DIVINE WISDOM, SOPHIA, HOLY SPIRIT
in Trastevere, Rome
I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to
have her instead of light for the light that cometh from her never goeth
out... Wisdom of Solomon
Why did I find the tradition of the Shekinah so interesting
and significant? (see chapter 3 The Dream of the Cosmos) Because
it gave me a different image of spirit, one that was immediate, intimate,
one that I could relate to, love and intelligently serve. Here was an
image that I did not need to worship as something remote from myself
and the world, a vision that gave infinite value to life in this dimension
and offered a theology of connection between the invisible and visible
dimensions of reality. But I knew there was more to be discovered and
that this tradition was but one strand of many. My desire to understand
more about the origins of the image of the Shekinah led me back to the
Wisdom Books of the Old Testament as well as to the Gnostic texts discovered
at Nag Hammadi in 1945.
The Myth of the Goddess, I had followed the image of the Divine
Feminine or Great Mother from the Palaeolithic era onwards. I knew that
behind the imagery of the Shekinah stood the great goddesses of the
Bronze Age and the image of Hokhmah or Divine Wisdom in the Old Testament.
Beyond them was the distant, shadowy form of the Neolithic Great Mother.
It seemed to me that there were elements in Kabbalah that paralleled
the Hindu concept of Shakti and her cosmic union with Shiva. This suggested
to me that an original tradition of the unity of the two aspects of
the source of life - personified by a god and goddess - was at one time
disseminated through India, Mesopotamia and Egypt but was gradually
lost with the rise and differentiation of the three patriarchal religions.
What we have left today are a few precious fragments of a lost tradition.
As I read
the texts from different traditions, it became clear to me that the
esoteric stream of Gnostic Christianity, Alchemy and Kabbalah had carried
forward from Egypt the ancient cosmology of the Divine Feminine which
was slowly to disappear over the centuries of the Christian era. The
repression of the image of the goddess was the principle reason for
the loss of the idea of cosmic soul. But the eradication of all traces
of animism and the repudiation of the idea that all of nature was ensouled
with spirit and therefore sacred, ultimately removed from the people
who lived during the millennia of the three patriarchal religions their
age-old sense of participation in the invisible cosmic being of a Great
Mother. In the West, it was only in Celtic Christianity that the belief
that nature was sacred and animated by spirit survived and then only
until the Synod of Whitby in 611. Thereafter, it began to fade although
it is enjoying a revival today in the work of Irish poets and writers
who have rescued and restored to us the beautiful litanies of the Celtic
with the tradition of the Divine Feminine that had been fragmented,
obscured and almost lost over some two and a half thousand years I turned
to the magnificent passages in the Books of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
and the Wisdom of Solomon. If I had not by chance been given a Bible
when I was nine years old that contained the Apocrypha, I would
not have known of the existence of these Books since the Apocrypha
is not included in the Protestant Bible and I was brought up as a Protestant..
What I discovered
as I read these texts is that - even at a distance of two thousand and
more years - their words offered the most vivid and powerful imagery
of the immanence of spirit in the life of this planet. They seemed to
transmute all creation and the apparent insignificance of our lives
into something precious and sacred, to be loved, embraced, cherished
and celebrated because the life we see and experience here is the epiphany
or emanation of the divine ground that has brought us into being and
contains our world within itself. This deeper understanding of life
radiates from the magnificent passages in the Books of Proverbs and
Ben Sirach where Wisdom speaks as the Holy Spirit, calling to humanity
to listen to her. Unknown and unrecognised, she says she is working
within the depths of life, within the depths of nature and our nature,
yearning to open our hearts and minds to her presence, her justice,
her compassion and her truth. It seemed to me, as I read these passages,
that I was listening to the voice of the Shekinah speaking to the souls
of humanity who were the scattered sparks of her divinity.
with the loss of the tradition of the Divine Feminine in Christianity,
there is also a story of loss in the Jewish tradition. It begins at
the time of the First Temple in Jerusalem when, during the reign of
various kings but particularly those of Hezekiah and Josiah, the Temple
was purged of any trace of the cult of a female deity, including her
image (known as the Asherah) and that of the Brazen Serpent that was
intrinsic to her cult. The groves of trees sacred to her were also razed
to the ground. In 721 BC the Assyrians attacked Samaria, the northern
province of Israel, and carried off ten of the twelve tribes to an unknown
fate - the first recorded example of ethnic cleansing. The thousands
of people belonging to these tribes simply disappeared. This catastrophe
was blamed on the people's worship of a female deity and King Hezekiah
felt impelled to wipe out all traces of her cult. This work of destruction
was completed in 723 BC and again, under King Josiah, in 623 BC. In
between their two reigns, other kings had restored the image of the
female deity and the brazen serpent to the Temple.
the ancient tradition of a female deity who was the Protectress of Jerusalem
did not die out after Josiah’s purge but was carried to Egypt
by the Jewish groups who fled to Alexandria at this early time and,
in a second wave, a hundred and twenty years later, at the time of the
Babylonian Captivity. In 597 BC, the great Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed
by the Babylonians, the city sacked and many of its people carried off
into captivity in Babylon. Some, however, chose to flee to Egypt where
they joined the community already established there. The first group
of refugees had taken with them the traditions of the First Temple that
included the worship of deity whom they worshipped as the Queen of Heaven
and who was the Protectress of Jerusalem.
the interesting account in the Book of Jeremiah, where the prophet,
addressing the people in exile in Egypt after the sacking of their city,
places the blame for their troubles on their worship of the Queen of
Heaven. However, he evidently met with strong resistance:
Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned
incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great
multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in
Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, “As for the word that thou
has spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto
thee. We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our
own mouth, to burn incense unto the Queen of Heaven and to pour out
drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our
kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets
of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and
saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of
heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all
things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.”
Jewish community in Alexandria continued to preserve the tradition of
a female deity whom they addressed as Divine Wisdom, Queen of Heaven
and Holy Spirit. Among the later texts which still kept alive this tradition
was the Book of the Wisdom of Ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus c.185 BC),
which enshrines the magnificent passages where Wisdom speaks to the
world (see below). Around 100 BC, the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon
was also written which describes Wisdom as sitting by the throne of
the Lord in heaven (9:10) and was spoken of as the Holy Spirit (9:17)
Did these two books enshrine a much older tradition?
major phase of the loss of the Divine Feminine followed the destruction
of the Second Temple by the Romans and the devastating sack of Jerusalem
in 70 AD. Soon after this date a group of rabbis met together in the
university of Jamnia to define what would, from that time on, constitute
their canon of holy books. As Margaret Barker writes in her book, The
Revelation of Jesus Christ, “With the exception of some enigmatic
passages in the Book of Proverbs, all traces of the Lady Wisdom disappeared
from this collection and scholars who base their picture of ancient
Israel on the Hebrew canon of evidence can find no place for the Lady
Wisdom. The Targumists, who made the Aramaic translations for use in
the synagogue remembered Wisdom and rendered the first verse of Genesis
‘In the beginning with Wisdom [the Spirit hovering over the waters]
the Lord created and completed the heaven and the earth.’”
(Targum Neofiti Genesis 1.1) (1)
so interesting about this story is that the Jewish communities in Egypt
evidently preserved the tradition of the Divine Feminine, Divine Wisdom,
the Queen of Heaven and the Holy Spirit, from the pre-exilic Temple
in Jerusalem and transmitted this early tradition to the Jewish-Christian
communities in Egypt who inherited their canon of texts.
community in Egypt also preserved the First and Second Book of Enoch
which Margaret Barker considers to be “the key to a vast spectrum
of ancient tradition.”(1) Passages in the
First Book of Enoch suggest that the refugees in Egypt remained true
to the ways of the First Temple and deplored the rejection of the Queen
of Heaven, saying that the role of Wisdom had been to give ‘sight’
to the temple priests. While these texts disappeared from the Hebrew
canon and the mainstream Jewish tradition they were evidently known
in Byzantium, where the magnificent Basilica dedicated to Haghia
Sophia, still standing today, was completed by the Emperor Justinian
in AD537. In the vast apse is the image of Sophia, Divine Wisdom.
Enoch himself had a vision of a huge fragrant tree whose grape-like
fruits yielded Wisdom (1 Enoch 32.4). It is possible that the imagery
of the Enoch texts found its way into the later books of Ben Sirach
and the Wisdom of Solomon. In these later texts Wisdom was, in Margaret
Barker's words, “symbolised by a tree of life and by water. She
had a throne, she was the Queen of Heaven, she was both mother and consort
of the kings, but also the consort of the Lord. She gave eternal life/resurrection,
she fed her devotees, she was radiant, superior to earthly light, the
mother of all creation. She was the anointing oil, the archetypal angel
high priest, the genius of Jerusalem and its protectress.” (1)
passages give an intimation of the imagery in which Wisdom is described
in the Books of Ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon:
Who can number the sand of the sea,
And the drops of rain,
And the days of eternity?
Who can find out the height of heaven,
And the breadth of the earth,
And the deep, and Wisdom?
Wisdom hath been created before all things,
And the understanding of prudence from everlasting.
The word of God most high is the fountain of Wisdom;
And her ways are everlasting commandments.
