Part Three: Gnostic Christianity And The Prayer Circle
By Ed Tarkowski

The use of prayer circles by the world's religions is now widespread, and paralleling their rise in popularity is the practice of witchcraft. Since the circle is the very foundation of witchcraft, we need to ask: Is there a blending of the two, a connection? As we discussed in Part Two of this series, the circle is the basic form for performing witches' rituals, and is often vitally connected with some or all of these:

* "Sweeping" ceremonies to clear a sacred place for the circle ritual.

* The use of tools, such as a sword, athame, or a wand to cast a circle.

* Initiation of communication with entities from various directions (N, S, E, W, Up, Down, and Spirit.) "Spirit," which is the center of the circle, contains the elements associated with the four directions: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Up and Down, which represent the Sky or Cosmos and the Planet, turn the sacred circle into a sacred sphere.

* The circle is a cut-off place for evil, thus protecting the ceremonies within from evil while bringing unity to all things good.

* The raising of power within the circle to change consciousness, project power, receive guidance, work psychically, bring about healing in spirit, soul and/or body, and pray for own or others' needs.

* Invoking the powers of the four (or seven) directions to bring about unity in one's self as well as unity with the human race and the universe.

* Drum-beating, chanting, singing, dancing.

* Syncretism: a common theme accompanying prayer circles in indigenous ceremonies, the world's religions, and apostate Christianity.


The above list shows the variations available to those who use circles; some employ simple rituals, while others use more complicated ones. Even the circle itself can be varied by substituting church walls, one's own imagination, or an invisible circle. But the important point is that the use of the circle is now found in almost all traditions of the world's religions and cultures.

I asked above if there is a blending, or a connection, between witchcraft and the religions of the world. This needs to be asked, because Scripture tells us that magic or witchcraft will be one of the major sins rampant in the world at the return of Christ. We appear to be approaching the time when that will happen, though I would say not to expect His return tomorrow or the next day. But the Apostle Paul told us to look for the signs of His coming, the signs of the times, and we could thus be aware when the Day of the Lord was near.

John the Revelator wrote of the end-time sorceries,

Revelation 9:20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: 21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their SORCERIES, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

Sorceries here means witchcraft:

SORCERIES (Strong's) 5331. pharmakeia, far-mak-i'-ah; from G5332; medication ("pharmacy"), i.e. (by extens.) magic (lit. or fig.):--sorcery, witchcraft.

According to Revelation, Babylon will rise again to spread her sorceries throughout the world, and God says of Babylon's future demise, "for by thy SORCERIES were all nations deceived" (Revelation 18:23). It is clear that witchcraft's source is Mystery Babylon of old. If we know witchcraft is to rise again in the last days, is it then reasonable to assume that it will also make its way into the end-time apostate church? I believe it is - in part, through the prayer circle.


When I brought this subject up on my email mailing list, I received a very legitimate question from a woman named Sue: "Are we to NEVER join hands and pray together? It is almost reflex when Christians are standing around and someone asks for prayer. Thank you for any light you can shed on this." What she was referring to was gathering in a circle and holding hands for prayer. I thought her use of the word "reflex" was rather appropriate because, thinking back on my days in the Charismatic Renewal, this is what I remember to be the incentive for the practice. Sue ended her message by writing,

"The messages on prayer circles have been very revealing and a wake-up call. I, too, have seen this as very prevalent. And I, too, have had a number of unsettling experiences in a prayer circle from time to time. However, I never really knew how unbiblical it is to join in any prayer circles."

Now I want to spend some time looking for this practice in Scripture. I would imagine it's possible that those gathered at the first Pentecost may have been seated in somewhat of a circle when the Holy Spirit came as a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2-3). And it's most likely that after Paul was stoned and "the disciples stood round about him," that they stood in a circle. But these are pretty flimsy biblical evidences in support of prayer circles (Acts 14:19 20.) The question is, is the deliberate gathering into circles in order to pray found in Scripture, and if not, can a Christian take part in them?

I did some searching in Strong's Concordance, and found nothing regarding circles, except for one reference to God as the one "that sitteth upon the circle of the earth" (Isaiah 40:22.) Next, I looked up what it said about "joining hands" in prayer, but that didn't help either. Then I searched through the KJV and Strong's for various combinations of the words "join" and "hand", and "hold" and "hand." What resulted from that search turned out to be very enlightening. I found only two Scriptures regarding "joining hands," but they were not associated with prayer. They were:

Proverbs 11:21 Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.

Proverbs 16:5 Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

Here is Matthew Henry's commentary on these two verses:

Proverbs 11:21 - "Observe, 1. That confederacies in sin shall certainly be broken, and shall not avail to protect the sinners: Though HAND JOIN IN HAND, though there are many that concur by their practice to keep wickedness in countenance, and engage to stand by one another in defending it against all the attacks of virtue and justice, though they are in league for the support and propagation of it, though wicked children tread in the steps of their wicked parents, and resolve to keep up the trade, in defiance of religion, yet all this will not protect them from the justice of God; they shall not be held guiltless; it will not excuse them to say that they did as the most did and as their company did; they shall not be unpunished; witness the flood that was brought upon a whole world of ungodly men. Their number, and strength, and unanimity in sin will stand them in no stead when the day of vengeance comes. . . (1).

