A Mystical Poem About You — All Souls — Remember Who You Are — The Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl
One of the greatest Gnostic texts is, The Hymn of the Pearl. As you read it, it may dawn on you that it’s a poem about you.
“The Hymn of the Pearl (also Hymn of the Soul, Hymn of the Robe of Glory or Hymn of Judas Thomas the Apostle) is a passage of the apocryphal Acts of Thomas. In that work, originally written in Syriac, the Apostle Thomas sings the hymn while praying for himself and fellow prisoners. Some scholars believe the hymn antedates the Acts, as it only appears in one Syriac manuscript and one Greek manuscript of the Acts of Thomas. The author of the Hymn is unknown, though there is a belief that it was composed by the Syriac gnostic Bardaisan due to some parallels between his life and that of the hymn…
“The hymn is commonly interpreted as a Gnostic view of the human condition, that we are spirits lost in a world of matter and forgetful of our true origin. This state of affairs may be ameliorated by a revelatory message delivered by a messenger, a role is generally ascribed to Jesus. The letter this takes on a symbolic representation of gnosis.
“The hymn has been preserved and especially treasured in Manichaeism — a version of it appears as part of a north-African Manichaean Psalm book is written in Coptic, called the Psalms of Thomas. The Hymn of the Pearl has also been admired by Orthodox Christian thinkers.” (Wikipedia)
The Song of the Pearl is a narrative poem about a prince’s quest for a pearl. Presented in the Acts of Thomas as a hymn uttered by Thomas, The Song of the Pearl is also a gnostic tale of salvation, of sleeping in error and awakening to light, of quest not only for the pearl but for the benefit of possessing the pearl: a return to the Light.
What is the pearl? As one of the alternative titles of the poem, “The Hymn of the Soul,” suggests, the pearl may esoterically be the soul. Or the pearl may be gnosis, the awakening, and the knowledge that the soul must have to move to the next level of being. Bentley Layton suggests that the prince and his quest may be the soul and its journey, the poem a tale of “the soul’s entry into bodily incarnation and its eventual disengagement from the body.” The soul on entering matter becomes inert, but once in possession of its pearl of knowledge it will waken into wisdom and reunion with “the First Principle”.
DRESSING FOR THE JOURNEY
When I was a little child living
in my father’s palace in his kingdom,
happy in the glories and riches
of my family that nurtured me,
my parents gave me supplies
and sent me out on a mission
from our home in the east.
From their treasure house
they made up a cargo for me.
It was big though light enough
so I could carry it myself,
holding gold from the highest houses
and silver of Gazzak the Great
and rubies of India
and opals from the land of Kushan,
and they girded me with adamant
that can crush iron.
They took off my bright robe of glory,
which they had made for me out of love,
and took away my purple toga,
which was woven to fit my stature.
They made a covenant with me
and wrote it in my heart so I would not forget:
“When you go down into Egypt
and bring back the one pearl
that lies in the middle of the sea
and is guarded by the snorting serpent,
you will again put on your robe of glory
and your toga over it,
and with your brother, our next in rank,
you will be heir in our kingdom.”
THE DRAGON AND THE DEEP SLEEP
I left the east and traveled down
to Egypt with my two royal guides,
since the way was dangerous and harsh
and I was very young to walk alone.
I crossed the borders of Maishan,
the gathering place of merchants of the east,
came into the land of the Babylonians,
and entered the walls of Sarbug.
When I went down into Egypt
my companions left me.
I went straight to the serpent
and settled close by him in an inn,
waiting for him to sleep
so I could take my pearl from him.
Since I was alone
I was a stranger to others in the inn,
yet I saw one of my own people there,
a nobleman from the east,
young, handsome, lovable,
a son of kings — an anointed one,
and he came and was close to me.
And I made him my confidante
with whom I shared my mission.
I warned him against the Egyptians
and of contact with the unclean ones.
Then I put on a robe like theirs,
lest they suspect me as an outsider
who had come to steal the pearl,
lest they arouse the serpent against me.
Somehow they learned I was not
their countryman, dealt with me cunningly,
and gave me their food to eat.
I fell into a deep sleep.
I forgot that I was a son of kings
and served their king.
I forgot the pearl
for which my parents had sent me.
Through the heaviness of their food
I fell into a deep sleep.
“REMEMBER THE PEARL”
When all these things happened
my parents knew and grieved for me.
It was proclaimed in our kingdom
that all should come to our gate.