To whom hath the root of Wisdom been revealed?
Or who hath known her wise counsels?
Ben Sirach 1. 2-6
As a mother shall she meet him
With the Bread of Understanding
shall she feed him,
And give him the Water of Wisdom to drink.
Ben Sirach 15. 2-3
Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away:
yea, she is easily seen of them that love her,
and found of such as seek her.
She preventeth them that desire her,
in making herself first known unto them.
Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travail,
for he shall find her sitting at his doors.
To think therefore upon her is perfection of wisdom,
and whoso watcheth for her shall quickly be without care.
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-15
is a strange and interesting fact that the Christian Old Testament (Catholic
Church) retained the tradition and texts relating to Divine Wisdom and
the Holy Spirit, while the mainstream Jewish tradition apparently discarded
them. The reason the Church was able to inherit them was because, as
Margaret Barker observes, when the Christian missionaries from Alexandria
took the new teaching into the Greek speaking world of the Mediterranean,
“they took with them the Greek Scriptures from the community in
Egypt, descended from those refugees who continued to venerate the Queen
of Heaven.” (1)
One of the
most interesting aspects of this new research is the light it may throw
on the life and teaching of Jesus. “We do not know what Jesus
regarded as Scripture,” Margaret Barker says. “But we can
wonder whether He was influenced by the Wisdom tradition in Egypt during
the “missing” years where it is possible that he spent several
years before his baptism and the beginning of His ministry. During this
time, He may have come in touch with the Wisdom tradition and the Wisdom
texts. Jesus was said to be the incarnation of the power and the Wisdom
of God Cor. 1.24); and Matthew 11.19, with a similar verse in Luke 7.35
that describes him as the child of Wisdom. The Woman clothed with the
sun who gives birth to the Messiah in Revelation 12 was Wisdom, and
Jesus is depicted as Wisdom in the letter to the church of Laodicea
(Rev. 3. 14-22). Here Jesus speaks to St. John in his vision and describes
himself as the witness of the creation, the one who gives true riches,
eternal life and anointing to open the eyes…In the prophecy of
Isaiah we read that the sevenfold Spirit was to rest on the descendent
of Jesse and transform his mind, so that he saw things differently (Isa.
the Wisdom texts, the tradition transmitted to the early Christian Church
from the Jewish communities in Egypt and elsewhere had many gospels
which were later, under the influence of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in
the second century AD, removed from the canon of teaching that was to
become the foundation of Church doctrine and teaching. Some two hundred
years after the choice made by Irenaeus, two edicts of the Emperor Constantine
(AD326 and 333), ordered the burning of any gospels outside the established
canon of the four we know today. This suggests that many of the previously
banned or excluded gospels were still in circulation. Constantine was
influenced by Athanasius, the powerful Bishop of Alexandria.
years later, in AD381, the final coup de grâce was delivered by
the Emperor Theodosius who declared that anyone who did not comply with
his edict that all must believe in the doctrine that the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit were of one and the same substance would be declared
a heretic. The end result of Theodosius’ policy was the persecution
not only of heretics but of the pagan religions and the destruction
of their shrines and magnificent temples. It was at this time that the
idea entered Christian teaching that hell and eternal punishment awaited
heretics and unbelievers. (2)
In one of
the gospels destroyed during this time, the Gospel of the Hebrews
- a lost text that was known only from quotations in the work of the
early Christian Fathers, Origen and Jerome - the Holy Spirit is described
as the mother of Jesus, who spoke to him at his baptism and saying “My
Son, in all the prophets I was waiting for Thee.” “Here,”
Professor Gilles Quispel (one of the great authorities on the Gnostic
Gospels) writes, “we come to a very simple realization: just as
the birth requires a mother, so rebirth requires a spiritual mother.
Originally, the Christian term “rebirth” must therefore
have been associated with the concept of the spirit as a feminine hypostasis.”
a catastrophic loss of the Divine Feminine was hidden in the process
by which the Hebrew rendering of the concept of “Holy Spirit”
(Ruach) was translated into the Latin Spiritus Sanctus
whose masculine gender ending would lead, in Christian theology, to
the Holy Spirit being defined as male. (4)
of the Divine Feminine, the Holy Spirit, Divine Wisdom (Sophia), was
nevertheless cherished by the Gnostic communities who, after the edicts
of Constantine and Theodosius, could only survive persecution by going
underground. Margaret Barker writes that the imagery of Divine Wisdom
“survived… above all, in the iconography of the Eastern
Churches, where the Holy Wisdom appears in all her ancient splendour.