Proverbs 16:5 - "Note, . . . 2. The power of sinners cannot secure them against God, though they strengthen themselves with body hands. Though they may strengthen one another with their confederacies and combinations, joining forces against God, they shall not escape his righteous judgment. Woe unto him that strives with his Maker, [Prov] ch. 11:21; Isa. 45:9" (2)

Isn't it interesting that people in the Church and the world join hands today as a sign of healing, peace and brotherhood, when God says these things will not be until Jesus returns? And isn't it interesting that New Agers plan for all men to hold hands in small circles and then join the circles to form one huge global circle meant to usher in their New Age of healing, peace and community? And isn't it interesting that all of this is a rebellion against God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ? Even beyond interesting are these three stanzas from a poem by New Worlder Robert Muller, Chancellor of the University for Peace and Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations:

"My Dream 2000 by Robert Muller

"I Dream... That on 1 January 2000 The whole world will stand still In prayer, awe and gratitude For our beautiful, heavenly Earth And for the miracle of human life.

"I Dream... That young and old, rich and poor, Black and white, Peoples from North and South, >From all beliefs and cultures WILL JOIN HANDS, MINDS AND HEARTS In an unprecedented, universal Bimillennium Celebration of Life.

"I Dream... That the year 2000 Will be declared World Year of Thanksgiving By the United Nations. . . . "(3)

Muller's dream is that all people of earth will join hands in the year 2000 to bring in a new earth, or as he calls it elsewhere, "The Planet of God." (4) Is Muller's hand-holding applicable to what was shared above? I believe it is, especially because prayer circles are now a worldwide phenomena meant to usher in a global "peaceable kingdom." Government and religions alike are in rebellion against God (see Psalm 2), working toward the unity of mankind, the very essence of the prayer circle.

There are many ways to praise God and pray according to His word, but after my inquiry, it was apparent to me that these circles did not appear to be biblical. Rather, the Scriptures strongly indicated that "joining hands" is considered a symbolic act of rebellion against God by forming a confederation against Him. An example of such an end-time confederacy is found in Psalm 2, where the nations conspire together and rage against the Lord while He laughs at them.

In the two verses from Proverbs above, "hand join in hand" is defined in Strong's as below. (There is no word for "join" in the Hebrew):

HAND - 3027. yad, yawd; a prim. word; a hand (the open one [indicating power, means, direction, etc.], in distinction from H3709, the closed one); . . .

So the word means "an open hand" as an indication of "power, means, direction," and as some of the other uses of this word indicate, the joining of hands can mean "consecrate, dominion, fellowship, force, swear, terror, and draw with strength." To sum up, Matthew Henry's comments stand solidly against those who originated the practice of joining hands in a circle to pray, and I can find no such practice in Scripture. However - and this is important - when we step into a prayer circle we step into what is known to be an established occult tool used to communicate with spirits not of God.


If we study the documented history of gathering in a circle and holding hands, we find it is a ritual having nothing to do with Christianity. Prayer circles can be traced back from John Wimber's "New Beginnings" and the 1960's Ecumenical/Catholic agenda, through St. Clement of Alexandria (who brought them into the Catholic Church,) through Gnosticism, all the way back to the ancient Egyptian Mystery religion. In fact, in "Mormonism And Early Christianity," Mormon researcher Hugh Nibley states, "Conventional Christianity views the ancient prayer circles a sort of Gnostic aberration."(5)

Nibley's work is a very interesting piece of research material. His "The Early Christian Prayer Circle" first appeared in Brigham Young University Studies (1978), pp. 41-78, and can be found as Chapter 3 of the above-mentioned book. Though Nibley's research on prayer circles is phenomenal, I have to disagree with his assumption that his reference sources are truly Christian. Dr. Nibley uses apocryphal and Gnostic writings, as well as "Christian Gnostic" sources, but they do document and describe the historic aberrant beliefs of the Gnostics who tried to infiltrate the early Christian Church. I would like to share some of his documentation on prayer circles and the Circle Dance, although, obviously, I don't support the Mormon doctrine. Where possible, I use quotes from the documents Nibley mentions, rather than his own explanations. The first quote is taken from the apocryphal Acts of John (the Revelator):

"94 Now before he [the Lord Jesus-Ed.] was taken by the lawless Jews, who also were governed by (had their law from) the lawless serpent, he gathered all of us together and said: Before I am delivered up unto them let us sing an hymn to the Father, and so go forth to that which lieth before us. He bade us therefore make as it were a ring [circle-Ed.], holding one another's hands, and himself standing in the midst he said: Answer Amen unto me. He began, then, to sing an hymn and to say:

"Glory be to thee, Father.

