God’s wisdom and the co-creatrix of the world considered by many Christian philosphers and artists to be a female manifestation of God appearing to the humankind and Holy Spirit,the third person of Trinity. Sophia means Wisdom in Greek.
The concept of Sophia i.e. Wisdom has already been known in the times of antiquity, Pitagoras, Socrates and Plato perceived philosophy literary as philo (‘love for’) – sophia (‘wisdom’). According to Plato, Wisdom was one of four cardinal virtues (as Prudence) therefore it was believed that the philosphers should rule the Utopian country because such rulers would admire prudence. The love for wisdom itself was also shown in the behaviour of Socrates when he said I know that I know nothing. Contrary to what may seem, such statement opens the mind for Wisdom because this makes it resemble an empty jar which can be filled with knowledge; it is also a contrast to the attitude of Sophists who claimed they were able to teach wisdom, for an approprate price of course. Later the Hellenistic philosophers merged the concept of Sophia with Logos (‘Word’), this idea was then adopted by the author of the Gospel of John (introduction: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God) and it is resulted in perceiving Jesus as the Word of the Father.
Sophia has a special status in monotheistic religions. Wisdom is called Chokmah/Hokmah in a Jewish tradition and she is the subject of many books of the Old Testament (Proverbs, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, Wisdom of Sirach). The part which is crucial for the interpretation of Divine Wisdom is the quote from Proverbs when Wisdom speaks about herself
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
at the very beginning, when the world came to be (…)
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
(NIV Bible, Proverbs 8:22).
This fragment is widely discussed, some claim that it the basis to assume that Chokmah is a divine person while others believe that it is only a symbolic representation. Honestly speaking I am not surprised at all by the latter attitude because the female element is usually treated in a symbolic way in monotheisthic religions . The description of creating the first human is an additional reason to believe in a personal, not symbolic interpretation of Chokhmah
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”
(NIV Bible, Genesis 1:26).
If God was all alone, he would probably have said ‘my’, not ‘our’. And from limited but still logical human point of view the personal interpretation seems to be justified, in the end you need both male and female energy for the act of creation.
Those interested in the Kabballah are aware of the fact that Chokmah is the name of the Tree of Life’s sefirot, which together with Binah is the closest to the sefirot Kether (it must be said however that Chokmah represents male energy there). The word Shekhinah meaning God’s Presence on Earth (e.g. in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the burning bush when God appears to Moses, in the inspiration of the prophets and King David when he creates psalms) is feminine which allows some researchers to identify her as Chokmah basing on what she speaks about herself, I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind (NIV Bible, Proverbs 8:22).
According to the Jewish law Shekhinah is where at least seven pious Jews gather. In Kaballah Shekhinah is also called Matronit and in some religious songs she is identified as the Bride from Song of Songs. According to the Jewish tradition Shekhinah is the essence of womanhood with whom every man contacts through his wife. Kabballah teaches that every pious Jew has two partners, one on Earth and the other in Heavens; the mystery of matrimony reflects in the fact that mating with his earthly companion he becomes close to the heavenly one in a natural way because the one on Earth represents the one in Heavens. There are also different interpretations of the name Ruach Ha Kodesh which is used to describe God in Psalms 51:11 and in the Book of Isahiah meaning ‘the Divine spark, the Divine inspiration, insight, breath, wind, invisible moving force’ (‘ruach’ is also feminine).
In Christianity Divine Wisdom is also one of the most important themes as it appears in gospels and apostolic letters. She is particularly worshipped in the Eastern Christianity where she is identified as Divine Word (Logos) which was incarnated into Christ. In the Orthodox liturgy the priest is introducing the reading of the Bible with the word Sophia! to make everyone pay attention. The best example of the big respect shown to Divine Wisdom is certainly basilica Hagia Sophia (which had been built in Christian Constantinople, later it was turned into a mosque and it is a museum now).
However in the Western Christianity there were also people who had a special reverence to Sophia. These were among others Hildegard of Bingen (below you will find her picture of Sophia), Jakob Böhme , 16th century visionaire whose philosophy strongly influenced other thinkers or Jane Leade, 17th century English mystic who was describing her visions and dialogues with Sophia (similarly to Vladimir Solovyov who will be presented later).