And the kings and princes of Parthia
and all the nobles of the east
wove a plan on my behalf
so I would not be left in Egypt.
And they wrote me a letter
and every noble signed it with his name:
“From your father, the king of kings,
and your mother, the mistress of the east,
and from your brother, our next in rank,
and to you, our son in Egypt, peace!
Awake and rise from your sleep
and hear the words of our letter!
Remember that you are a son of kings
and see the slavery of your life.
Remember the pearl
for which you were sent into Egypt!
Remember your robe of glory
and your splendid mantle, which you may wear
when your name is called in the book of life,
when it is read in the book of heroes,
when you and your brother inherit our kingdom.”
THE BIRD OF SPEECH [SOUND]
And serving as messenger,
the letter was a letter sealed by the king
with his right hand
against the evil children of Babylon
and the savage demons of the Sarbug labyrinth.
It rose up in the form of an eagle,
the king of all winged fowl;
it flew and alighted beside me
and became Speech.
At its Voice and the Sound of its rustling
I awoke and rose from my sleep.
I took it, kissed it, broke its seal, and read.
And the words written on my heart
were in the letter for me to read.
I remembered that I was the son of kings
and my free soul longed for its own kind.
I remembered the pearl
for which I was send down into Egypt,
and I began to enchant
the terrible and snorting serpent.
I charmed him into sleep
by calling the Name of my Father over him
and of my mother, the queen of the east.
I seized the pearl
and turned to carry it to my father.
Those filthy and impure garments
I stripped off, leaving them in the fields,
and went straight on my way
into the light of our homeland in the east.
THE LETTER’S VOICE
On my way the letter that awakened me
was lying like a woman on the road.
And as she had awakened me with her voice
so she guided me with her light
as if she were an oracle.
She was written on Chinese silk
and shone before me in her own form.
Her voice soothed my fear
and its love urged me on.
I hurried past the labyrinth walls of Sarbug
and Babylon on the left
and came to Maishan, the haven of merchants,
perched over the coast of the sea.
My robe of glory that I had taken off
and the toga over it were sent by my parents
from the heights of Hyrcania.
They were in the hands of treasurers
to whom they were committed
because of their faith,
and I had forgotten the robe’s splendor,
for as a child I had left it
in my father’s house.
THE GARMENT OF GNOSIS
As I gazed on it, suddenly the garment
like a mirror reflected me,
and I saw myself apart
as two entities in one form.
The treasurers had brought me one robe,
yet in two halves I saw one shape
with one kingly seal.
They gave me wealth,
and the bright embroidered robe
was colored with gold and beryls,
with rubies and opals,
and sardonyxes of many colors
were fastened to it in its high home.
All its seams were fastened
with stones of adamant,
and the image of the king of kings
was embroidered on it
as it rippled with sapphires
of many colors.
I saw it quiver all over,
moving with gnosis, in a pulsing knowledge,
and as it prepared to speak
it moved toward me,
murmuring the sound of its songs.
It descended and said,
“I am the one who acted for him.
For him I was brought up in my father’s house.
I saw myself growing in stature
in harmony with his labors.”
THE TOGA AND THE PEARL
With regal movements
the robe was spreading toward me,
urging me to take it,
and love urged me to receive it,
and I stretched forth and received it
and put on the beauty of its hues.
I cast my toga of brilliant colors
all around me.
Therein I clothed myself and ascended
to the gate of salutation and adoration.
I bowed my head and adored
the majesty of my father, who sent it to me.
I had fulfilled his commands
and he fulfilled what he had promised.
At the gate of his princes
I mingled with his nobles.
He was happy through me and received me,
and I was with him in his kingdom,
and his slaves praised him resoundingly.
He promised me that I would journey soon
with him to the gate of the king of kings,
and with my gifts and my pearl
I would appear with him before our king.
(The Gnostic Bible, Willis Barnstone)
Simran/Sacred Names and the Gnostic Hymn of the Pearl
“And I began [then] to charm him,
The terrible loud-breathing Serpent.
I lulled him to sleep and to slumber,
Chanting o’er him the Name of my Father,
The Name of our Second, [my Brother],
And [Name] of my Mother, the East-Queen.
And [thereon] I snatched up the Pearl,
And turned to the House of my Father.”
Commentary: In the Hymn of the Pearl, three divine names were repeated to lull the serpent to sleep. Sacred names help to still the serpent-mind, making it possible to realize one’s original nature, the soul, self, atman, pearl of the soul, and the realm that is it’s true home.
More Translations of The Hymn of the Pearl Online: