Searching for Sophia: What has happened to feminine wisdom and is it too late for the world to rediscover it? A reflection with a gnostic slant.
Making Women Public Property: As we go about our daily lives women feel themselves under constant scrutiny. A brief look at this particular imbalance in the gender status quo.
Through the Shattered Glass: When women look in the mirror, what do we see? A true reflection of who we really are? Or something more sinister, promoted by our current social mores?
Searching for Sophia
What is it about women the world fears? A brief tour throughout history shows we have been oppressed, sold into slavery, burnt at the stake, abused by our own husbands, fathers and sons or, if we think we’ve managed to escape, sacrificed on the altar of domesticity and blatant sexism. This universal oppression of women in our society has been reasonably well documented though paradoxically, most of the books and articles written on the subject have been academic. I refer to it as a paradox because the feminine perspective is overwhelmingly that of feeling and the embodiment of feminine wisdom lies in sentience, not in the rational modes we adopt in order to gain acceptance in a world dominated by masculine edicts.
But what has happened to feminine wisdom? And why has it disappeared? Can it be recovered? While stories of womanly wisdom have been told in myth and legend for millenium, much has been deliberately ignored and certainly suppressed by history. In order to understand feminine strength then, one must ferret out and listen to the stories of the oppressed, the minorities, the outcast ones.
Dan Brown’s much talked-about and criticized ‘The DaVinci Code’ has aroused the general public’s curiosity for questing the Holy Grail, which by the end of the book is revealed to be the simple and singular quest to sit and worship at the bones of the outcast one, Mary Magdalene.
Painting her as a woman of ill repute, the Church fathers left the real Magdalene out of the Holy Scriptures, completely stripping her of power. But few realize that around thirty years ago the Roman Catholic Church, quietly but officially, released a statement refuting its historical assertion that the Magdalene was a prostitute, revealing that there is in fact, no scriptural basis for the belief. It was merely a clever ploy by a patriarchal system to vanquish feminine authority and strength. While Dan Brown never suggests that his work is anything but a work of fiction, some of his ideas correlate closely with the Gnostic Scriptures, particularly the Gospel of Mary. In this gospel Mary’s original state is that of ‘equal’ to her bridegroom, Jesus, who never intended for her to be subjugated. According to Gnostic Scriptures, which were suppressed by the early Christian Church, Jesus planned for his ministry to be passed on, not to Peter, but to Mary Magdalene. That is, for the foundations of his ‘church’ to be laid not by Peter the Rock but by Jesus’ own companion (and some say wife), Mary. This feminine power must have posed a huge threat to male authorities; so they robbed her of power and clothed her in shame. Mary, the forgiven prostitute who must never forget her place, was subject to the oldest trick in the book – the casting of sexual aspersions upon her character.
Who is Sophia?
In some ways Mary Magdalene’s predicament mirrors the legend of Sophia, feminine god of wisdom who, according to Gnostic lore, was alienated from the heavens by her own desire to seek the light.
As a parallel to the human psychological condition Sophia is the higher self or spiritual soul. The lower self, or psychological ego, can be likened to the aspect of Sophia that splits off when she becomes alienated from the Fullness (also called the Father). Hosts of divine beings populate this Fullness, having emanated from its pure love and Sophia, the youngest, is furthest removed from the Father’s light. With all her heart she yearns to be near it and as she searches, she thinks she spies it in the distance, not realizing it is only a reflection in the depths of the Abyss.
Thus deceived, she begins her downward spiral, toppling further away from the Fullness and deeper into the Abyss. But at the outer Limit she is stopped by another power – Horos – and in the event her nature becomes divided; one part becoming enlightened and ascending back to the Fullness; the other remaining alienated and sorrowing.
This lower Sophia cries and rages against her fate and from her pain issues a hybrid form of consciousness – a kind of egotistical monster called the Demierge. Believing he operates entirely on his own the Demierge designs his own kingdom – our universe – a flawed world created by a flawed being.
What this creator of our world can’t comprehend is that Sophia can and does continue to operate through him and is responsible for imposing the only true beauty and harmony we know. But the Demierge remains doggedly unaware of any God/s above him and convinces his own creations – us – that he is the One True God. Though Sophia remonstrates with him, he keeps his creations in ignorance, blind to any collective unconscious.
Yet within the Fullness the other divine beings want Sophia back and plead with the ultimate Godhead to allow them, the high aeons of the Fullness, to join forces in an attempt to rescue her. These high beings include the Holy Spirit, the Christos (Christlight) and Jesus, Sophia’s Heavenly Bridegroom who must strengthen her for her return. Sophia perceives the light of the Christos shining on a huge cross and longs for home. (Note that while the exiled soul longs for home, so too do the divine beings long for the return of the soul.)
In and of the darkness, Sophia has enemies – largely arrogance and ignorance – and these pursue and plague her right to the gateway of the Divine Light (the Godhead). She must call out repeatedly to the Light until her bridegroom Jesus leads her, finally, to her seat of wisdom.
It is significant that Sophia must be strengthened by her other half – Jesus. Her predicament is the same as ours; it is the loss of wholeness. We need both the Christ and the Sophia.
Where has Sophia gone?
Gnosticism was suppressed in the third and fourth centuries as the Western Church subjected Sophia to deliberate neglect. In both the Old and New Testaments, Sophia is referred to simply as ‘wisdom’, no longer a divine being or emanation from God. Even today, despite the rising popularity of a goddess culture, the original Sophia, who is a totally spirited being, has little to do with the sexualized images of the goddess as she appears in feminist and new age philosophy. Current thinking would try to convince us that everything female and mythic is Sophia but in her primeval form, she is androgynous, genderless. She remains unrelated to modern images, even though her name has been pilfered for their use.