"And we, going about in a ring [circle-Ed.], answered him: Amen. . . ."(6)

This is said to be a hymn sung by Jesus and danced by His disciples as He stood in the midst of the circle they formed at His command. Dr. Nibley continues,

"St. Augustine in his 237th Epistle quotes a slightly different version, 'a hymn . . . commonly found in the apocryphal writings,' which he gets from the Priscillians, who believed it to be 'the hymn of the Lord which he recited in secret to his disciples, the holy Apostles, according as is written in the gospels: After he recited a hymn, he ascended the mountain' (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)."(7)

Notice the idea of secrecy (a hallmark of Gnosticism) in the above passage. Amazingly, I found this hymn on a Gnostic web site as an Easter meditation, proving it is still in use today. These modern Gnostics wrote that it was "The Hymn of Jesus,' taken from the Acts of John from the early second century (perhaps as early as A.D. 130)."(8)


Nibley quotes from a seventh-century Syriac translation entitled 'The Testament of our Lord Jesus Christ as delivered orally by him to us the Apostles after his Resurrection following his death.'(9) This text describes a 2nd century prayer circle formed by participants placing themselves at the four geographical points around a bishop. The description of the ceremony was attributed to Clement of Rome, allegedly one of Rome's first bishops. Notice here that "visiting angels" are witnesses to the rite, and that those participating in the prayer circle desire unity and knowledge:

"In celebrating the sacrificial death of the Lord ([Max] Pulver calls his study 'The Round Dance and the Crucifixion'), the bishop would make the sacrifice, the veil of the gate being drawn aside as a sign of the straying of the former people; he would make the offering within the veil along with priests, deacons, authorized widows, subdeacons, deaconesses, readers and such as were endowed with spiritual gifts. As leader the Bishop stands in the middle . . . [the men and women are assigned their places, north, south, east and west, around him]. Then all give each other the sign of peace. Next, when absolute silence is established, the deacon says: 'Let your hearts be to heaven. If anyone has any ill feeling towards his neighbor, let him be reconciled. If anyone has any hesitation or mental reservations [doubts] let him make it known; if anyone finds any of the teachings uncongenial, let him withdraw [etc.]. For the Father of Lights is our witness with the Son and visiting angels. Take care lest you have aught against your neighbor. . . . Lift up your hearts for the sacrifice of redemption and eternal life. Let us be grateful for the knowledge which God is giving us.' The Bishop . . . says in an awesome voice: 'Our Lord be [or is] with you!' And all the people respond: 'And with thy spirit.'"(10)

Incidentally, the "sign of peace" and the Bishop's and people's last words are those used to end the modern Catholic Mass. But more relevent to this article is the positioning of people in assigned directions, N, S, E, and W, and the call to reconciliation in beliefs and spiritual culture. The use of the four directions is often mentioned in reference to prayer circles. In fact, people placed at the points of the four directions were considered to have formed a circle. In a footnote, Nibley refers to four other apocryphal books:

"Both First and Second Jehu contain sketches showing various arrangements of prayer circles. Other texts, e.g., the Gospel of Bartholomew and Pistis Sophia, p. 358, make it clear that the facing in four directions denotes standing in a circle."(11)

In the next quote, an apocryphal book is referred to as an "early Christian text," but it's obviously a Gnostic writing. Again, the Lord is seen in the center of the circle, leading the apostles through "secret ordinances." Nibley continues,

"In the book of 2nd Jeu, considered by Carl Schmidt to be the most instructive of all early Christian texts, the apostles and their wives all form a circle around the Lord, who says he will lead them through all the secret ordinances that shall give them eternal progression.(12) Then 'all the Apostles, clothed in their garments, . . . placing foot to foot, made a circle facing the four directions of the cosmos,' and Jesus standing at the altar [shoure] proceeded to instruct them in all the signs and ordinances in which the Sons of Light must be perfect.(13)

On a web site titled "Early Christianity and Mormonism: Gnostic Esoteric Rites" (,1997), Barry Bickmore adds to this scene from the NTA 1:258-259:

"Other Coptic gnostic works contain information about the 'mysteries' the gnostics practiced. Two good examples are the Pistis Sophia and the Two Books of Jeu. In these documents the apostles and some female disciples gather together somewhere to receive instruction in the mysteries from the risen Lord. The Pistis Sophia relates that after clothing themselves in linen garments, the participants situated themselves in a circle about Jesus, who stood at the altar. Then Jesus offered a rather strange prayer in behalf of his disciples:

"'... Thomas, Andrew, James and Simon the Canaanite were in the west, with their faces turned towards the east, but Philip and Bartholomew were in the south (with their faces) turned towards the north, but the other disciples and the women disciples stood behind Jesus. But Jesus stood beside the altar. And Jesus cried out, turning towards the four corners of the world with his disciples, who were all clothed in linen garments, and said: iao, iao, iao.... But when Jesus had said this, he said: Thou Father of all Fatherhood of the Infinite hearken unto me for my disciples' sake . . ."

Witchcraft's use of the four directions to form a circle was previously documented in Part Two, as was its use in non-Christian faiths and philosophies throughout the world. Here we see that Gnosticism within the early Church followed the same pattern.


The book of 2nd Jeu referred to "the four directions of the cosmos," and Nibley now sheds further light on this aspect. The geographical points of the prayer circle are extended to all of creation, earthly and cosmic, which correlates with the belief in witchcraft that through the use of the circle, one is "connected" to the universe in some mysterious way. Nibley states,

"Philo says that the true initiate during the rites moves 'in the circuit of heaven, and is borne around in a circle with the dances of the planets and stars in accordance with the laws of perfect music'--the music of the spheres.(14)

Later in his book, Dr. Nibley expands on the universality of this cosmic theme:

"According to the Moslem commentators, all creatures form in circles around God to be taught, suggesting the gathering of all the beasts at life-giving water holes in the desert.(15) H. Leisegang finds that throughout the ancient world the prayer circle is for the instruction of initiates.(16) We may even go beyond his range to the medicine circles of Indians all over America. Among the Plains Indians, as described by H. Storm,

"'the people all sit quietly together and learn the four harmonies of balance. Each of the people can now perceive the others, and they realize that they are all Teachers. They put their arms around each other and care for each other. Then they begin to dance towards the Flowering Tree together in a Great Circle.'"(17)

The above ties in with the connections I made (in Part Two) between the past and present history of prayer circles in Gnosticism, Witchcraft and the Indigenous cultures. Rudolph Ryser, of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, wrote how one Native American reached the same conclusion:

"'. . . . [Grand Chief George Manuel] had made a profound discovery as a result of his travels to other parts of the world and his visits with other native peoples: "We share the same vision and the same experiences and we are alike in our traditional ways." He learned that the concepts of the "Sacred Four Directions" and the "Sacred Circle" were common to nearly all native peoples he had met. The original nations throughout the world, George reasoned, are the Fourth World."(18)

As in Part One, we find here the statement that prayer circles are commonly found in indigenous cultures, and in most instances, the "Sacred Four Directions" play an important part in the functions of the circle ritual. In his voluminous research, Nibley found many references to the four directions being the starting point for various cultures' cosmological view of prayer circles. For the puposes of our study, we can see clearly in his work their non-biblical origins. According to Nibley, The Plains Indians' "four harmonies"

" . . . appear throughout the world in the ring dance. The number of those forming the circle is among the pagans almost always sixteen, as Leisegang shows; with the Christian circle it is twelve, combining the three levels and the four cardinal points.(19) In the Jewish 3 Enoch the three levels of the twelve produce rings of thirty-six. In 1 Jeu, 'At every station (or step, topos) there are twelve springs of reason . . . and in each every father has three faces, so that the fathers that encircle Setheus have 36 faces. . . . At every level (taxis) there is a treasure containing 12 heads . . . and in each topos there are always three Watchers to instruct.'(20) As might be expected, the number 360 is constantly mentioned and pedants and mystics had a field day shuffling and rearranging their cosmic circles, as did mathematicians and astronomers--our circles still have 360 degrees. If the Gnostic can tell us in a typical text that "the Nous of the universe has 12 faces and the prayer of each one is directed solely towards Him," while in the midst stands an altar upon which is the Only Begotten Word,(21) that is not so far from the impeccably orthodox Ignatius of Antioch, for whom the dance of twelve 'is in imitation of God.'"(22). . . .

Referring to the power inherent in the circle, Nibley writes,

"It is because each prayer circle is a faithful reproduction of the celestial pattern that impulses can be transmitted from one to the other by all who are in a receptive state; the thoughts of those in the circle are concentrated as in a burning glass, or, since the thing most emphasized as the indispensable requirement of the circle is the absolute purity of mind, concentration of thought devoid of any reservations or distractions, and since the communication is beamed from one Treasury of Light to others, the analogy of the laser is quite striking."(23)

"With the Fall, according to a Hebrew Enoch fragment, Adam tried his best to behold again the glory of the Shekhina, but had to settle in his fallen state for 'the circle of the Sun which all behold in glory as the sign of the Shekhina with 6000 prophets circling around it.'(24) In the various 'ascension' texts we are taken again and again through the various levels of concentric rings, 'the order [taxis] of holy angels in their ring-dances [chorostasian, lit. standing properly in a ring].' Isaiah is instructed in his Ascension not to worship at any of the six central thrones at any of the chorostasias or singing praise-circles, circles he must pass on the way up, since all the others are simply focusing their praise on 'him who sitteth in the Seventh Heaven.'(25) Such a mounting up is described by Philo:

"The soul . . . is borne ever higher to the ether and the circuit of heaven, and is carried around with the dances of the planets and fixed stars in accordance with the laws of perfect music, reaching out after . . . the patterns of the originals of things of the senses which it saw here (on earth, while) longing to see the Great King himself."(26)


Nibley quotes from an ancient text, the Kasr al-Wazz fragment, rescued from the Aswan Dam area in 1966. Again, Jesus supposedly stands in the center of a prayer circle:

"'We made a circle and surrounded him [the Lord-Ed] and he said, "I am in your midst in the manner of these little children." When we finished the hymn they all said Amen. Then he said other things and each time they must all answer Amen. "Gather to me, O holy members of my body, and when I recite the hymn, you say Amen!"'"(27)

Referring again to the book of 2nd Jeu, Nibley further describes the apostles and their wives encircling Jesus "'so that he can teach them the ordinances of the treasury of light, they being conducted by him through all the ordinances and thereby learning to progress in the hereafter.'(28) Then, writes Nibley,

"At Mary's request on behalf of the apostles the Lord specifies the progressive order of 'all ordinances (mysteria), all knowledge (instructions --sooun), seals (sphragides), tokens (psephoi), supplications (or forms of address--epikalesthai), degrees (or positions--topoi).'(29) And in the Acts of John he tells those in the circle, 'What you do not know, I myself will teach you.'(30) The whole situation centers around the Last Supper and belongs to the church from the beginning.(31)

Here we have a lord of revelation teaching a chosen few the secret ordinances which will enable them to progress in the hereafter. But these teachings are not contained in God's word as given by Jesus, the Son of God, when He was on earth. Rather, they are "revealed" apart from Scripture. That these passages describe gnostic prayer circles rather than Christian is pretty obvious, and will become more so as I continue.


The apocrypha includes many very early writings which offer alleged teachings or instructions given secretly by the risen Christ. They also contain tales concerning the apostles and their supposed desire for secret knowledge. According to the Gospel of Bartholomew, four of the apostles, curious as to how Mary conceived Jesus, tried to decide who would ask Mary the question. In this scene, note the use of the circle, the speaking in an unknown language or glossolalia, and the reference to being slain in the Spirit:

"'And Bartholomew said to Peter, "You are the President and my teacher, you go and ask her!"' But Peter says Bartholomew himself should ask, and after much hesitation he approaches Mary on behalf of the other apostles, and she agrees to enlighten them.(32)

"They form a prayer circle, 'and Mary, standing before them, raised her hands to heaven' and began to call upon the Father in an unknown language, a number of versions of which are given.

"When she finished the prayer, she said, 'Let us sit on the ground [or stand quietly, kathisomen, at the prepared place, edaphos--since it is plain that they remain standing]; come Peter, you are in charge. Stand at my right hand and place your left hand under my forearm; and you, Andrew, you do the same thing on my left side.'(33)

"John and Bartholomew are instructed to support or catch Mary if she faints, 'lest my bones fail me when I start to speak.' This mutual support in the circle is necessary where some may be caught away in the Spirit and pass out."(34)


Later, Nibley expands on the use of "unknown tongues" in conjunction with the prayer circle:

"Almost all accounts mention the introduction of the prayer as being in a strange language, a triple formula of words resembling each other. Thus in 1 Jeu after they form the circle, Jesus begins a hymn which appears to be meaningless, a speaking in tongues, a glossolalia.(35) In the Pistis Sophia also, the Lord, having formed the apostles and their wives in a circle around him and 'taking the place of Adam at the altar, called upon the Father three times in an unknown tongue.'(36) Elsewhere the text explains how while they stood 'all in white, each with the cipher of the name of the Father in his hand,' Jesus prayed in a strange language, beginning with the words Iao, aoi, oia! which, we are told, meant 'Hear me Father, the Father of all fatherhood, boundless light!' According to our source, 'This is the interpretation: Iota, because everything came out of (began with) it; Alpha because everything will return to it; Omega because everything is process (lit. the fulfilling of all fulfilling).'"(37)


"The fullest expression of that altruism by which one saves oneself in saving others is a simple but ingenious device employed in the prayer circle; it was the 'diptych,' a sort of looseleaf notebook or folded parchment placed on the altar during the prayer. It contained the names of persons whom the people in the circle wished to remember. The diptychs are among the oldest treasures preserved in the oldest churches. The name means 'folded double,' though the documents could be folded triple or quadruple as well if the list of names was very long.(38) The prayer for the people on the list was never part of the later mass but was always a litany, a special appeal for certain persons: 'By litanies one intercedes for certain classes of persons.'(39) The original diptychs were the consular diptychs, carried around by top Roman officials--the mark of the busy pagan executive in high office. According to Leclercq, when bishops became important figures in city politics, high government officials would present them with diptychs 'as flattering presents.'(40) As notebooks they were convenient and practical--just the thing for keeping and handling important lists of names, and to such a use the Christians gladly put them.(41) 'In the place of the diptychs properly so designated [those used in government business] there were substituted at an early time notebooks or leaves of parchment which one would place on the altar during the celebration of the Mass. . . . Gradually that practice [the reading of the names (out loud)] was given up, [and] the priest merely referred to all the faithful whose names were written down on the diptychs or the leaves taking the place of diptychs.'(42) The practice of laying names on the altar is of unknown origin though it is very old and, it is agreed, may well go back to the days of the apostles.(43) Confusion with the old Roman pagan custom of reading off the names of donors from such lists caused it to be repeatedly denounced by the early fathers in the West;(44) but the problem never arose in the East, and 'the laying of a small tablet containing the names is to this day the practice in the Western Syrian rite.'(45)

