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Sophia, The Demiurge, and the Soul

[Excerpted from an upcoming book on Christian Hermetism.]

There are many understandings, and misunderstandings, of the myth of the Fall of Sophia, and of the Demiurge. Many Gnostic Christians assert that at least the common outline of the story must be taken literally, while many others prefer a largely symbolic view. Based on my own gnosis, I take an archetypal perspective, one which cuts across the simplistic boundaries of literalism and symbolism and provides us with guidance for our own spiritual well-being. This is not an uncommon approach; I am far from special in this. However, I wish to emphasize that it is by my own personal gnosis that I have come to this view, so any errors herein are my own and any truth is that of God.

First, let us reiterate the framework of the story, a framework which seems common to most tellings of the Sophia myth, from the various Christian gnostic traditions to Jewish Lurianic Kabbalah. At core, we have it thus: Sophia, as the “lowest” or “outermost” of the Divine emanations (or aeons, in Greek) was tasked with performing the act of creation. That is, the Father imbued her with his creative force (Logos), and Sophia, for her part, veritably gave birth to the created universe (from the mental plane down to the physical). Somehow, she became wrapped (rapt) in her creation, forgetting to some extent where she had come from and what she was supposed to be doing, and so rays or sparks of the Divine Light fractured from her and became conscious entities of their own: the spirits of gods, humans and animals alike, and whatever other conscious beings there ever where, are now, or ever will be, insofar as they are spirits. This did not all happen at once, as we shall see, for some of these beings were created on purpose for specific tasks, once Sophia regained herself somewhat.

The common Christian forms of the story add here that the greatest of the creations, whether accidental or simply botched in-process, was a being commonly referred to as the Demiurge, or lesser craftsman. He is sometimes given a name, Ialdabaoth and Samael being frequent examples, but in any case, the Demiurge took over the job of shaping the astral and physical planes. It is even possible to say that the Demiurge is the astral plane, or at least the consciousness of the astral plane, for it is from the astral layer that the patterns and forms of physical creation are formed and projected downward.

Now, with that specific element, we run into the primary argument between Gnostic Christianity and Hermeticism: is the Demiurge twisted and evil, as many Christians would have it, or is he simply imperfect, but performing an important task or job to the best of his ability, as the Hermetists say? What is his nature?

Here, we must make an aside to human beings. Regardless of the purpose for which we were created, we can know from experience that each of us is, ultimately, a spirit which wears as garments a mind, a soul, and a physical body. Most of us, however, are firmly entrenched in what we may jointly refer to as our ego, composed generally of the physical body, the soul, and perhaps the lowest regions of the mind. The ego, it has been said, is that in us which claims most loudly the holy “I am”, but which deserves it least. This is not to say that the ego is essentially evil. On the contrary, awareness of the body, the astral soul (or personality), and even the lower portions of mind, are important for our functioning in this world and the next. The problem is not with them as they ought to be, but with the fact that they rarely are what they ought to be. We are trapped in a state of ignorance, believing as we often do that this world is all that there is, or at least all that we can experience right now. This belief system is truly sinful, not because we must ignore this world, but because we must serve in this world for a higher purpose, a purpose connected intimately with awareness of ourselves as spirits.

We may speak here of involution and evolution. Involution is the process by which anything becomes physical. It begins as a spiritual ideal, which is then clothed in a mental archetype, which filters into an astral form, which creates an etheric pattern, ultimately manifesting as an individualized physical being, object, or substance. This is not an evil process! It is merely the first half of a rhythmic cycle. The problem is that the descent into matter is a confounding one, which often leaves any conscious beings going through it in a state of confusion. The first things that they sense are their own physical bodies, and the small piece of the physical world immediately surrounding them. If, from there, the developing life-form is not instructed, gently but rigorously, in the truth of their existence, it is almost impossible not to be fooled into believing in what is immediately before it above anything else.

