The word archon [from the Greek archo, meaning to be first (in political rank or power), reign or rule over] means ruler, chief, magistrate, lord, prince, or authority. In Christian Gnostic writings, the archons are the terrible spiritual powers who rule the world and attempt to prevent the soul from returning to her divine source.
Scholar Hans Jonas, in an outline of Gnostic tenets, writes:
The universe, the domain of the Archons, is like a vast prison whose innermost dungeon is the earth, the scene of man’s life. Around and above it the cosmic spheres are ranged like concentric enclosing shells.... The spheres are the seats of the Archons.... The Archons collectively rule over the world.... As guardian of his sphere, each Archon bars the passage to the souls that seek to ascend after death, in order to prevent their escape from the world and their return to God.... It is with anxiety and dread that the soul anticipates its future encounter with the terrible Archons of this world bent on preventing its escape.
According to Church Father Epiphanius, the Gnostics believed that the archons opposed the exodus of the soul from the world because “the soul is the food of the Archons and Powers, without which they cannot live because she is of the dew from above and gives them strength.”
Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity, 2d ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), pp. 42–46, 130–36, 165–69, 200–226.
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, lecture on the Secret Book of James, August 13, 1991.
Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 32, no. 47.
Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 38, no. 40.