Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Myth of Sophia

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"Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around." — Sofia, in the film Vanilla Sky

Sophia is the Greek name for wisdom. She was revered by the Gnostics, and appears in several of the Gnostic books found in the Nag Hammadi library unearthed along the Nile River in 1945.

The following is an excerpt from Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia, by Bette Stockbauer
Sophia and the Demiurge

"And when she saw (the consequences of) her desire, it changed into a form of a lion-faced serpent. And its eyes were like lightning fires which flash. She cast it away from her, outside that place, that no one of the immortal ones might see it, for she had created it in ignorance. And she surrounded it with a luminous cloud, and she placed a throne in the middle of the cloud that no one might see it except the holy Spirit who is called the mother of the living. And she called his name Yaltabaoth.

"This is the first archon who took a great power from his mother.... And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said: 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come."
— The Apocryphon of John (NHL-110/IV,1 10:7-20)

Sophia-Achamoth is a very high spirit, an emanation (along with her consort, the Christ) of her mother, the Elder Sophia. They all live in the spiritual land beyond the earth called the Pleroma. Gazing down into the world of matter, the younger Sophia sees reflected there a transcendent light. Drawn by desire to possess this light and duplicate its image she leaves her heavenly consort, the Christ, and descends into the world of matter.

There she rushes about, hovering to and fro, trying to impart life to the chaotic inert elements. Finally she becomes helplessly immersed in mud, unable to extricate herself. Nevertheless, just by sheer contact with matter, she produces a being -- an odd, lion-faced entity, whom she calls Ildabaoth (Ilda, child; Baoth, chaos). When she sees the imperfection that she has produced, she realizes she has acted in ignorance. She escapes from the lower space and builds a strong barrier, or veil, between the world of spirit and the world of matter. Ildabaoth is, therefore, the "son of darkness" who cannot see that there exists anything above him.

Ildabaoth is ambitious and proud but despite his many imperfections he has captured some of the pure light from his mother Sophia-Achamoth. In his domain he produces seven sons, declaring himself the highest God, demanding they do only his bidding and exalting himself above them.

In his great ambition Ildabaoth decides to create a man after an image he had seen reflected in the waters of space. He employs all the powers of his various creations, but the creature proves a failure, helpless and ignorant and crawling on the ground like a worm. So he is forced to call on the help of his mother who sends him an impulse of divine light. This animates the man and he rises to life.

But seeing the newly made creation soar higher and higher because of the spiritual light from Sophia, Ildabaoth flies into a rage of jealousy. Angrily staring into the deep abyss of matter, his image is reflected back to him and there arises a serpent with eyes flashing red. It is Satan, the Ophiomorphos (having the form of a serpent), an embodiment of envy and cunning. After this Ialdabaoth encases his creations, symbolized in Adam and Eve, in mud to keep them closely tied to the earth. He builds for them the Garden of Paradise, giving them all of the gifts therein. But lest they taste death, he forbids them to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Sophia-Achamoth, from her kingdom above, is always watching over and protecting humanity. Seeing the world that Ialdabaoth has fashioned, she sends her own serpent, the Ophis or Agathodaemon (a divine instructor), who induces Adam and Eve to taste of the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Though they are cast from the Garden of Eden, and do indeed learn the sorrow of death, the divine wisdom stays with them through every trial of worldly life.

In the final act, after watching mankind struggle through aeons of pain and conflict, constantly pursued by Ialdabaoth's cunning, Sophia-Achamoth begs her mother, Sophia the Elder, to send the Christ to help humanity in its unending torment. It is through his crucifixion and resurrection that the kingdom of matter is finally subdued and Ialdabaoth's reign of blindness comes to an end. From his throne in the heavens the Christ continues to reign, collecting all of the souls who have triumphed like him, each one freeing a portion of light encased in the kingdom of matter.

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