That is the process we each go through. But it is only the beginning. We are each destined also for evolution, which is the continuing process by which we develop our individualities, strengthen them, become wise, and rise back to our Home in the Fullness of Heaven. This process of individuation, far from being one of jettisoning our egos entirely, is instead one of purifying and even spiritualizing mind and soul, until they are no longer mere clothes for the spirit but fully integrated organs or limbs of it. We do not seek to “kill our egos”, a popular phrase in the New Age movement, but instead to consciously transcend them so that, from the perspectives of our clear minds, we may see how best to live in and through our souls and bodies.

“That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above,” and so it is with matters of spiritual awakening, that process which we call evolution. Just as we ourselves have become confused in the world of matter, forgetting our Home and our purpose, so too has the universe itself become confused by the process of involution. Just as the universe is an organism of infinitely greater scale than we, so is its process of involution and evolution on an infinitely greater scale.

The universe’s transcendent spirit is none other than the Divine Sophia, who was asleep within her creation for so long until Jesus, the Christ of God, came into the world to restore her to her Heavenly Throne. Jesus’ mission was on many levels. He came into creation, sacrificing himself in more ways than one before the Cross, before even his birth by the Blessed Mary. He, too, suffered involution, the descent into matter, though he did so in full consciousness so that he could awaken Sophia and rescue us, aiding us in awakening as well, discovering who we truly are in spirit so that we might fulfill our destinies and help he and Sophia in saving the creation.

The Demiurge, then, is Sophia’s ego, her unredeemed soul, her child as truly as our psyches are the children of our true Selves. The Demiurge is not evil, but ignorant, and the Spirit which presides over him is doing everything she can to make him aware of her, to spiritualize him and fully unify with him at last, bringing about the final restoration of the world and the descent of the New Jerusalem whose foundations are already planted in the hearts of all sentient beings.

The spirit, in addition to the upper regions of the mind, or the “clear mind”, make up what the Greeks called the individual Nous, or “conscious spirit”.

Though throughout this book the Demiurge has been referred to using the masculine pronouns, he is not, strictly, a masculine figure. Referring to the Hermetic Principle of Polarity, the Demiurge is the Masculine element to the etheric and physical substances, but is Feminine when influenced from above by Sophia or the Father. In her feminine aspect, when she is performing her function aright, the Demiurge is the Soul of the World known of in Neoplatonism and Hermetism alike.

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The Emerald Tablet of Hermes the Thrice-Great

1. True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true.
2. That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the one thing.
3. And as all things were by contemplation of the One, so all things arose from this one thing by a single act of adaptation.
4. The father thereof is the sun, the mother the moon; the wind carried it in its womb; the earth is the nurse thereof.
5. It is the father of all works of wonder throughout the whole world.
6. The power thereof is perfect, if it be cast on to earth.
7. It will separate the element of earth from that of fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great sagacity.
8. It doth ascend from earth to heaven; again it doth descend to earth, and uniteth in itself the force from things superior and things inferior. Thus thou wilt possess the glory of the brightness of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly far from thee.
9. This thing is the strongest of all powers, the force of all forces, for it overcometh every subtle thing and doth penetrate every solid substance.
10. Thus was this world created.
11. Hence there will be marvellous adaptations achieved, of which the manner is this.
12. For this reason I am called Hermes Trismegistus, because I hold three parts of the wisdom of the world.
13. That which I had to say about the operation of sol is completed.

In praise to God for giving me to understand the Arcanum of which I sought, I pray as Hermes did to the Divine Poimandres (Corpus Hermeticum 1:30-32)

I have come, divinely inspired by the truth. Wherefore, I give praise to God the Father with my whole soul and strength:

Holy is God the Father of all.
Holy is God whose will is accomplished by his own powers.
Holy is God who wills to be known and is known by those that are his own.
Holy art thou who by the Word has united all that is.
Holy art thou of whom all Nature became an image.
Holy art thou whom Nature has not created.
Holy art thou who is stronger than all power.
Holy art thou who art higher than all pre-eiminence.
Holy art thou who suprasses praises.

