do we characterize wisdom, and thus explore Sophia? Webster’s
dictionary tells us that knowledge is the condition of apprehending
fact, or cognition, while wisdom is the ability to discern inner
qualities; in my words, reconnecting to that which is present beneath
In language, wisdom started out as feminine in the Hebrew word hokhma, the Greek word sophia, and the Latin word sapienta. Wisdom became a neuter gender to the Greeks, called Pneuma, personified as a dove, the animal strongly associated with Sophia. As language moved to a more masculine expression of God, so did the image of Goddess move, from a vibrant creatrix to a passive adjunct or receptacle for the male seed. (Tate, 100)
In her role as feminine divine, Sophia is woven into goddess tradition over much of the world. She appears to have emerged as a central figure in the Christian philosophical movement called Gnosticism, likely originating in ancient Rome and Persia, a mystical sect embracing individual realization of the divine through ecstatic inner experience . This alone tells us much of the nature of Sophia: she is the inner knowing, rather than the knowledge gained from the outside world.
In judeo-christian traditions (Old Testament), Sophia is the beginning, the source of wisdom, known as the Mother of All, the female aspect of God. It is felt that Sophia is the woman represented in God’s embrace in Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:
The creation story unfolds with Sophia desiring to make something of her own, whereupon she fashions her son, Ialdabaoth, who in turn, creates the material world. Here comes the sweet part of the story, the part that drew me to Sophia: “Sophia so desperately loved humans that she decided she would live among them. To her dismay they mostly ignored her. She tried speaking to them. When they turned a deaf ear, she screamed from the tops of the highest walls. Still she was not heard. In her anguish at being so neglected, she left humans with one last thought: You have denied and ignored me, so will I do when calamity strikes and you call for my help. Only those who earnestly search for me and love me will merit my love and assistance.” (www.goddessgift.com)
She has been tied to the worship of Mary and the Black Madonna, and other goddesses associated with her include Athena, Minerva, Tara, and Innana.
Colors associated with Sophia are red and radiant white, and temples dedicated to her include the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, and the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. Though the first exists as a museum now, the second is being shared by devotees of Goddess spirituality as forms of Eastern Christianity retain a place for the feminine aspect of God. Sophia also appears as Shekinah in the mystical tradition of Kabalah. (Tate 100)
What is it that draws present day devotees to this Goddess? Judy Chicago represented Sophia in her Dinner Party in the form of a single flower on a plate, the white center of the flower being the original nature of the goddess of wisdom and the fullness of her creative strength, then, as the petals fade, the power wanes, and strength pales as the downfall of goddess spirituality progressed....Perhaps we are moved to reclaim the deep experiencing of our own woman-wisdom and the rightful place of that wisdom in structuring a new world. Here I have written a ritual to reconnect and respect our own insight.
fresh bendable branches from a willow tree, about 3 feet long
thin wire used in floral arranging
The women form a circle, singing the song, “We All Come from the Goddess,” and the directions are called in.
We welcome the spirits of the north, spirits of Earth, may you guide our footsteps and support us.
We welcome spirits of the east, spirits of air, may you offer us the gentle winds of inspiration
We welcome spirits of the south, spirits of fire, may you burn away that which keeps us from ourselves
We welcome spirits of the west, spirits of water, may you bathe us in wisdom and in love
We welcome the spirit of center, the goddess Sophia, may you guide us to our inner wisdom and to trusting ourselves as the wise women we are
Each woman takes a willow branch, and begins to peel away the bark, as she does so, peeling away that which keeps her from her inner knowing.
I peel away and discard those masks I wear to please society, to please others, I peel away and discard self-deprecation, feelings of unworthiness, mistrust and judgement.
Each woman lights the white candles, affirming a part of herself she wishes to bring to blossoming, what I create has value to myself and to others, I trust myself in love and in relationship, I am capable of healing myself and others.
In closing we share my telling of the story of our goddess Sophia:
Shrieking with delight at her own power,
she gave us all that is,
humankind with all its foibles, its glories, its baseness,
she held out her hand,
we brushed it away
thrilled with our own freedom to choose
we broke her soft surfaces with our sharp edges, blasted away her spiny ridges, covered her breath with concrete
inexorably rolling towards our own destruction, sacrificing lives to ideas, forcing steely separation between man and woman, woman and man
She wept, disconsolate.
She raised her waters, her winds, in fury, with a promise to those who loved her to return.
So she comes, wisdom in all its radiance, a dove of peace, vibrant, alive, dancing to the chants of the women who gather to honor her light.
Painting of Sophia embracing earth:
http://northernway.org/presentations/godwife/1.html (Permission granted for use 1/26/2010)
Painting of Sophia in Sistine Chapel as well as Sophia’s story
Tate, Karen. Sacred Places of Goddess 108 Destinations. USA, Consortium of Collective Consciousness, 2006.
sophia.php Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, The Dinner Party, Place Setting: Sophia
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