the world. The distance from Earth and Sky at the end of the 18,000 years would have been 65,700,000 feet, or over 12,443 miles. The first writer to record the myth of Pangu was Xu Zheng (徐整) during the Three Kingdoms (三國) period.

References in popular culture

  • In the novel Deus Irae (by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny) there are implicit references to the architect of the Third World War, Carleton Leufteufel, as a demiurge, with his death resultant in temporary reversion of the desolate landscape of post-apocalyptic America. In Dick's Valis, there is a more explicit acknowledgement of gnostic theological concepts, such as the demiurge and Sophia.
  • In Jack Womack's novel Elvissey, an alternate history Elvis Presley is abducted by the Machiavellian DryCo so that he can become a messiah figure for a 21st Century religion that views the original popular entertainer as an avatar of the divine. Unfortunately for DryCo and the alternate Elvis, Valentinian gnosticism is the dominant theological framework in its Southern United States, not evangelical Christianity. Resultantly, this Elvis regards DryCo's intended role as a messianic impersonator for him as equating him with the flawed demiurge creator of the material world.
  • In the 1996 LucasArts game Afterlife, the player is referred to as the Demiurge. The goal of the game is to build and manage both a Heaven and a Hell to provide rewards and punishments for the inhabitants of the local planet.
  • In the animated series Æon Flux, the Demiurge is a god-like entity that Aeon Flux and the Monican resistance want to release into space in order to free the planet from its influence while Trevor Goodchild hopes to use the Demiurge to bring "peace" to the world in his own image. All the while, the Demiurge is using supernatural delusion to pit the two sides against each other.
  • Michael Demiurgos is a principal character in the DC/Vertigo comic book series Lucifer. In this depiction, Michael was created by Yahweh with the demiurgic power to enable the physical creation of the universe. Michael was eventually taken outside of creation by Lucifer, where he released his demiurgic power, allowing Lucifer to create a second universe. Later, Michael's daughter Elaine Belloc became the demiurge.
  • Demiurg (Демиург in Russian) is one of the primary characters of "Overburdened with Evil" (Отягощенные злом, 1988), a novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The origin of the name is referred to a Gnostic belief system, in which Demiurge is an entity that produces matter which is inherently overburdened with evil.
  • Demiurge is a central concept in the role-playing game Nine Worlds. Players portray Archons, mortals with special powers whose actions as a group represent the will of the Demiurge.
  • In the role-playing game Kult, the Demiurge is an evil being who imprisoned humanity in a world of illusions in order to keep them ignorant of their true nature and power, so that he might rule over them. At the time where the game takes place, the Demiurge has vanished and as a result the illusion-prison is crumbling.
  • Marvel Comics has an entity known as the Demiurge that was responsible for creating the life on Earth. Mating with Gaea during a demon crisis, Demiurge fathered Atum, who in turn destroyed or defeated many evil primordial gods such as Set and Chthon.
  • At the conclusion of Gary Gygax's final Gord the Rogue novel Dance of Demons, the protagonist's mentor Gellor is given the role of demiurge.
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