Honoring the Goddess Sophia
It is I who am you: and it is you who are me.
And wherever you are, I am there.
For I am sown in all: and you collect me from wherever you wish.
And when you collect me, it is your own self that you collect.
~ The Lost Gospel of Eve, Gnostic fragment in Caitlin Matthews book Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom
The Western world is full of people who are orphaned of the Goddess. ~ Caitlin Matthews
The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”. Sophia can be described as the wisdom of God, and, at times, as a pure virgin spirit which emanates from God. The Sophia is seen as being expressed in all creation and the natural world as well as, for some of the Christian mystics mentioned above, integral to the spiritual well-being of humankind, the church, and the cosmos. The Virgin is seen as outside creation but compassionately interceding on behalf of humanity to alleviate its suffering by illuminating true spiritual seekers with wisdom and the love of God.7
The Lost Goddess
The West is exiled of the Goddess – her features are unknown to us, guessed at, hoped for, rejected as aberration, feared as monstrous or deformed. We in the West are haunted by the loss of our Mother. Our mother country is a place many have never visited, though it is endlessly projected as a golden matriarchy, or a paradise, but though the house of the Goddess is in disrepair after so many centuries of neglect, some have begun the work of restoration while others have already moved back in and are renovating from within.1
Return of the Goddess
When we speak of God, no-one asks, ‘which God do you mean?’ as they do when we speak of the Goddess. The West no longer speaks the language of the Goddess, because the concept has been almost totally erased from consciousness, although many are trying to remember it. Our ancestors were very young when they were taken from the cradle and it is now difficult for us, their descendants, to speak or think of a feminine deity without the unease of someone in a foreign country. We have been raised to think of Deity as masculine and therefore a goddess is a shocking idea. But we do not speak here of a goddess, rather of the Goddess, and we speak it boldly and with growing confidence, because we find we like the taste of the idea.1
When did we make up this idea? Some ask. We didn’t invent the Goddess.
She was always there, from the beginning, we tell them. Somehow, humanity left home and forgot its mother. 1
The re-emergence of the Divine Feminine – the Goddess – in the twentieth century has begun to break down the conceptual barriers erected by orthodox religion and social conservatism. For the first time in two millennia, the idea of a Goddess as the central pivot of creation is finding a welcome response.1
Sophia – The Beginning
Kathleen Damiani’s search for reason and enlightenment began with the tragic death of her husband Paul. She speaks about her exile. Her exile and her journey to the underworld began with a tearing down of everything she had constructed that made her life meaningful. Like her I had existed in a protected bubble of love and of spiritual joy. I did not realize that this was not the norm for the average person. She had studied with her husband’s father who was a yogi and mentor who trained with the Dalai Lama. I was heavily involved in all things Christian. Raising two young women as Christians, I had served on several committees and boards because “I knew I could help” and was considering a career in theology. With the end of my marriage, my life began to unravel. “The devastation is complete” was my mantra and kept me in a place of being the victim until I could reach a place of understanding. That understanding would take years and is still being revealed. The systematic “de-construction” of my life was actually happening at an alarming pace but I was too wounded and fearful to realize that the very roots and wings that I had been given were now being removed so that they could be replaced with stronger roots and bigger wings down the road.
I had always had a strong faith and clung to the belief that God would help me. So it was very much a shock and surprise when He did not come to my aid. I was alone and everything I held dear, all of it was de-constructed. I found something online that had been channeled by the goddess Sekhmet. It went something along the lines of: “I have removed everything from your past, everything that would be a distraction or that you would cling to has been removed in order that you may only look forward and see Me. ~ Goddess Sekhmet”
I had not yet had the realization that everything is connected. As I struggled for meaning and to find the Divine again I was herded down a path that led only one place. That was the place of worship of the Divine Feminine. A place of understanding that there was a feminine side to Divine energy that had somehow been replaced or removed from our cultural and religious understanding or at the very least was not a part of my religious experience.
