The Nature of the Redeemer

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The nature of the Redeemer is a very real mystery to the Gnostic, not in the conventional sense of something that is to be deduced and solved but in that it is something that is too great to be expressed in ordinary words and speech. It cannot be figured out rationally or in statements of fact or theory. It cannot be reduced to a single person in history, a specific figure in religion or even a single experience that is true for all. In this case, we must approach the amplification of this intent with caution and the realization that all we can do is open some windows that may reveal a few facets of this great mystery. As recounted in the collect for this Sunday, “O Thou our Redeeming Power… our thought has not swerved from searching Thy secrets.”

Many references and insights of Gnosis may appear secret, but they are secret only in that they can only be apprehended through mystical experience; they transcend ordinary thought and speech. Without the Gnosis, without the mystical experience for ourselves, such theoretical knowledge is nothing worth. Only the interior experience can transform us. Our Pre-Eucharistic prayer refers to “the Grace beyond thought and speech.” The prayer of Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom), one of the principal Goddesses of Tibetan Buddhism, refers to her in the title “beyond thought and speech.” In the same way the nature of the Redeemer is beyond thought and speech.

The use of the word “nature” in this context might also be explicated by the Buddhist term for the essential and true nature of a thing, which is Dharma. It is similar in meaning to the Chinese Tao or “way” as well. This relates to a phrase in the Gospel of St. John where the Christ exclaims, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Yet we must not narrow this to one person in history; the nature of the Redeemer cannot be contained in such a fashion. The “truth” and the “way” suggests something much more intrinsically universal and yet individual in expression and realization.

In the Gnostic framework the individual is redeemed through a process of internalization and consciousness of the figure of the Redeemed Redeemer. One of the mythic representations that most fully expresses this process is that of the Holy Prophet Mani. Although Mani’s vision is the result of a unique transmission, he poetically draws upon the religious imagery surrounding him, including that of mystical Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Alexandrian Gnosticism. He describes the First Man (Human), the androgynous Anthropos, as a Man (Human) of Light who is tricked and trapped by the Darkness or is otherwise knowingly sacrificed to the Darkness to redeem the Light previously consumed by it. One can find remarkable parallels of the consuming of the Light by the Darkness in the story of Ungoliant, the monstrous spider who poisons the life and drinks the light of the Two Trees in The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. (I do not pretend that Tolkien was inspired by the Manichean writings, but suggest that, although inspired by Finnish, Celtic and Germanic mythology, he primarily drew upon a vision of mystical truths and a source common to the prophets of any age.) The Darkness wishes to defeat the Light by consuming it, and by that means the Light is fragmented into sparks and dispersed throughout the cosmos. Such a metaphor is described equally in the Lurianic myth of the fragmented sparks of Adam Qadmon and in the Sethian Gnostic accounts of the seed of Seth. In the Manichean myth the distress of the Darkness, in having consumed the Light, brings forth material creation and the living universe. This entire cosmos by which the Darkness hoped to capture and defeat the Light becomes a mechanism for freeing and putting back together the fragments of the Light dispersed throughout the Chaos. Yet this redemptive process does not happen automatically. The dispersed sparks of the Light of the First Man suffer from a faint of ignorance, a forgetfulness of their origin. The Father of Greatness who with the Mother of Life engendered the androgynous First Man together send envoys of light in the form of Messengers of Light to remind the fragments of the First Man of their celestial origin and perfection. In this scheme the process of redemption is remembering from whence we came. This call to remembrance is present in all the traditions of Gnosticism, in all times and cultures. It is poetically recalled in the “re-membering” of the body of Osiris in the Egyptian mysteries and in the Manichean myth with the gathering together of the fragmented light of the First Man.

“When men asked for the Redeemer, then the Mother of Life, and the First Man and the Spirit of Life decided to send to their children One who should free them and save them, to show them the knowledge and the righteousness and rescue them from evil.” (The holy prophet Mani) A Messenger of light is sent by the Father of Greatness and the Mother of Life for our Redemption. Another portion of Manichean writings lists not just one, but a stream of such messengers sent throughout history: “Seth-el, Shem, Enos, Nikotheos, Enoch, Elias, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mani.” The Redeemer is not just an occurrence in history. The Messenger continues to come to us, the ever-coming and redeeming Logos. Like the Chanticleer of the dawn the Redeemer comes to awaken us from the slumber of ignorance, to guide us to Liberation. The Christ came to free us, to save us, “to show us knowledge and righteousness and to rescue us from evil.” He did not come to bring us a vicarious atonement by dying on a cross, but he came into this world to bring a message of liberation and a redeeming power to achieve it. According to the writings of Mani, the Christ only appeared to be a man: “While coming, the Son changed himself into the form of man, and He appeared to men as a man, being no man, and men fancied him to have been born.” The Gnostic Christ is both a mysterious otherness and a perfect likeness within us. In the Odes of Solomon, the redeemer figure states, “I am from another race.” We too, our essential spirits, are alien to this worldly reality; they are the exiled sparks of the First Man (Human), the Redeemed Redeemer. So too, we bear a kinship to Christ in that way. The goal of the Gnostic is not to become a Christian but a Christ. To seek to know this divine nature is to “wonder at the place from whence we have come.”

