Pursuing natural health & thinking beyond the superficial. Deconstructing Culture.

Posts tagged ‘Sophia’

Memories of Goddess – Degraded, Desecrated, Debased, Disregarded, Dismissed, Almost Disremembered.

I’ve been reminded by Mum as usual (though indirectly this time) about a site that I think should be remembered. I previously looked at some of the research of Max Dashú for African indigenous learnings. Max is a woman whose determined interest in women and the role of the female in history prior to subjects like women’s history and ethnic studies led her on a massive journey of discovery of worldwide events, beliefs and practices and as with many, she noticed there was a lot of similarity. The article below focuses on later cultures/religion that are still current and widespread, and their less commonly known African and Western Asian roots.

Her ‘About Me’ page is: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/faq.html
Where she answers the questions:
How’d you get started doing this?
Where do you get your slides? [15,000 slides and 20,000 digital images, 150 slideshows]
Why don’t we learn about these women or these cultures?
What about men?
Is the Archives open to the public?



Copyright 2000 Max Dashu.

This article was originally published as chapter III of Streams of Wisdom
(Oakland CA: The Suppressed Histories Archives, 2000).
An early serialized version appeared in Goddessing Regenerated,
a journal edited by Willow LaMonte, Malta, 1998.

Wisdom goddesses are a primary survival of Goddess consciousness within patriarchal systems. In an intact Goddess cosmology, Wisdom is not sharply differentiated from other divine qualities. In that sense the separation is artificial, and typical of the divisions that arise when theologians erect their esoteric hegemonies. But I’m struck by the recurrence of Wisdom deities in the “major” religions, and how archaic streams of Goddess reverence continue to flow through them under the doctrinal surfaces. For seekers groping a way back to Origins, it can be illuminating to meditate on divine Wisdom in these forms.

Michaelangelo's depiction. Eve (like Pandora) was tricked/used (Pandora by Zeus & cohorts) but ultimately she gifted humanity but has been downtrodden whereas Prometheus (former cohort of Zeus assisting in the overthrow of the Titans) is a hero.

Michaelangelo’s depiction. (my ‘dapperdolly’ note: Eve (like Pandora) was tricked/used (Pandora by Zeus & cohorts) but ultimately gifted humanity and has been demeaned by them whereas Prometheus (former cohort of Zeus assisting in the overthrow of the Titans) is a hero.)

Khokhmah and Sophia

Thou art a Wisdom. Thou are a Knowing. Thou art Truth.
Because of Thee, there is life. Life is from Thee.
Because of Thee, there is mind.
–The Three Stelas of Seth, an Egyptian Gnostic scripture

The ancient Hebrew name for Wisdom is Khokhmah, a feminine noun. In Jewish scripture, it was Khokhmah who personified the female Divine. She is understood as an emanation of God, yet she resonates with the Hebrew Goddess who is otherwise assailed in the Bible, especially Asherah, she of the sacred Tree. Proverbs 3:18 calls up an image of Khokhmah that originates in the oldest core of Jewish culture: “She is a Tree of Life to all who lay hold of her.”

In the same book, Khokhmah sings, “The one who finds me, finds life.” Like the goddess Asherah, regarded as the partner of Yahweh by the ancient Hebrews, Khokhmah is linked to the pillar. “My throne was in the pillar of cloud,” she declares in Ben Sirach (24:4). In Proverbs 9:1 she builds a house of seven pillars.

Asphodel Long’s book A Chariot Drawn by Lions offers profound insights into the survival of the Hebrew Goddess. She points out that Wisdom is another form of the Shekhinah, the divine Presence. Both are “expressed in light and glory,” both involved in creation, enthroned in heaven, intermediaries between god and the world, ascending and descending, and winged.

The Book of Wisdom of Solomon, written by Alexandrian Jews in the Hellenistic era, renames Khokhmah as Sophia, the Greek word for Wisdom. In this text, as Long points out, Sophia “takes over the powers and function of God” and the creation story is told using the word “she.” The ancient author is careful to qualify this audacity by describing Wisdom as God’s breath and emanation, but still praises her at length in her own right as “holy” and “all-powerful”:

For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle;
mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible,
Beneficent, human, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful,
overseeing all and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle.
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. [Long, 46-7]

Another beautiful passage likens Wisdom to “a flame of stars through the night.” [Allegro, 171] The praise-names in the Book of Wisdom of Solomon resonate deeply with those in the goddess litanies of India. The most celebrated of these is the Sri Lalitaa Sahasranama, an invocation of Goddess under a thousand names, including Intelligence, Holy, Unique, Multiformed, Subtle, Pure, Beyond All Danger, Loving the Good, Beneficence, Steady, Without Anxiety, Great Power, and All-Pervasive.