It may seem natural for Christianity to follow the Jewish tradition of Chokmah and Shekhinah and to attribute the feminine features to the Holy Ghost. Indeed the representation of the Holy Trinity as Father, Son&Sophia remained in the church in Urschalling in Upper Bavaria
However, when the Old and New Testament were translated into Greek, the Holy Ghost was described with the word pneuma (literary ‘breath’, it is neuter) and in Latin the form Spiritus Sancti was used (it is a second declension so the gender is definitely masculine). The Holy Ghost was therefore presented either as a man (below you will find a famous icon Trinity by Andrei Rublev, all the three divine persons are young men) or as a dove.
It should be mentioned that doves have always been connected to womanhood (below the picture of Aphrodite from the deck by Hrana Janto).
It was Gnosticism, the religious and philosophical movement popular in the East of the Roman Empire in the first and the second century, which developed the concept of Sofia. The Gnostics were inspired by many beliefs and religious systems such as Judaism, Christianity, Zoroaster and Hellenic and Roman philosophers. Its main assumption was the belief that the material world in which we live is imperfect and gnosis (cognition) is the only way to liberate oneself from its limits. It is difficult to analyse it nowadays because not many materials remained and particular Gnostic currents differed from one another but there are some common points for all of them:
1. Sophia is a female emanation from the very beginnings (which connects her to Sige – Silence Before Creation). It is in Pleroma (Fullness, Oneness) with other emanations (aeons). It is associated with the Divine Wisdom known from the Jewish stories which was co-creating the world, although in the Gnostic version it happened in quite an untoward manner. Sophia is an emanation of God and represents his female aspect who extracted herself spontaneously from the unnamed highest creature, the primary aeon (Jah/Bythos) as his „reflection”, mental power and wisdom. She is his lowest and furthest emanation together with Christ (aeons are paired, male and female ones exist together).
2. She experiences the first cognition, Sophia becomes pregnant all by herself, without the participation of God, and brings Demiurge (also called Archon or Yaltabaoth – ‘Child of Chaos’) to the Universe (quoting The Secret Book of John from the Nag Hammadi archives, And an imperfect product appeared from her, and it was different from her pattern because she created it without her partner. And it was not patterned after the likeness of its Mother, for it had a different form. When she saw (the product of) her will, it was different, a model of a lion-faced serpent. His eyes were like flashing fires of lightning. She cast him out from her, outside of those places so that none among the immortals might see him, for she had created him in ignorance).
Demiurge organises the material world which is not perfect because it lacks a spiritual element. He is not aware of God’s existence therefore he considers himself to be God and together with seven Archons (‘Rulers, Watchers’) keeps the mankind in the veil of illusion thus breaking the primary divine oneness. There are different reasons given to explain why Sophia becomes pregnant, it is either the will of disconnecting from God or haughtiness or an uncontrolled need of creating or madness.
3. Through disconnecting from the divine oneness it is also Sophia who has to exist in two forms: Sofia Ennoia i.e. the High Sofia, Neverending One, The Power of the Thoughts as well as the Low Sofia called the Small Sophia or Sophia of Death. In this way Sophia combines two elements: the divine and the human one.
4. After the creation of the material world, Sophia gets stuck there and God feeling compassion for her, sends Christ to help her. Thanks to him, Sophia gets rid of low motives and comes back to the Oneness with Divinity (in another version it remains in the material world for the sake of the humankind whom she loves). Christ comes to Earth to teach people how to recognise wisdom so that they could participate in Pleroma, too.
In 19th century a movement based on the Gnostic tradition called sophiology was born in Russia. Sophiology is a belief in the metaphysical cognition of the Absolut through the contemplation of Sophia as his emanation. The Russian movement was started by Vladimir Solovyov, a thinker and esoteric whose doctrine was called ‘a mystic intuition of Sophia’. According to what he said himself he had experienced three meetings with Sophia which enlightened him; his first vision occured when he was nine and during the service he saw a female image of God. When he grew up and this image kept appearing in his dreams, he decided to take up theological studies. He was particularly impressed by the texts of Jakob Böhme and Emanuel Swedenborg, he also got interested in Kabballah and then Sophia reappeared to him and ordered to go to Egypt to continue his study about her. Probably because of that Sophia had some aspects of Isis: the vision was accompanied by the scent of roses, goddess’ flowers, besides it was Egypt where the cult of Isis began to transform into the belief in Sophia identified as Mary and all the doctrines assuming the faith in the female aspect of God’s Wisdom such as Hermetism, Gnosis and alchemy also originated from Egypt. Sophia’s message to Solovyov and other people was that the world is changing through love and human choices which allow to return to the divine Oneness.