The most famous of the Wisdom icons is the Sophia of Novgorod, which
shows her as a fiery winged angel... enthroned where one would expect
to see the figure of Christ, crowned as the Queen of Heaven, and holding
the scroll of true knowledge and the serpent staff, her ancient symbol.”
phase of the loss of the tradition and imagery of the Divine Feminine
in the Western tradition came with the Reformation when the Protestant
Church in the sixteenth century decided to adopt the Biblical texts
from the Hebrew canon of Jerusalem (defined at the University of Jamnia
shortly after AD70). It rejected those that belonged to the earlier
traditions which had taken root in Egypt and been transmitted to the
early Christian Church. To these Protestants, any mention of a female
divinity was anathema, and so the magnificent verses in the Wisdom of
Solomon and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach were excluded from the Protestant
canon of texts and are therefore unknown to Protestant Christians, although
they could still read the great passage in the Book of Proverbs. The
Catholic Church, however, retained the Wisdom texts in the part of their
Bible known as the Apocrypha.
(called Hokhmah in Hebrew and Sophia in Greek) comes to life in these
passages from the Book of Proverbs and the Books of Ben Sirach and the
Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha. Wisdom tells us that she
is immanent in our world, with us in the streets of our cities, calling
to us to awaken to her presence, to obey her laws, to listen to her
wisdom, promising her blessing if we can only hear her voice and respond
to her teaching. With their vivid imagery, these passages transform
the idea of the Holy Spirit, speaking as Divine Wisdom, from abstract
idea into living presence. She speaks as if she were here, in this dimension,
dwelling with us in the midst of her kingdom, accessible to those who
seek her out. She is unknown and unrecognised, yet working within the
depths of life, striving to open our understanding to the divine reality
of her being, the sacredness of her creation, and her justice, wisdom,
love and truth.
In the Book
of Proverbs, Wisdom tells us that she is the Beloved of God, with Him
from the beginning, before the foundation of the world. She speaks from
the deep ground of life as the hidden law which orders it and as the
craftswoman of creation:
The Lord possessed me in
the beginning of his way,
Before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning,
Or ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth:
When there were no fountains abounding with water
Before the mountains were settled,.
Before the hills was I brought forth:
While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,
Nor the beginning of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there:
When he set a circle upon the face of the deep:
When he made firm the skies above:
When the fountains of the deep became strong:
When he gave to the sea its bound,
That the waters should not transgress his commandment:
When he marked out the foundations of the earth:
Then I was by him, as a master craftsman:
And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing always before him,
Rejoicing in his habitable earth;
And my delight was with the sons of men.
the Wisdom of Ben Sirach (thought to date to the first quarter of the
second century BC), it seems as if Divine Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, is
telling us her story:
I came out of the mouth of the most high,
and covered the earth as a cloud.
I dwelt in high places,
and my throne is in a cloudy pillar.
I alone compassed the circuit of heaven,
and walked in the bottom of the deep.
I had power over the waves of the sea, and over all the earth,
and over every people and nation...
He created me from the beginning before the world,
and I shall never fail.
In the holy tabernacle I served before him;
and so was I established in Sion.
Likewise in the beloved city he gave me rest,
and in Jerusalem was my power...
I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus,
and as a cypress tree upon the mountains of Hermon.
I was exalted like a palm tree in En-gaddi,
and as a rose plant in Jericho,
as a fair olive tree in a pleasant field,
and grew up as a plane tree by the water...
I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus,
and I yielded a pleasant odour like the best myrrh...
As the turpentine tree I stretched out my branches,
and my branches are the branches of honour and grace.
as the vine brought I forth pleasant savour,
and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.
I am the mother of fair love, and fear,
and knowledge and holy hope...
I therefore, being eternal, am given to all my children
which are named of him.
Come unto me, all ye that be desirous of me,
and fill yourselves with my fruits.
For my memorial is sweeter than honey,
and mine inheritance than the honey-comb...
The first man knew her not perfectly,
no more shall the last find her out.
For her thoughts are more than the sea,
and her counsels profounder than the great deep.
I also came out as a brook from a river,
and as a conduit into a garden.
I said, I will water my best garden,
and will water abundantly my garden bed:
and lo, my brook became a river,
and my river became a sea.
I will yet make doctrine to shine as the morning,
and will send forth her light afar off.
I will yet pour out doctrine as prophecy,
and leave it to all ages for ever.
Behold that I have not laboured for myself only,
but for all them that seek wisdom.
of Jesus Ben Sirach 24:3-6, 9-11, 13-21, 28-34
is the language of the immanence of the Divine Feminine in the world.