Long’s illuminating exegesis of the Alexandrian Wisdom litany brings forward the little-known fact that the Greek name monogenes (“unique, singly born”) began as a title of female divinities. It originates in a Kemetic title of Neit, Hathor and Isis: “self-born, self-produced,” and later appears in Orphic hymns to Demeter, Persephone and Athena. Christians subsequently applied it to Yeshua of Nazareth who was cast as the “only-begotten son” of god. [Long, 49]

In late antiquity other titles arose in the Judaic tradition: Shekhinah (Divine Presence) and Matronit (the Mother). Kabbalists redefined Khokhmah as a masculine power, and assigned Binah (Understanding) to the feminine sphere. Torah became to some extent a personification of Wisdom, and Jews in many countries invited Shabbat to enter their homes as the bride of god and the essence of peace and joy.

There is not room here to enter the Egyptian Stream of Wisdom, but what follows can only be understood in the light of the veneration of Auset, known in Hellenistic culture as Isis. This goddess had come to be worshipped beyond the borders of Egypt, first in west Asia and north Africa, then in Europe. Isis aretalogies (praise-songs based on the affirmation “I am”) emphasize creative Wisdom as one of her divine qualities:

I am Isis, mistress of every land
I laid down laws for humanity and ordained things that no one may change…
I divided the earth from the heavens
I made manifest the paths of the stars
I prescribed the course of the sun and moon
I found out the labors of the sea
I made justice mighty…
—Aretalogy of Isis from Cyme, circa 200 CE [Drinker, 114]

A syncretic ferment of Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew traditions occurred in Alexandria and the eastern Mediterranean during the Roman empire. Jewish writers appear to have initiated a Greek series of Oracula Sibillina which begin to appear around 150 BCE. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria identified Sophia as Mother of the divine Logos and as Isis, mother of Horus. But Philo followed Biblical tradition in according primacy to the father-god as creator, treating the divine mother—Sophia — as his attribute or emanation. Nevertheless, he described this god as the husband of Wisdom. [Long, 46, 162; Patai, 98]

The pagan priest Plutarch agreed that Isis was the same as Sophia, creator of all. [Allegro, 157] Pagan mystery religions equated Isis with Demeter, Kybele, Juno Caelestis, Bona Dea, Tyche and other Mediterranean goddesses, mixing their attributes and titles. Isis was sculptured wearing the mural crown of the Asian goddess Tyche and holding the cornucopia of the Italian Fortuna and Terra Mater. (These statuettes have been found in distant Kazakhstan and Pakistan.) Multitudes of molded figurines of Isis seated on the basket of the Eleusinian Mysteries were mass-produced for home altars within Egypt itself.

Most of these Hellenized terracotta statuettes shrink the horned solar crown of the ancient Kemetic goddess and flank it with ears of wheat, assimilating her to Demeter in a historical double rebound. The Knot of Isis that was for millennia tied around her belly moves up to her breast in a tied Grecian shawl. Other terracottas show Isis Baubo with skirts pulled up around her hips and legs opened wide. Still others look to the headwaters of the Nile, as the goddess Besit, linked to the BaTwa peoples, socalled “pygmies,” or perhaps to other little people (“dwarves”).

In the midst of this syncretism, many Isis terracottas retain the Egyptian convention showing her suckling her son (now represented as a sketchy afterthought). She also appears as Isis Bubastis — Ermouthis to the Greeks — with the lower part of her body in the form of a snake. This form of Isis has turned up as far east as Iraq.

Some Egyptian Jews engaged in ecstatic forms of worship. Philo wrote that the Therapeutae (“healers”) became “transported by divine enthusiasm.” They danced and sang hymns in harmonies and antiphonies, women with women and men with men. Then, says Philo, they feasted and drank wine, and at last all joined together in one assembly:

Perfectly beautiful are their motions, perfectly beautiful their discourse; grave and solemn are these carollers; and the final aim of their motions, their discourse, and their choral dances is piety. [Drinker, 159-160]

The Therapeutae were among the Jewish sects in which women “conducted the Sabbath services and provided influential commentaries on the scriptures.” [Long, 38] Philo described their practice as a form of spiritual healing, which in fact gave this community its name:

Inasmuch as they profess to the art of healing better than that current in towns, which cures only the bodies, they treat also souls oppressed by grievous and well-nigh intolerable diseases. [Contemplative Life, in Allegro, 109]

The biggest community of Therapeutae lived near the Mareotic lake in northern Egypt. Their huts had little prayer alcoves, and they gathered in a central building for communal meals. Like Philo, they seem to have syncretized Isis with Wisdom and called upon her for healing: “She was reckoned to cure the sick and to bring the dead to life, and she bore the title ‘Mother of God.’“ This was an ancient name of Neit, Isis, and other Kemetic goddesses.

The Gnostic Goddess

The syncretism of Judaic, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Persian traditions gave rise to Gnosticism, a name which arose directly from an emphasis on inner knowing. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls, what was known of the Gnostics came mostly from their sworn enemies, the institutional clergy. When church patriarchs selected the books that became the canonical christian bible, they rejected some of the earliest texts, Gnostic scriptures. Among these excluded scriptures were writings that pictured Wisdom as a divine, creative female presence.

The Goddess was still well-loved in Egypt, whose ancient religion exerted a tremendous influence on early Gnostic philosophy. The Gospel of Thomas retains an invocation from ancient litanies of Auset: “Come, lady revealing hidden secrets…” Aretalogies of Isis made their way into several Gnostic scriptures, as Great Isis continued to be syncretized with Judaic wisdom traditions of Khokhmah under Hellenistic names.

The Gnostic scripture Eugnostos the Blessed hails “the all-wise Sophia, Genetrix.” It was she, says the Origin of the World, who “created great luminaries and all of the stars and placed them in the heaven so that they should shine upon the earth.” This Gnostic passage echoes the Isis Aretalogy of Cyme: “I divided earth from heaven, I created the ways of the stars…”

Other Egyptian Gnostic texts name the Divine Female as Ennoia (Thought), Pronoia (Forethought) or Protennoia (Primal Thought), Pistis (Faith), Sige (Silence), Eidea (Image, Idea), or Charis (Grace). These titles are often used interchangeably with Sophia. Several texts address the goddess as Arche (“beginning”), following the Hebraic representation of Wisdom as Reshiit in the Palestinian Targum and the Samaritan Liturgy. [Arthur, 65, 55, 61; Long, 87ff]

The early Egyptian Gnostics embraced the Wisdom goddess as a power higher than the god who created the world. A Greek-Coptic text named Origin of the World reworks Genesis to show the Goddess taking part in creation, and restores Eve to her primordial sacred status as the Mother of All Living. In a section known as the “Eve intrusion,” Sophia creates “the Living-Eva, that is, the Instructress of Life.” This androgynous being takes form according to the image of the Mother, and proclaims her identity with her. She assumes titles of Isis, such as “consoler of the labor pains.” [Arthur, 99, 117, 131]

This book calls Eve “the mother of the living,” a title that goes back to the earliest Hebrew roots, and even further, to the Sumerian goddess Ninti. In this telling, it is Eve who gives life to Adam. The archons beheld Eve and compared her to Sophia, “the likeness which appeared to us in the light.” They plotted to rape and “pollute” Eve, and to cast Adam into a sleep, teaching him that she came into being from his rib “so that the woman will serve and he will rule over her.” But Life/Eve laughed at their scheming, darkened their eyes and left her likeness beside Adam. “She entered the tree of knowledge, and remained there. She revealed to them that she had entered the tree and become tree.” The archons ran away in fear, but later came back and defiled Eve’s likeness. “And they were deceived, not knowing that they had defiled their own bodies.” [Young, 54; Arthur, 207]

A Nag Hammadi scroll called the Testimony of Truth deifies the wise Serpent who counsels Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge: “On the day when you eat from the tree which is in the midst of Paradise, the eyes of your mind will be opened.” The scroll’s author points out that god’s threat of immediate death didn’t come true, but the Serpent’s promise of knowledge did. He calls the god of Genesis “a malicious envier” who begrudged humans the power of knowing. This theme of an imperfect creator god recurs in other Gnostic texts. Sophia rebukes this god as a liar and fool when he, unaware of her role in creation, claims sole divinity.

Another form of the syncretic Egyptian Gnostic goddess is the mysterious Barbelo. Presented as an emanation of god, she resembles Khokhmah. But christian Egyptian texts refer to Mother Barbelo as part of a trinity, along with the Father and Son. The Barbelo literature’s attempts to reconcile conflicting traditions result in contradictions. The Gospel of the Egyptians says that Barbelo originated from herself, as the ancients had said of Neit, Mother of the Gods. But the Three Stelas of Seth present her as “the first shadow of the holy Father,” who had existed before her. It addresses her with feminine pronouns, but paradoxically praises her as “the male virginal Barbelo.”[Arthur, 165-6] A later passage reverts to goddess imagery:

Thou art a Sophia. Thou art a Gnosis. Thou art truth. Because of thee, there is life. Life is from thee. Because of thee, there is mind… Thou art a cosmos of truth. Thou art a triple power… [Arthur, 166]

