The World’s Soul is a Woman – The Gnostic Myth of Sophia

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Have you ever heard of Gnosis? Or of the Gnostics of old, often associated with early Christianity? I know you’ve heard of Mother Earth – since we’re all riding around on her all of the time – or of Mother Nature, or Gaia, whom we all love to visit on holidays. We tend to bring her all of our problems, and she can always make them go away, for a little while. So why is it that we have this understanding of the benevolent feminine nature of the world, but we don’t seem to let it shape our reality the way it could? Is it that we simply don’t know any better? I don’t think so. I think we’ve always known better.

Long ago (and even today), people knew better, and the knowledge they had (and have) was a kind of “secret knowledge,” called Gnosis, from the Greek ‘to know.’

Although it’s often conflated with early Christianity, Gnosticism isn’t a religion, but rather a way of being in the world – a path to self-realization and integration with a more profound sense of reality.

As usual, back in the old days, an understanding that couldn’t be directly expressed intellectually was passed along in the form of a myth, a story that communicates the “secret knowledge” that can only be understood through an experience of the heart, not the head; and the heart is quite literally where The Feminine Divine enters in.

Gnostic Origins

The Myth of the Divine Sophia

In the Gnostic myth of how the world works, Sophia, the feminine personification of wisdom, lives happily with spirits of light (especially her twin brother), in the unified limitless potential of her Father’s radiance, created by the twin powers of Depth and Silence.

She’s so dizzy with love for the Creative Source that when she sees a brilliant shimmering light below, she flings herself down into the darkness, mistakenly following what she believes to be her Father’s radiance, fooled by a mere reflection. There, in the abysmal unrealized potential of the world, she is trapped – separated from the light, the spiritual realization of Gnosis – the knowledge of transcendent unity.

Water finds its greatest power by seeking its lowest point.

-Zen saying

There, the powers of the underworld have their way with her, using, abusing, and exploiting her, until all she knows is sadness in the struggle to return herself up to the light she has lost, but not forgotten. She gives birth to a bunch of bad boys, demigods called archons, including the worst of them all, the demiurge who becomes the creator of this world, infecting it with pride, ignorance, fear, and his lust for power and pleasure.

But Sophia remains present, and in her resurgent power she brings great beauty and spiritual potential to the Earthly realm and its inhabitants. Witnessing the irresponsible creation of the world by her errant offspring, Sophia conceals Consciousness in the body of the demiurge’s first man, “Adam,” and then brings it into the world as “Eve.”

Finally, Sophia breaks free and ascends back up to the true light of life, raising humanity with her ever so slightly. But she refuses to abandon the sad world of humans, and so she divides herself, keeping a part below, ever present and available for the enlightenment of all.

Here, we may call that Gaia – the consciousness of the world.

Back up in the celestial realm of spiritual light, Sophia rediscovers Gnosis by joining her twin brother in a “marriage” of reunification, balancing the masculine ego of unrealized potential, and uniting it with the sacred feminine – made ever more powerful by adversity – into an androgynous whole. A complete person, full with the knowledge of the transcendent, unified light.

The Feminine Heart of the Earth

This is the sublimely sophis-ticated philo-sophy of the myth of Sophia, a path that leads not only to self-realization, but also to an understanding of the feminine heart and soul of the Earth.

For it’s only in the feminine–the channel of creation into the world–that humanity finds the power and compassion necessary to overcome the darkness of ignorance.

But it just ain’t easy getting there, as any woman struggling in “a man’s world” can tell you, although much less of a problem in the ancient Gnostic world, where, prior to the (ongoing) suppression of the Feminine Divine, women were equal to men in every intellectual and spiritual respect.

One Woman, Many Names

Sophia ends up being the giver of wisdom in so many forms: She is Shakti in Sanskrit, the powerful Hindu personification of feminine wisdom, and the personal and collective linking soul as atman, realized in the transcendent state of samadhi (Gnosis). She is the compassionate boddhisatva (Avalokiteshvara) in Buddhism, returning to light the path to nirvana (Gnosis); personified by the deity Guanyin. She is both Mother Mary, in her ascendant form, and Mary Magdalene, as the Earthly companion of the Christ potential in Christian Gnosticism. In Jungian psychology, she is the unifying power (“individuation”) of both the feminine and masculine archetypes, anima and animus, and of the lower self of the psyche with the higher spiritual self (Gnosis).

So you see, Sophia really gets around; or as my late uncle (by marriage), the great Jungian psychologist and philosopher, James Hillman put it:

She is the Sophia of wisdom, the Maria of compassion, the Persephone of destruction, compelling Necessity and Fate, and the Muse.