"At first the list of names was read aloud before being placed on the altar, but as that took up too much time (one of the surviving lists has over 350 names) the reading was phased out; 'the list could be placed on the altar without any vocal reading of the names.'(46) The common practice of scratching one's name on the altar to assure inclusion in the prayers forever after may go back to old Jewish practice, for in 3 Enoch when the ministering angels utter the prayer (the Qaddish) 'all the explicit names that are graven with a flaming style on the Throne of Glory fly off. . . . And they surround and compass the Holy One . . . on the four sides of the place of His Shekhina.' . . ."(47)

"As Cyril of Jerusalem explains it, 'In the circle we pray for those who are sick and afflicted; in short, we pray for whoever is in need of help.'(48) Cyril does not mention the list of names on the altar in this account, but he does elsewhere, referring to this very custom and specifying separate lists for the living and the dead.(49) In the Eastern churches 'they prayed mentally for the living,' while the memento for the dead was something else, requiring, of course, the actual speaking of their names at some time. The prayer uttered for those whose names were on the altar was not a fixed formula, to judge by one old rubric giving instructions: 'He (the leader) joins hands and prays for a while (no set limit); then he proceeds with his hands stretched out (extensis, extended): and all those standing in the circle join in.'"(50)


Dr. Nibley points out a similarity between Egyptian prayer circles and those described in an early apostate writing, which he refers to as "Christian":

"In the Cairo Museum, written on a huge shard of red pottery, is an ancient Coptic liturgical text which provides a remarkable link between ancient Egyptian and early Christian beliefs. It is a Christian 'Book of Breathings' with the name of Osiris (representing the initiate) replaced by that of Adam, as if the 'Egyptian Endowment' were organically linked to the Christian. Equally instructive is the predominance of the prayer circle in the text and the cosmic significance given it. As its modern editor, L. Saint-Paul Girard, notes, it has eight main divisions.(51)

"A. Calling upon God . . . "B. Solemn adjurations. Adam as the type of initiate. . . "C. The healing of the man Adam . . . "D. The breathing (Resurrection) motif . . . "E. A type of the Crucifixion . . . "F. The hymn . . . "G. Prayer circle . . . "H. Entering the Presence . . .

Nibley notes that those in some prayer circles began their prayers by raising both hands above their heads, and in the passage below, compares this to a similar Egyptian stance:

"F. Preisigke, studying the same gesture among the Egyptians (it is none other than the famous 'ka' gesture), notes that it represents submission (the 'hands up' position of one surrendering on the battlefield) while at the same time calling the attention of heaven to an offering one has brought in supplication. He also points out that the early Christians used the same gesture in anticipation of a visitation from heaven, to which they added the idea of the upraised arms of the Savior on the cross.(52)

Ancient Egyptians believed that there were eight spheres, or circles, above the earth, and that the soul was taken through these to the Ogdoad, the eighth and highest heaven above the seven spheres of the planets. Quoting Philo's description of such a journey, Nibley remarks that "Philo is attempting to combine Jewish lore with the mysteries of Egypt." Philo wrote,

"The soul . . . is borne ever higher to the ether and the circuit of heaven, and is carried around with the dances of the planets and fixed stars in accordance with the laws of perfect music, reaching out after . . . the patterns of the originals of things of the senses which it saw here (on earth, while) longing to see the Great King himself." (53)

Referencing Max Pulver, Nibley says that the eight-circle model 'occurs also in early Christianity whenever it discloses an Egyptian influence.'(54) The latter part of the following quote shows to what extent the young Church was infiltrated with the mysteries of Egypt by people such as Clement of Alexandria:

"Plutarch explains certain mysteries on the authority of the Egyptians in a combination of earthly and heavenly geography which is typically Egyptian: The worlds are so ordered that 'one always touches the other in a circle, moving as it were in a stately ring-dance,' which takes place surprisingly within a triangle, 'the foundation and common altar of all these worlds, which is called the Plain of Truth, in which lie the designs, moulds, ideas, and permanent examples or samples of all things that ever were or shall be.'(55) Some have suggested that the three-cornered plain in question is the Nile Delta,(56) and it is not surprising that Plutarch's image of things was Christianized by an Egyptian, Clement of Alexandria: 'That which Christ brings forth (is) transformed into an Ogdoad . . . and through three names is liberated as a triad. . . . When you bear the image of the terrestrial world then you also bear the image of the celestial."(57)


