by John Lash
from MetaHistory Website
In the vast inventory of classical lore on the Goddess, one example stands out vividly, both for its unique plot and its narrative scope. The Gnostic story of the fallen divinity Sophia presents an authentic feminist redemption myth.
It places Sophia, whose name in Greek
means "wisdom," centrally in a cosmological drama in which
the fallen divinity is the main agent of world redemption. ("Gaia in
Chaos," Ed Fisher.)
She also appears in the Old Testament Wisdom literature, called sapiential writings, dating from the 4th to the 1st centuries BCE. Although the sapiential writings predate the Nag Hammadi codices, the divine figure of Wisdom does not derive from them.
The Gnostic Sophia is a version of the Great Goddess celebrated all through the ancient world, not exclusively or originally in Jewish tradition.
Yet the Jewish sources provide some
important clues to the Gnostic scenario.
Following the reforms of King Josiah (after 650 BCE), Jewish scribes rigorously deleted references to Asteroth, but she continued to be viewed as Jehovah's consort in popular religion and Gnostically oriented Jewish heresies.
In the doctrinal battle over the Divine
Feminine, the Wisdom literature plays a key role, showing how the
lines were drawn. The figure of Sophia could not be eliminated, but
it was increasingly distorted.
In the Psalms and Proverbs, she figures as a metaphor for the voice of conscience obedient to the righteous dictates of the Lord. In the Song of Solomon, Wisdom retains the character of the sacred prostitute and lover of the king, who sanctifies him with the power of the Divine Feminine.
In moral and sensuous terms, Sophia
survives, but just barely.
Proverbs 8 gives an aretology where the goddess announces herself in the first person and sings her own attributes:
The full passage is a mere nine verses, but it discloses a key element of the Pagan Sophia myth:
This phrase shows that the Wisdom goddess pre-existed the earth, even as she comes to be identified with it through the aretology that declares her terrestrial attributes.
Proverbs 8 intimates that the Divine
Sophia is a pre-existent divinity that becomes embodied in the earth
- an assertion to be fully developed in the Gnostic scenario of the
This passage asserts the divinity of the earth as flagrantly as any to be found in Judeo-Christian tradition, a tradition that is fundamentally averse to such statements.
Jewish religious writings praise the
earth as a showpiece of the father god's creative power, but
following the prerogatives of Josiah, it was heresy to allow the
sacredness of the planet in and of itself.
This distinction recalls the premise of
deep ecology, namely, that the earth has intrinsic value of its own,
regardless of its use for humanity, and (I might add), regardless of
how it serves religious beliefs that insist on paternal omnipotence.
This myth was the centerpiece of the Pagan Mystery tradition in which the gnostikoi,
Over a century ago, G.R.S. Mead observed that,
But this opinion has been ignored by scholars who find in Gnosticism only the cast-off elements of early Christian views.
Consequently, there has been little or
no interest in recovering the complete Sophia myth that formed the
sacred narrative of the Pagan Mysteries.
Even the scant elements in the
sapiential writings sketch the way toward this sacred vision,
but the Gnostic Sophia story attains the full-blown expression of an
interactive planetary myth.
The history of Biblical writing before the Common Era, and the subsequent war on Gnostic heresy waged by the Church Fathers, show the immense effort it took to deny the sacred origin of the earth recounted in the myth of the fallen goddess, Sophia.
The fact of the sacredness of the earth depends on the faculty to engage it, the cognitive capacity to know Gaia with insight and empathy.
The myth itself asserts that the Divine Sophia gave humanity the gift of imagination, "the luminous epinoia," so that humans could participate in Her Story via creative or imaginal thinking:
The sacred myth of Sophia is interactive and transhistorical.
The heresy condemned by the Church Fathers is not, and never was, a mere matter of academic argument.
It is a flashpoint for imaginative engagement. The repression of the Divine Feminine is a fact of history, and it is also part of Sophia's mythic biography. The powers ranged against human imagination are clearly described in the myth.
According to the Gnostics, Sophia's redemption depends on humanity's empathy with Her story, the unique myth that describes the goddess who existed "or ever the earth was."
In the Mysteries, Sophia was the name
for what we today call Gaia, but before Gaia became the sensuous,
Cosmological books such as the
On the Origin of the World and
The Tripartite Tractate
describe how Sophia, a divinity (Aeon) in the company of the Pleroma
(Divine Fullness) of super-terrestrial gods, longed to be involved
in the active manifestation of external worlds. (110.9-10)
The myth emphasizes Her desire to engage
in a world-in-the-making - but not just any world. Curiously, the
world that Sophia anticipates will only come into being through Her
own metamorphosis. Such is the odd fate of the fallen goddess.
They project the seed-form of a sentient world from the cosmic matrix, and then allow it to unfold by itself, to be self-generating. The word autogenes in the NHC is close to the current notion of autopoesis, widely discussed in the context of the Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis.
The Sophia myth resonates with Gaia theory, but situates the autogenetic principle in a preterrestrial event. Before the earth existed, Sophia and another Aeon, Christos, joined in a cosmic act of propagation, a sacred mating dance in the heart of heaven, the Pleroma. (233.82)
The two Aeons received from the supreme
Aeon, the Originator, a formless potentiality to configure into a
discrete evolutionary impulse.
