A Gnostic sect which evolved during the second century AD. and existed for several centuries afterwards. The name, or word, was derived from the Greek ophis, meaning “serpent, and relates to the great reverence which the Ophites had toward the serpent. The members progressed through full-fledged initiation ceremonies that included symbols for purity, life, spirit and fire. The entire system of the sect appears to be a combination of the mysteries of the Egyptian goddess Isis, concepts of oriental mythology, and early Christian doctrine.
According to the theologians Origen, Irenaeus and others, the essence of the Ophitic Doctrine was that the God of the Old Testament was a misanthropic deity from whose power mankind had to be liberated. From this point of view the serpent in the Garden of Eden was a benefactor to mankind when he urged Adam and Eve to revolt against such a God. Therefore, other enemies of Jehovah in the Old Testament became heroes of the sect.
As a mark of reverence for the serpent, it was reported, the snake took part in the sect’s communion service. The following was reported by Epiphanius (fourth century Church Father) who called the service abominable. The snake was kept in a chest known as the cista mystica. At the beginning of the service the snake is summoned out. He then rolls among the loaves of bread which are on the table after which are broken and eaten. Following this each of those present kiss the snake on the mouth for it has been tamed by a spell. They have then fallen down and worshipped the snake as a part of the Eucharist service. They claimed they have sent forth a hymn to the Father, and thus concluded their mysteries. A.G.H.