I began to study the Old Ways. I could not absorb the information fast enough and sought out books, teachers and mentors. My first encounters with those on this path were a little scattered but served to connect me with some of the most valuable and precious people I now count as friends.
I worked with several feminine and masculine deities for the new few years. I did not encounter Sophia until I had spent many days and rituals asking what my new role in the world was now that I had discovered a broader and more all encompassing path in the Old Ways. During these rituals and in times of meditation I continued to ask and was then one day “told” to “build Me a temple” and “If you build it they will come”. I chuckled and thought of the movie Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character builds a baseball field in the middle of his valuable corn field much to the derision of his friends and family and neighbours. Was this my voice or Hers? I am not sure but either way I now had a very clear vision of what I was to do. It became my preoccupation and was always in the back of my head as I tried to figure out where and when. My friends grew tired of hearing about “My Temple” I am sure. My third degree studies seemed to be creating a kind of momentum that was in sync with the momentum of the energies of the universe. All of the creativity, anxious-to-build or get-going-energy seemed to finally push me into action. I knew I had to start and the rest would follow but could not seem to get started. What was I waiting for?
As I approached the Temple of Philae I had the sense of needing to be prostrate on my knees with my head down. I had great difficulty remaining standing as we listened to our guide’s history lesson. This feeling continued until I put my hands on the Temple. My sister Jenn and I were taking a picture of our two hands on the temple when we were commanded to remove our hands from the temple by a custodian at the temple. I immediately rose to my full height of five foot two and replied in my inner voice with an indignant “This is My temple. Who are you to command me?” From that moment on, I realized the reality of “I am She and She is Me”. No more would I cower as one of the crowd. From that moment on I felt every part of me as the Goddess and still continue to strut down the middle of staircases imperiously.
I shared my dream of building a temple for the Goddess with close friends. My desire was to re-create a place and experience of worship that more closely resembled how the Goddess was worshiped in ancient times. I realized that I was the only obstacle to making my dream happen.
These gracious caretakers, who are the hands and feet of Sophia in our world, have taken upon themselves the task of rebuilding Wisdom’s temple, which in Proverbs 9 is described as having seven pillars. – Sophia’s Circle Dance
I knew that for me, whatever form it would take, I needed to start building. I looked at community halls, even churches, my own home versus a neutral location. The Temple needed a name. I pondered many names. My favourite Goddesses Isis, Hathor, Kwan Yin and the Morrigan. For some reason none of them seemed to fit. I would recall my memories of standing on the Island of Philae in the Temple of Isis. I tried to remember every nuance, every scent and touch. The feel of the sand beneath my feet, the sound of the waves on the edge of the island. As I called forth these images I asked the Goddess what her temple should be named. Without delay I was given images of my Grandmother. Her name was Sophia. Sophia Elizabeth Bresnicoff. I loved her name and wanted to name my first daughter after her. Suddenly I had a clear signal from the universe that this was the name for the Goddess’s temple. It would be Sophia’s Temple. I had an absolute certainty that it was Sophia who was the initiator, the cause of this forward motion and creativity.
Then it was as though the floodgates opened and the ideas and creativity poured forth. I was scrambling to keep up with all of the insights and connections I was making from books to online books and website to information that would present itself as if out of thin air. I had discovered the Goddess Sophia and was not turning back – ever.
The Exile of Sophia
During the year of my second degree studies there was a lot of clearing away that happened as part of the de-construction that was the former Me. There was a sense of finality and grieving and I once again declared that the devastation was complete. I had been planning to go to Egypt, to seek out the temples to try to “remember” what the rituals were. How did they practice their religion? How did they honour these deities that I too wished to honour? I connected more and more strongly with Isis during this time and also discovered Lilith. They were intertwined and I had never realized this. When I read about Lilith’s self-imposed exile it felt awfully familiar. I too wanted to flee to the Red Sea. So when I was standing on the shore of the Red Sea and looking across the water to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel it felt like home. It felt untouched – as though no one had pondered these thoughts since Lilith. I later discovered that ancient Egyptian chariot wheels had been discovered in the waters at that very place. The Saudis believe that Nuweiba on the Red Sea was where the Israelites had fled the Egyptian chariots in the parting of the Red Sea. This was a magical spot indeed.