(The Untitled Apocalypse from the Bruce Codex)

In reference to the Redeemer as the way, the truth and the life”, the Sanskrit word dharma besides the true “nature” of a thing and the “way”, also means the “law.” The nature of the redeemer, then, is the Law, for the Law of the Gnostic is one, the Law of Love:

“And he also gave us the law: to love one another, and to honor God and bless Him, and seek Him—who He is and what He is—that we should wonder at the place whence we have come, and not return to evil again but follow after Him who has given us the Law of Love.”

(The Book of the Gnosis of the Light, from the Untitled Apocalypse of the Bruce Codex)

The commandment to love one another and to love God intends that we “should wonder at the place from whence we have come.” To discover the nature of the redeemer within us we must seek God within ourselves and find our way to the place from whence we have come. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “If they say to you: whence have you originated, say to them: We have come from the light where the light has originated from itself.” When we seek who and what God is, we find who and what we are. The Redeemer and the redeeming power within us are one; the nature of the Redeemer and our true divine nature are the same. “If you will know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons (offspring) of the living Father.”

Redemption to the Gnostic means liberation, liberation from the collective powers of the mass psyche, as well as those bonds within our own individual psyches. If not for such a redeeming power from outside the system, the hyletic and even most of the mind-centered people of this world would never make it. The wheels of karma and fate are not sufficient to the task. Certainly, we have our own work to do in the process of purification and redemption; yet our worldly oriented egos alone are not sufficient to the task either. Without the Divine Aid we end up in the same hole, shoveling and shoveling the same old mire, without ever getting out of it. The Redeemer came to lift us out of both our individual limitations and the bonds of the mass psyche. Besides the message of an alternative world view, the Redeemer brought a liberating power, a power to alter our consciousness into more elevated states of perception, a power conveyed through the institution and revivification of mysteries, which the Church today calls “sacraments.” The sacraments are mysteries; the Redeemer also is a mystery. The sacraments are doorways to a transcendental mystery. The sacraments enact metaphors and myths of transcendent and timeless processes of purification and apotheosis. The rituals become external cues to an interior state of consciousness as well as external symbols of an interior and invisible grace from on high.

The whole world has a need for redemption and liberation. Mani writes of the light of nature trapped in the suffering world of material creation. To the Gnostic salvation is, as the alchemists of old, to liberate the light of nature and the light fragmented in ourselves. We can accomplish such a task only by becoming liberated ourselves through recognition of the transcendent and redeeming power within us, however it may reveal itself to us. Whether yellow, black, red or white, masculine, feminine, young, old, Neopagan, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Moslem or Jew. The Redeemer humbly adapts itself to our humanity, not just once 2,000 years ago, but every time it reveals itself to us. Every time that the mystery of the Eucharist takes place the redeeming power and light of the Logos sacrifices itself to the limitations of matter for our sakes. Like Buddhism, Gnosticism places more emphasis on the message and the redemptive process itself rather than on the individual founder in history. And yet, one cannot really discuss the nature of the redeemer without giving due recognition to the inestimable importance of the mystery-figure of Jesus in the Gnostic soteriology and world view. He lived an archetypal life, the Word made flesh, that we too might have that life of spirit and wholeness, which is our spiritual birthright, not by mere belief in a historical or pseudo-historical event, but through Gnosis, a knowing that his story is the story of each one of us and that we must discover the redeemer and the one in need of redemption within.

