The Temporary Triumph of the Light before its Obscuration

A Homily for Palm Sunday

by Bishop Steven Marshall

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Week recounts a complex and meaningful series of mythic events which lead to the Resurrection on Easter Day. Palm Sunday represents a preparation, a setting up, for the Resurrection to occur. As Gnostics we may differ from the mainstream in our interpretation of these events, as to whether they are literal history or strictly symbolic, or something in between. What is important for us to focus on is that these events recount an interior experience of archetypal dimensions. It does not matter if the events of Holy Week are historical or purely mythical; they have a deep and archetypal meaning to the Gnostic soul. The series of events in Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, describe a process of our own apotheosis and psychological transformation. Blind belief in historical events is not going to transform us; we must cultivate an experience of this archetypal reality. For this reason we celebrate Palm Sunday not as a commemoration of an historical event but as an archetypal mystery and another step in the process of psychological and spiritual transformation.

This story is one of the most Paradoxical in the New Testament, and for that reason, one of profound, personal meaning for the Gnostic. The Gospel story tells of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He rides upon the colt of an ass, a donkey, just as Mary, his mother, rode a donkey into Bethlehem. People lay garments in his path and wave palm branches in celebration. The Revelation of St. John the Divine describes a contrasting image of an archetypal figure on a white horse. “…and behold a white horse, and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True.” We can contrast the archetypal reality of the Saviour upon a white horse with the humble figure of Jesus riding on a donkey. The people who cheered Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem seem to have seen beyond the humble appearance to see the archetypal reality of Jesus. Yet this insight is short-lived, for some of these same people later yelled “crucify him;” They were expecting a worldly and terrestrial king who would throw off the yoke of Roman rule. And so the Light triumphs only for a brief time before it is obscured by the archons of the world. Much has been written concerning the political forces and machinations that may have led to the crucifixion of Jesus, yet this is not really the concern of the Gnostic. Our concern is with what this contrasting of archetypal and terrestrial images, of spiritual insight and worldly expectation, might mean to us in our present situation as Gnostics in the world. The Gnosis is not and will never be a political movement, for it transcends any such boundaries to penetrate to the very core of human experience and consciousness.

What these contrasting images can mean to us is both deeply personal and cosmic in scope. The story of Palm Sunday can stimulate the recognition that there exists a royal archetypal reality behind the earthly reality of our own lives. Sometimes it shines through onto our worldly stage of existence — we have our moment of glory — but often it is obscured in this material world. We often suffer revilement and condemnation when we do not meet others worldly expectations. The palm branches that we receive on Palm Sunday might, therefore, represent the recognition of our own and each other’s triumphal light and royal spiritual heritage.

The triumph of the Light before its obscuration is an expression of the divine, royal Selfhood within each one of us, that is so powerfully obscured by mundane and conventional reality. There are times when we want so badly for that light to shine out of us, for it to be recognized by the world. When the only vehicle for expression is the ego-personality our strivings to be seen are usually in vain. Personality actually comes from the Greek “persona” meaning “mask.” While in this terrestrial incarnation, we are like the Count of Monte Cristo in The Man in the Iron Mask; our behavioral gyrations and efforts to have others recognize our light only serve to convince them that we are egotists, madmen or charlatans. Often we create a false glamour that is not our true Self; we put on an entertaining song and dance act; we live a lie and shine forth a false light: or we simply forget about our light and live our lives as if it had never been.

When we are not anxiously attempting to show forth our light, we are often acting in fear of the consequences of letting our light shine. We either turn down our light or turn it off completely, so that we might pass unseen through this world. Yet, “Within a man of light, there is light, and he lighteth up the whole word. If he does not shine, he is darkness.” This is the sham, the cover up, that we are either parading a false light or hiding our light beneath a bushel. The issues are not safety or creative self-expression, the core issues are authenticity and consciousness. We must be conscious of who we really are as spiritual beings and not let either fear or love of the world pervert or hide the authenticity of our own true Self. We must not let ego-inflation or an arrogant and false playing down of ourselves deflect us from the authentic role we have in the divine archetypal drama behind the background of our lives. Just as Gandalf and Strider, in the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein, remain conscious of their spiritual and royal origins and destiny while they pass behind the scenes in obscurity until the time that they must uncloak themselves to the dark powers of the world, so must we be conscious in our spiritual work, neither shirking our spiritual destiny nor running after the accolades of the world. Our spiritual light can never really be seen in this world, for the eyes of the world cannot see it. “The images are manifest to man, but the light in them remains concealed in the image of the light of the Father.” (The Gospel of Thomas) If we live our spiritual lives consciously and authentically we will be hid in that Light whatever befalls us in our mundane lives.