Will she return?
Our earth would experience far-reaching benefits as a result of balancing masculine and feminine energies. Since man’s urge is to conquer and woman’s to nurture, an enhanced respect for the sacred feminine in all its aspects would be reflected in a deeper respect for the natural environment. The need for dominion would diminish in direct proportion to the increased desire to live in harmony. A rise in feminine strength would see a decline in brutality of all kinds, from child abuse and rape to the plundering of third world resources.
No matter what one thinks of gnostic philosophy, there is no doubt that the earth is an imperfect and struggling creation. But today there appears to be a collective calling, a spiritual gathering together of people, particularly women, who feel as Sophia did; as aliens in a flawed world. Witness them in Internet forums and discussion groups; find them newly unfolding their tentative ideas in new literature, reinventing ways to pass on feminine strength and wisdom.
The concept that seems to underpin the resurgence of the feminine is the need to break down the walls that divide us; the competition that exists between women – young against old; the beautiful (at least in the eyes of the world) against the not-so-beautiful; the haves against the have-nots. There is a push to break down this illusion of elitism for it is almost certainly an illusion. Why it was created and who created it is a subject that would alone fill several books but its existence is understood by all women. It keeps us alone, isolated, afraid. It prevents us from trusting one another, from sharing our stories, from reaching out to help our sisters. Ultimately it keeps women from becoming a formidable force, one that is destined to redress the many imbalances of our physical and spiritual world.
But the native women are restless. They are waiting; we are waiting for the return of Sophia. Not to oust her masculine equivalent, the Christ, from his throne, but to join him in healing the world. The question remains, ‘Will she be accompanied and strengthened by her masculine consort?’ Will we? Or will the dominant masculine force once again crush and oppress, ignorant that he destroys a hidden part of himself, the answer to his ultimate fulfillment?
Making Women Public Property
A woman’s experience of the world is intensely public. Our very forms of dress are designed so that at no time are our personal body parts kept private in the way that a man’s body is kept to himself. At all times our breasts, hips, legs and faces are up for public male scrutiny since men are allowed to stare at us in a way that women are not permitted to stare and men are not permitted to do to one another. A male to male stare is most likely to produce an aggressive response in reaction to the invasion of privacy and to the (correctly) assumed perception of judgement. It is instinctively understood that this is a violation and a power play, one which women are not able to defend themselves against. At the end of a ‘normal’ day it’s not uncommon for me, and others like me, to feel emotionally violated and yet we’re told to view this unwanted attention as complimentary. We’re supposed to enjoy it; be flattered by it; and grateful to the man who has passed his judgement on us.
Television, movies and magazines perpetuate the smokescreen. On view at any time of night or day, are dozens of images of female flesh, almost invariably young and scantily clad; if not young, then cosmetically doctored or virtually enhanced. Our men pass judgement on these objects as well, while we sit and squirm, feeling inadequate and often, emotionally betrayed. (And woe betide the woman who breaks her silence on this issue!) Is it any wonder that so many women shy away from physical intimacy, hiding their ‘normal’ bodies and making excuses for their lack of interest. The fact is, as Naomi Wolf points out in her book, ‘The Beauty Myth’, if men were subject to the kinds of imagery and judgement that women experience umpteen times a day, they would come to our beds with failing hearts. It would be our partners, not us, who turn off the lights, get undressed in the dark and duck for cover under the sheets before they could be seen as the unique piece of humanity they are. That is, if we’re truly to turn the hypothesis on its head, they wouldn’t look anything like sixteen to twenty year old boys, half starved of nutrition, pumped up with obsessive exercise, doctored by cosmetic surgery and even then, airbrushed into society’s definition of perfection. Seen in this light, our position is truly ridiculous and the men who, by their participation in this destructive situation, even if only by their complacent acceptance of the ‘norm’, are also ridiculous.
Through the Shattered Glass
We all see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others. This is not a peculiarly feminine trait; it is simply peculiarly human. For most men this reflection is whole. For me and my sisters the image we behold is a collection of distorted fragments, none of them pleasing, none good enough. When I behold my face the first feature I see is my too long nose, an aberrant beak, a bulbous knob. From there I note the black, immutable shadows that lie in the caverns beneath my eyes and looking up I see two canyons coursing through my forehead, deviant worried lines that do not belong there despite my fifty-one years and decade and a half of ill-health.
I’ve known enough men to know that what they see as they age is generally a ‘bloke who looks pretty good for forty-six’ (or fifty or sixty). Though there are exceptions of course, for the male of the species it’s the being inside who counts, and if the man is pleased with himself then he is pleased with his reflection. (And sometimes, even if there’s not a lot to be pleased about, a man can still like what he sees!) Not so woman.
A woman can achieve much, love much, make great inroads for justice, nurture others, develop her talents and her spirituality (in-so-far as she is able in this world), and still behold a hideously flawed being in the mirror. Our collective neurosis? I don’t think so. There’s more to it than that. Our own lovers often tell us this story, if not through blunt words, then through their actions, even when we look for them to liberate us through their love. We at least want to be perfect in their eyes. We know they are so often perfect in ours.
There are two ways to go from here. We can either break down the bonds that bind humanity to materialism and objectification, bringing the strength of feminine wisdom with us, or we can harden our hearts and succumb to the inevitable, destructive forces that are at play in a male dominated world. I fear the world is taking this lesser road instead of the road less travelled. There will be no winners.