The Sethian Gnostics said that this trinity was made up of Light, Breath, and Darkness. The Peratae had it as Father, Son and Matter, with the Son mediating between the exalted Father and a passive female principle. [Philosophumena, in Doresse, 52, 50]
However, the Trimorphic Protennoia exalts “Barbelo, the perfect glory,” from whose thought originated the trinity of Father, Mother, Son. This scroll contains an aretalogy that unambiguously praises the goddess Protennoia as the origin: “I am Primal Thought that dwells in the Light… she who exists before the All… I move in every creature… I am the Invisible One within the All.”[Pagels, 55; Long, 92-3] Her divinity is immeasurable, ineffable and radiant. [Arthur, 168]

The Apochryphon of John contains another aretalogy of “the perfect Pronoia (forethought) of the universe,” who was “the first.” She wandered in the great darkness, “into the midst of the prison,” even into the depths of the underworld. She represents “the light which exists in light.” But this christian text compared “sister Sophia” unfavorably to Barbelo. A splintering of Gnostic goddess images was underway. They were being subordinated to “the Father,” and those not firmly partnered to a male god disparaged. The derivative Gnostic aretalogies reflect an emerging concept of the “fallen” goddess.

The longest Gnostic aretalogy appears in Thunder, Perfect Mind (originally titled The Divine Barbelo). It follows the form of the old Isis litanies: “I am the wisdom of the Greeks / And the knowledge of the barbarians / I am one whose image is great in Egypt…” Unlike the aretalogies, however, Thunder is marked by dualism, pairing negatives—“ignorance… shame… fear”—with Barbelo’s divine qualities. [Arthur, 164, 175] Still, it contains verse of remarkable beauty and profundity:

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 daughter
I am the members of my mother
I am the barren one, and many are her sons….
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
And the idea whose remembrance is frequent
And the word whose appearance is multiple
I am the utterance of my name.

Though Sophia is prominent in the Gnostic creation accounts, she was being stripped of the radiant holiness the Egyptians attributed to Isis and the Hebrews to Khokhmah. In her ground-breaking and all-too-little-known study The Wisdom Goddess, Rose Arthur shows how the positive view of Sophia in the early, pre-christian scriptures was gradually broken down and degraded by a masculinizing, christianizing movement that emphasized a “fallen Sophia.”

Arthur demonstrates that the older texts were consistently reedited to reduce and subordinate female divinity, while exalting the male god. The Hypostasis of the Archons is no more than “a christianized, patriarchalized and defeminized summary of On the Origin of the World.” It blatantly substitutes the christian god for the Gnostic goddess. For example, the line “But all this came to pass according to the Pronoia of Pistis” becomes “But all these things came to pass in the Will of the Father of the All.”

The pre-christian scripture Eugnostos the Blessed was revamped as the Sophia Jesu Christi, in which Sophia rebels against the “Father of the Universe,” repents of her fault, and is saved by her male partner, Jesus Christ. The revisionist text repeatedly refers to the “fault of the woman.” The same process was at work in the Pistis Sophia, where the fallen Sophia is made to sing thirteen hymns of repentence before Jesus helps her to regain the spiritual heights.

These new patriarchal discourses still had to contend with a deep-rooted conviction in the Goddess as the ultimate source of life. Even hostile writers acknowledge that Sophia gives the breath of life to Adam, though they show this happening indirectly. But they view the material creation as evil, imprisoning the souls who live in it. Often Sophia herself is shown falling into bondage.

In one Gnostic myth, Sophia was made prisoner by the seven archons. The essence of Wisdom made flesh in female form was subjected to every indignity, including being forced into whoredom. In one version, Simon Magus rescues “Helena” from a brothel in Tyre. But in actuality she is the creator of the angels who made the world. She is called Kyria, Lady, a Greek term corresponding to the christian god’s title Kyrios. [Allegro, 141-5] These stories don’t refer to idealized notions of sacred harlots making love in freedom, but to female degradation in the prison-brothels of the Roman empire. While they may be taken as an affirmation of the presence of the sacred within the enslaved women, they also demark a clear demotion of the Wisdom goddess, who has lost her original sovereign power.

The earlier view of Goddess as the supreme Source, or alternatively as a male god’s perfect partner, now gave way to the idea that she was a lower being in need of pardon and salvation. New authors developed themes of a deluded and foolish Sophia (contradicting the very meaning of her name, “Wisdom”). They accuse of her of breaking cosmic law by creating without a male partner and describe her creation as defective. [Couliano, 78-9]

While these writers blamed Sophia for conceiving alone, they praise the male god for creating without a partner. In their tellings, Sophia he is cast down and made to suffer and repent until a superior male god deigns to “correct her deficiency.” As Sophia is mythically overthrown, other female figures pick up aspects of her power, but the force of the Gnostic Wisdom goddess is almost spent.

