Literally, the word means a flowing forth. The doctrine of emanations was a theory predominant in many of the Oriental religions, such, especially, as Brahmanism and Parseeism, and subsequently adopted by the Cabalists and the Gnostics, and taught by Philo and Plato. It assumed that all things emanated, flowed forth, which is the literal meaning of the word, or were developed and descended by degrees from the Supreme Being.
Thus, in the ancient religion of India, the anima mundi, or soul of the word, the mysterious source of all life, was identified with Brahma, the Supreme God.
The doctrine of Gnosticism was that all things emanated from the Deity; that there was a progressive degeneration of these beings from the highest to the lowest emanation, and a final redemption and return of all to the purity of the Creator. Philo taught that the Supreme Being was the Primitive Light or the Archetype of Light, whose rays illuminate, as from a common source, all souls. The theory of emanations is interesting to the Freemason, because of the reference in many of the advanced Degrees to the doctrines of Philo, the Gnostics, and the Cabalists.
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