On the mythological and archetypal level of reality , we have our eternal and real parts to play out. Behind the appearances and scenes of our mundane lives, we participate in a mystical and archetypal play of cosmic dimensions. Occasionally we recognize each other for the parts we play in the divine drama, yet even beyond this, we are archetypal and royal beings with the capacity to enter that realm of consciousness where we are flames of the Divine Light dwelling together in love and unity, embracing and merging without physical touching or separation of flesh. It is when we do not recognize or we forget our true royal Selfhood, when we are lacking in self-esteem and fearful, that we have problems with others. To recognize our own light we must recognize it in others. We must begin the process of Holy Week by seeing through appearances to the background of spiritual and archetypal reality within ourselves and others. When we have and can hold onto this insight and not let it be obscured by worldly expectations, then we will know even as we are known; we will recognize the pearl whether it is anointed with balsam oil or cast into the mud.

Yet this recognition brings with it a great sorrow. It is as if we, as some extra-terrestrial explorers, had to leave some of our closest kin upon some far-flung outpost of the universe until we could return for them. When we returned for them they did not remember that they were alien to this world or that they were kin to another race. All our efforts to remind them brought criticism, scorn or ridicule. Sometimes, at their hands, we were even put to death. This is not to be taken literally but simply as another story by which we may grasp the existential and paradoxical reality of our worldly existence. By remembering who we are and becoming authentically translucent to that reality, we can serve to remind others of who they are and from whence they have originated as well.

The message of Palm Sunday is the recognition that we can become authentically translucent to our interior light of being, which, shining outward, allows us to see through the worldly and temporal reality to the eternal things that are truly real. In the collect for Palm Sunday the Archetypal Self is invoked as Aleph the First and Tav the Last, the beginning and the end, another paradox. In the same paradoxical fashion this translucency to the light is symbolized in the beginning and ending of our terrestrial life. At the moment of birth and the moment of death, it is reported that the skin takes on a strange translucency, as if to give visibility to an invisible and interior light. The young and the old are also closer to the archetypal reality. The old have had a whole lifetime to remind them, the young have not had as much time to forget. The traditional hymn for Palm Sunday includes the refrain “To whom the lips of children made loud hosannas ring.” Children often recognize the archetypal reality of themselves and others, they have not had as much time to forget the spiritual and imaginative dimension of life. The world and other people are more translucent to them. For this reason, those who are awakened to Gnostic insight are sometimes referred to as “little ones.” So we by becoming more authentically translucent to the light within may become more like “little ones.” We can see through the false facade of the world; we can see the archetypal dramas played out; we can see the true royal Selfhood in all of us; we can know ourselves as part of a greater consciousness, who is truly “King of kings and Lord of lords, who is called Faithful and True.”


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

Self-Examination

A Homily for The First Sunday in Lent

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The season of Lent extends from Ash Wednesday up to the eve of Easter Sunday. The word “lent” comes from a German word meaning “spring.” It is a time of purification and introspection in preparation for the renewal in spring. The first day of Lent occurs on Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter Sunday. The number forty has much significance in relation to the mythic story of Jesus and the preparation of Lent. According to scripture and tradition, Jesus was forty hours in the tomb before his resurrection and forty days fasting in the wilderness before undertaking his public mission.

The forty days before Easter is a time for us to also fast from the outer world. In an agricultural society, Lent is the time in the year when the winter stores are dwindling and it becomes time to tighten one’s belt, until the food stores can be renewed in the spring. It represents a period of self-examination, rest and introspection prior to the arrival of spring. In our self-examination, it is a time to work on overcoming our weaknesses, rather than a time to mourn over our past errors—a time to die to the old in preparation for the renewal in spring.

As we turn our attention inward in self-examination psychological energies are stimulated that lead us toward a reconciliation of the Shadow elements in our psyche. We experience a tension and dynamic resolution of the opposites and a unification with the contrasexual image within ourselves. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas: “when you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below, and when you make the male and female into a single one,…then shall you enter the Kingdom.”

Introspective self-examination helps to bring the contents of the unconscious into consciousness, which results in a conjunction of the opposites. When we make the two one, when we unite the opposites, something new arises within the psyche on a higher level of manifestation. We meet a transcendent and transpersonal being within us. Gnostics have compared this experience to viewing a light-being of oneself in a mirror. “…when you make eyes in the place of an eye, a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, and an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter the Kingdom.” The Jewish Gnostics write about a stage in Kabbalistic meditation where one meets a figure of light resembling oneself, a light twin, that is necessary before one can ascend in the Divine Chariot (Mercavah) to the place of light.

In medieval times, Lent was a period of bitter fasting and self-mortification. Self-punishment and intentional suffering was considered an act of piety pleasing to Deity. This idea sprang from the Old Testament concept of a jealous God, jealous of the good fortune and happiness of humanity. The theory arose that, if our life was too good, we would forget about the gods, and thus the gods would visit adversity upon us to make us need them again. If we voluntarily took on suffering we could escape the jealous God and prevent him from visiting evil or punishment upon us to remind us of his existence and power. The medieval idea of penance was that, if we took it into our hands to punish ourselves, we could escape the punishment of God in the hereafter.

There is some truth to this conception, in that the evil or punishing circumstances in our lives are often the result of the activity of the gods of the unconscious that we have ignored. Yet our austerities and mortifications will never be effective, unless they can bring the gods of the unconscious into consciousness. In this instance, the jealous gods are but the inversion of the helpful powers of the unconscious. “Diabola est Deus Inversus.” (The Devil is the inverse of God)

The religious practice of fasting is universal and not a phenomenon of Christianity alone. The initiation of a shaman is generally preceded by a three day fast. There are many references to this three day period throughout the Biblical literature. Jonah spends three days in the belly of the great fish “Dag Gudul,” three days elapse between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus and St Paul is blind three days after his encounter on the road to Damascus. The ordeal of the fast in the Native American practice of the vision quest produces the experience of a visionary death and rebirth in which the young shaman finds his or her helping spirit and other spirit powers.

In our modern culture, it is difficult to artificially create the conditions necessary to call forth these helpful powers. It cannot be made to happen by self-serving or self-deprecating acts of mortification. Such acts become another manipulative act of the ego personality, which inevitably fails, somewhat like the child who attempts to get what it wants by holding its breath until it turns blue. Eventually it passes out and begins to breath again.

The personal sacrifice and austerities of the Native American vision quest is intended to bring one to the brink of death. When one comes to the lowest point, when the ego is at its wits end, then one calls forth the healing powers of the psyche. In the vision quest, the Native American youth goes out into the wilderness alone. He fasts and prays, offering himself up to the elements of nature and the higher powers. He continues to fast and suffer until the higher powers take pity on him. When the spirits come to him he gives prayers of thanksgiving not self deprecation. The dual qualities of spiritual courage and humble emptying are required to make this sacrifice of self to Self. The Elder Edda describes this initiation. “I know that I hung on the wind-swept Tree for nine full nights wounded with a spear, and given to Odin, myself to myself, on that Tree from which none know of which root it rises.”

Christian mystics have also used fasting to stimulate mystical experience. The prayers of the Christian mystics are filled with wonder, love and thanksgiving, not self-deprecation and confessions of guilt. We must first feel that we are a worthy offering before we can courageously empty ourselves in humble sacrifice and thanksgiving. When we offer our inner first fruits upon the altar of our hearts, we experience a mystical transformation and rebirth. What originally was thought to be so important about one’s life is no longer so important. We find the hidden pearl within. We find that we have gained the spiritual treasure that eclipses all worldly treasures.

This loss of self-importance and discovery of Self is a continuous process. It is not done once and for all time, with the receipt of perfect Gnosis. If approached with the appropriate psychological intent, a retreat to the wilderness and short period of fasting may indeed call forth the helpful and instructive powers of the unconscious. The key to the retreat and fasting is to lose one’s self-importance. Isolation and austerity in voluntarily giving oneself over to a symbolic death is an aid to this psychological preparation. Coming to the powers of the unconscious with a planned agenda or desire to wrest away some importance from the experience only leads to failure.

An Elder of the Brule Sioux describes the necessary humility and self sacrifice to obtain a vision and discover one’s Self in a story of a young man’s failure on a vision quest. “You went after your vision like a hunter after buffalo, or a warrior after scalps. You were fighting the spirits. You thought they owed you a vision. Suffering alone brings no vision nor does courage, nor does sheer will power. A vision comes as a gift born of humility, of wisdom, and of patience. If from your vision quest you have learned nothing but this, then you have already learned much.”

It might be thought strange that I should compare Native American shamanism with classical Gnosticism, for, in the popular view, Native Americans are earth-worshippers and Gnostics earth-haters. Yet, a deeper appreciation of both begins to demonstrate their kinship, and to reveal that neither dichotomy is accurate. The Happy Hunting Ground of the Native American is not a place in this world, nor was the Gnostic paradise. The Native Americans respected the earth because their life depended on it, yet, in the extremities of the vision quest, the earth is acknowledged as a place of suffering, a place to perform one’s earthly and spiritual calling until the time comes to join the Sky People of their ancestors.

So, why do we not suggest that we all leave this vale of woe in some mass suicide? Because there is something yet very precious about human consciousness—there is an insight, a resurrection, a Gnosis that can only be achieved in this embodied consciousness. This Gnosis not only liberates one from the attachments and snares of the world but also awakens a compassion for all sentient beings and a desire to remain and help others with the task of Self-knowledge. Liberation from the chains of attainment frees us from bondage to our demiurgic egos. The fasting and mortifications of the vision quest comprise one of the ways that have been used to burst these bonds of the Demiurge who says “I am the only god.” Under this tyranny a vision of Gnosis cannot come.

An extended fast is only one means of producing the altered state of consciousness that can knock the ego-personality out of its autonomous tyranny of self-importance. Until the autonomy and resistance of the ego is broken down, there is no place for the helpful powers to come forth and communicate. According to the teachings of Don Juan in the writings of Carlos Castañeda, we find our personal power when we loose our self-importance. The oppressive circumstances of our lives, the petty tyrants and jealous gods that we meet, help us to lose our self-importance and to find our personal power. When we lose our self-importance, all the things that push our buttons no longer affect us. The archons (the jealous gods) have no power over us. We find the personal power to transcend the petty archons and ascend to the realms of light.

We lose the self-importance of the ego-personality to find the Self. According the Gospel of John, “whosoever shall lose his life shall gain it.” Self-importance is not the same as self-worth. We find something we think will make us important in order to cover a lack of self-worth. When we release the self-importance of our ego-personality we find the worth we have in the eyes of the Father from the beginning. In the death and rebirth experience of Gnosis, we lose our life in order to gain it.

The visionary experience of shamanic initiation is a vision of dismemberment and death. The shaman sees his or her body hollowed out and filled with crystals, wounded and healed, in order that he or she might heal others. From the wounding of Jesus upon the Cross to the stigmata of the saints, the wounded healer remains an archetype of our own death and rebirth in Gnosis.

In this day and age, we can come to this experience of death and rebirth through invocation and prayer. We can simply invoke the helpful powers of the unconscious into consciousness. Such a prayer opens a direct line to the driver of the cosmic dump truck where is accumulated all of our lifetimes of psychic and karmic refuse. Such a prayer sends out a call that we are ready for it to fall on us. This is what the helpful powers are for. This is why they are called forth; to help us take care of our garbage, to polish the glass of our spiritual vision, to purify our refuse in the furnace of our fiery being, composted and compressed into crystal, to fashion the diamond body; to make of it a bright and pellucid mirror, reflecting to us the radiance of our Divine Self.


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

The Message of Gnosis

A Homily for The Annunciation to Our Lady

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Annunciation to our Lady has been an important feast day in the calendar of the Church for a very long time. Annunciation is a synonym for “announcement,” and refers to the announcement of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary concerning her role in the advent of Christ. The traditional date of the Annunciation is March 25, which signifies the mystical conception of Christ, occurring as it does exactly 9 months before the date of Christmas when we celebrate the Christ’s birth. The popularity of this feast day in the traditional Church is most likely due to the emphasis on the divine feminine in the image of Mary to which many people related as the familiar mythological image of the woman or goddess who gives birth to the Divine Child. If the image of Mary embodies such a potent archetype, why is so little importance given to her in the Gnostic writings, and why then have we, as modern Gnostics, begun to honor her festivals?