Under the oppressive climate of the Roman empire, with its heavy taxation, displaced populations, urban crowding, plagues, slave economy, and arena executions, to say nothing of pervasive violence against women, a profound negativity had seeped into religious consciousness. People felt like prisoners in the world, and a conviction arose that creation itself was flawed. The taint reached back to the Goddess herself, since she manifested herself in matter, in birth, in bodies.

This new doctrine identifying the female with bondage, weakness, inferiority and fault was the final means of overthrowing the Goddess Mysteries in the Mediterranean. The process was erratic. Judaic Wisdom mysticism, so influential in early Gnosticism, exalted the creative power of Khokhmah, and held that creation was good, even though the female is formally subordinated to the male throughout the Bible. But increasingly Gnostics gravitated toward an “value-inversion,” not only revolting against the Biblical god, but rejecting all creation as well.

Although Gnostics were strongly influenced by Judaism, which features Wisdom as a co-creator, many of their writings evince a strong animus against it. Some emphasize the female creative principle, while others, especially the later texts, demote her. Much of Gnostic scripture reinterprets the biblical creation story, making Yahweh (cast as Ialdabaoth or Saklas or Authades) junior to the creating Wisdom goddess, unaware of her presence but working with her light. Possibly this theme originated as a reassertation of the Goddess (especially she of ten-thousand-names in Egypt) whose scattered signatures are visible in the Gnostic amalgam of Hellenistic, Judaic and Persian cosmologies. Some of these accounts can be read as a defense of her divinity and creative power as against the increasingly influential concept of a masculine god as sole creator.

But the syncretic Goddess of late antiquity was gradually subjected to heavy-handed reinterpretation as Gnostics embraced a heavily polarized doctrine of dualism. Thei rejection of the “lower” world ended up dragging down the Goddess in the midst of its attack on Judaism. It demanded rejection of the body, of lovemaking and the ancient birth mysteries: of Earth and Nature herself. New christian doctrines stripped Sophia of her divine qualities, dramatically subordinating her to the Father and to Christ as her male partner and savior. Later writers dropped the name Sophia altogether. Some introduce new names, but the visible trend is away from myths exalting a creatrix.

The variant picture of the Gnostic scriptures reflects an intense campaign to beat down goddess veneration and to split body and spirit. The tension is more open in the Gnostic gospels precisely because the female divinity is still powerful, in contrast to the christian canon. It was in Egypt and other centers of the Mysteries that the last stand for open Goddess worship was fought — and ultimately lost — on the battleground of Gnosticism.

Eradicating the Goddess proved to be an impossible task. She survived in myriads of forms in popular belief, veiled as Mary or christian saints. The Virgin Mary occupied a much less powerful position in church doctrine and scriptures than the old pagan Goddess. Folk tradition is another story; there devotion shifted to Mary from the old goddesses and persisted over centuries as new ethnicities entered christendom. Due to this popular pressure and the role it played in the clergy’s conversion strategy, Mary escaped the degradation that Gnostic christians ended up heaping on Sophia, and the stigma that theologians cast over Eve. Catholicism ended up absorbing goddess traditions over the centuries, through progressive engorgements, while Gnosticism gradually shed them.

But the story of Sophia does not end there. Her Greek worshippers succeeded in assimilating her to Orthodox christianity, as Hagia Sophia. The greatest cathedral of the Byzantines was raised in honor of this “Holy Wisdom,” supported by the great porphyry pillars taken from the Ephesian temple of Artemis. The early Orthodox Greeks regarded Hagia Sophia as a female member of the Trinity, the “Holy Spirit.” This strand persisted in Orthodox Christian mysticism, and is still a force in Russian spirituality. Western Christian feminists have also reclaimed it in recent decades.

This title of “Holy Spirit” also belonged to Ruha d’Qudsha, the goddess of the Iraqi Mandaeans. She had been demonized by the Christian era, but she is an Aramaean analogue to the Hebrew Shekhinah: compare Biblical ruach, “spirit” and qadoshah, “holy,” and remember, too, the ancient Canaanite-Egyptian goddess QDSU or Qudsha. The Aramaean goddess undergoes the same debasement in Syria and northern Iraq as Sophia had in the eastern Mediterranean. Ruha d’Qudsha, as mother of the “evil” planets and zodiac spirits, is another fallen, or rather toppled, goddess. She is called deficient and defective, and must be uplifted and guided by the Father.

