The Goddess and Gnosticism Bringing Balance to Our View of God Introduction When I wrote A History of Gender Worship of God in December, 1998, I concluded with a request and entreaty: let’s bring creation into balance by envisioning God with male qualities of discipline, order and rationality, but also female qualities of compassion, nurturance and intuition. I recently revised that essay and named it, “The Feminine in God” in December 2003 (which is located before this essay on the website). With further reading, I now have additional information which, I believe, expands and clarifies the idea of the feminine side of God and the importance of bringing balance into our concept and worship of God. I embarked on a quest to understand these concepts more fully. The information I refer to here comes primarily from two books: Jung and the Lost Gospels, by Stephan A. Hoeller (1), and God, Creation, and the Tools for Life, by Sylvia Browne (2). Hoeller explains and brings interpretive clarity to the gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt (The Gnostic Gospels) and at Qumran, near Jerusalem (The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Jewish Essenes). Browne describes and illuminates the nature of the Mother God. I will also refer to some Internet sources, one about Gnosticism and another about changes in the early Christian church which militated against the acceptance and inclusion of Gnostic ideas in the Christian religion. A Different View of Creation and Redemption: The Gnostic Jews and Christians Gnosticism presents a unique perspective on creation, redemption, God and Goddess. According to a source describing the story of Sophia, “Gnosticism was not so much a distinct religion as rather a movement and tendency within many different religions and philosophies; so that there were Jewish Gnostics, Christian Gnostics and Gnostics loyal to the gods of the Roman State.” (3) Gnosis is a Greek word meaning knowledge. More specifically, it refers to knowledge based on experience and observation, which is an internal process of an intuitive, contemplative nature that leads to illuminative insight. It boils down to Self-Knowledge, which, because we are part of God, becomes Knowledge of God (Hoeller, p. 33). Hoeller explains that the Essenes, described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, were “the pre-Christian Judaism of a Gnostic character” (Hoeller, p. 33). Many of the writings of the Christian Gnostics are in the Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi. With some complicated tracing of writings from as early as the 8th Century BC, the evidence indicates that “the feminine was not totally absent from the pre-Christian Jewish…structure” (Hoeller, p. 66). She was called Chokmah by the Hebrews and Sophia by the Greeks. Both names mean “Wisdom.” References to Sophia can also be found in the Bible; The Book of Wisdom of Solomon and The Book of Proverbs are attributed to Her (Hoeller, pp. 66-67). The Christian Gnostic Gospels illustrate a different view of the Divine Feminine (one that will be expanded upon later in this essay). They also paint a different picture of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Jesus, the center of Christian belief was, according to the Gnostics, baptized by John the Baptist. John was a Gnostic Essene, who schooled Jesus in the mysteries of that order. Jesus also was closely associated with his female disciple, Mary Magdalene, who represented the Divine Feminine in association with the masculine Messiah” (Hoeller, p. 65). Hoeller quotes from the Gospel of Philip that “The consort of the Savior (Jesus) is Mary Magdalene. The Lord loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the (mouth)” (Hoeller, p. 75). These writings illustrate the greater emphasis the Gnostic Christians put on women in the early development of the church. The Gnostics also had significant philosophical differences in their view of sacred scripture. Scripture plays an important role in many religions. Judeo, Christian and Islamic faiths are very attached to their scriptures. The early Christians faced pressure in this regard because Jesus kept declaring he brought a new law, “Love each other as I have loved you,” to supercede the old. The apostle Paul, who understood the mission of Christ as one of universality, not provincialism and petty sectarianism, had a spiritual experience (gnosis). This allowed him to view Christianity in a different way from those who had merely seen Jesus (Hoeller, pp. 72-73). Paul’s experiential conversion disposed him to be more open to the non-Jewish populace and therefor to have a more “pluralistic view of the composition of the (early Christian) church” (Hoeller, p. 73). “Petrine (related to Peter) restrictive literal orthodox Christianity is thus contrasted to Pauline (related to Paul) universal Christianity” (Hoeller, p. 72). Valentinus, another influential early Christian, was a Gnostic teacher. He was excluded from the main Christian Church in 175 AD, though never declared a heretic (Hoeller, p. 86). He lived in Rome between 135 AD and 160AD, and was a candidate for the office of Bishop of Rome (Hoeller, p.86). If Valentinus had been elected bishop of Rome in the early days of Christianity rather than Peter, the majority of Christians might now be Gnostics. As it was, however, Constantine, between 314 and 325 AD, established Christianity as the official church of the Roman State and established literal orthodoxy. These written rules are now accepted as the template for describing one as being a Christian, and are based mainly on the writings and interpretations of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). These do not include the Gnostic Gospels, although John's gospel is considered gnostic in its' basic philosophy and style. (4) Other writings were declared heretical and burned or destroyed (except for some, including those hidden at Nag Hammadi and Qumran). It became expedient, in the early church, to simplify the teachings to appeal to the masses, thus reducing them to the lowest common denominator (Hoeller, p. 91). Gnosticism was too subtle for this allegedly required simplicity. The early devotees of Gnosticism, since their writings and beliefs had been declared heretical, hid their theories behind mysterious phrases and symbols of alchemy. A few Gnostics survived: Cathars in France, who were persecuted by the Church; and Mandaeans, a religious minority in Iraq. Much more recently, the Theosophy of Madam HP Blavatsky brought about a new Gnostic movement in the 1930s (Hoeller, pp. 91-94). How are these developments related to the feminine in God? Knowing some of the Gnostic beliefs will clarify the relationship. What then do the Gnostics believe? The following is my own summary of Hoeller’s explanation: They believe that the God-humankind relationship is rooted in experience (e.g., Moses communing with God on Mt. Sinai, Buddha achieving enlightenment, Muhammad discoursing with the angel Gabriel) (Hoeller, p. 99). Unlike mainstream religion, however, the Gnostics resist transforming revelatory experience into codified theology. Instead, they use Myth as a means to symbolize the nature of God, God’s creation and God’s sustaining relationship to humanity and all of creation. They emphasize the experiences of the Inner Self, which they believe is God, and which joins human consciousness with Divinity so that Self-Knowledge through Myth can be realized (Hoeller, p. 100). Hoeller defines Myth as “an account which is not historically accurate yet represents truths of a timeless character” (Hoeller, p. 100). Gnostic myths represent “the objectification of the human being’s understanding of its existence” (Hoeller, p. 102). It is humanity trying to understand why things are the way they are, how and where to find hope in our human existence, and how to find spiritual and eternal meaning from the human condition. What, then, are some of the Gnostic Myths? One is the Myth of Sophia and her role in creation and redemption. Though it is difficult to condense this myth, for the purpose of brevity, I will attempt to do so. (Please note that in this myth the growth and maturation of the Universe is reflected in the psychological maturation of the human individual and vice verse.) Sophia’s love for her Father (the Deep), which represents the “Fullness,” causes her to want to be closer to the light of fullness. But she gets confused, becomes deluded by what she thinks is Him, and instead is drawn into His reflection in lower realms. (This represents alienation from the original source of light.) She is then in a position of jeopardy. She becomes subject to the dark side of the psyche: passion, sorrow, fear, despair and ignorance. These condense into the four elements: earth, water, fire and air, plus some fierce and troublesome spirits, the Demiurge (creator) and Anchorites (rulers), who build a beautiful world which is also flawed (Hoeller, pp. 105-106). The Gnostic myth