Another aspect of the redemptive process related to this world view is the bringing together of the masculine and feminine parts of the Androgynous First Man, Adam. In this regard the mythic figure of the redeemer transcends gender designations. The Gnostic myths are replete with stories of divine feminine figures redeeming the fallen masculine as well as divine masculine figures redeeming the fallen feminine. To some degree the Gnostic journey towards wholeness involves both these relationships within us, regardless of our outward gender. In the Sethian gospels Eve is called the Mother of life, the Mother of all living, just as the divine feminine is titled in the Manichean scriptures. The Gnostic Eve is not an evil temptress; rather, she is the bringer of enlightenment and Gnosis to Adam; she awakens him from the sleep of unconsciousness of who and what he is. Through the divine, feminine spirit of Eve, Adam’s progeny, the seed of Seth, carry the light and its message forth to all generations of Gnostics, which culminates in the advent of the Christ.
The Christ is the divine redemptive image of the redeemed Adam, just as the Blessed Virgin Mary is the redemptive image of the divine Eve. Likewise, the Sophia who gives herself to the depths of the material chaos for our redemption is redeemed by the Christ to become the feminine image of the redeemed redeemer. The Gnostics portrayed this latter image of redemption in the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The point of all this juxtaposition of masculine and feminine images is that we have both these natures and their relationship to the divine within us, spiritually. Thus, for the Gnostic, the story of the Advent of Christ brings not a mere recounting of historical or pseudo-historical facts but a rich mythic weaving together of timeless archetypes and our potential for liberation and redemption.
In referring to the Redeemer as “the way, the truth and the life,” the way implies a process, in Gnostic terms, a process of interpreting religious symbols to represent, illumine and further develop an interior Gnosis. The varied, diverse and occasionally contradictory mythologems of the Gnostics model this process. These are not “just” psychological symbols but symbols in a Jungian sense, symbols that are not simply to be studied but to be used in the process of portraying the interior realities of Gnosis, a process facilitated by mystery actions using them (sacraments). When we “do” something with them they may “do” something with us. Symbols, in this sense, represent spiritual potencies that are at once intra-psychic and extra-psychic, mystic and cosmic, individual and collective, subjective and objective. In this manner, the religious symbols of Christmas: the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Christ child and others can take on an even more transcendent and illuminating character.
The mother Mary of the Christmas story is called, in the Western Church, the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to the doctrine that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was conceived without original sin to be a fit vessel for the birth of the Christ Child. To put this in a Gnostic context we must understand that the doctrine of original sin was by no means universally held in Christendom until after its popularization by St. Augustine of Hippo. The Gnostic myth rather indicates a doctrine of original divinity. In this fashion, we are all immaculately conceived. But we are yet far from that divine nature with in us. Rather than an original sin, we suffer from an original ignorance, an ignorance of our divine origin. Each of us, in spirit, is conceived immaculately in the love of the Father of Greatness and the Mother of Life. We have the potential and capacity to bring forth the “virgin birth” of the Christ within us. Yet without Gnosis and an awakening from our ignorance, without the Gnosis of this Divine Love, we have nothing. In reference to the “virgin birth,” it is the realization that the Mother of Life, her unadulterated love remains ever itself, one, undefiled and pure, regardless of its myriad forms of expression, for it is by the Law of Love that we are brought to “wonder at the place from whence we have come.”

A passage from an Ethiopian manuscript based on the Protevangelion describes Mary’s conception and announces her role in the birth of the Savior:

“Gabriel appeared to her and said: Peace be unto thee, O Woman. Fear not, for thou hast found mercy with the Lord, and behold, thou shalt conceive and bring forth a daughter and thou shalt call her name Mary; from her shalt spring the light of creation and Him for whom the worlds wait.”

Mary is the immaculately conceived and purified Holy Grail prepared for the descent of the Christ. Yet, she in many ways is an image of our own souls and represents our individual role in and preparation for the Advent of the Christ within us. As announced by St. John the Baptizer: “For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah… the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight a pathway for our God.’”

Mary affirms this role in the Gospel story of the Annunciation by saying, “Be it done according to Thy word.” She realizes that the Holy Grail that is herself, before it can bring forth the Christ Child, must be cleaned and emptied to receive the Fullness. So too must we, in some way, empty and clean our cups to receive the Christ, for the ego-personality alone cannot transform the base metal of our personality into the golden chalice of the divine birth. The womb of Mary, the Mother of life, represents the Holy Grail. Through Gnosis we are prepared to conceive the interior Virgin Birth, spiritually. She has been called the Spirit of Prophecy and the Daughter of the Voice, both represented as a dove. Dove, or the Latin “Columba”, is the title for virgins, such as Mary who were dedicated in the Temple of Jerusalem. The Christmas season brings to us the Dove of Peace. Thus, it is the spirit of Mary, as a dove, who ushers in the peace at Christmastide. She speaks in the heart, announcing the coming of the Redeemer and our own Redemption. She introduces us to the nature of the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace that dwells within us. As in Jung’s “Hymn to Izdubar” in “The Incantations of Liber Secundus” of The Red Book, we must in some paradoxical fashion become the mother of our Selves: “I am the maiden, the simple mother, who gave birth but did not know how.” The mother “who gave birth but did not know how” speaks to the mystery of the process of the birth of Christ, which must occur within each of us.

As our consciousness grows and our ego is transformed, the birth takes place, the peace descends upon us, and we bring to fruition the seed of our redemption. Thus, we become one with Christ and know the Redeemed Redeemer within us; we know the redeemed and the Redeemer as one. We know the one who is redeemed and the one who gives birth. The Holy Mother of all gods, Our Lady reveals to us the nature of the Redeemer who dwells within us and is our truest Self. We find the mystery that that which is born in us, like Christ, has always been, is now, and ever shall be, the ever-coming and Redeeming Logos.

My Lady is a fragrant rose,
And near to God my Lady grows;
And all my thoughts are murmuring bees
That haste in silent ecstasies
Upon her beauty to repose.
Sweeter than any flower that blows,
Since all the scents her lips disclose
Are prayers upon the heavenly breeze,
My Lady is.

Her summer never comes and goes
And, for the sweetness she bestows,
My heart’s the hive where, by degrees,
I hoard my golden memories.
For Mary, as my Angel knows,
My Lady is.

-Anon


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Heroes of the Gnosis

A Homily for the Day of All Saints

by Bishop Steven Marshall

One of the traditions that fell out of favor with the rise of Protestantism was that of prayers to the Saints, and so went the Day of All Saints from the mainstream culture of the USA in favor of Halloween. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is the eve of this feast day and from the Day of All Saints Halloween got its name. In almost every other Christian nation people celebrate the Day of All Saints and the Day of the Dead following, as occasions of great meaning in their spiritual life. This loss of the tradition of Saints has resulted for most of us in a breakdown in one of the intermediary levels of contact with the numinosity of the Divine. The Saints are those souls who have gone before us into the Pleroma, and can therefore provide spiritual guidance and assistance to those who seek the light of Gnosis. Because they were at one time incarnated human beings with all the limitations that such suffer, they are one rung closer to us than other intermediaries.

This all begs the question of why do we need intermediaries? Certainly this was the impulse of Protestantism that believed that the human soul neither possessed nor required any such intermediaries between itself and God. This is one of those statements that may seem true on a purely theoretical level but tends to fall down on the practical and experiential level. A tradition of Saints and other intermediaries is particularly important to the Gnostic, as the Gnostic realizes how very far we are from the Pleroma in this world and how spiritually blinded we are in this embodied existence. For this reason Gnostics have everywhere described vast numbers of intermediary realms and beings to aid humanity to the light of Gnosis. One level of this higher and divine aid is that of the Saints, those human souls who have made it out of the chain of death and rebirth and into the Pure Light of the Pleroma. The paradox is that intermediary beings and sacraments can aid us in achieving a direct and unmediated experience of God that we could not otherwise attain.

A tradition of the Saints provides several factors essential to a workable spiritual and initiatory practice. First it provides a historical connection and a continuity with the past. Even if it is a mythological pseudohistory based on legend rather than fact, it is nonetheless a source of great psychological power and is very real at the soul level. On a psychological level the tradition of the saints provides a bridge between the conscious and the higher unconscious. That which is more ancient has more power in the transformative processes of the unconscious. The continuity with the past, in a sense a connecting of past, present and future, represents a contact with the timeless realm of the unconscious. For the Gnostic, the connection with the past opens up a subtle channel to the Gnostic art of memory. One of the messages throughout the literature of the Gnostics is the injunction to “remember.” The inwardly or outwardly manifested figures of saints who bear this bridge to the backward and forward flowing stream of time can help us to remember our own history as a spiritual being and perhaps even a being who is beyond history. As the place of the Saints is described in the Book of Enoch, “There shall be light interminable, nor shall they enter upon the enumeration of time…”

The figures of the saints are the cultural images through which we can access the archetypal realm. Many of the saints directly relate to the gods and goddesses of pre-Christian religion. St. Barbara corresponds to the Voudon god Legba in Santeria, St. Brigit embodies the archetype of the Celtic goddess Brigid, and St. Michael directly relates to the archangel by that name. The tradition of saints is not a Christian phenomenon only. Indeed, one of the most popularized of the Buddhist saints is Quan Yin. Even Wiccans and Neopagans have saints in their background. Gerald Gardner, the source for all of the popularized movements of Wicca and Neopaganism in America, describes the “mighty dead” as those souls in the Craft who have gone beyond the wheel of death and rebirth and who can provide spiritual assistance and teaching to those in earthly embodiment.