Who wrote these magnificent verses and the ones to follow? Was it a
high-priest of the First Temple whose words were preserved by the early
communities in Egypt or a later priest of that Egyptian community? Did
he hear a voice speaking to him or did he have a vision of a great feminine
being, as did Apuleius of the goddess Isis? The verses reveal this feminine
Presence - whom we can name as Divine Wisdom and the Holy Spirit –
to be the intelligence of the cosmos, rooted in tree, vine, earth and
water and active in the habitations of humanity. She is the principal
of justice that inspires human laws. She is invisible spirit guiding
human consciousness; a hidden presence longing to be known, calling
out to the world for recognition and relationship. To those who, like
Solomon, prized her more highly than rubies, Divine Wisdom was their
wise and luminous guide:
I prayed and understanding was given
me: I called upon God, and the Spirit of Wisdom came to me...
I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of
for the light that cometh from her never goeth out...
And all such things as are either secret or manifest, them I know.
For Wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me; for in her
is understanding spirit, holy, one only, manifold, subtil, lively, clear,
undefiled, plain, not subject to hurt, loving the thing that is good,
cannot be letted, ready to do good, kind to man,
stedfast, sure, free from care, having all power, overseeing all things,
and going through all understanding, pure, and most subtil, spirits.
For Wisdom is more moving than any motion: she passeth and goeth
through all things by reason of her pureness.
For she is the breath of the power of God, and a pure influence flowing
from the glory of the Almighty: therefore can no defiled thing fall
For she is the brightness of the everlasting Light,
the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness...
She is more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of stars:
being compared with the Light, she is found before it...
Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily:
and sweetly doth she order all things.
I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her
my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty. Wisdom
of Solomon 7:7, 10, 21-7, 29; 8:1-2
The Aurora Consurgens
a medieval alchemical text - the Aurora Consurgens - which
takes up this story. I feel it should be included here because not only
are its words exquisitely beautiful and numinous but the commentary
by one of Jung's closest colleagues, Dr. Marie Louise von Franz, is
profound and illuminating. She writes, “The Aurora is
one of the earliest medieval treatises in which we find the nascent
idea that the alchemical opus involves an inner experience and that
a numinous content -Wisdom - is the secret which the adept was looking
for in the chemical substances [in his retort].”(p. 186) (5)
“We can understand how shattered the author of Aurora must have
been when Wisdom suddenly appeared to him in personal form...For an
intellectual it is a shattering experience when he discovers that what
he was seeking is not just an idea but is psychically real in a far
deeper sense and can come upon him like a thunderclap. He is saying
that she [his vision] is devastatingly real, actual and palpably present
in matter.” (p. 192)
belongs with the Wisdom Texts and carries forward elements from the
passage attributed to Solomon quoted above and from other verses included
in this seminar. The author of the book, who was believed by Dr. von
Franz, to be St. Thomas Aquinas himself, is speaking of a vision and
a revelation he had just prior to his death, a revelation that was written
down as he spoke by the monks sitting with him. In the first chapter
he mentions a feminine figure whom he identifies with Divine Wisdom
and who is the same figure who appears in Proverbs, Ben Sirach and the
Wisdom of Solomon. He writes, “All good things came to me together
with her, that Wisdom of the South, who preacheth abroad, who uttereth
her voice in the streets, crieth out at the head of the multitudes,
and in the entrance of the gates of the city uttereth her words, saying,
“Come ye to me and be enlightened, and your operations shall not
be confounded; all ye that desire me shall be filled with my riches...I
will teach you the science of God.” And he continues:
“She it is that Solomon chose to have instead
of light, and above all beauty and health...For all gold in her sight
shall be esteemed as a little sand, and silver shall be counted as
clay...And her fruit is more precious than all the riches of this
world, and all the things that are desired are not to be compared
with her...She is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her, and
an unfailing light...He who hath found this science, it shall be his
rightful food for ever...Such a one is as rich as he that hath a stone
from which fire is struck, who can give fire to whom he will as much
as he will and when he will without loss to himself.”
And Wisdom speaks to him:
“Be turned to me with all your heart and do not
cast me aside because I am black and swarthy, because the sun hath
changed my colour and the waters have covered my face...because I
stick fast in the mire of the deep and my substance is not disclosed.
Wherefore out of the depths have I cried, and from the abyss of the
earth with my voice to all you that pass by the way. Attend and see
me, if any shall find one like unto me, I will give into his hand
the morning star.”