Kathleen Damiani writes about the empathy she felt for Sophia in Exile. Like her I had experienced a de-construction taking place in my life. This is her account of her Sophia-like exile.
What I discovered while doing the research on Sophia was this: all the feelings I had had all my life of being different, of not fitting in anywhere, of an inability to fit into groups, of the humiliation from hearing the cultural message of woman’s inferiority and stupidity, all of these feelings were stirred up into consciousness.
What the history of Sophia revealed was that she herself was exiled, pushed out, was neutered or masculinized by theologians. The feeling of not being alone anymore, that out here in the trash bin was such a powerful, feminine presence was intriguing. Imperceptibly, a shift began to happen in my own soul. I began to realize that the forces of exclusion and oppression were the same ones that banished Sophia from the mainstream. I was in good company in exile!2
It has often been the Dark Goddess that I have connected with. I repeatedly find what I need in understanding the Dark Goddess and also her journeys to the Underworld or in Exile. In the various accounts of the goddess’s journey to the underworld, she is in self-imposed exile and returns a changed woman. Stronger and more powerful having left behind all that did not serve her anymore. How familiar this was to me. To learn that my exile was self-imposed was also very important to my healing. The lessons I learned in de-construction were far more powerful than the ones I learned while under construction, so to speak.
Kathleen Damiani writes:
“Male-oriented spiritual paths generally lead the seeker to leave the world, to abandon its call to power and prestige. But women are already outside the power structure. For woman then the “direction” of the spiritual path is not to leave the world, but to enter it.”
This was a huge realization of clarity for me. I have long felt that the spiritual path we are on needs to be lit up with light, not kept in the shadows and hidden only for a select few. I find it interesting to note her recognition that men tend to withdraw to monasteries or missions and women tend to enter into things to bring knowledge and empowerment. She does not apologize for women bringing both their destructive and creative energies as part of Her power. How often do we find ourselves as women apologizing for things we are not responsible for?
She puts forth the argument that in order to be truly wise, we must speak our mind.
There is supreme power in the voice. The magic necessary to return soul to society is the voicing of one’s truth, pain, vision. “Magic, power is in the words: ‘The force of magic does not reside in the things; it resides within man and can escape only through his voice.’” (Onians 1987, 68) To speak one’s mind is wisdom.2
Again, there is the cultural and deeply engrained tendency to apologize for the rare occasion when we are brave enough to speak our mind. I have found as a Reiki practitioner that one of the most common things I find as I am treating a person is that their throat chakra is blocked. Not slightly blocked but completely shut down and that there are usually large indications of stress. The inability to “speak our mind” is affecting our mind, our body and our energetic body’s health.
From Exile to Transformation
As women we each experience exile. Exile can take the form of isolation as a stay at home mother. It can be experienced in the loneliness of an elderly woman who has outlived her friends and now lives alone or in a nursing home. We need to reach out to these women who are alone on their journey. The type of exile I think most women experience is self-imposed exile. I did not realize it at the time but my state of isolation and cocooning was very much of my own making. The image of the butterfly is very important to me and for Sophia’s Temple. Like the caterpillar it is we ourselves who build our own cocoons. During our times of isolation we heal, reframe, regroup and rebuild. When we are ready, we emerge from the cocoon thinking we will go back to our old life, but soon realize that we now have wings and the power to fly. Everything changes!
We have fled to the desert and now it is time to return. For there is much to be done.
Sophia Through the Ages
As I was choosing goddesses to honour at Sophia’s Temple, I encountered a Sophia aspect to some of my favourite goddesses. My favourite diety, Isis, had a counterpart in Sophia-Isis. As I researched Athena, I found references to Sophia-Athena. I then chose to honour Lilith and discovered that Lilith represented Sophia as the Dark Goddess and that there was more material on this mythos and history than I had time to read.