Another role of the Saints is that of the inner and outer teachers of the Gnosis. In this fashion they serve the Logos in bringing into the world the message of the Gnosis. In the Book of the Gnosis of the Light, Mani proclaims, “The Father sent a creative Logos to us. The Logos means “the Word,” and yet it encompasses much more than the written books and letters of the Holy Bible; it includes all the wisdom teachings of all the Messengers of the Light, the spoken and the written. The Logos is the archetypal mediator between the Divine and Humanity, transmitting and interpreting the prophetic effulgence of God; it is the collective hypostasis of mediating influences of which the saints are a part. The Book of Wisdom describes saints as those who “will flash like sparks through the stubble.” This description conjures up images of lights flashing in the darkness, reminding one of the description of the Logos in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” The holy prophet Mani, almost as if he were recording a vision, describes these lights that are given to the Logos. “Then lights, which are the means of Gnosis were given him, and he was given authority over all the secrets, so that he might distribute them to those who had striven.” The saints are the lights which are the means of the Gnosis. They are those who in life have taught and distributed the secrets of the Gnosis—those who had striven to receive them—who “fled before the evils of the Aeon, putting it behind them, and took the promise of the Father unto them.”

Now the Aeon here refers to the world, so what Mani describes are those who have renounced the world and its rulers, the archons. By renouncing the power of the archons over us, as Valentinus expresses it, “by dissolving the world and not letting the world dissolve us, we are lords of all creation and destruction.” The context in which creation occurs here is the context in which we need to understand the creativity of the “creative Logos” described by Mani. Its meaning far transcends the popularized phrases of “create you own reality,” or references to the creativity of our egos. We must in some way distance ourselves from the world and its attachments before we can experience a creativity that is truly freedom from the limitations of the world. The saints are the deceased among us who have broken these attachments and gained the freedom of Gnosis.

The saints are the heroes who have served the Logos and fought the good fight against the archons of the world. Although we might interpret the Renunciation as a psychological confrontation and repentance of our interior archons, the world created by them is truly alien to our essential being. We are “strangers in a strange land,” as the title of Heinlein’s novel indicates. The world of the archons is not our home. In this fashion the example of the saints reminds us that we must put away our attachments to worldly things and worldly ways of thinking and perceiving, if we are to hear the message of the creative Logos and come closer to the ineffable light. One of the analogies of these worldly limitations in the Gnostic mythology is that each of the planetary archons fashioned a garment with which to limit and enslave the human spirit. We must strip off each of these garments and release them back to the archons who fashioned them. As Jesus responds to Mary’s question: Whom are thy disciples like?

“They are like little children who have installed themselves in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, ‘Release unto us our field.’ They take off their clothes before them to release it to them and to give back their field to them.”
The good fight of the saints also reminds us that once we have received the treasure of the Gnosis we must guard against the world, its archons, and its attempts to lull us back into a condition of forgetfulness and ignorance. “Therefore I say: If the lord of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will stay awake before he comes and will not let him dig into the house of his kingdom to carry away his goods. You then must watch for the world, gird up your loins with great strength lest the brigands find a way to come to you, because they will find the advantage which you expect.” On a very deep psychological level this is another injunction to “know thyself.” We must recognize and confront our own archons of vacillation, falsehood, lust, pride, anger, greed and slander, all of which we find manifested in the Gnostic description of the demiurge, before we can be alert to the psychological forces that attempt to keep us in unconsciousness and ignorance.
Lastly, the saints serve as an example of how we can overcome the hold of the archons by releasing the field of the world and becoming laborers in the vineyard of God. Our taking up the work of the saints is aptly described in the familiar parable of the servants and the division of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-29) The inequities in this parable seem very unfair—not everyone is given the same amount—yet this is the way it is in the world and even in the spiritual realms transcending it. The parable describes the currency of the Kingdom of Heaven, not material wealth on earth. The differences in the money allotted to each expresses the differences in consciousness and capacity for Gnosis in different people. The Gnostics recognized different measures of consciousness in different classes of people—the hyletic, the psychic and the pneumatic. Even a casual observance of the human population reveals that not everyone has the same capacity for Gnosis. Some are hardly conscious of a spiritual dimension at all—the hyletics. Others are aware of it but do not know what to make of it, and so formulate it into rules of conduct and dogmas of theology—the psychics. Still others, the pneumatics or Gnostics, consciously perceive a spiritual dimension. Such are capable of knowing the things that are real. We do not need to be psychic or clairvoyant; we simply need to know the things that are real. We need to realize our connection with the greater realities of being.

In the parable, the one who buries his coin in the ground shows the least degree of consciousness. The clue to this is his thinking that “the lord was a hard man.” It seems that the Lord he knew was the old “tooth for a tooth” and “an eye for an eye” Jehovah of the Old Testament who would forbid us to use and increase our consciousness. The point of the parable is “use it of lose it.” We must invest our consciousness in experiences that can augment and increase our consciousness in seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, not hide it in the ground. If we do not show responsibility in a small sphere onsciousness how can we be given charge over the expanded field of consciousness beyond this world.