of creation differs from the Biblical myth of the creation of the first humans. The Gnostics see Adam and Eve as semi-divine beings who suffer hardship at the hands of the Demiurge and his Anchorites. This establishes the need for salvation from a source more powerful than the creator and rulers which oppress them. This salvation is viewed differently by the Gnostics. They see salvation as “liberation from the existential condition of unconsciousness and limitation” (Hoeller, p. 114). They view the redeemer, Christ, as a heavenly archetype, along with his twin aeon, Sophia. (Archetypes, as Carl Jung postulates, are deep and abiding patterns in the human psyche that remain powerful and present over time.) (5) Aeon is described by Hoeller in Jungian terms as a psychoid (related to the mind) archetype and in Gnostic terms as unknowable factors, being the unconscious psyche and its mythic images (Hoeller, p. 181). They see Jesus as the human component of Jesus Christ, thus part of us as humans. One of Sophia’s acts in exile in the lower realms is to bring forth Jesus, our redeemer, and she, in turn, is redeemed by Jesus in conjunction with Christ, the heavenly aeon. Thus, Jesus Christ, the Messiah of God, is inexorably tied to Sophia. Powers in the “fullness” give Jesus gifts that enable him to redeem Sophia (who represents the Soul of the World) and liberates her from her “fallen” position. He does redeem her and thereby also brings redemption to Sophia’s spiritual children: humankind. After Jesus is put to death, he rises triumphantly from earth holding Sophia by the hand (Hoeller, p. 107). Looking back on her plight, however, Sophia, filled with compassion and the awareness that she could not abandon her true children, divides her nature in half: one to ascend to the “fullness” with Jesus Christ, and the other to remain in proximity to creation. Her second half, created by compassion, is called Achamoth (the errant or lower one), who is still in contact with humanity and the world. Thus, when humans commune with whom they envision as the Goddess in her manifold aspects, it is none other than Sophia-Achamoth, their wise guardian (and Mother) (Hoeller, p. 109). Many Christians have come to see Mary, Queen of Heaven, as a form of Sophia. Since Sophia-Achamoth is the archetype of the World Soul, this fits the Gnostic view. Our own suffering, in Hoeller’s interpretation of this myth, is useless without the help of archetypes like Sophia, which brought forth Jesus and therefor redemption (Hoeller, p. 114). Thus Sophia, the Redeemed Redeemer, continues to guard and enlighten all of earth. Another manifestation of this World Soul (psyche), according to Gnostic scriptures, is Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ “beloved disciple,” who, in her relationship with Jesus, is the ritual acting out of the liberating union between celestial Messiah and Sophia. The Gnostics saw Jesus as the messianic messenger who helps human beings discover who they truly are, and who helps them to overcome the powers of the Demiurge and his Anchorites (the fierce and troublesome rulers). These latter are the cosmic powers that try to keep humans from true enlightenment (Hoeller, p. 119). This differs from our usual concepts of God and Devil and renders humans responsible for their own dark side. Rather than blaming the “Devil” for the evil in the world, we need to look at and find ways to heal our own weaknesses and negativity. (Suggestions for ways of accomplishing this are listed in the final section of this essay.) Why, you ask, do we need a messiah? The Gnostics believe that humans (as was stated earlier) were originally pure spirits who had become shackled in the cosmic system, the realm of imperfection. The spiritual nature of humans causes them to want reunification with the divine consciousness and light. Salvation comes through Buddha in the East and Jesus Christ in the West. They see Adam and Eve not filled with the sin of disobedience but as majestic, quasi-divine beings filled with glory and power: archetypes of humans’ entrapment in this imperfect cosmic system filled with evil spirits that oppress them (Hoeller, p. 140). The Gnostics see God dualistically: split into a Transcendent Being and a lower creator being (the Demiurge). In creation, the light was mixed with darkness so that the darkness appears radiant and can thus deceive the eyes. In this way evil powers make our stay on earth difficult. Therefore, we need salvation from the old