A great chasm had yawned in Christianity between the Gnostics, who believed enlightenment was achieved through knowledge, and the Ascetics, who felt salvation could only be obtained through abstention from earthly indulgence.
While many Gnostics believed in self-control of the senses and moderation, others went the opposite direction, toward total sensual liberation and intoxication, and those sects would attract significant attention much later in history.
Irenaeus identified Simon the Magus as the primary spigot of Christian disinformation, who had infected the world with false teachings. Simon had been one of the most popular teachers of his time and founded a Gnostic sect in Alexandria.
I love Simon’s architecture of the hidden dimensions with its seven realms, just like chakras. Buddhism, Zorastrianism, Christianity in multiple forms, and Judaism, all existed simultaneously with the old pagan religions at this point in history, and although paganism is the state religion of Rome practiced by the imperial family, freedom for most religions continues for another 70 years inside the empire, with the exception of some isolated pogroms.
Simon has been so viciously treated by the establishment press of his day, it makes me certain he was a very wise and compassionate man with a flair for the dramatics of enchantment. I think of him more like Wavy Gravy than Aleister Crowley.
But in fact, “simony” is named for Simon the Magus, and many sorcerers claim him as their roots. His death reminds me of what happened to James the Just in Jerusalem, as he was lured to Rome to prove his powers, and then taken to a great height and told to fly, and ended up falling to his death. According to Paul, he claimed he could fly, but that sounds highly unlikely for such a wise man unless he was on really powerful mushrooms, in which case he shouldn’t have been up so high in the first place. I believe Simon’s death was a case of murder, and, as usual, Paul is at the scene and approving of the results, while Peter gets credit for making it happen through the power of prayer, so he was most likely the one who pushed him.
But Irenaeus reserved his most savage attacks for his own contemporary at the time, the Gnostic Valentinius, who had become the most popular Christian teacher in Rome, and claimed to have received secret knowledge from Paul himself. Valentinius had been a leading candidate for Bishop of Rome, but had been so insulted when he was passed over that he quit the church and started his own, taking his congregation with him. Very little of his writings survived, although some attribute the Gospel of Truth to him.