And in words that resonate with those attributed to Jesus,
“I am that land of holy promise, which floweth
with milk and honey and bringeth forth sweetest fruit in due season;
wherefore have all the philosophers commended me and sowed in me their
gold and silver and incombustible grain. And unless that grain falling
into me die, itself shall remain alone, but if it die, it bringeth
forth threefold fruit: for the first it shall bring forth shall be
good because it was sown in good earth, namely of pearls; the second
likewise good because it was sown in better earth, namely of leaves
(silver); the third shall bring forth a thousandfold because it was
sown in the best earth, namely of gold. For from the fruits of this
grain is made the food of life, which cometh down from heaven. If
any man shall eat of it, he shall live without hunger.” (pages
The Gnostic Imagery of the Divine Feminine
strand in this extraordinary story is the Gnostic imagery of the Divine
Mother who was known to the early Christians in the first two centuries
of the Christian era (most probably the descendants of the Jewish Christians
who had taken refuge in Alexandria and who had preserved the tradition
of the Queen of Heaven). Were it not for the discoveries of the Nag
Hammadi texts in 1945, this part of the story would have been lost to
us, perhaps forever. Here was yet another source of material relating
to the imagery of the Divine Feminine. It is astonishing that so much
survived, passed from individual to individual, century to century.
last fifty years or so, it has become increasingly clear that there
was a great underground stream of human experience which flowed from
the thriving city of Alexandria in Egypt into several different channels
- into the writings of the early Christian Gnostics, the Hermetic Tradition,
the later Alchemists, and the transmitters, both Jewish and Christian,
of the ancient tradition of Kabbalah. Hellenistic Egypt in the second
and third centuries AD was the immediate source of all these traditions,
yet we now know that the roots lie deeper, in the temple teachings of
a far older time, whether in Palestine or Egypt. Alexandria was the
city of Gnostic teaching - the meeting place of East and West, a vibrant
crucible for the exchange of ideas and teachings between Egyptians,
Greeks, Syrians and Jews, and also sages from the East bringing teachings
from far-away Persia and India. This vital stream of esoteric teaching
which was later to suffer such repression and persecution at the hands
of the late Roman Empire and the Christian Church, is the “complementary”
or missing counterpart of the orthodox tradition that is familiar to
us. It is a vital yet largely unknown aspect of our spiritual inheritance.
So who were
the Gnostics? They were a group of early Christians, among them the
descendents of Jews who had fled Jerusalem after the murder of James,
the older brother of Jesus, who claimed to have inherited the secret
teaching that Jesus imparted to his closest disciples, including his
older brother and Mary Magdalene. Many Gospels now lost were in circulation
among them, including the four that have come down to us.
two Greek words for knowledge. One of them - epistémi
- means knowledge in the sense of information gathered. The other, gnosis,
means knowledge in the sense of insight and wisdom. The meaning and
purpose of life is to be discovered neither through faith nor through
accumulating knowledge about the known world, but through inward transformation
and the development of the eye of the heart. The Gnostic Gospels show
us that, like the kabbalists, the focus of their concern was with how
to awaken us to awareness of the divine ground of our being, to awaken
us from a state, not of sin, but of sleep and ignorance.
By the year
200, as Elaine Pagels tells us in Chapter III of her book The Gnostic
Gospels, “Every one of the secret texts which gnostic groups
revered was omitted from the canonical collection, and branded as heretical
by those who called themselves orthodox Christians. By the time the
process of sorting the various writings ended...virtually all the feminine
imagery for God had disappeared from the orthodox Christian tradition.”
(6) Until the latter part of the last century
when the texts discovered at Nag Hammadi were published, no-one knew
that some groups of early Christians had had an image of the Divine
Mother whom they had named “The Invisible within the All.”
(7) Some texts speak of how, as the Eternal Silence,
the Divine Mother received the seed of Light from the ineffable source
and how, from this womb, she brought forth all the emanations of Light,
ranged in related pairs of feminine and masculine energies. They saw
her as the womb of life, not only of human life, but the life of the
whole cosmos. They knew this Divine Mother as the Holy Spirit and saw
the dove as her emissary. The Jewish Christians believed that, at the
baptism of Jesus, it was the Divine Mother, the Holy Spirit, who spoke
to her son saying “This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
(see Quispel above)
I find it
fascinating that the imagery and mythology of the Divine Mother in Gnosticism
is so similar to the imagery of the Shekinah in Kabbalah that they seem
to belong to one and the same tradition. Now with the research of Margaret
Barker confirming the presence of exiled or refugee groups from Jerusalem
in Alexandria, the dispersed fragments come together and the relationship
would seem to be confirmed. In a gnostic text called the Trimorphic
Protennoia, the speaker describes herself as the intangible Womb
that gives shape to the All, the life that moves in every creature.
Other texts name her as the Mother of the Universe but also speak of
the androgyny of the divine source in imagery similar to the later kabbalistic
texts. I remember reading Elaine Pagel’s book with intense interest
but I did not then experience the image of the Divine Mother as alive
and relevant to myself here and now – not until I explored the
historical roots of my powerful vision (see Chapter Two, The Dream
of the Cosmos).