The Torah uses the word “hovering,” as with beating wings, to describe the divine Presence that Talmudic writers had begun to call the Shekhinah. Her image resonates with the ancient veneration of doves as sacred to Canaanite, Syrian, and Cypriot goddesses. Christians adopted this imagery, picturing the Holy Spirit as a winged radiance and a hovering dove. She flutters above Mary in innumerable scenes of the Annunciation, and above the consecrated chalice and bread.

As for Khokhmah, she remained a presence within the Hebrew Scriptures. Thousands of years after her praises were embedded in the Book of Proverbs, medieval christian mystics were attracted to this female image of Wisdom. Hildegarde of Bingen knew her as Sophia, Scientia Dei, and Sapientia of the seven pillars. One of her manuscripts even shows her wearing the mural crown of the ancient goddess of Asia Minor. Hildegarde’s profoundly animistic poetry sings the praises of Life endowed with Wisdom, as a goddess in all but name:

I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all living sparks. Death hath no part in me, yet I bestow death, wherefore I am girt about with Wisdom as with wings. I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields, and in the shining water, and in the burning sun and the moon and the stars, and in the force of the invisible wind, the breath of all living things, I breathe in the green grass and the flowers, and in the living waters…
[Book of Divine Works, circa 1167, in Partnow, The Quotable Woman, 48]


Allegro, John, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth, Prometheus, Buffalo, 1984

Arthur, Rose, The Wisdom Goddess: Motifs in Eight Nag Hammadi Documents, University of America Press, New York, 1984

Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen, Female Fault and Fulfilment in Gnosticism, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel, 1986

Couliano, Ioan, The Tree of Gnosis: Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

Doresse, Jean, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, Viking Press, NY, 1960

Drinker, Sophie, Music and Women, Coward-McCann, New York, about 1948

Long, Asphodel P, In a Chariot Drawn by Lions: The Search for the Female in Deity, Crossing Press, Freedom CA, 1993

Pagels, Elaine, The Gnostic Gospels, Weidenfield and Nicholson, London, 1979

Patai, Raphael, The Hebrew Goddess, Wayne State U Press, Detroit, 1990 (The third edition is updated and contains a new chapter on the Kabbalah.)

Young, Serinity, An Anthology of Sacred Texts by and about Women

Further reading

The updated and fuller version of the above article is available at:

Click to access GnosticGoddessFallenSophia.pdf

Gnostic Goddess, Female Power and the Fallen Sophia

I haven’t read it myself yet but after skimming can see that it includes references to the other cradle of civilization e.g.:

Gnostics believed in the growth and perfectibility of the soul over countless lifetimes. They sought to progress through meditation, chanting, retreats to the wilderness, austerities, the praise of silence. Modern scholars remark on the similarities to Hinduism or Buddhism, something that the ancients recognized. Around the year 225, Hippolytus named the “brahmins” as an influence on Gnosticism, citing vegetarianism, the concept of god as light, and adepts wise in Nature’s mysteries.
[Pagels 1979: xxi]

Pistis retorts, “You are wrong, Samael [blind god]… there is an immortal light man that exists before you.” (Here Neoplatonism surfaces in the mix of traditions.) The god later realizes the truth of her words when he glimpses her image on the water, and he repents. [Origin of the World, online] This story is repeated by Irenaeus in his description of Ophite cosmology; there, when Ialdabaoth proclaims himself sole god, Sophia shouts, “Do not lie!” [Doresse, 38] A similar counter narrative appears in a Buddhist critique of Hinduism, where Brahma imagines that he is the creator. [Klein, 158]


Kali/Mahavidyas – Clarification

I was just saying to Mum yesterday something that’s been bothering me – that we hadn’t gotten round to explaining the use of the Mahavidyas (forms of Lalita Maha Kali) though we have mentioned them before and spoken about Kali. I thought it might be confusing due to their general representation. Note – the Mahavidyas can also simply be called Kalis (plural), though their number is disputed, the most famous number being the Dasha (9 + 1, they being the 9 and Lalita being the 1). But any number comes after Lalita or in that sense Lalita Maha Kali (Great Lalita who becomes Kali or Lalita and Her Kalis) and the Kalis are not her only forms, and those forms have forms of forms – a great many needed to be space/creation.

Then today it came to my attention that Nag Hammadi and early Gnostic researcher John Lamb Lash is using the name Kalika (another form of Kala or Kali etc basically meaning ‘Black’/dark/time) for action based upon what he’s probably most well known for and what he calls the Sophianic Myth – his interpretation of the Nag Hammadi (and it seems channeling or inner voice) on the divine feminine. I’m not massively au fait with his work only having seen/heard a few of his interviews though and having tried to read his book Not In His Image. That said there is probably quite a bit of crossover in information I have presented on this blog but I feel it best to put this note here. I don’t have any affiliation with his work, party, belief or manifesto and I do not agree with/approve of the use of the patriarchal version of Kali and hence also her Mahavidya sub/extra-parts/forms of being.