The most abundant sources of information about Sophia are most decidedly the Gnostic Christians who have maintained much of their mystical history and practices. They have also retained their acknowledgement of a feminine side to the Divine while the rest of Christianity abandoned or forgot their Mother in the rush to control the masses.
The Gnostic records refer to Sophia as Wisdom, as the Shekinah, as the Christ and as Mary. They have preserved Wisdom for us until the day we are ready to seek Her again.
Early Wisdom Goddesses
Sophia is similar to the great goddesses of the ancient Near East: Maat, Themis, Isis, Demeter-Persephone, Athena. At one time, long before the priesthood inserted itself as indispensable for individual access to the sacred, the Great Goddess during the Neolithic era served the human psyche as an image of the Whole. Wisdom was one aspect of the Great Goddess. Various goddesses personified wisdom centuries before Sophia entered the religious literature of Judaism: Nammu and Inanna in Sumeria, Maat and Isis in Egypt, and Athena and Demeter in Greece.3
Sophia is the veiled Goddess; she can be everyone’s mother, sister or daughter. She is at hand as a living avatara of the Divine Feminine, the Goddess whom we have forgotten and for whom we yearn so urgently.1
It seems a prerequisite when writing about Sophia to include a note about the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was inaugurated by Constantius II on 15 February 360.6 It is located in what was formerly Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey.
There were two early Hagia Sophias both made of wood which were both largely destroyed by fire. In 532 the Emperor Justinian decided to build a larger and more majestic basilica. This is the most significant surviving architectural wonder of the Byzantine era. How interesting that it is the church that was built for Sophia.
The conversion of Russia to Christianity is largely focused on the presence of the Hagia Sophia.
The churches were all made with the familiar rounded domes signifying the feminine side of the Divine. Known as the Church of Holy wisdom, it would be the centre of the Christian world until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks would conquer Constantinople.
After almost a year later, my vision for Sophia’s Temple was more solidified. Our gatherings met with both some measure of success and many lessons were learned. I learned much about how worshiping in a place that is not your own will affect your worship experience. I learned that if your goal is focused and your intent pure and sincere you will experience wonderful and serendipitous events that show you the awe-some nature of the Divine. (The word “sincere” means to be single minded, not puritan, and comes from the latin “sine cera”, referring to clay jars which if cracked were sometimes filled with wax to hide the imperfections. Hence the latin “sin cere” to be “true”, to be “without wax”.) Whether there were ten people or it was just me who attended each Sunday, the experience of setting aside time to worship and to connect with the feminine aspect of the Divine was amazing. I learned much in my experiments with worship. I found that each person will draw what they need from the experience. By providing a place and a focus, the worship will take on a life of its own.
In the long term, I see Sophia’s Temple as a public place where people can come and worship the Goddess. A place where like the temples of old you will find a place of sanctuary, a place of healing and a place of worship. Sophia’s Temple will be a place that takes place in the time between times and in a space that is not a place. Whether I call the Goddess on a hilltop or in a park, in a dance studio or in my home, I will strive to listen to what the Goddess Sophia wants me to create.
Sophia is there showing me her many faces. She is the Goddess of Wisdom. She is the Dark Goddess. She is the White Goddess. She is the Goddess who was there at creation. She will be there at the end. She is the Infinite One. She is the Holy Spirit. She is Isis. She is Lilith. She is You and You are She. She is Me and I am She.
- Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom: The Divine Feminine from Black Goddess to World Soul by Caitlin Matthews 1991
- Kathleen Damiani’s Website for Sophia http://www.sophiaandthedragon.com/sophia/index.htm
- Kathleen Damiani’s PhD paper http://www.wisdomsgoldenrod.org/publications/kdamiani/kdsop112.pdf
- Sophia, The Wisdom of God by Sergei Nikolaevich Bulgakov
- Sergei Bulgakov (1879-1944) was a Russian Orthodox theologian who strove to bring Sophia into Christian teaching.
- Hagia Sophia – Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia
- Wikipedia – Philosophy and Sophia (Wisdom)