Modern Psychological Understanding

What may be most remarkable about the myth of Sophia, is the way it foreshadows‒and even predetermines‒what we think of as modern psychological understanding. Carl Jung recognized it as a myth of reflection that reflected collective and individual psychology – not just as the metaphor of following “God’s reflection” down into the abyss as an act of necessary self-centeredness and hubris, eventually leading to a humble redemption; Jung also recognized the myth of Sophia as the precursor of a many-layered structural pathology of both our individual search for health and wholeness, and of the cultural and spiritual potential of humankind. He saw the myth as an illuminating structure, which, when shined on the collective unconscious, could guide the realization of human spiritual evolution; and the metaphor as what Joseph Campbell called, “a psychologically affective image transparent to transcendence.”

Finding the Way Back Up

So don’t be afraid to share a dance with Sophia – she’s quite a girl, I promise. Allow her to take you to that place down across the tracks that we all must visit, where we become painfully separated from our true potential, and exiled from what we are really capable of becoming. From there, she can show you the way back up, the way to get in touch with your divinely feminine soul (the soul of the world), and unify it with the willful (but powerful and promising) masculine aspect of ego. Then, the separation becomes a matrimonial solution, where you may discover that the myth is the means to learning the whole secret – of you, of me, of us, and of a whole world.

Those favored by the grace of Sophia may devote their lives to offering active service in the public arena, or, again, they may simply bring the compassionate light of Sophia to bear upon the private human tasks of their daily lives.

-Dr. Stephan Hoeller

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Divine Feminine


Samhain Rituals - How to Celebrate Samhain

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Samhain is a time-honored tradition followed by witches, Wiccans, ancient druids, and countless other modern pagans across the world, celebrated as October turns to November. Samhain is a festival of the Dead, meaning “Summer’s End,” and though you’re probably tempted to pronounce it “sam-hane,” it’s actually pronounced saah-win or saah-ween.

What is a Samhain Celebration?

Tradition holds that Samhain is a celebration of the end of the harvest and the start of the coldest half of the year, and with this transition, it’s also celebrated as the beginning of the spiritual new year for practitioners, which is also why it’s nicknamed “The Witches’ New Year.”

How to Celebrate Samhain

Samhain is typically celebrated by preparing a dinner to celebrate the harvest. The holiday is meant to be shared with those who have passed on as well as those still with us. Set a place at the table for those in the spiritual plane, providing an offering for them upon every serving throughout the meal. In addition to those who have passed, invite friends and family to enjoy the feast with you. Typical beverages include mulled wine, cider, and mead, and are to be shared with the Dead throughout the meal.

Despite occurring at similar times and containing similar themes, Samhain and Halloween actually are not the same holiday. Halloween, short for All Hallow’s Eve, is celebrated on and around Oct. 31 and tends to be more family-focused. On the other hand, Samhain is more religious in focus, spiritually observed by practitioners.

There are some more light-hearted observances in honor of the dead through Samhain, but the underlying tone of Samhain is one of a serious religious practice rather than a light-hearted make-believe re-enactment. Today’s Pagan Samhain rites are benevolent, and although they are somber and centered on death, they do not involve human or animal sacrifices as some rumors may claim. Another difference between Samhain and Halloween is that most Samhain rituals are held in private rather than in public.

If you want to start honoring this pagan tradition, you might wonder when to start. Well, the timing of contemporary Samhain celebrations varies according to spiritual tradition and geography. Practitioners state to celebrate Samhain over the course of several days and nights, and these extended observances usually include a series of solo rites as well as ceremonies, feasts, and gatherings with family, friends, and spiritual community.

In the northern hemisphere, many Pagans celebrate Samhain from sundown on October 31 through November 1. Others hold Samhain celebrations on the nearest weekend or on the Full or New Moon closest to this time. Some Pagans observe Samhain a bit later, or near November 6, to coincide more closely with the astronomical midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Most Pagans in the southern hemisphere time their Samhain observances to coincide with the middle of their Autumn in late April and early May, rather than at the traditional European time of the holiday. In the end, it’s really up to you!

Samhain isn’t necessarily a creepy, morbid holiday obsessed with death, as some may conclude. Instead, it reaches for themes deeper than that, tying in with Nature’s rhythms. In many places, Samhain coincides with the end of the growing season. Vegetation dies back by killing frosts, and therefore, literally, death is in the air.

This contributes to the ancient notion that at Samhain, the veil is thin between the world of the living and the realm of the Dead and this facilitates contact and communication. For those who have lost loved ones in the past year, Samhain rituals can be an opportunity to bring closure to grieving and to further adjust to their being in the Otherworld by spiritually communing with them. However, it’s also a way to appreciate life, when you get right down to it.

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