Solovyov paid attention that regardless of a language her name is always feminine: in Hebrew it is ‘Chokmah’ (Wisdom, Knowledge), in Greek and Russian – ‘Sophia’ (Wisdom), in Hindi ‘Maya’ (Idea, female image of divinity), in Latin ‘Sapientia’ (Wisdom). He also claimed that throughout the Jewish and Christian tradition she has never been a separate deity but a female emanation of God. He perecived Sophia through the Gnostic and Kabballistic tradition as both Chokhmah and Shekhinah (a female beginning in God). The messages conveyed by his automatic writing survived and among them there was one with the notice An-Soph, Jah, Soph-Jah wchich can be translated as An Soph – ‘Hidden God of Kabballah’, Soph – ‘End’, Jah – ‘Unnamed God’. The whole notice means that Sophia is ‘the end of God’, a link between God and human kind, a mediator between energy and matter (which coresponds to the Gnostic tradition of Sophia as the aeon closest to Earth). Solovyov also maintained the Jewish belief that a female aspect of God is reflected in the beloved woman on Earth and love allows to see his visible image in the material world. He was following the philosophy of Jakob Böhme about death being the desintegration which began when the sexes of a primary androgenic creature were divided. He also assumed that a human who comes back to Oneness can become immortal therefore a harmonious relationship based on higher feelings can lead to the eternal life.
It is interesting to notice that in the 19th century Solovyov had only been capable to study Gnosticism from the texts of its opponents such as St.Irenaeus, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria or Hippolytus of Rome because a great number of Gnostic works was not discovered until the forties of last century when the archives of libraries in Nag Hammadi and Qumran were discovered. And yet despite Solovyov’s unacquaintance of these essential texts, his sophiological concepts are surprisingly consistent with the main assumptions of Gnocistism.
Solovyov has created very personal and sensual poems to Sophia which somehow resembled the relation between a priest and his goddess. He was calling her Eternal Friend, Queen, Goddess, Mystical Bride, Nature of the Universe, Most Beautiful Lady, Heavenly Maiden, Maiden of the Rainbow Gate, Dawn (Aurora), Ewig Weibliche, Boehme, etc. Sophia has many names in his works because she is divine therefore she can be anything. Solovyov has showed a special appreciation to love making because it is a chemical bond of two creatures thus it leads to the oneness. Even maternal love cannot be compared to it because it is always accompanied by the mother’s loss of individuality. This is why building good relationships with other people especially with women was for him the best expression of worship Sophia as woman had an exceptional position in sophiology.
Solovyov has immediately found many followers even though revelation is an individual and very intimate experience. Among those who shared his belief in Sophia were his brother Mikhail and nephew Sergey Solovyov, Alexander Blok, Boris Bugaev (Andrei Bely), also Pavel Florienski, Nikolai Berdyaev and most of all Sergey Bulgakov who perceived Sophia not as a part of Trinity but a being co-existing with the Trinity, equally powerful and acting as a female force apart from male Trinity (which was considered to be a heresy). Why was sophiology so popular in Russia? A possible explanation is that unlike Western Europe this country has not gone through the Age of Reason with its cult of logics and rational perception while the Orthodox Christianity retained some aspects of old religions with its visions of a cosmic order which resulted in mysticism and following spiritual leaders. Moreover, if you take a closer look at the Western culture, art and literature in the second part of the 19th century, you will find an image of a femme fatale as a main representation of womenhood (the motif of Salome with the head of John the Baptist was particularly popular). Such attitude was probably caused by progressive emancipation of women and men’s fear of losing their position. Meanwhile in Russia the trend was totally different. Some kind of mental revolution occured in the middle of 19th century which promoted the image of woman being an intelectual partner for a man as the ideal image of a woman. This is why the well – born maidens were educated and encouraged to develop themselves, of course it was only possible in those families who were able to afford it.
IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS
In Hellenic culture Sophia was rather a philosophical concept but sometimes her personifications have been made (here is her allegoric figure from the Library of Celsus in Ephesus).
It was similar with Shekhinah as the Israeli were forbidden to represent God through sculptures or pictures thus there are no figures nor other images of Wisdom neither.
As it has already been mentioned the most popular symbol representing Sophia in the Western Christianity is a dove while in the Eastern one the sophiological iconography is well developed.
Sophia’s symbol in the Christian culture is also a circle of seven pillars of knowledge (Proverbs again: Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. Proverbs 9:1)
There is also a certain riddle concering The Creation of Adam fresco by Michelangelo. Here it is if you don’t remember the details
Have a closer look at the person with blond hair, distinct eyes and slender silhouette who is embracing the Creator and differs from other cherubs.