ideas of fear of God and blind obedience to dogma and commandments, to Self-Knowledge, integration, authenticity, spiritual growth and wholeness (Hoeller, p. 61). What about the New Testament gospels? “Early Christians in the century after Christ called the gospels pronouncements sent out by exalted persons (announcing events of a happy nature)” (Hoeller, p. 186). After the first century AD, the church defined the gospels as documents written by Christian writers that told of a new dispensation inaugurated by Jesus. There were many gospels written in the early Christian period. The same author often wrote several alternative gospels (e.g., the recent discovery of the Secret Gospels of Mark) (Hoeller, p. 186). Tradition has it that there were three lost gospels: of Phillip, Matthias and Thomas (I have since learned that there are other gospels, including the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which I will allude to, and expand on more fully later in these essays). The Gnostic gospel authors claim there were four recipients of the secrets of Jesus after the resurrection: Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Phillip and Matthias. (The Nag Hammadi collection contains two of these: Thomas and Phillip.) The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of sayings of Jesus, and the Gospel of Phillip contains sayings of Jesus, but is also interspersed with explanatory commentaries and is more concerned with Christian mysteries or sacraments as a means of spiritual transformation (Hoeller, p 203). If Myth is a way to clarify why we are here, why things are imperfect, and what in our relationship to God gives us hope and the courage to persevere on this difficult plane of existence, I think the Myth of Sophia and other Gnostic myths provide great enlightenment. Hoeller includes in his book some predictions for the future. He describes some prophetic visions of Jung shortly before his death in 1961. Jung saw a worldwide catastrophe, probably a fiery holocaust, commensurate with the coming of the Antichrist, early in the 21st century. Jung outlined in Aion a progression of the Platonic months or Zodiac ages (Hoeller, p. 232). Coincidentally, the age of Pisces (the fish), which began at Christ’s birth, saw by the first millenium of the Christian age, the dark side of Christian repression of alternatives to Christian orthodoxy. Many of them were Gnostic in character (i.e., The Cathars, Waldesians and the Holy Spirit Movement). The astrological sign for Pisces is two fish: one dark and one light, swimming in opposite directions. Jung’s prediction was that if the dark fish of the negative Christian archetype (representing orthodoxy and exclusion of “non-believers”), does not manage to swim toward and become integrated into consciousness, the power of this shadow could bring spiritual imbalance within the psychological framework of Christianity, leading to inner tension. This tension will be brought about by the unreconciled opposites and is bound to bring the uneasy coexistence to a disastrous end (Hoeller, p. 233). I see examples of this dark side in people’s tendency to identify with the light (our good side) and run from the shadow side, attributing its power to “original sin,” the Devil, or others outside ourselves. If we see ourselves as depraved due to original sin, we lack the capacity to do much about our sinfulness. If we attribute our darkness to the “enemies of Christ,” we lack the motivation to look within at our own darkness. Thus, we remain unintegrated (or even dis-integrated) and separated into dark/light, bad/good, etc. Jung points out that this creates a dualism between heaven and “the fiery world of the damned.” The tension between these two opposites may break apart the psychic structure of Western culture (Hoeller, p. 234). Gnostic writers, both early and modern, talk about the apokatastatic process, which is the gathering back of all to its Source (God). Jesus, as healer, had this as his supreme objective. Through forgiveness and love, we reconcile opposites, thus bringing together the antagonistic dualities. This, in turn, makes possible the spiritual union with God, the source of reality (Hoeller p. 234). The second possibility in the apokatastic process is the opposites not finding a way to reconcile, thus breeding unrelieved suffering, conflict and chaos. Neo-Gnostic myth claims this pattern has happened before, even as cultures have reached high maturity, such as Atlantis (Hoeller, p. 235).
