The World’s Soul is a Woman – The Gnostic Myth of Sophia
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.
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.
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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Number of People Practicing Wicca, Paganism Growing Dramatically
The number of people who identify religiously as Wiccan has seen a meteoric rise in the United States, according to census data and a study conducted by Trinity College. Some attribute this witchy surge to an increased interest in astrology and the esoteric, while others say it’s clearly a sign of the times. Whatever the case may be, appropriation and corporate attempts to monetize the trend abound.
According to a study collected by Trinity College between 1990 and 2008, identification with Wicca in the U.S. increased from 8,000 to 340,000 members over the 18-year period.
And that trend continues today, with a 2014 Pew Research Study finding the number of people who identified as Wiccan or Pagan jumped to close to a million people. And yes, there is a difference between Wicca and Paganism, but for the sake of making a point about the demographic, let’s consider them together.
The reason the two have grown so significantly may be due to a breakdown of misconceptions about what these religions actually stand for, many of which have been falsely spread by the church in the past. Unlike the evil stereotypes that have historically been cast on witches and pagans, millennials understand these practices have a reverence for nature, are polytheistic, and averse to the strict dogmas of mainstream religions.
Wicca has no centralized, authoritative body and embraces a number of diverse sects, lineages, and traditions – of course, this generation finds it appealing.
If you haven’t heard recent claims of pop-stars practicing Wicca, or stories of hexes placed on political figures, then this sudden spike in witchcraft may come as a surprise. But for those aware, the recent occult fascination makes sense. In fact, the rise in the number of witchcraft practitioners may have outpaced certain Christian denominations, including Presbyterianism, according to some sources.
But these situations have always presented themselves as a clarion call to corporations looking to profit from a newfound lifestyle interest, leading to cultural or religious appropriation seen in tone deaf marketing and advertising.
A recent article published by Quartz, shows how the cosmetics brand Sephora, was called out for its sale of a “Starter Witch Kit,” which included essential oils and a sage stick to jumpstart the aspiring witchy neophyte. The company quickly pulled the product after true Wiccans expressed their disapproval.
And it’s not just corporations that get it wrong when it comes to esoteric spirituality. Earlier this year we interviewed a couple who run Mountain Magic Tarot in Richlands Virginia – a shop that was told it could not practice tarot readings due to a misperception that it was hostile to the town’s mostly Christian population.
It seems inevitable though, that if you’re going to practice any religion – especially one historically thought to be synonymous with evil – someone will misconstrue your philosophy. Let’s change that paradigm.
To learn more about Wicca and its philosophy check out this episode of Beyond Belief with former-rockstar-turned-witch Fiona Horne: