Wisdom sendeth forth her children.
– Gnostic fragment. (1)
These five words, salvaged from scrapheaps of nearly 2000 year old writings, offer a doorway into the first mystery of this threefold exploration. Lurking from behind this fragment are lost histories, crusty old books and forgotten teachings that may hold a key to who we are, where we came from, and how we can make sense of all that we face in these uncertain times. Humanity is on the precipice of the next phases of our growth and even our very survival. Who this “wisdom” is and who her children are may be extraordinarily valuable as we try to find our way forward.
The Creation Story of Sophia is also an epic tale of love, that weaves between two lovers who reach out across the vast span of history to the earliest of beginnings. As well, this is a love song that takes place in the smallest and most personal spaces of our inner world.
Though she goes by many names, Sophia or Wisdom, as a figure of creation, is an ancient expression of the Divine Feminine from her earliest appearances at the very beginning creation. The creation story of this Sophia is little known, having appeared around the first century CE but was soon thereafter largely lost and forgotten as this key tale was not included in the religious system of Christianity as it took form over the following few centuries.
But let’s step back for a moment and give some background to this enigmatic figure Sophia.
What and Who is Wisdom – Sophia?
The word Sophia, Greek word for wisdom and hochma in Hebrew, has been around for a long time. The further back we go, the less she had specific anthropomorphic features. To the Greeks, Wisdom was mainly an attribute, a feature of one’s broader skills of understanding. This was not just about accumulating information, but involves abilities of discernment, heartfelt understanding and effectively working with knowhow in the world. Pythagorus coined his love of wisdom into the now common word, philo-sophy. (2)
This word “wisdom” features prominently in the Old Testament such as in the Book of Wisdom. Predominantly, this word refers to the quality of wisdom, associated with something more that just mere knowing of facts. Michael Meade refers to wisdom as being a cross fertilization between vision and maturity. Certainly this is something we all aspire to.
The seven sapiential or Wisdom books (sapientia is Latin for wisdom) of the Old Testament, include the Song of Songs, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes/Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom. This wisdom tradition of the Old Testament primarily emerged from exiled Jewish Priests who were being held in Babylonian captivity in 6th century BCE.
Much of the references in these books refer to quality of wisdom, with its moral integrity.
“…and you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all…” (Ezra 7:25)“To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” (Job 12:13)
However, In these Jewish Old Testament books, there are found sparse and vague references to wisdom as being an actually identity, not just a personal attribute.
“I, wisdom, was with the Lord when he began his work, long before he made anything else. I was created in the very beginning, even before the world began.” (Proverbs 8: 22-23)
“I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.” (Wisdom of Sirach, also called Ecclesiastes, 24:24-26)
Here wisdom is distinctly female and is part of the original creation, an astounding reference that is scarcely known, especially in reference to the Genesis story of creation. Despite these vague references, there are barely any descriptions of who this character was, where she came from, and what her role in creation really was. At least this was the case until the first century AD, when fairly suddenly, there began to emerge a whole new body of literature that focused specifically on this feminine creator goddess.
The Gnostic Sophia
Around the first century CE, there began to emerge a novel creation story that, according to Bentley Layton, was “not the spontaneous product of a tribe or culture.” (3) This is not typically how creation stories come about, in contrast to the thousands of indigenous tales from many innumerable cultures from around the world.
This point is key to this thesis of how this myth of origins is a key element in what I believe is a New Dispensation of the 1st century CE, associated with this figure known as Jesus, but whose primary teachings were obscured almost to the point of non recognition over the following centuries.
However, with the writings of heresiologists like Ireanaus, and also the small sample of texts that survived from that time, we have enough to piece together this unique story of creation.
This version of the myth I have pieced together from primarily the early gnostic and particularly the Sethian and Valentinian sects of early Gnosticism. There is no one full rendering of the tale that survived in tact from the Nicene lock down, but enough pieces survived to be able to piece together a comprehensive tale.
“In the gnostic texts, Sophia functions at many levels under various names in a highly complex way. She functions as a creator and savior figure on a higher level as the divine Thought, which increasingly distinguishes itself from the high deity through various modalities, and gives rise to the divine image in which man is made. But she also functions on a lower level as the mother of the ignorant demiurge and the enlightener and savior of the divine image captured by the demiurge in human form. (4)
I am indebted to the giants in the field of this research who have pioneered in our modern day the jewels of these lost treasures of wisdom, reviving a tradition that is so highly obscured and relatively difficult to access. What is more, they are conducting their work in a way that is a part of what seems to be their own spiritual search. and so it’s not it is not just dry history and theology. These giants include G.R.S. Meade and Carl Jung (gnostic/esoteric Christian), Gershom Scholem (Kabbalah), and Henry Corbin (gnostic Islam), as well as the innumerable scholars such as Carl Schmidt, Victor Turner and Elaine Pagels, whose exhaustive work has helped make available these most sacred texts, often with just a click of a computer mouse.
The Four Stages of the Story
This earlier Sophia Project webpage outlines the Four Fold Path of the Journey of the Soul. This outlines the template of the unfolding of this creation story, as is illustrated by the Hymn of the Pearl. Bentley Layton calls them the Four Acts (5), which follow quite precisely the fourfold model of Via Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transfomativa.
So I will start with the first part, the Via Positiva, that goes from the origins of creation down to the younger Sophia, daughter of the higher Pronnoia (Holy Spirit), just prior to her most remarkable journey.
- Meade, G.R.S., Fragments of a Faith Forgotten. http://gnosis.org/library/grs-mead/fragments_faith_forgotten/index.htm
- Layton, Bentley. The gnostic scriptures. Doubleday: NY. 1987. p. 12.
- https://books.google.com/books/about/Sethian_Gnosticism_and_the_Platonic_Trad.html?id=7f8dH07hBGoC. p. 3.
- Layton, 1987. p. 12-17.