The purpose of today's prayer circles, in the world's New Age philosophy as well as in the Church, is to promote unity. Participants are "one," "part of a family," or joined in the "brotherhood of man." But this has always been the case with prayer circles. Nibley writes that this goal of unity extended even to unity with the dead:

"Since the purpose of the prayer circle was to achieve total unity of minds and hearts, 'keeping in mind the absent ones,' it was natural to include the dead as well as the living in remembrance. One prayed for himself 'and also for all my relatives and close associates (consanguinitate vel familiaritate) and for all the Saints of the Church of God, as well as for those who died in the faith, who are recorded in my Book of Remembrance.'" (58)

In a list of some of the common attributes of early prayer circles, Nibley points up a situation that is still true today. The unity in a prayer circle is partially created through inclusiveness (members are ordinary men and women) and exclusiveness (only those in the circle have ears to hear.) As in the witches' circle, the circle itself brings protection from evil while enabling unity through the powers of the four directions. Here are Nibley's conclusions on the characteristics of these prayer circles:

"1. It always appears as a solemn ordinance, a guarded secret and a 'mystery' for initiates only. This does not express a desire to mystify but the complete concentration and unity of the participants that requires the shutting out of the trivial and distractions of the external world.

"2. It always takes place in a special setting--the temple. Even in Christian churches of later time there is a conscious attempt to reproduce as nearly as possible the original temple situation.

"3. The words and gestures do not always make sense to outsiders--only 'he who has ears to hear' may hear, and only 'he who joins in the circle knows what is going on.' This because the prayer circles are integral parts of a longer series of ordinances that proceed and follow them; taken out of that context they necessarily seem puzzling.

"4. Though private prayer circles would seem to be out of the question (quackery, magic, and witchcraft made use of them), the members of the circle are never those of a special social rank, family, guild, or profession--they are ordinary men and women of the church, with a high priest presiding.(59)

Noting that the design of many ancient monuments was "dedicated to harnessing the power of the heavens through the prayer circle," Dr. Nibley concludes,

"There is a definite cosmic connection here. '"What is eternal . . . is circular, and what is circular is eternal,"' write Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, quoting Aristotle with the comment, 'That was the mature conclusion of human thought over millennia. It was . . . an obsession with circularity.'"(60)

___________________ Footnotes:

(1) Matthew Henry Commentary; (CAPS mine).

(2) Ibid.

(3) Countup 2000-World Peace Day, "1000 Ideas For A Better World" by Dr. Robert Muller, Chancellor, University for Peace, from the book "2000 Ideas For A Better World" (c) 1997; CAPS MINE.

(4) Dr. Robert Muller, "New Genesis: Shaping A Global Spirituality" (c) 1982 Image Books edition, Dedication Page.

(5) Hugh Nibley, "Mormonism And Early Christianity," (c) 1987, Deseret Book, p. 86.

(6) Acts of John: From "The Apocryphal New Testament," M.R. James -Translation and Notes, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924. The Gnostic Virtual Library lists this hymn and interjects, "and they moving around in a circle answered him" ("The Hymn of Jesus").

(7) Nibley, pp 46-47.

(8) The Gnosis Archive, "The Hymn of the Lord Which He Sang in Secret to the Holy Apostles, His Disciples".

(9) Nibley citing Ignatius Ephraem II Rahmani, ed., Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (Moguntiae: Kirchheim, 1899).

(10) Nibley citing Ibid. 36-37.

(11) Nibley, Footnote 19, p. 87.

(12) Nibley citing 2 Jehu, 54 (40), text in Carl Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache aus dem CodexBrucianus (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1892), 99. Cf. German tr., 193.

(13) Ibid., 66-67 (53g), in Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache, 114-17, quote from p. 114; cf. tr., 204. Both First and Second Jehu contain sketches showing various arrangements of prayer circles. Other texts, e.g., the Gospel of Bartholomew and Pistis Sophia, p. 358, make it clear that the facing in four directions denotes standing in a circle.

(14) Nibley citing Philo, De Opificioo Mundi (On The Creation) 70-71, tr. Colson (as cited in Leisegang, "The Mystery of the Serpent," 234), modified.

(15) Nibley citing F. Dieterici, ed., Their und Mensch vor dem Konig der Geniem (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1881), 2-4; cf. Clement, Episstola 1 ad Corinthios (First Epistle to the Corinthians) 20, in PG 1:249.

(16) Nibley citing Leisegang, "The Mystery of the Serpent," 244.

(17) Nibley citing Hyemeyohsts Storm, Seven Arrows (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 20.