Church inherited the biblical Wisdom texts that were preserved by the
Jewish community in Egypt, translated into Greek and then into European
languages and were included in the Apocrypha. But the voice
of the Divine Feminine in the lost gnostic texts was, until very recently,
unknown to Catholics and Protestants alike.
verses given below from texts found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945
and dated to c. 200 AD, may be descended from the far older texts cherished
by the Jewish community in Alexandria. They are clearly related in feeling
and imagery to the verses given above where Wisdom is speaking of herself,
but also to the imagery of the Shekinah in the Zohar or Book
of Splendour that appeared in northern Spain a thousand years later.
Who treasured this tradition and kept it alive for later generations?
Who took the tradition of Divine Wisdom from Palestine to Spain and
thence to medieval France and the rest of Europe, preserving it as a
precious legacy to us today, when the world is crying out for Wisdom,
Justice and Compassion?
Here are a few lines from a long poem called “The Thunder,
Perfect (Whole) Mind”:
I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin
I am the mother and the daugher.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband...
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
and the idea whose remembrance is frequent.
I am the voice whose sound is manifold
and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name...
I am knowledge and ignorance...
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and peace.
Give heed to me...
I am the one whose image is great in Egypt
and the one who has no image among the barbarians.
I am the one who has been hated everywhere
and who has been loved everywhere...
I am the one whom they call Life
and you have called Death.
I am the one whom they call Law,
and you have called Lawlessness. (8)
Perhaps the most beautiful poem is this one from a text called The
I am the Protennoia,
The Thought that dwells in the Light.
I am the movement that dwells in the All,
She who exists before the All.
She in whom the All takes its stand. [becomes manifest]
I am Invisible within the Thought of the Invisible One.
I am revealed in the immeasurable, ineffable things.
I am intangible, dwelling in the intangible.
I move in every creature.
I am the sight of those who dwell in sleep.
I am the Invisible One within the All.
I am the immeasurable, ineffable,
yet whenever I wish,
I shall reveal myself.
I am the movement of the All.
I exist before the All, and I am the All,
Since I exist before everyone.
I am a Voice speaking softly.
I exist from the first.
I dwell within the Silence...
And it is the hidden Voice that dwells within me,
Within the intangible, immeasurable Thought,
Within the immeasurable Silence.
I descended to the midst of the underworld [our
And I shone down upon the darkness.
It is I who poured forth the Water.
I am the one hidden within Radiant Waters.
It is through me that knowledge comes forth.
I am perception and knowledge,
Uttering a Voice by means of Thought.
I am the real Voice.
I cry out in everyone and they know me.
I am the Thought of the Father
And through me proceeded the Voice, that is,
The knowledge of everlasting things.
I revealed myself within all those who know me
For I am the one joined with everyone
Within the hidden thought.
I am the Image of the Invisible Spirit
And it is through me that the All took shape,
I am the Mother as well as the Light,
The intangible [Virgin] Womb,
The unrestrained [boundless] and immeasurable Voice.
I am the Mother of the Voice
Speaking in many ways, completing the All.
It is in me that knowledge dwells,
The knowledge of things everlasting.
It is I who speak within every creature
It is I who lift up the sound of the Voice
To the ears of those who have known me,
That is, the Sons of the Light.
So now, O Sons of the Thought, listen to me,
To the sound of the Mother of your mercy
I am the Womb that gives shape to the All
By giving birth to the Light that shines in splendor. (9)
final verse from this text leaves us with the imagery of light and the
declaration of divine presence in the midst of this world.
I am the voice speaking softly.
I exist from the first.
I dwell within the Silence,
Within the immeasurable Silence.
I descended to the midst of the underworld
And I shone down upon the darkness.
It is I who poured forth the Water.
I am the one hidden within Radiant Waters...
I am the Image of the Invisible Spirit.
I am the Womb that gives shape to the All.
By giving birth to the Light that shines in splendour. (9)
Holy Spirit could be imagined variously as the light that manifests
as both wave and particle, or as the ‘sea’ of photons or
light particles which are the ground of our being and all physical reality
including the complex structure and mysterious organisation of energy
that we name as matter - a word which comes from the Latin word for
mother - mater. After so many billions of years the energy of life has
evolved a form - the planet earth - and a consciousness - our own -
which is slowly growing towards the recognition of its ground and source.
