Monday, August 6, 2012
Wisdom in the Judeo-Christian Religions
The Christian Bible gives us this image from Revelation 12: And a great portent appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the Sun, with the Moon under Her feet, and on Her head a crown of twelve Stars. This image of the world soul, the Anima Mundi, is Sophia, Lady Wisdom. Sophia is Creator, Wisdom and Teacher all in one. She appears in times of transformation and change to birth a new world. This visionary image speaks volumes when you understand symbolic language. The Moon as the measure of the natural cycle of change assures us that this feminine Wisdom surges in our blood, and will surface as needed if we understand the cycles of life on Earth. The twelve stars in the vision symbolize the twelve signs of the Zodiac, highlighting the different initiations we are here on Earth to undergo. The Woman is clothed with the Sun because she incarnates light and consciousness.
Wisdom is an important figure in Jewish tradition. The Wisdom literature in the Old Testament is concerned with the lessons and significance of our human experience and with the relationship between Creator and creation, giving all of creation significance in the divine order of the cosmos. Wisdom creates meaning out of our life’s experience. In this sense, we experience Wisdom as the archetypes of the collective unconscious, which structure our perceptions of our individual and communal life. These archetypes lay at the foundation of our instincts to marry, to have a family, to create art, to exchange goods, to educate and to govern. And while Wisdom is unchanging, our understanding of Wisdom can deepen. We are here on Earth to evolve, and that means we have to listen for Wisdom’s voice within ourselves, as well as model conscious womanhood to the world.
Since the Woman of Revelation has come to inspire both men and women, she calls us to be both a lover of Wisdom and Wisdom herself, like Solomon and Sheba. Like the mystery of the Trinity, the Deity that is 3-in-1, we have to hold these two visions at the same time and see what Wisdom will teach us. We can also find our Beloved, who will hold one of these poles for us, so we can fully experience that kind of partnership. Solomon’s desire for Wisdom is the mark of a true king who chooses to marry Sovereignty, and being a true lover, attracts the embodiment of Wisdom in the Queen of Sheba. In Wisdom 7: 8-14, we hear the lover of Wisdom sing her praise.
I esteemed her more than scepters and thrones; compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer, for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand, and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I loved her more than health or beauty, preferred her to the light, since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me, at her hands riches not to be numbered.
All these I delighted in, since Wisdom brings them, but as yet I did not know she was their mother.
What I learned without self-interest, I pass on without reserve; I do not intend to hide her riches.
For she is an inexhaustible treasure to men, and those who acquire it win God’s friendship, commended as they are to him by the benefits of her teaching.
A lover of Wisdom knows the treasure of an understanding heart. Wisdom is here in the world with us, waiting for us to love her, waiting for us to incarnate her. We have to aspire to Wisdom as well as tread the path of Wisdom for ourselves. We are promised that Wisdom herself will be our guide and our grounding. “She is a tree of life for those who hold her fast, those who cling to her live happy lives.” (Proverbs 3:18)
Sophia came to be associated with Christ early on in the New Testament because, as feminist scholars point out, the early patriarchal Church would not tolerate a powerful female deity in their Divine story. But later, the Roman Catholic Church associated the image of the Woman Clothed with the Sun with the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, in her aspect as the Immaculate Conception - referring to the belief that Mary was born without the stain of original sin, for all intents and purposes raising her to the status of Goddess. Mary has taken on all the ancient roles of the Goddess, except that of Lover, and remains a beautiful and truthful image of Feminine Spirit. In honoring the Virgin Mother, we honor a woman – it’s always a woman and not a goddess - who was so in touch with the Divine that she became wholly herself and realized her own divinity. Like the Woman of Revelation, Mary became a Great Mother through her ability to stand consciously in the lunar tides while she centered herself in the spiritual awareness of her womanhood. In giving birth to the Savior, she nurtured a human man with Wisdom, so that he too incarnated divinity. Just as Christ and the Buddha are examples of God-men, so Mary is an example of a Goddess-woman. The image of Mary as Virgin and Mother can encourage and empower us as we give birth to our inner savior and our outer children, and her feminine wisdom can teach us what we must do to heal ourselves, others and the world.
We are now seeing a transformation of this archetype as Mary the Mother gives way to Mary the Beloved, wife and disciple and mother, healing the wound to our physical natures. The Heavenly Mother was remembered in her Lover aspect when the Troubadours of Provence sang her praises a thousand years ago. And now Wisdom appears in her fullness – as Virgin, as Lover, as Wise Woman. There are many books, especially from The Nag Hammadi Library, written about the role of Mary Magdalene in the early days of Christianity. Going beyond such popularizations of her story as The DiVinci Code, we find that Mary was the most beloved disciple of Jesus, and perhaps also his wife. But what is becoming clearer every year is that this woman, who is portrayed as a prostitute by the Church, was really the foremost disciple of Christ. In the Gospel of Philip3 we find: “And the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalene. The lord loved Mary Magdalene more than all his disciples, and kissed her on the mouth often. . .[the other disciples] said to him, why do you love her more than all of us? The savior answered: Why do I not love you like her?” Mary sets the standard. It was Mary who first discovered Jesus’ resurrection and it was she who preached that Christ is found within each of us. This Woman Clothed with the Sun was lover, disciple and teacher – and co-equal to Christ. She is a role model for each of us when we understand that it was her ability to understand Christ’s message and live it and grow in Wisdom that made her his partner.
The Gnostics held this heavenly Feminine Spirit in high regard, naming her Sophia, or Lady Wisdom. Sophia is the feminine Wisdom of God, a divine spirit pervading all of life. She partakes of the power of the Creator, is capable of doing all things and is regarded as the mother of the gifts of wisdom and prophecy. She is creator, wisdom and teacher, wise in the ways of humanity, Divinity and Nature. In certain mystical traditions she is the consort of God and the lover and inspiration of the wise. Solomon, the archetypal Wise man, declares his love for her: “Her have I loved and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse; and I became a lover of her beauty.” Solomon, wise man that he was, knew that men need the guidance of a wise woman to temper them. And so Woman becomes Man’s soul guide.
But Wisdom is more often than not rejected by men as well as Father’s Daughters. When men subjugated women politically and religiously, they repressed a feminine way of knowing that was the counter-balance to their most destructive energies. In rejecting women's wisdom, they rejected the Earth's wisdom. And look what happened to the world! Without the influence of feminine wisdom, western culture has plundered the world’s resources to ensure a ready supply of consumers who work to pay their bills. Our culture is rife with death, famine and disease. If we ever hope to become the enlightened society our founders imagined and learn to manage and share collective resources with the rest of the world, we will have to tread Wisdom's path. And I have no doubt that women will lead the dance.