Interestingly enough he’s also using the name Kalki which is a completely masculanized version of Kali implying a male avatar and that it’s ‘coming’, perhaps he thinks its already here or is trying to make/bring it, or sees himself as the name since he’s acting as figurehead. I never agreed with his eager acceptance of the ideal man or person being that which laughs scornfully at nature (Sophia) making the most of what she has to offer, nor the privileged ancient Greek lifestyle. Kali is a completely feminine (original feminine not feminine of what we’d consider feminine nowadays) concept or character – masculanizing it in Hinduism was always completely twisted. It should also not be associated with anti-LGBT since, and as he infers but doesn’t go into in one of his interviews, our current awareness of creation and reproduction is not in line with what was considered as ‘real’ in the time where she was in ‘original’ or at least older form to the point where we remember her earliest. Our current sexes and genders would not apply and feminine was an all inclusive term – hard to explain or recognize to today’s standards, the terms ‘man’ and ‘god’ did not relate to ‘masculine’. Lalita Rajarajeshvari for example means ‘King of Kings’ but is entirely feminine and refers only to Lalita (Red, She Who Plays, Love and made creation/manifestation/existence from the void/source through ‘pure joy’ and not the type of joy associated with sexual intercourse which is actually pain relief so confused with joy. It was not viewed as through a plug style penetration/harnessing of source energy, it’s the stolen/vampiric energy that is associated with the Fall of creation, the Demi-Urge, the separating from Mother to Mother-Daughter and the Fall of the Daughter into fallen creation to help it – later referred to as Krishna and even later referred to via the Jesus the Christ/kryst/crystalline story), though nowadays you’d have to say ‘Queen of Queens’ to be commonly understood.

Perhaps it seems a natural progression for him to go from Sophia/Lalita/Dea to Kali as the more practical/hands on route for Sophia’s Correction as he puts it but Kali as most know her today is a morphed version of her former self. Her and the Mahavidyas are seen as fringe and the remnants of a root culture, they pre-date modern Hinduism. She and the forms of are currently associated to many with tantra, sex, death, vampirism, necrophilia, ‘Black magic’, ritualistic hedonism and sacrifice; her age has also been commonly ignored as she is now seen as a feminine form of Shiv(a) and apparently even Durga. All of the those characteristics are later additions and the latter characters are younger, separate and conveniently the current heads of the prevailing ruling ‘divine’ triads in modern-post Vedic Hinduism (with the male one – Shiv(a)/Brahm(a)/Vishnu and Indra – being higher than the female – Durga/Laxmi/Sarasvati – and the female mainly being referred to as consorts.) Shiv(a) and Durga are thought of as the almighty and the creators of the universe though they, like everyone/thing else was made by Lalita who is the first/greatest/Maha Kali from which Kali and her Mahavidyas came before Shiv(a)/Durga et al. Typical re-categorizing and distracting behaviour with regime change (e.g. building a temple over an older temple and mixing things up a bit, omitting some, changing some, adding some… Until you forget which is which and who is who, where the entrance and exit was, which way is the loo? Oh heck when did they add a gift shop, I totally need to get me one of those t-shirts – eh why do I need money again and why does it look so weird?) Yeah…

The association with the Thunderbird is also ‘hmm’ since in South Asian terms it’s referring to Garuda and hence Jatayu so Vishnu forms/seats not Kali related proper unless… I’ll get to that. They, along with much of Hinduism, can be found in early or now fringe Buddhism (not the watered down Western ideas we have of Buddism) and obviously the phoenix – other forms of – and can be linked to the Benu bird, and perhaps most well known in Native American beliefs (where it can take on the reptile form of Quetzalcoatl) as well as a straight up animal aka eagle. But remember in Asia thrones were traditionally viewed as animals and represented transport or even gates/portals or access to those. To Kali – or actually, her mother Lalita, her chariot/throne or flying seat can be seen as a whole dark star system and some think of it as Nibiru et al. So that links in with the use of ‘Kalki’/’coming male’ and perhaps ‘Lord Nibiru’ – kind of like putting reins on the ‘divine feminine’ energy/power and fitting it into a patriarchal view/use. Like using the term Maha Kali for humans or males since they are not mothers, even Hindus who love naming their children after divinities don’t do that. Then there’s ‘”5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Thunderbirds are go!” *explosive projectile blasts*’ puppets.

