|Peace Through Wisdom - Sophia by Pamela Matthews from Pamela Matthews Visionary Art|
Sophia comes to us through many different traditions. Her name is Greek and means Wisdom, and it is for Her wisdom that She is revered. In Gnostic Christianity She is called the Great Mother and is considered by some to be the Mother of God. In other traditions, Sophia is the Bride of God, his completion and perfect mate. In Michelangelo's famous painting of the Sistine Chapel, She is depicted as a beautiful woman in Jehovah's embrace. She is also found in the Hebrew Kabbalistic tradition and called Chokmah. She is one of many Goddesses symbolized by the dove, who are seen as bringing humanity gifts of wisdom and grace. In many of the Eastern Christian traditions, Sophia is the Mother of the three Graces: Faith, Hope, and Charity. Some of Her other names include:
Goddess of Heaven - Gnostic
Mother of the Stars and the Hebdomas - Gnostic
Sapientia - Latin
Black Goddess - Gnostic
Asherah - Hebrew
Shekinah - Hebrew
Wise Bride of Solomon - Hebrew
World-Soul - Manichaean
Ennoia - Simonian
Sophia can be found in so many places and such a plethora of forms everywhere that Jewish and Christian Mystic traditions have spread and flourished that it is hard to know where to start. Certainly one of the most famous places dedicated to Sophia, or indeed to any Goddess, is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. Built in the early 4th century CE, it was dedicated to Sophia as the Holy Logos. It was the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for hundreds of years and was also the site of coronation of all Byzantine royalty. Unfortunately, the fame of this magnificent building led to it being sacked and pillaged several times since it was reputed to hold all the great treasures of the Byzantine Empire. After the conquering of Constantinople by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was turned into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed but was still dedicated to Sophia as the Ayasofya Mosque. After the founding of the Turkish Republic in the 1930s, it was tuned into a museum and the damage done by centuries of neglect and changing priorities of those in whose care she was left is being undone by a dedicated group of conservators. Currently the only worship allowed within her hallowed halls is that of the staff in a small prayer room built for that purpose. Perhaps one day the world will be able to venerate Sophia in Her multitudinous forms once again in that ancient and beautiful edifice.
|Eastern Orthodox traditional icon of Sophia|
The Mystic traditions connected to Sophia go back to early Hebrew culture. In the Jewish texts, the books The Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Proverbs all contain references to Her. "Wisdom reacheth from one end to another mightily: and sweetly doth she order all things. I loved her, and sought her out from my youth, I desired to make her my spouse, and I was a lover of her beauty. In that she is conversant with God, she magnifieth her nobility: yea, the Lord of all things himself loved her. For she is privy to the mysteries of the knowledge of God, and a lover of his works. If riches be a possession to be desired in this life; what is richer than wisdom, that worketh all things? And if prudence work; who of all that are is a more cunning workman than she?" - Wisdom of Solomon 8:1-6. "Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it." - Proverbs 8:1-11. "Wisdom was created before all things, and prudent understanding from eternity. The root of wisdom -- to whom has it been revealed? Her clever devices -- who knows them?" - Sirach 1:4-5. Sophia's veneration in pre-Christian times went underground starting in the reign of King Josiah, but went through a resurgence during Roman times, especially in the Jewish community in Alexandria.
It is through the Jewish community of Alexandria that knowledge of Sophia was preserved and passed on to the early Christians. Many branches of Christianity have venerated Her. In fact, the Russian Orthodox tradition includes a special school of "Sophiology", which studies Her seperate from other theological studies. However, the best-known collection of texts about Sophia is that of the Gnostic tradition. The Gnostics have an entire cosmology that includes Sophia in a very active role. ""And his consort is the Great Sophia, who from the first was destined in him for union by Self-begotten Father, from Immortal Man, who appeared as First and divinity and kingdom, for the Father, who is called 'Man, Self-Father', revealed this. And he created a great aeon, whose name is 'Ogdoad', for his own majesty." - The Sophia of Jesus Christ (from the Nag Hammadi texts). "And Zoe (Life), the daughter of Pistis Sophia, cried out and said to him, "You are mistaken, Sakla!" - for which the alternative name is Yaltabaoth. She breathed into his face, and her breath became a fiery angel for her; and that angel bound Yaldabaoth and cast him down into Tartaros below the abyss. Now when his offspring Sabaoth saw the force of that angel, he repented and condemned his father and his mother, matter. He loathed her, but he sang songs of praise up to Sophia and her daughter Zoe. And Sophia and Zoe caught him up and gave him charge of the seventh heaven, below the veil between above and below. And he is called 'God of the forces, Sabaoth', since he is up above the forces of chaos, for Sophia established him." - The Hypostasis of the Archons (from the Nag Hammadi texts). Other traditions which venerate Sophia include the Manichaeans, the Valentinians, the Simonians, and the Italic School. It also has perpetuated through such mystics as Hildegard von Bingen, Jakob Bohme, and Jane Leade.