Receive pure offerings of speech offered to you by inner mind and heart, thou who art unutterable, vast, beyond description, who art spoken of by silence.

I beg you that I may not fall from the knowledge that leads towards our essence, and endow me with vitality; by this grace, I shall enlighten those of the race who are in ignorance, my brothers and your sons. Wherefore, I have faith and I bear witness. I go to life and light. You are blessed, Father. He who is your man wants to share in your holiness, as you have given him all authority.

Idolatry

Unfortunately, it is scorn for others that often marks religion’s public face in America, leading me to suspect that one of the most popular idols around today is still the Pharisee’s prayer as recorded in the Gospel of Luke—when he prays, it’s to thank God that he is not like other people, who don’t go to church, or if they do, don’t say the right prayers. Idolatry in this sense is the original equal-opportunity employer, and anyone can play: the Protestant fundamentalist looks down on the mainstream one as not “really” Christian, the conservative Catholic despises the “cafeteria” one, the self-proclaimed spiritual seeker sneers, “You go to church? I find God in nature.” (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, 1999 Riverhead, pg. 92)

Biblically speaking, idolatry is a pretty strong word. It doesn’t refer merely to worshiping created things (though it does refer to that), but perhaps especially to worshiping human concepts. “Idea” and “idol” share a root. Neither one is evil, of itself. Graven images and concepts are never dangerous of themselves. Always, always it is the use to which humans put them that comes to either good or ill. The created gods (Apollo, Thoth, etc.) are no more demonic than the Archangel Gabriel; studying their ways, the myths and stories about them, and the ideals for which they stood is a powerful experience, and God can speak to us through the created gods as well as (and more easily than) he can do through our fellow humans who often lack faith and put up obstacles to God’s grace.

Our human concepts are more harmful still, as they themselves are the obstacles we place between ourselves and grace. These ideas include the comparisons of which Kathleen Norris speaks. Since becoming a Christian, I have heard many times from my friends and acquaintances something along the lines of, “Church is so dead. I can find the Divine Force in the woods and flowers.” Before I was a Christian, I often heard, “God is beyond trees and rocks, not in them. Those of us who worship in a church can look past mere pantheism.” They both hate it, but they’re both right.

The religious life is not about dictating to one another where God can and can not be found, least of all telling God where he may or may not go. Instead, it is about gradually coming to the realization that God can be found anywhere if we are willing to open up to his Presence. It is best, of course, if we all begin where we most easily sense God’s Presence by temperament. For some people, it is the church in which they grew up, or at least a church or temple of the same religion or denomination. For my girlfriend (a Pagan) and I, we share a sense of the divine at our local botanical conservatory (Phipps Conservatory), the deep woods, fire spinning events, art and natural history museums, and Easter Vigil at her grandmother’s Byzantine Catholic parish. We are not limited to those places and times, but each have our own as well. We share meditation, but I also find God in the Bible, while she finds him instead in the act of creating art. Am I wrong for not finding God in drawing or painting? Perhaps I am, and maybe that will change as I try my hand more and more at those arts. Is she wrong for not finding God in the pages of the Bible? Certainly not, for reading the Bible is as much an art as writing poetry or drawing, and just like poetry and drawing it can require a lifetime from those not born with something of a knack.

Heaven and Earth are not coterminous, are not the same. They are also not separate. God’s dimension meshes with our own, combines with it, dances with it and unites with it in Love in an infinity of ways, many of which we cannot begin to guess or imagine. We must not blaspheme the Holy Spirit by trying to tame it, placing it in a box labeled “Christianity” or anything else, and claiming that God cannot minister with the Holy Spirit to those who have never heard the name of Christ or even those who have heard the Name and despise it. We will be forgiven our curses of the Son, our blasphemies against the Father, but if we live, think and speak in a way that says, “God cannot reach people of those religions,” we have set ourselves up for the fall of pride and have forgotten some of our most precious missions. The religious life is not about dictating to one another where God can and can not be found, but instead making of ourselves one of those place-time junctures wherein God dwells in our universe.

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