The point of this ‘disclaimer’ of sorts is to reiterate that I’m not religious, I don’t have political affiliations, I’m not a member of groups. However since there’s some similarity in our presentation it’s probably best to say this now as I’ve learned about it – that just because out of all the research I’ve done I’ve been kindest to Lalita (Mother) and Kali (Dark Mother) doesn’t mean I agree with other people’s interpretations/use of them. I don’t think the Dark Mother is represented correctly as a counterpart or form of Shiv(a) (could be called the Demi-Urge) and Durga (the usurper of Lalita in current culture) and I believe her connection to death is hampered by cultural norms e.g. the differences of social attitudes towards types of death or fear of the unknown between the West and East such as moral derision to suicide common in the US but a very different view from traditional Japan. As for the other controversial connotations she and her forms of have – poppycock is pretty much how I view them (not as valuable manure but more just waste/garbage) and that means whist I don’t disbelieve in people partaking in those things and there being consequences I’m not personally a believer/partaker.

I see Kali as a representation of or the Dark Mother but not cruel or spiteful as compared to  a number of old Eur-Asian belief systems where harsh to downright awful mother/daughter figures or even triple goddesses can be found nor is she the ‘evil stepmother’ as per could be later/currently thought of as a Disney syndrome. I’d never noticed a preference from Lash to Asian (or South Asian at least) names though of course since Kali is a root Goddess and she is/can be linked to many other goddesses worldwide (as the Daughter is/can be linked to characters feminine or masculine defined by virgin births, sacrifice, cave analogy and resurrection) hence as aforementioned I can see why he’s picked her name but I disagree with his use/interpretation of it and the Mahavidyah names for his Thunderbird structure. I see her name in it’s wide-sweeping cosmic/space form – meaning the darkness of space and distance (the measurement of being time) and from that which everything comes, and ends. She is a protector of the Divine Mother and hence destroyer, ‘Dark Mother’ is generally an honour/acknowledgment title for her status being a major part of the Mother when she separates into the Ma-tri(x)/Creatrix (triple Mother): Mother-Dark Mother-Daughter. She is not a or the Creator, more a maintainer (the Daughter represents creation – but also has the respectful Mother association title as she is still directly from/a part of/the Mother but is also separate from her and is generally the one referred to in religions when we hear about a divine child being sacrificed/falling away to look after those who are not seen as direct creations/divisions of the Mother i.e. parts that are diluted enough to exist at all and be separately sentient – in effect questioning/confused – from the Mother and her high forms such as Kali/Mahavidyas, otherwise they wouldn’t be separately sentient and would automatically disin/reintegrate.) Kali/Mahavidyas don’t talk much, conversational communication appears in scripture when the later ‘gods’ become prominent, her character is altered and the Mahavidyas become even lesser known.

Lalita, Kali or Bala are not Earth/Gaia though ultimately she is part of them like all the other cosmic bodies. This duality – all from one, one dividing into all – is what leads to the Divine/Cosmic Mother or Divine Feminine terms being used interchangeably with Mother/Earth/Solar/Galactic Goddess, and the triple/tri/trix importance where one is three and three is one. (In later systems/modifications that can be seen as 3 + 1.)

On a sidenote – I’m also not a New Ager and don’t agree with/approve of unconditional love and don’t see anger as a negative or bad emotion and do think you have to be tough as nails to survive on/in/around (whatever) Earth. I don’t confuse revenge with retribution and I’m not scared of judging and thinking that not all opinions or beings are equal but as someone on Earth I strive for equality of opportunity/fairness. I’m not scared of being strong and ‘warrior’ like but would prefer things to be peaceful so I could just lay under a tree in the sunshine or something that to many might sound lazy or sadly even ‘boring’ but to me that’s pure harmony, I don’t want bad things to happen to prove myself or drama to pique my interest. I don’t think there needs/should be struggle or suffering to be ethical/aware/learn/appreciate. I’m not interested in forgiving and forgetting especially not for the sake of personal evolution/ascension – I’ve too much social conscience for that type of spirituality. I’ve never thought that good beings need leaders, perhaps assistance from time to time or temporary guidance but as long as creatures aren’t going beyond their default nature of parasite (which we all are as long as we need something else to survive let alone thrive) to invasive, ruling, harmful, using/abusing, making a business out of life etc then leadership shouldn’t be necessary. That’s unrealistic in life as we know it though and whilst I don’t like it survival of the fittest or those with the strongest will/resources who shout the loudest longest tend to get their way and later ‘die’ in relative comfort surrounded by people they at least prefer over others/’outsiders’. We’ll see who’s strongest, who’s left standing – or better yet Lalita MahaKali will ensure we’re all re-absorbed/unmanifested into source again ;-). In the meantime… 🙂