Sometimes the risk of obtaining greater consciousness is pain or grief, yet if we allow fear of loss and suffering in the world to make us bury our consciousness and freeze our capacity for Gnosis, then we shall lose the greatest treasure, the treasure of increased consciousness and Gnosis. The Gnostic does not fear making a mistake or missing the mark, for every effort towards Gnosis, in the appropriate direction, takes one further to the goal than if no effort had been made at all. This is most possibly the basis for Carpocrate’s doctrine of the need to experience sin (the missing of the mark), as even an arrow that goes wide of the bull’s eye is closer to the goal than the arrow that has never left the bow. The difference between sin and Gnosis in ones experience is whether there is the lack or the inclusion of consciousness in it. We can increase our capacity for Gnosis by using the capacity that we have been given. We must take the opportunities for achieving Gnosis when they come to us. “Let there be among you a man of understanding; when the fruit ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand, he reaped it.” (The Gospel according to Thomas)

Opportunities for Gnosis are opportunities for using our light of consciousness to increase that light. Increasing the light of consciousness within us increases our memory of that Light from which it originated. We remember our way back to the Light.

The saints are those who have made the journey of transcendence and therefore can help us remember the way back to our origin in the Light. Part of this is the difficult struggle of remembering who we are and for what purpose we were sent forth into the world. The example of the saints can serve as awakeners of that memory within us of our individual promise to the Light and the spiritual currency that we have been given from the Light to bring with us into the world. The Community of the Saints reminds us that there is a greater consciousness beyond this world, a community of consciousness that continues to offer us its assistance. When we commune with the saints we find that there is more grace, more forgiveness, more compassion beyond this world than we could have ever imagined. They have made the journey through this world with an understanding of the struggle, and have gone to the Light still beaming forth compassion for all those yet suffering in the world. The joy of the saints truly increases when one of us remembers our divine purpose and puts our God-given currency of consciousness to work in the world for the liberation of souls. In this fashion we become reapers of the harvest and workers in the vineyard of the Logos. “Jesus said: The harvest is indeed great, but the labourers are few; but beg the Lord to send labourers into the harvest.” (The Gospel according to Thomas) In response to such works of consciousness the joy of the saints streams down upon us who have put our hand to the plow and the sickle, who have not buried our currency of consciousness in a hole.

The saints are those men and women who took the opportunities for Gnosis when they were offered, who came with the sickle in their hand and reaped the fruit of Gnosis. Their example for us is that when we have the opportunity for Gnosis, we must take it, it might not come again. Do not put it off by telling ourselves that we are not ready or not worthy, or concern ourselves with what others might think. The opportunity for Gnosis is the opportunity to raise ourselves into the communion of the saints, to raise our souls into the immortal spirit which is beyond time, death and rebirth. If we take the opportunities for Gnosis that come to us, our consciousness is increased, and it is this light of consciousness which can never die, which will not taste death. “The saints shall exist in the light of the sun, and the elect in the light of everlasting life, the days of whose life shall never terminate, nor shall their days be numbered, who seek for the light and obtain righteousness with the Lord of spirits.” (The Book of Enoch the Prophet)


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Rising into the Light

A Homily for The Assumption of Sophia

by Bishop Steven Marshall

August 15th is the traditional date for the feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and the Dormition of Mary in the Orthodox Church. The feast commemorates the assumption of Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was not until the year 1950 that the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church, yet her feast goes back to the middle ages. According to C.G. Jung the proclamation by the Pope was accompanied by visionary revelations of the Blessed Virgin to himself and others. This suggests that the image of the Assumption of Mary relates to a phenomenon of the archetypal feminine in successive experiences of a revelatory nature. The story of the Ascension of Sophia, originating in the fourth century, predates the Feast of the Assumption by many centuries, and yet its imagery seems to be the archetype upon which later revelations about Mary are patterned. For this reason, it seems apt as Gnostics, to celebrate the Ascension of Sophia, on the Sunday nearest the feast day of the Assumption. The story of Sophia in many ways prefigures the Marian myth that has grown throughout the history of Western civilization. Her image is the archetypal mystery that is closest to us in our terrestrial existence.

The story of Sophia is the story of our own soul. Her ascent follows her descent, but like our own journey, it is not an easy climb. The descent is like a lightning flash, but the ascent is a slow and winding path, like that of the Serpent of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. The Logos does not reach down and immediately pull Sophia out of the chaos of the lower worlds. Her assumption back into the Pleroma is a gradual and incremental process. The Redeemer raises her just a little at the first. She is aware that things are better, that her tormenters, the archons are farther from her, but she does not know who her helper is, nor can she see him. Eventually, after several incremental steps out of the chaos of matter, the Helper is revealed to her. She sees the Logos revealed in all his dazzling glory. At first she feels ashamed and covers herself with a veil, but when she sees the virile emanations of his light-power, she can hold back no longer and rushes to his embrace. In their ecstatic reunion, a fountain of light-sparks pours forth between them, which showers the world with its redemptive seed to empower all of the exiled light of Sophia to return to the Height. With their reunion so consummated in the bridechamber of light he brings her finally into the Height and back to her aeon in the Pleroma.

Sophia is named Pistis Sophia or Faithful Sophia. She was never defiled by the archons, she remained a virgin-power, because she kept faith in the Light; she remained faithful. Though she was betrayed by the false Light of the Chief Archon, the Arrogant One, she never lost her longing for the Light of the Father, the Alone-Begotten, the First Mystery.

So there exists within us a divine spark, a beautiful pearl, unsullied, undefiled by the world and the chaos of matter. This is the priceless pearl, the light of the Gnosis for which we strive, and which in itself is the source of our own longing for the Light of the Pleroma. Though we can effectively approach these mysteries psychologically, Sophia is not just a “head trip.” Neither is our own divine Self a psychological head trip. The things of archetypal, spiritual reality are as real if not more real and more lasting than our physical sensate reality. The Gnosis is a knowing of the heart, not a knowing of the senses. Though sensate experience can be a valuable avenue to Gnosis, the aim and direction of the experience must be on something transcendent and outside of this world. Gnosis requires an experience of the archetypal bedrock of reality, which can not simply be taught in a workshop, lecture hall or classroom. It is a long and winding road to Gnosis.

Many maps of the journey have been left by those who have been “there and back again,” as the original title of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit describes. The story of Sophia is one of those maps. It shows how we got here and how we can return to the Fullness of the Pleroma. Certainly, we can make up our own maps, very beautiful, politically correct, wonderfully creative, but if those making the map do not clearly remember the way, these made up maps are not going to get us back to the Light. Other naive approaches include simply picking the parts of the map we like, or picking a piece from this map of one terrain and another from that of another terrain, either of which appreoaches must ultimately fail to get us to the sought for destination. This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves to following only one spiritual path and symbol system; the more maps we can use, the more terrain we can know and experience in finding our way out of the chaos. But, if a map is to be useful on the journey of the soul, it must be from one who truly knows the way, and it must be maintained in the integrity of the one who made it.

The map must describe the journey from where we are; it must include both our starting point, the goal and the way between them. Like a treasure map that says take so many paces this direction and so many paces another direction, it only works if we start from the right place. But we need more than a map. If that was all that was needed we could more easily blaze our own trails back to the Light. We require also a spiritual energy, a light-power, to be able to see the path ahead and follow the markers along the way. The world in which we live is a dark place, unless we have a spiritual light to illumine it for us. If we can not even see the spiritual reality of ourselves or those closest to us, how can we possibly see our way back to the Light. We can but stumble about in the darkness following the voices of attachment and despair.

We lack sufficient light-power to see who we are and a mirror by which we can see our Self reflected. This is why the Logos says in the Acts of John, “I am a lamp to thee who seest me. I am a mirror to thee who understandest me.” As put forth in the writings of Mani, the Savior comes not only at the right time but at the right place as well. The Messenger of Light, the Savior, comes to us at the place where our journey back to the Light begins. Our ascent begins where our descent ends, at the very bottom, in the furthest depths of the chaos.

The Logos does not bring Sophia out of the chaos by immediately grasping her back into the Pleroma but by restoring her light-power little by little, by revealing to her who she is. So it is in our own souls; the Messenger of Light comes to give us the light to see who we are as spiritual beings, and being akin to that Light, we mystically and simultaneously know both the beginning and end of our spiritual journey within our very Self.

The Christ is the alchemical stone and the Self, the true, constellating center of the psyche, a real, unique and yet universal being, which both surrounds and penetrates us from the very core of our own being. Like Sophia we are mostly and usually unaware of our divine helper. As we become aware of this presence, this mysterious other, we must acknowledge that it is not simply a state of consciousness that the ego may eventually evolve to; we recognize that the ego personality can serve to mediate our true center in the outer world, but it cannot accomplish the redemptive soul-making work of the Self, the Christ within. The ego cannot by itself lift us out of the chaos; it cannot save itself from its own condition—something outside of the ego is required.

The error of the ego is ignorance of any power above it. This also is the error of the Demiurge in the story of Sophia. The demiurge forgets his Mother Sophia who engendered him, when he arrogantly proclaims, “There are no gods before me.” The supernal Sophia then calls from the height to remind him, “You lie, Samael (blind god), there is the Man and there is the Son of Man.” In the same fashion, the demiurgic arrogance of the ego considers itself to be the sole power in the psyche, unneeding of redemption or sufficient to the task itself, whether alone or in a group of other egos all attempting to lift themselves by their own bootstraps and remaining in the chaos together. Christ consciousness is the conscious expression of a real being, the true royal Selfhood, which includes and transcends the ego personality. It does not displace or take over the ego personality but has access to the totality of the psyche, with knowledge, experience, understanding and compassion that is far beyond what the ego alone can possibly know.

By her descent Sophia gives birth to the Demiurge, who like the ego personality, can take command of life in the material world but is incomplete and deficient. The entire story of the descent and ascent of Sophia represents the great scheme for correcting this deficiency both in ourselves and in the world.

In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia is called “the Mother of fair love, and of patience and perseverance, and of holy hope.” We must persevere in the work of redemption, the particular task to which we are called, not in response to our ego needs for recognition and greatness but in response to the call of the Holy Spirit who has remained here on earth to give us guidance and spiritual nurturance. We must have the patience to wait for our time to act. We must have holy hope to remember the treasures of the spirit, the Treasury of the Light to which we aspire.

As in the story of Sophia, the Helper comes at the place in our descent where we can acknowledge our powerlessness and regain our remembrance of our Mother Sophia and our faithfulness to the Light. We can not acknowledge our need for redemption until we remember the Light, until we remember who we are and indeed why we descended, the answer to which can only be found in its origin in the Light. And so the Sophia, as our own soul in the chaos of matter, cries, “O Light have mercy upon me, for there is no virtue in the cup of forgetfulness.” In the heart of the Gnostic, this cry brings forth tears of both sorrow and joy, for they are tears of love and tears of beauty—Sorrow for our condition of alienation in the chaos of the world and joy in our discovery of our long forgotten and true spiritual friend whose beaming radiance reminds us of the Place of Light in which we may be united once again.

One of the values of the story of the Ascent of Sophia, is the portrayal of the Logos as a Hero figure, as Liberator and Lover. The Savior comes to Sophia as the Hero to rescue the damsel in distress, yet he does not pick her up and carry her up; he gives her light-power to rise above the chaos, to become more conscious of who she is in her own power. Her response is gratefulness, greater faith in the Light, and love. Like Sophia, all of our souls are damsels in distress, suffering the distress of the soul not knowing who she is and like Sophia beseiged by material powers. Until our response to receiving that light is an increase in gratefulness, faithfulness, and love, the Liberator and Lover is not revealed to us.

In the Biblical stories and the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, the Christ rescues Mary Magdalen in much the same fashion as in the Ascent of Sophia. Jesus rescues her from ignorance by showing her who she is. By her redemption the Magdalen, like Sophia, becomes the one who redeems. She recognizes in herself the feminine image of hero and savior as she treads down the dragon-faced power and awakens to the love of the Logos. “The Lord loved her more than all the other disciples and kissed her on her mouth often.” (Gospel of Philip) The image of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalen is an image of the spiritual reality of the redemptive process. Mary Magdalen, Sophia and the Divine Soul within us all recognize that the bridechamber is not complete without herself.

Sophia is the feminine image of the Redeemer because she is the completion of her Redeemer, the Christ. We require a saving power, a Hero-Liberator-Lover and a Sophia, both of which have been denied us in mainstream Christianity. The Christ of mainstream Christianity is often either a suffering victim, a wrathful judge or a namby-pamby Jesus who could not possibly be a hero figure to anyone. The image of the Hero-Christ requires a Sophia.

The story of Sophia is not just a philosophical conundrum or a moral tale. Sophia is the bringing back of the feminine image of the redeemed redeemer, which restores the hero in all of us. We all have within us, regardless of our gender, the potential to be noble knights in service to Our Lady Sophia; we are all, male or female, prepared as a bride to receive the Bridegroom, our true royal Selfhood, the Christ within.

As described so beautifully in a prayer attributed to Valentinus:

“Prepare yourself as a bride receiving her bridegroom, that you may be what I am, and I what you are. Consecrate in your bridechamber the seed of light. Take from me the bridegroom, and receive him and be received by him. Behold Grace has come upon you.”

So may the grace of the one who is full of grace dwell with us and lead us into the Light, that we may find the redeeming power of Sophia within us, where we might put her on as a “robe of honor” and put her about us as a “crown of joy.”


Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.