Theleta and Sophia do so by imbuing
their divine intent into the prototype of an emergent species, the
Anthropos. In a sense, they are the divine parents of humanity, but
they do not procreate the nascent species, they merely emanate it,
working "in an imaginary way". (73.78)
The nature of their union is emptiness
and compassion, comparable to the dynamic of Tibetan deities in
Tantric union, yab-yum.
Their reasons for this heretical stance
become clear as the sacred narrative unfolds.
Gnostic myth thus asserts the theory of panspermia, the seeding of planetary life from extra-planetary sources, initially proposed by Svante Arrhenius around 1910 and now widely accepted by astronomers and biologists.
If Gaia is a panspermic laboratory, as
Lynn Margulis and others have suggested, then the
extra-terrestrial origin of the human species has been explained
in the Mystery narrative.
Looking out from the Pleroma, the
goddess feels attracted by what this singular species might achieve,
once it has a world to inhabit. In a manner similar to the Dreamtime
ancestors of Australia, She dreams the formative outlines of such a
world. She might be compared to a pregnant mother who lavishly
imagines a life for her unborn child - but the biological analogy is
misleading, for reasons already noted.
A Valentinian Exposition says that,
The Originator wishes that all activity in the Pleroma be accomplished by paired Aeons - observing the law of cosmic parity, as it were - but this is not a rigid rule, and it is not enforced.
With the Sophia-Thelete coupling -
Sophia-Christos in the Valentinian version, contrived to compromise
with the rise of Christianity - that configured the Anthropos,
cosmic law was observed.
The Hypostasis of the Archons calls this violent eruption of alien life-forms an "abortion," meaning a spontaneous miscarriage of divine power. (167.94)
This premature event presents a hugely
problematic situation for Sophia, a situation in which humanity is
deeply implicated even before it emerges from its larval state of
pure, unexpressed potential.
In the sacred narrative of the Mysteries, our planetary system arises before the earth due to the premature action of an alien species. (Not surprisingly, this feature of the Sophia myth has been dubbed "theological science fiction" by one scholar, Richard Smith.)
The chief of the Archons is Yaldabaoth, the Demiurge, a demented pseudo-deity who takes himself for the supreme creator.
Gnostics daringly identified the
Demiurge with Jehovah and condemned the Biblical deity as a
monstrous tyrant who works against humanity. This was, and still is,
the central message of Gnostic heresy.
Nag Hammadi cosmologies describe a complex set of events in which the Aeon Sophia aligns her power with a newborn star that has emerged in the Kenoma, the chaos outside the galactic core where the Archons swarm.
Unlike the Anthropos, the Archons have not been emanated from the Pleromic core.
They are an extra-Pleromic aberration,
the side-effect of Sophia's fall. To help her manage these bizarre
conditions, the goddess finds an ally in Sabaoth, the newborn sun,
who is also a chaotic, extra-Pleromic entity like the Archons.
On the Origin of the World recounts how Sophia, having strengthened herself by this alliance, confers unique power on the newborn sun:
Henceforth, Sophia will be bonded to the sun through her "flame-born daughter," Zoe, deathless vitality (168.95-96).
The "structural coupling" of sun and
earth is an established concept in Gaia theory.
After the conversion of the sun, Sophia condemns the Demiurge and predicts the triumph of humanity over the falsifying influence of the Archons (174.103):
Sophia declares that humanity will overcome the spell of the Archons, entities who can deviate human evolution in odd, undetectible ways.
But humanity, the Pleromic emanation of novelty, needs a world to inhabit before it can evolve and assume its responsibilities in the cosmos. Normally, such a world would arise automatically by the laws of the Kenoma, the outer chaos.
But the fall of goddess is a rare exception in cosmic order: The Divine Sophia morphs into the life-supporting planet that humanity will inhabit.
The myth implies that the earth formed
from the divine force of the fallen goddess does not belong to the
planetary system, but is merely captured in it.
Book IV of Against Heresies recounts how the goddess morphs into the planet earth, her emotions turning into the elements of the biosphere.
Seemingly baffled and amazed by this development, Irenaeus says that Sophia must have been,
Plunged into the material elements and
immersed in sensuousness, the goddess is called prunikos,
"outrageous," and insultingly dubbed "the Whore of Wisdom" for this
bizarre act of commingling.
It explains how She who existed before the earth ever was, became the earth. The second part of Sophia's biography concerns her correction, diorthosis, the process by which She becomes reintegrated with the Pleroma, the cosmic core of our galaxy.
Although surviving Gnostic writings are not explicit on how correction works, they leave no doubt that humanity is deeply involved in this process:
The Gnostic myth of the sacred earth is open-ended. Its conclusion has not been predetermined by the will of a higher being, but it can be affected by human willingness to embrace the plight of the Divine Sophia, and complete her cosmic adventure with Her.
The story of Wisdom becoming Gaia is a redemption myth with a feminist spin, and much more.
It is an ecofeminist fable of regeneration, and perhaps the ultimate survival myth for the human species.