(18) "The Legacy of Grand Chief George Manuel," Rudolph C. Ryser, Center for World Indigenous Studies.

(19) Nibley noting that especially instructive on the circles of eight and twelve, etc., is the Coptic Sophia Christi, 95-96, 107-117, 123-24, in Till, Gnostische Schriften, 230-33, 254-75, 286-89.

(20) Nibley citing 1 Jehu 10-11, in Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Spirache, 52-53; cf. tr. 151; cf. second Coptic-Gnostic Work, 10-11, in ibid., 233-34, cf. tr. 284.

(21) Nibley citing Second Coptic Gnostic Work, 8a, in Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache, 231-32.

(22) Nibley citing Pulver, 175-77.

(23) Nibley citing Second Coptic Gnostic Work, 8a, in Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache, 231-32.

(24) Nibley citing Adolf Jellinek, Bet ha-Midresch, 6 vols. (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967), 5:172 (Book of Enoch).

(25) Nibley citing Ascension of Isaiah 4:15-17, in OTP 2:162.

(26) Nibley citing Philo, On The Creation, 70-71.

(27) Nibley citing Kasr al-Wazz fragment, p. ii-end, from photographs kindly lent to the author (Nibley) by Professor Hughes at the University of Chicago at the time of their discovery in 1966.

(28) Nibley citing 2 Jeu, 54 (40), in Carl Schmidt, Gnostische Schriften in koptischer Sprache, 99; tr., 193.

(29) Nibley citing Pistis Sophia, pp. 358-360 (363-66),(Mead, 300).

(30) Nibley citing Acts of John 1:43, in NTA 2:231.

(31) Nibley: Even THOSE (originally italicized) Gnostic versions defending the proposition that Jesus did not really suffer on the cross celebrate "a pseudo passion and a pseudo death of Christ,' according to Pulver, "Jesus; Round Dance and Crucifixion," 176-78.

(32) Nibley citing A. Wilmart and E. Tissserant, "Fragments grecs et latins de; 'evangile de Barthelemy," Revue Biblique 22 (n.s. 10) (1913): 321.

(33) Nibley citing Ibid., 324.

(34) Nibley, p. 50.

(35) Nibley citing Max Pulver, "Jesus' Round Dance And Crucifixion," 175.

(36) Nibley citing Pistis Sophia, p. 358; tr. Mead, 295.

(37) Nibley citing Ibid., 375; tr. Mead, 310; 357-358; tr. Mead, 295.

(38) Nibley citing O. Stegmuller, "Diptychon," in Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1957) 3:1138.

(39) Nibley citing F. Cabrol, "Diptyques (Liturgie)," in DACL 4:1050.

(40) Nibley citing Ibid., 1095-96.

(41) Nibley citing Ibid., 1046-47; Stegmuller, "Diptychon," 1140.

(42) Nibley citing Cabriol, "Diptyques," 1061.

(43) Nibley citing Stegmuller, "Diptychon," 1138, 1147; Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1051, citing Bona.

(44) Nibley citing Stegmuller, "Diptychon," 1143; Cabrol, 1059; noting that the donor lists were unknown in the East until Constantine introduced them from Rome.

(45) Nibley citing Stegmuller, "Diptychon," 1147; cf. 1144-46.

(46) Nibley citing Ibid., 3:1147, citing the famous Bobbio Missal.

(47) Nibley citing Odeberg, 3 Enoch or the Hebrew Book of Enoch, ch. 39.

(48) Nibley citing "Dissertatio de Vita Sancti Cyrilli," 1,16, in PG 33:116.

(49) Nibley citing Ibid.; Nice phoros Callistus, HE XIV, 26-27, in PG 146:1137-4.

(50) Nibley citing Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1067.

(51) Nibley citing L. Saint Paul-Girard, "Un Fragment de liturgie magique copte sur ostrakon," Annales du Service des Antiquites de l'Egypte 27 (1927): 62-68.

(52) Nibley citing Friedrich Preisigke, Vom gottlichem Fluidum nach agyptisccher Anschauung (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1920), p. 41, note 3; p. 42.

(53) Nibley citing Philo, "On the Creation" 70-71.

(54) Pulver, 187.

(55) Nibley citing Plutarch, De Defectu Oracularum 22.

(56) Nibley: i.e., the so-called Pyramidologists. A hypocephalus like that of Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham depicts the geography of the earth as a reflection of that of heaven, with the Delta in the center.

(57) Nibley citing Clement of Alexandria (dubia), Excerpta ex Scriptis Theodoti (The Teachings of Theodotus) 80, in PG 9:696.

(58) Nibley: Quote is from Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1061; cf. Stegmuller, "Diptychon," 1140. The names in the diptych show "by this meeting of individuals the close bond of communion and love which united all the members of the church." Cabrol, "Diptyques," 1049.

(59) Nibley, pp. 82-83.

(60) Nibley citing Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet's Mill (Boston: Godine, 1977), 48-49.