The Psychoanalytic View of Gnostic Belief Adler, a Jungian psychologist, points out that the atom bomb “was the natural result of a movement in mind that rejected the unifying religious and spiritual valuations of life” (Hoeller, p. 239). This led to a split between the material world and a world of meaning and dignity. Two world wars, nuclear proliferation and a growing awareness of an ecological crisis should cause some deflation in the arrogance of the human ego. Jung points out in Aion that the effects of the shadow of our culture may herald its end. (Hoeller, p. 240). The Gnostics claim that the light will emerge from the darkness one way or another. Unconsciousness—the unwillingness to redeem the shadow within us and in the world—leads to destruction due to the pent up force that hides in individual psychic and cosmic depths. Floods (that submerged Atlantis), nuclear conflagration, and cosmic catastrophes are light extractors—freeing soul power when no other means is available (Hoeller pp. 240-241). The Gospel of Phillip (one of the lost and now found gospels) points out that, “if we know that which is within ourselves, it will save us. If we do not know it, it will kill us, or at least destroy the form within which our life has chosen to embody itself” (Hoeller, p. 241). Alchemists talk of the Unus Mundis—the reuniting of original matter, primal chaos after many problematic engagements that can, paradoxically, bring about redemptive transformation. Hoeller describes an alternative to life and light liberating destruction, by bringing together the opposites that could lead to reuniting a dually split world. He attributes a good part of this resistance to our Western societies “wrong headedness” and the spiritual aridity of our religious structures (Hoeller p. 241). Gnosticism may be the long misunderstood and repressed answer to this. Perhaps the documents unearthed in 1948 came at a time when we needed them most. Gnosticism, elaborated and expanded by Jung’s understanding of psychological maturity, may help bring about the maturity of the West and save it from destruction. A Catholic priest was quoted by Hoeller as praising Jung’s conception of the “Self” within each of us as capable of bringing the God and the Goddess within us into harmony (Hoeller, p. 242). Jung describes this process in Answer to Job: that the human spirit (represented by Job) is superior to the Demiurg of creation because the human spirit (through Sophia, who is a mythic representative of our true “Self”) descends from the supreme Godhead. Therefore, Self-Knowledge is knowledge of God. Experiencing the divine within the essential Self means the Self and God are ultimately identical (Hoeller, p. 243). Gnosticism, reinforced by depth psychology (healing of the psyche), can do two things: 1) it points to the need to turn back to primal experience rather than relying on codified orthodoxy, and 2) it points to a potential source of answers: our own inner experience, which provides our Gnosis, our individuation. (Individuation is the conscious expression of our “Self” as whole, after the separated ego parts have been recognized, healed, and reassimilated. Our individuation also includes positive archetypal images in our inner world, the union of opposites within us and the synthesis of light and shadow, male and female, good and bad, yin and yang.) The perils we live under—ecological crisis, the hydrogen bomb, and so on—could be God’s way of getting our attention. The synchronicity of the discovery of The Lost Gospels right after World War II could illuminate our choice: destruction or achievement of wholeness as individuals and as a society. As Hoeller put it, “We have nothing to fear but unconsciousness” (Hoeller, p 245). The Antichrist and other negative entities may disappear when the process of individuation becomes operative and the reconstituted world of wholeness of the individuated Self of humanity is vindicated (Hoeller, p245). Hoeller ends Jung and the Lost Gospels by quoting from the Gospel of Thomas as follows: “When you make the two one and when you make the inmost as the outermost and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and female into a single unity, so that the male will not be only male and the female not only female, when you create eyes in the place of an eye, and create the hand in the place of a hand, and the foot in the place of a foot, and also an image in the place of an image, then surely you will enter the kingdom” (Hoeller, p. 245). This description of heaven sounds nothing like the description of heaven I was taught through my Christian background. But it does sound like the image of wholeness I have come to understand and appreciate, both as a psychotherapist and as an individual, after studying and learning what constitutes psychological wholeness (which will be discussed in an essay to be composed later)(6). “But,” you may ask, “what does learning about and more fully understanding the Feminine in God have to do with achieving wholeness?”