Yet, because of the loss of the tradition of the Divine Feminine, we
do not know that what physicists are exploring in the finer and finer
gradations of matter they are discovering is what the awe-struck explorers
of the Tree of Life in Kabbalah named the Face and the Glory of God,
nor that the universe we explore with our technology is the outer covering
or veil of a unimaginably fine web of luminous and invisible relationships.
was researching the many images from alchemical manuscripts, I found
that in the St. Geneviève library in Paris, there is a sixteenth
century alchemical text with a painting of an alchemist talking to a
woman. She wears a crown holding the symbols of the planetary powers
and she sits on the branches of a stylised great tree beneath which
a fire is burning. Is she an image of Divine Wisdom, the presiding image
of alchemy, or the anima-mundi - the soul of the world? She is inviting
the alchemist to turn away from his alchemical vessels and enter into
a dialogue with her.
If we were
able to speak to her, what comment would she pass on the pathological
effects of our ignorance – the pollution of her earth, her seas,
her air, the abysmal and wanton sacrifice of animals (as in the shocking
handling of the BSE and Foot and Mouth crises in the United Kingdom)
and the contamination with toxins and pesticides of the food and water
that is her gift of life to us? And what of the ever-increasing manufacture
and sale of arms, the torture and murder of men, women and children
in war, the use of explosives to destroy flesh and bone, the continued
laying of land-mines and the use of weapons such as cluster bombs and
depleted uranium, the agony of orphaned, abandoned, murdered and maimed
children? To hear her answer, we would have to attune ourselves to her
being. We would have to listen with her ear to the voice of the suffering
we bring into being by our ignorance of the oneness and divinity of
life. We would have radically to change our habits of behaviour and
become more consciously aware that the suffering we inflict on others
is actually suffering that we are inflicting on the “body”
of spirit - that spirit suffers through that suffering.
If we could
hear her voice, surely we would awaken to the sacredness and divinity
of life. We would begin to see matter and our own bodies in a different
light. We would treat them with greater respect. If we could awaken
to that voice, we could bring matter and spirit, body and soul together,
healing the deep wounds inflicted by the beliefs and concepts which
have sundered them. Even as we accomplish this, we will begin to transmit
the light and love flowing to all creation from the Holy Spirit.
Douglas-Klotz’s Prayers of the Cosmos, and his beautiful
translation of the Lord’s Prayer from the Aramaic language that
Jesus spoke, a startling image of divine union emerges. As he writes
in his introduction: “Unlike Greek, Aramaic presents a fluid and
holistic view of the cosmos. The arbitrary borders found in Greek between
“mind,” “body,” and “spirit” fall
away. Furthermore, like its sister languages Hebrew and Arabic, Aramaic
can express many layers of meaning. Words are organized and defined
based on a poetic root-and-pattern system, so that each word may have
several meanings, at first seemingly unrelated, but upon contemplation
revealing an inner connection… The Aramaic language is close to
the earth, rich in images of planting and harvesting, full of views
of the natural wonder of the cosmos. “Heaven” in Aramaic
ceases to be a metaphysical concept and presents the image of “light
and sound shining through all creation.”” (10)
his translation of the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, which
in the Christian Bible (KJV) is rendered “Our Father which art
O Birther! Father-Mother
of the Cosmos
You create all that moves
O Thou! The Breathing Life of all,
Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.
Respiration of all worlds,
We hear you breathing – in and out –
Source of Sound: in the roar and the whisper,
In the breeze and the whirlwind, we
Hear your Name.
Radiant One: You shine within us,
Outside us – even darkness shines – when
Name of names, our small identity
Unravels in you, you give it back as a lesson.
Wordless Action, Silent Potency –
Where ears and eyes awaken, there
O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos!
1. Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Edinburgh
2000, pp. 109-112, 200-212, 279-301 . All quotations marked note 1 are
from this text and I am greatly indebted to her research which she kindly
made available to me.
2. Charles Freeman, AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State,
p. 171-172, Pimlico, Random House, London, 2008
3. Gilles Quispel, The Birth of the Child, page 23. Professor
Quispel was one of the original translaters of the Gospel of Thomas.
I was interested to discover that the late Father Bede Griffiths, one
of the great philosopher-mystics of our time, asks in his book, Return
to the Centre, p. 62 “May we not say that the Holy Spirit is feminine?”
and that Dr. Keith Ward, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford in a
recent book names the Holy Spirit as feminine.
4. see The Myth of the Goddess, pages 612-617
5. Aurora Consurgens, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1966,
Bollingen Foundation, New York 1966
6. Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Ltd., London, 1979, p. 57
7. ibid, Chapter III
8. The Thunder, Perfect (Whole) Mind, Nag Hammadi Library in
English, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1977, p. 271-7, (extracts)
9. The Trimorphic Protennoia, ibid, p.461-70 (extracts)
10. Neil Douglas-Klotz, Prayers of the Cosmos, HarperSanFrancisco,
1990, page 3