The term is used in various Hellenistic religions and philosophies. It is best known from Gnosticism, where it signifies a knowledge or insight into humanity’s real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.
SVG trace of an image of the Abraxas Stone or Gem from The Gnostics and their remains by Charles W. King, 1887. The letters are “ΙΑΩ” or “Iao” and “ΣΕΜΕΣ ΕΙΛΑΜ”, “Eternal Sun”.
Gnosis (Knowledge) universal wisdom