On My Love for Sophia, Our Lady of Wisdom and Mercy

It is common to suppose that knowledge is not wisdom, but just what is the difference between them? Mapping knowledge is easy enough: mathematics, science, humanities, social studies (they should be scholarly, but they are not sciences), then dividing them into categories, subcategories, and so on, down to a subncategory small enough that one can know everything relevant to that tiny slice of reality. That is the ambition of almost every academic researcher. But as a result, said researcher knows no more about all the rest of the universe than your average college graduate and for many fields, even less. But what about important questions that do not fit neatly into any one academic category? For the most part, they are ignored. Of course, I have known a few extraordinary exceptions to that pattern, and I chose early on that the difficult questions are the ones I must pursue, wherever they lead, crashing through the boundaries of academic turf.

But what would the subdivisions of wisdom be? And exactly what is it we are naming by using the word “wisdom”? Let us begin with the naming of names, for, as The Gospel of Philip says, “we cannot know Truth without names.” We cannot understand an amorphous, undifferentiated plenum, such as the author of Genesis 1 says everything began from.

The sounds of a name are arbitrary. Names are categories (some of which are built into us, as Kant deduced) that we impose on reality in order to have a way to understand it and cope with it. Hence it is important that the structures and assumptions of our system of naming should be consistent with whatever the structure of reality might be. It is not safe to assume that the inherent assumptions of the language we grew up speaking even approximate such consistency.

Down to specifics. The term “Pagan theology” is problematic. Aside from the problem of what the concrete referents of “Pagan” are, the term “theology” incorporates assumptions that are probably not consistent with what “Pagan” means to most Pagans. The Greek roots of “theology” mean “the study of god(s)”; when a Greek used ho Theos, which meant “the god,” he or she always meant Zeus. The opening line of Genesis in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures done in Alexandria in the third century BCE) can actually be translated as “At first, Zeus created Uranus and Gaia.” But the “-ology” part derives from logos, which in Greek meant both “word” and “rationality.” The first line of the poem that begins the Gospel According to John is familiar as “In the beginning was the Word,” reflecting that first line of Genesis, but since it is poetry, it has more than one meaning. The Greek, transliterated, is En arche eyn ho logos. Here arche can also mean “rulership,” as in “monarch.” Hence the line can also mean “In rulership was reason”; that is, it is a statement of faith that the cosmos was created logically, so that we can understand it. In that sense, the study of theology is study of “the logic of the divine.”

But neither Pagans nor anyone else approaches their religion merely logically. I realized this morning, weeping with joy over the Supreme Court decision that guarantees equality for everyone, that the word we need is “philosophy,” from philos and Sophia, that is, Love of Wisdom. In my Ethics class last night, I emphasized that the major difference in how people make ethical decisions is psychological: some try making such decisions logically, by deciding what rule applies; others, as in Carol Gilligan’s Care Ethics, make them holistically, in terms of what’s best for all the people concerned. We can map knowledge logically, but Wisdom is a person, Sophia, and She is the Queen who is hidden, not only in the gospels, but also in the Jewish scriptures. Look at Proverbs 8: 22-31, where She says,

 I was by his side when he began his way, before his ancient work.

I was always established, from the very first, before the Earth existed.

I came to be before the depths, before the fountains of water,

Before the mountains, before the hills, before he made the Earth. . . .

I was there when he prepared the heavens and encompassed the deep . . .

I his sister, raised with him.

I was his delight every day, rejoicing before him,

Rejoicing wherever men could live,

For I was delighted by all humankind.

That’s pretty much my own translation. I do not get the impression from this poetry that Sophia is subordinate to Adonai. Rather, She seems to be his partner in creation. The Gnostic Christians exalted Her even more. The Coptic documents (especially On the Origin of the World) tell us more about Sophia, as well as about Mary Magdalene. For example,

 Sophia is a Holy Queen and a shining robe . . . First-Begotten Sophia, Mother of the Universe, whom some call Love. . . . became the womb of everything, for it is She who exists before all. . . .

Our sister Sophia . . . came down in innocence . . . that by the Father’s will She might bring All into union with the light. . . . [She] stretched forth her finger and introduced light into matter and pursued it down into the region of chaos. . . . Sophia created great luminous bodies and the stars in the sky to shine upon the Earth and render signs of the times, seasons, . . .

[The God] sang songs of praise to Sophia and her daughter Zoe [Life]. They caught him up and gave him charge of the seventh heaven. . . . Sophia placed Zoe on his right to teach him . . . since that day [his] right [hand] has been called Zoe, the left, . . . unrighteousness.

The finest emanation of Sophia is spoken of in “He created them in the image of God, male and female created he them.”

Sophia sent her daughter Zoe as an instructor in order to make Adam arise. . . . The woman filled with the Spirit came and spoke with him, saying, “Adam, arise!” When he saw her, he said, “It is you who have given me life. You will be called the Mother of All Living, for it is She who is my mother.” . . . [She] became the instructor and taught them, saying, “Your eyes will be opened and you will be like the Gods, recognizing evil and good.”

Just as John portrayed Jesus as the incarnation of the Word, at least some of the Gnostic Christians believed that the Magdalene was the incarnation of Sophia—but that is a line of thought I will pursue later.

My good friend, the late Robert Chrisman, gave me a copy of Robert Graves’ The White Goddess in 1961. I read through it eight times during the next decade; on the fourth reading I managed to put his entire argument together. I used his theology to create a Goddess wedding for my friends Larry and Catherine Shaw, celebrated at summer solstice in 1963, on Mt. Diablo (ironic). It did not seem like a very significant event at the time. My friend of these fifty years, Fritz Muntean, told me that during his MA program at Simon Fraser University, his Catholic professors were intrigued by his knowledge of the Craft. They knew about the duotheism of the Gardnerians, but wanted to know where this variety focused on the supremacy of the Goddess had come from. Fritz told them that wedding was the first public announcement of the concept he knew about. They were delighted to have a date and told him that, since the veneration of Mary had been put on a back burner by Vatican II, we were keeping it warm.

How Jesus’ mother, Mary, came to be proclaimed the Queen of Heaven is also a story for another time. Back in the Catholic 1950s, we did not pray directly to Jesus, only to his mother. (Good Jewish girl. She could guilt-trip him, right?) That’s the reason for the Vatican II change. But I have a little bit of sympathy for the elderly who mourn some of what was lost. The beautiful closing prayer of that liturgy was burned into my memory, like the Preamble to the Declaration.

 Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope,

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,

To thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy on us . . .

So here is embodied that bifurcation in people’s concept of ethics, between a God for Justice and a Goddess of Mercy. About three years after that wedding, before the founding of the NROOGD, long before the Nag Hammadi documents were available, I wrote this section of my long “History” poem:

 10. Isis Unvaled

The First Person is God the Lover.

The Second Person is God the Beloved.

The Third Person is God the Love.

God the Beloved is both male and female,

And creation is the naming of names

By the Word, who is male,

On the Matrix, who is female.

 

Intellection differentiates.

Perception differentiates.

Even self-awareness differentiates.

What integrates?

You’re trying too hard.

But it revolves around Merry. The whirled

Is all ways infinitely veri us

And immaculate.

Come on, admit it:

She always was God.

Without that Goddess, we are impoverished. One day in 1979, during a trip to Colorado, during the period when I was trying to be a Good Catholic again, in a very deep depression, I sat down on the lawn before a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and this is what I heard.

 My Lady Chides Me, for Being Slow, in Spring

Aidan, couldn’t you ever see

It was always me you sought?

Mapping rooms where I had lived,

Sorting clothes I once had worn,

As if you thought that butterflies

Lived among dried bits of chrysaleis.

 

I am not the persons I have been;

You cannot find the child you were

In places where you lived: others

Are living there, now is their now.

Art-deco radios in antique stores

Cannot receive the shows you heard.

You will not meet yourself upon the stairs

Or by turning a certain corner suddenly.

You know that wide-eyed, hesitant boy

Cannot forgive you until he is forgiven,

For now you know how forgiveness feels.

 

Oh, yes, it was always me you seek,

Me whom once you sang more clear

Than you have in recent years.

And perhaps you’ll sing more sweet

Now that you know somewhat

Of who and where I’m not.

And when you are lost and heartsick,

When all logic fails, you’ll sit at my feet

And weave me daisy crowns and clover wreathes

Until your heart will let you be, at peace.

 

I have many thoughts about whose voice I heard, but I can say only:

Hail, Holy Queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • David Oliver Kling

    I like what you have written. Several years ago in the early 1990s I was a Benedictine at a “traditionalist” Catholic monastery. It was as if Vatican II had never happened and liturgically it was wonderful. I grew weary of the “us vs. them” theology of the traditionalist movement, but the Marian devotion was primary and I liked that a lot. Vatican II did dethrone the Queen of Heaven. I’ve been working on ways to integrate my experience as a former Roman Catholic with my Paganism and then Gnostic (independent Catholicism). None the less, I am enjoying your writing.


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