A New Gnosticism I have been surprised and elated by some recent developments in bringing understanding to the concept of God as “Mother.” A modern Gnostic, psychic and prophet, an author named Sylvia Browne (who also founded a Gnostic church in Campbell, California called The Society of Novus Spiritus), channels the voice of a spirit guide named Francine. Sylvia writes in God, Creation, and the Tools for Life that we are all divine in essence: “You are all a pure energy force, made by God, sent by God; within you is imbued all aspects of Mother and Father God.” (Browne, p. 7). According to Francine, Sylvia’s spirit voice, the Mother God, is called Azna and the Father God is called Om. Later in the book, Francine points out that Gnostics needed to hide their knowledge of Mother God due to persecution by the patriarchal power structure. Further along, she points out that, “Azna is coming around very strongly now” (Browne, p. 25). She notes that all the sightings of the Blessed Mother are actually Azna, Mother God: Lourdes, Fatima and Guadeloupe. She appears in different racial guises: Hispanic, African, Caucasian and Asian. As we begin to aspire to Her and believe in Her, this will increase Her power. Since She rules physical life (according to Francine) and everything that has to do with humans and human emotion, we need Her power now more than ever (Brown, p. 25). Francine states that Azna interferes (intercedes strongly) in life (like a Mother who cares what happens to Her beloved children). “She can intercept and make better, alleviate sorrow and make less pain. If there are any miracles to be wrought, She will be the one to do it” (Browne, p. 25). The Father loves us, but He will not interfere. The Mother, due mainly to our patriarchal inclinations, has been behind closed doors because we have ignored Her for so long. Now is Her time! (Browne, p 26). Francine further points out, “When we are on the earth plane, it is so much easier to have Her open the door and let the love of the Mother Goddess rush in than it is even for Father God to do so. When you once let that door open…your whole life changes; all ancient religions paid homage to Her.” It does not matter by what name She is called, She will respond (Browne, p. 19). The New Age is the time for intercession of the Mother Goddess. As we empower Her, the feminine principle is empowered to bring about peace in the world. Francine encourages us to address Azna directly for our needs and concerns. Francine further asserts that if we adopt the matriarchal view, whether we believe in Mother God or not, our lives will turn for the better. She hastens to add, however, that we don’t need a totally matriarchal culture. We still need the intellectual as well as the emotional side of the duo. The Gnostics bring the two sides together (Browne, p. 28). If there is a Mother God who responds to our needs and if Gnostic beliefs are showing us a way to heal our individual and societal problems, what can we do as individuals to bring peace and harmony to our world?
The Hoped-For Remedy Are we helpless toward the inevitability of global disaster? I prefer to think not. The following are suggestions you might want to consider to help bring balance into your own life, and by example, into the lives of others:
1. Work on your own shadow by doing some of the following: - Seek therapy to ferret out those denied and repressed memories and experiences, so they can be integrated into the whole Self. - Join a 12-Step group and when you get to step 4 (make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves), do it with care and thoroughness. - Seek out a past life regression therapist to help you delve into your shadow from past lives, which may be accumulating and hindering Self-integration and wholeness. - Learn and practice meditation, read books about spiritual subjects and take classes to help you awaken spiritually. 2. Do what you can for peace. At least pray for it. Pray that disparate groups be brought to the awareness that we are not so different. We all have similar needs and desires, and with God’s help, they can be worked out. 3. Do what you can to help the environment. Support environmental groups. Make an effort to conserve energy and drive low emission cars. When you can, use your vote to advance environmental causes. 4. Learn and practice Yoga and Yoga breathing. 5. Seek knowledge of the Divine Feminine and pray to Her. Pray to AZNA! 6. Continue to honor the Divine Father while recognizing and returning to power the Divine Mother whose existence has been ignored and repressed for many centuries.
Having pondered all these ideas, consider promoting an integrating awareness of the male and female principles in all of creation, in myself and in others. If we can grow past the warring polarities of God and Devil, Christian and Muslim, Jew and Arab, good and evil, man and woman, to the appreciation of all creation and our place in it, we may be blessed with a peaceful world.
Barbara L. Weeks 3/13/03 *********************************** Endnotes: (1) “Jung and the Lost Gospels” by Stephan A. Holler, Quest Books, 1989, P. 33 (2) “God, Creation and the Tools for Life” by Sylvia Browne, Hay House, 2000 (3) “In Search of Sophia” by Dr. Quenten Quesnell, Katherine Asher Engel Lecture, Ap 7, 1992 at http://www.smith.edu/religion/Rel99/quenten.html (4) “Constantine I, Roman Emperor”. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001@ http://bartleby.com/65/co/constnt1Rom.html (5) "The Hero Within", by Carol S. Pearson, Harper and Row, San Francisco, CA 1989, pxxv