The identity of this person was discussed; some believe that because of her female beauty this may be the figure of Eve waiting to be created, however if you look at the other parts of the fresco you will find Eve painted in a completely different manner
So who can that be? At least a couple of researchers believe it is Sophia herself.
According to Proverbs, I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be (…) Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind, which implies that Sophia must have been present at the creation of the first human (additionally look at Genesis 1:26, Then God said, “Let US make mankind in OUR image, in our likeness”).
It makes sense for me 🙂
I also highly recommend the article by Miguel Conner from Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio about Sophia and her connections to pagan myths.
This card represents someone who is wise, not only intelligent. Unlike the card of Athena which concentrates on facts and cold logic the card of Sophia pays attention more to an inner wisdom gathered by observations and not necessarily based on the bookish knowledge. In my personal understanding the card of Athena means studying Science while the one of Sophia talks about Humanities and Foreign Languages). This knowledge is based on love and understanding for others regardless of age, education or race. The person shown by this card is open and forgiving and in negative superficial, unable to predict the consequences of their acting and conceited.
Professions: a scientist, a lecturer, a teacher (rather on university level than on primary school), an inventor, a person using the intellect and language in their work, a mediator and any kind of intermediary.
Your thoughts create your reality, filter those which may harm you.
Look deeper. Observe without judging. In the situation you are inquring about you may be expected to behave on a higher level than others. Trust your own wisdom, no those who surround you. Know when it is good to speak and when it is better not to. Do not be discouraged by difficult beginnings, help will come.
This card confirms that your way of perceiving the world is correct. You may feel like being caged in structures, superstitions and superficiality. You may feel lonely and underestimated. Loneliness is often the price of wisdom but remember that wisdom itself has not got a high value if it is not shared. Others may learn from you and you from them.
Education. Understanding. Enlightement. Time to think. Communication. Mediation.
If you are in the relationship: this card often signifies the beginnings of a relationship, time of joy and playing but accompanied by other cards it also suggests the need of strenghtening the bond and behaving in a more careful way. Your partner’s mistake comes from their ignorance, not malice.
If you are single: your loneliness may be caused by the fact that you have not become mature enough for a stable relationship.
In the situation you are inquring about you may need to consult a specialist or a intermediary. Beginnings of a new project which is very probable to be successful despite initial problems. Do not focus only on profit, look from a wider perspective.
Beware of psychosomatic illnesses and those resulting from stress. Migrains. Insomnia. Possible misacarriage or premature delivery. Endangered parts of the body: psyche rather than a particular part of the body.
My favourite image of Sophia and the favourite card of all the possible decks is the one from Goddesses of the New Light by Pamela Matthews (referring to Gnostic philosophy)
The image of Sophia in Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr resembles the style of Orthodox icons which undoubtedly makes sense if you take into account the respect shown to Sophia by Eastern Christianity
Sophia in The Goddess Oracle by Hrana Janto&Amy Sophia Marashinsky is presented as being pregnant (again in accordance with a Gnostic tradition), she is holding a chalice of wisdom in her hands and is accompanied by a dove (a Western Christian tradition), you can also see the halo of Shekhinah above her head (a Jewish tradition)
Sophia in Goddess Card Pack by Juni Parkhurst has the face of Black Madonna and roses attributed to both Isis and Mary
Sophia in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took, I have an impression that this deep look of her eyes somehow refers to the fresco by Michelangelo which was discussed above
Sophia in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc (as Chokmah)
Rzeczycka Monika, Fenomen Sofii-Wiecznej Kobiecości w prozie powieściowej symbolistów rosyjskich (Andrieja Biełego, Fiodora Sołoguba, Walerija Briusowa), Gdańsk 2002, Divine Sophia: the Wisdom Writings of Vladimir Solovyov by Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov, Judith Deutsch Kornblatt (available here), The Christian Goddess: Archetype and Theology in the Fantasies of George MacDonald Bonnie Gaarden (available here), http://youtu.be/Azrh3IwLFTM, http://www.jstor.org/pss/3045958, http://www.jstor.org/pss/1483492, http://www.oocities.org/athens/agora/6776/break1.htm , http://northernway.org/presentations/godwife/33.html , http://northernway.org/presentations/godwife/38.html ,http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/apocjn-long.html and English Wikipedia. All the quotes from the Bible come from http://www.biblegateway.com (NIV)
And because that was the most complex and the most extensive post I have ever written about any goddess then let me reward myself with an appropriate music which may suit you too
And one more, very different but also equally moving: