Rising into the Light
August 15th is the traditional date for the feast of the Assumption
of Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and the Dormition of
Mary in the Orthodox Church. The feast commemorates the assumption of Mary
into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was not until the year1950
that the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made
a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church, yet her feast goes back to the middle
ages. According to C.G. Jung the proclamation by the Pope was accompanied
by visionary revelations of the Blessed Virgin to himself and others. This
suggests that the image of the Assumption of Mary relates to a phenomenon
of the archetypal feminine in successive experiences of a revelatory nature.
The story of the Ascension of Sophia, originating in the fourth century,
predates the Feast of the Assumption by many centuries, and yet its imagery
seems to be the archetype upon which later revelations about Mary are patterned.
For this reason, it seems apt as Gnostics, to celebrate the Ascension
of Sophia, on the Sunday nearest the feast day of the Assumption. The story
of Sophia in many ways prefigures the Marian myth that has grown throughout
the history of Western civilization. Her image is the archetypal mystery
that is closest to us in our terrestrial existence.
The story of Sophia is the story of our own soul. Her ascent follows
her descent, but like our own journey, it is not an easy climb. The descent
is like a lightning flash, but the ascent is a slow and winding path, like
that of the Serpent of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. The Logos does not reach
down and immediately pull Sophia out of the chaos of the lower worlds.
Her assumption back into the Pleroma is a gradual and incremental process.
The Redeemer raises her just a little at the first. She is aware that things
are better, that her tormenters, the archons are farther from her, but
she does not know who her helper is, nor can she see him. Eventually, after
several incremental steps out of the chaos of matter, the Helper is revealed
to her. She sees the Logos revealed in all his dazzling glory. At first
she feels ashamed and covers herself with a veil, but when she sees the
virile emanations of his light-power, she can hold back no longer and
rushes to his embrace. In their ecstatic reunion, a fountain of light-sparks
pours forth between them, which showers the world with its redemptive seed
to empower all of the exiled light of Sophia to return to the Height. With
their reunion so consummated in the bridechamber of light he brings her
finally into the Height and back to her aeon in the Pleroma.
Sophia is named Pistis Sophia or Faithful Sophia. She was never defiled
by the archons, she remained a virgin-power, because she kept faith in
the Light; she remained faithful. Though she was betrayed by the false
Light of the Chief Archon, the Arrogant One, she never lost her longing
for the Light of the Father, the Alone-Begotten, the First Mystery.
So there exists within us a divine spark, a beautiful pearl, unsullied,
undefiled by the world and the chaos of matter. This is the priceless pearl,
the light of the Gnosis for which we strive, and which in itself is the
source of our own longing for the Light of the Pleroma. Though we can effectively
approach these mysteries psychologically, Sophia is not just a head trip.
Neither is our own divine Self a psychological head trip. The things of
archetypal, spiritual reality are as real if not more real and more lasting
than our physical sensate reality. The Gnosis is a knowing of the heart,
not a knowing of the senses. Though sensate experience can be a valuable
avenue to Gnosis, the aim and direction of the experience must be on something
transcendent and outside of this world. Gnosis requires an experience of
the archetypal bedrock of reality, which can not simply be taught in a
workshop, lecture hall or classroom. It is a long and winding road to Gnosis.
Many maps of the journey have been left by those who have been there
and back again, as the original title of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
describes. The story of Sophia is one of those maps. It shows how we got
here and how we can return to the Fullness of the Pleroma. Certainly, we
can make up our own maps, very beautiful, politically correct, wonderfully
creative, but if those making the map do not clearly remember the way,
these made up maps are not going to get us back to the Light. Other naive
approaches include simply picking the parts of the map we like, or picking
a piece from this map of one terrain and another from that of another terrain,
either of which appreoaches must ultimately fail to get us to the sought
for destination. This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves to
following only one spiritual path and symbol system; the more maps we can
use, the more terrain we can know and experience in finding our way out
of the chaos. But, if a map is to be useful on the journey of the soul,
it must be from one who truly knows the way, and it must be maintained
in the integrity of the one who made it.
The map must describe the journey from where we are; it must include
both our starting point, the goal and the way between them. Like a treasure
map that says take so many paces this direction and so many paces another
direction, it only works if we start from the right place. But we need
more than a map. If that was all that was needed we could more easily blaze
our own trails back to the Light. We require also a spiritual energy, a
light-power, to be able to see the path ahead and follow the markers along
the way. The world in which we live is a dark place, unless we have a spiritual
light to illumine it for us. If we can not even see the spiritual reality
of ourselves or those closest to us, how can we possibly see our way back
to the Light. We can but stumble about in the darkness following the voices
of attachment and despair.
We lack sufficient light-power to see who we are and a mirror by which
we can see our Self reflected. This is why the Logos says in the Acts
of John, I am a lamp to thee who seest me. I am a mirror to thee who
understandest me. As put forth in the writings of Mani, the Savior comes
not only at the right time but at the right place as well. The Messenger
of Light, the Savior, comes to us at the place where our journey back to
the Light begins. Our ascent begins where our descent ends, at the very
bottom, in the furthest depths of the chaos.
The Logos does not bring Sophia out of the chaos by immediately grasping
her back into the Pleroma but by restoring her light-power little by little,
by revealing to her who she is. So it is in our own souls; the Messenger
of Light comes to give us the light to see who we are as spiritual beings,
and being akin to that Light, we mystically and simultaneously know both
the beginning and end of our spiritual journey within our very Self.