The early Gnostics are not particularly interested in the physical or even metaphysical mechanisms of Jesus’ conception and birth for two basic reasons. 1) The Jesus of the Gnostics is a post-resurrectional mystery figure, the living Jesus, and is primarily a spirit, a pneuma. The Gnostic Jesus was not a person who died and disappeared, never to be heard of again, but an ever present reality in the inner life of his Gnostic followers, the ever coming and redeeming Logos. Therefore historical descriptions or theological speculations regarding any physical phenomena of conception and birth are of little consequence to the religious experience of the Gnostics. 2) In contrast to the dominant paradigm about women in early times the Gnostics do not view maternity as the principle value of the feminine. By the importance given to Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic writings, we can see that women signify the conceivers and birth givers of a deeply spiritual process in the life of the Gnostic, a role far transcending their biological role of conceiving and bearing children. Also, the Gnostics tend to view conception and birth as more of a tragedy than a joyful event. Many Gnostic writings identify incarnation with death and ignorance, as opposed to life and consciousness. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “…for my mother gave me death, but my true Mother gave me the Life.”

Many of these Gnostic insights concerning conception and birth into the world seem to run counter to the values of life that many of us hold dear. They are paradoxically poised in reversal of our usual way of viewing our earthly life. The greatest paradox for the Gnostic is that of earthly incarnation. On the one hand it is a tragedy that anything should be born into this cruel world of misery and sorrow, and yet it is only through the incarnation of holy souls and the striving of humanity for greater consciousness in this life that the situation may be redeemed. When we approach these insights of Gnosis, we must remember that they are based on a view of the human existential condition through the lens of spiritual experiences and from the vantage point of an alternate and transcendent reality. What the Gnostics communicate is not so much a denial of earthly life as an affirmation of that which transcends it, the spiritual life that we knew at the beginning before our incarnation. Their intent is not to dishonor those who suffered and sacrificed to bring us into the world but to make us more conscious of a greater mystery.

To the Gnostic the conception of Jesus is a mystery, the same mystery that forms the background of our own existence. The evidence of this mystery, indeed, any mystery, is that a mystery can never be limited to one reality, and so we must approach this mystery of the Annunciation and the conception of Christ as multi-layered and multifaceted.

One of the models that the Gnostics used extensively is the classification of the universe into three levels of reality: the hyletic (physical), the psychic (mental) and the pneumatic (spiritual). Rather than denying either of these as illusory or false, the Gnostics accepted the reality of all three on their own level.

Applying the hyletic level of reality to the mystery of the Annunciation, we are dealing with a reconstructed history of earthly events. The Gospel of Philip seems to profess the position that Mary was a real woman who had sexual intercourse with a real man in the process of conceiving and giving birth to Jesus. “The Lord would not have said, ‘My father in heaven,’ if he had not had another father, but he would have said simply my father.” (The Gospel of Philip) Although the various Gnostic sects differed in their emphasis concerning the physical versus the spiritual reality of Jesus, the virgin conception and virgin birth were viewed as spiritual rather than physical realities by most of them.

The psychic level of interpretation would comprise the ideas, belief structures and mental constructs derived from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. This category would include the theology and soteriology of the Christ in the form of creeds designed to integrate the mythology and the history of the Christ into a cohesive belief system. We might also add to this the many explanations of the Annunciation to Mary and the conception of Christ that rely on metaphysics of one kind or another. The main distinction of the psychic level of reality is that it is second or third hand, being one level removed from any historical reality and one level removed from any direct personal experience.

The pneumatic reality of the Annunciation comes from a direct experience of a spiritual power, the Gnosis of the Christ Within, the revelation of the Holy Spirit that flesh and blood hath not revealed. The pneumatic level of the Mystery communicates an alternate reality of story, myth, ritual and mystical experience. On this level of reality Jesus has a spiritual mother and a spiritual father. As Jesus speaks of his Father in heaven, so he also has another mother, a spiritual Mother. Among the early Jewish Christian communities the Holy Spirit was called the mother of Christ. In the Gospel of the Hebrews Jesus says, “My mother, the Holy Spirit, took me by one of my hairs and carried me away to Mount Tabor.”

To further point us in the direction for discovering the pneumatic reality, the Gospel of Philip intimates that something is missing from the conventional creed of the mainstream Church about the conception of Christ: “Some said Mary conceived of the Holy Spirit. They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive of a woman.” Not only does this passage affirm that the Holy Spirit is a female power but it also acknowledges that a masculine polarity is necessary for the conception to occur. In the announcement of Gabriel, the angel describes two spiritual powers rather than one. “The Holy Spirit (the Mother) shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest (the Father) shall overshadow thee.” Jesus had a mother and father according to matter—the hyletic reality. He also had a mother and father according to spirit—the pneumatic reality. What distinguishes this from the theological explanations of psychic Christianity is that it comes from the Gnostics’ direct experience of their own spiritual mother and spiritual father. Unless we also have this experience, then it remains merely another belief.

The Gnostics tend to disregard and minimize the hyletic and psychic aspects of the Mystery in their writings, not because they disavowed them, but because they knew that ultimately only the pneumatic experience of the Mystery is transformative. Concern over historical facts, pseudohistorical details, or theological explanations are not going to transform us or help us grow spiritually. They are not going to change us or increase our consciousness. Talk and discussion of the metaphysics involved in a virgin’s conceiving, propounding theories and ideas ad infinitum, is not going to change the existential condition of the human soul. An intellectual conception or interpretation, no matter how appealing to our minds, is still only a mental construct—only experience can transform us.

It is because of experiences of the Virgin Mary and insights into her spiritual role in the present that we, as modern Gnostics, have added this festival to our liturgical year. From the very beginning, Gnostics have had an especially close kinship with and regard for the feminine image of deity. Even if the early Gnostics did not write much concerning the spiritual role of the Virgin Mary, the Gnostic throughout history has been open to new and evolving images of the divine feminine as they have expressed themselves in direct experience. As a culture, we are currently experiencing a growing recognition of the importance of the divine feminine. The appearances of the Virgin at Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje in recent times points to an increased activity of the divine feminine in the collective psyche. When in 1950 the Pope proclaimed the Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin, it was not just an exercise in ecclesiastical authority but predicated upon the personal visions and experiences of himself and others.

Another reason that the Annunciation is important to the Gnostic is the model of Mary’s response to the announcement of the angel. The presence of an angel in this story gives evidence of communication from the alternate, spiritual reality of our inner lives. The feminist interpretation views this story as a traditional model of female submission and obedience. Yet this announcement need not be seen as something ordained and commanded from on high but as a revelation and a choice for Mary to make. In the Lurianic Kabbalah, each human soul has a specific and unique redemptive task to bring about the restoration of the Light, wherein the fragmented sparks of the primordial Adam, the Human of Light, might be gathered together into the original whole. Each of us at some point in our lives may be brought a message of our redemptive task from the inner angelic voice of our higher divine self. We have the free will to choose to follow the revelation or not. Mary responds to the announcement of the angel not out of resigned obedience but in an affirmation of her own true will and divine purpose. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Her choice brings it about, the fulfillment of the promise given in the aeons before her ever coming into the world. Mary hears the voice of her angelic and divine soul; she follows the Light which is above every power of the Father. In the story of Sophia, Sophia errs in following the false light of the Arrogant One. Leaving her consort, she brings forth the Demiurge, an imperfect god who is responsible for all of the tragedy of the human condition. She strives to redeem her mistake and correct her error through the sowing of a portion of her light power as sparks of light into the race of humanity.

In the story of the Annunciation, Mary chooses to bring forth a messenger of the Light, the Savior and Redeemer, by following not the false light but the true Light above the Aeons. In the Pistis Sophia, Mary conceives spiritually through the accepting of the Redeemer as the soul of the child in her womb. The Living Jesus tells the story thus: “It came to pass then thereafter, that at the command of the First Mystery I looked down on the world of mankind and found Mary, who is called my mother according to the body of matter. I spake with her in the guise of Gabriel, and when she had turned herself to the height towards me, I cast thence into her the first power which I had received from Barbelo—that is the body which I have borne in the height. And for the soul I cast into her the power which I have received from the great Sabaoth the Good, who is in the region of the Right.” In this fashion Mary takes on the culmination and embodiment of the redemptive role and destiny of the Holy Sophia.

Sophia is very important to us. Everything we do in this Church can be viewed as a cover for her acknowledgment and recognition in a culture where in times past the right to do so was paid for with our lives. Witches were not the only ones who were burned in the inquisition. Before them the last remaining Gnostics of European culture, the Cathars, were hunted down and burned as heretics. We are the hidden Children of Sophia. We are the protectors and guardians of her secret Gnosis. We acknowledge the darkness of this world and that, even in this more enlightened age, we could be imperiled and persecuted for her sake. And yet, in this place of darkness we have known her light. As in the prophetic verse of Isaiah, “They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

These mysteries are within us. We can experience the conception of Christ within our own souls. We can receive the annunciation and hear the hail of Gabriel. We are all, regardless of our gender, the handmaids of the Indwelling Lord. When we receive the message of the promise we have made before the Aeons of the Light, even as Mary heard the announcement of Gabriel, we can affirm the light of who we are and reply, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”


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