The Christ is the alchemical stone and the Self, the true, constellating
center of the psyche, a real, unique and yet universal being, which both
surrounds and penetrates us from the very core of our own being. Like Sophia
we are mostly and usually unaware of our divine helper. As we become aware
of this presence, this mysterious other, we must acknowledge that it is
not simply a state of consciousness that the ego may eventually evolve
to; we recognize that the ego personality can serve to mediate our true
center in the outer world, but it cannot accomplish the redemptive soul-making
work of the Self, the Christ within. The ego cannot by itself lift us out
of the chaos; it cannot save itself from its own conditionsomething outside
of the ego is required.
The error of the ego is ignorance of any power above it. This also is
the error of the Demiurge in the story of Sophia. The demiurge forgets
his Mother Sophia who engendered him, when he arrogantly proclaims, There
are no gods before me. The supernal Sophia then calls from the height
to remind him, You lie, Samael (blind god), there is the Man and there
is the Son of Man. In the same fashion, the demiurgic arrogance of the
ego considers itself to be the sole power in the psyche, unneeding of redemption
or sufficient to the task itself, whether alone or in a group of other
egos all attempting to lift themselves by their own bootstraps and remaining
in the chaos together. Christ consciousness is the conscious expression
of a real being, the true royal Selfhood, which includes and transcends
the ego personality. It does not displace or take over the ego personality
but has access to the totality of the psyche, with knowledge, experience,
understanding and compassion that is far beyond what the ego alone can
By her descent Sophia gives birth to the Demiurge, who like the ego
personality, can take command of life in the material world but is incomplete
and deficient. The entire story of the descent and ascent of Sophia represents
the great scheme for correcting this deficiency both in ourselves and in
In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia is called the
Mother of fair love, and of patience and perseverance, and of holy hope.
We must persevere in the work of redemption, the particular task to which
we are called, not in response to our ego needs for recognition and greatness
but in response to the call of the Holy Spirit who has remained here on
earth to give us guidance and spiritual nurturance. We must have the patience
to wait for our time to act. We must have holy hope to remember the treasures
of the spirit, the Treasury of the Light to which we aspire.
As in the story of Sophia, the Helper comes at the place in our descent
where we can acknowledge our powerlessness and regain our remembrance of
our Mother Sophia and our faithfulness to the Light. We can not acknowledge
our need for redemption until we remember the Light, until we remember
who we are and indeed why we descended, the answer to which can only be
found in its origin in the Light. And so the Sophia, as our own soul in
the chaos of matter, cries, O Light have mercy upon me, for there is no
virtue in the cup of forgetfulness. In the heart of the Gnostic, this
cry brings forth tears of both sorrow and joy, for they are tears of love
and tears of beautySorrow for our condition of alienation in the chaos
of the world and joy in our discovery of our long forgotten and true spiritual
friend whose beaming radiance reminds us of the Place of Light in which
we may be united once again.
One of the values of the story of the Ascent of Sophia, is the portrayal
of the Logos as a Hero figure, as Liberator and Lover. The Savior comes
to Sophia as the Hero to rescue the damsel in distress, yet he does not
pick her up and carry her up; he gives her light-power to rise above the
chaos, to become more conscious of who she is in her own power. Her response
is gratefulness, greater faith in the Light, and love. Like Sophia, all
of our souls are damsels in distress, suffering the distress of the soul
not knowing who she is and like Sophia beseiged by material powers. Until
our response to receiving that light is an increase in gratefulness, faithfulness,
and love, the Liberator and Lover is not revealed to us.
In the Biblical stories and the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, the Christ
rescues Mary Magdalen in much the same fashion as in the Ascent of Sophia.
Jesus rescues her from ignorance by showing her who she is. By her redemption
the Magdalen, like Sophia, becomes the one who redeems. She recognizes
in herself the feminine image of hero and savior as she treads down the
dragon-faced power and awakens to the love of the Logos. The Lord loved
her more than all the other disciples and kissed her on her mouth often.
(Gospel of Philip) The image of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalen is an
image of the spiritual reality of the redemptive process. Mary Magdalen,
Sophia and the Divine Soul within us all recognize that the bridechamber
is not complete without herself.
Sophia is the feminine image of the Redeemer because she is the completion
of her Redeemer, the Christ. We require a saving power, a Hero-Liberator-Lover
and a Sophia, both of which have been denied us in mainstream Christianity.
The Christ of mainstream Christianity is often either a suffering victim,
a wrathful judge or a namby-pamby Jesus who could not possibly be a hero
figure to anyone. The image of the Hero-Christ requires a Sophia.
The story of Sophia is not just a philosophical conundrum or a moral
tale. Sophia is the bringing back of the feminine image of the redeemed
redeemer, which restores the hero in all of us. We all have within us,
regardless of our gender, the potential to be noble knights in service
to Our Lady Sophia; we are all, male or female, prepared as a bride to
receive the Bridegroom, our true royal Selfhood, the Christ within.
As described so beautifully in a prayer attributed to Valentinus:
Prepare yourself as a bride receiving her bridegroom, that you may
be what I am, and I what you are. Consecrate in your bridechamber the seed
of light. Take from me the bridegroom, and receive him and be received
by him. Behold Grace has come upon you.
So may the grace of the one who is full of grace dwell with us and lead
us into the Light, that we may find the redeeming power of Sophia within
us, where we might put her on as a robe of honor and put her about us
as a crown of joy.
-- Rev. Steven Marshall