Coming of the Holy Spirit

A Homily for Pentecost

by Bishop Steven Marshall

Pentecost is a very important feast day in our Gnostic liturgical calendar. It commemorates the promised coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples, which was predicted by Jesus prior to his mystical death and resurrection. The mythic cycle of the liturgical year seems to come to an end at Pentecost, yet, for the Gnostic, it is the beginning of the true spiritual mission of the Christos. The Pistis Sophia describes twelve years of activity by the Logos among the disciples after the Ascension. It also describes the Apostleship of Mary Magdalen and the mythic cycle of the feminine power represented in the descent, suffering and assumption of Sophia.

Pentecost with the insertion of the Trinity season begins an entire half of the year, representing the mythic cycle of the feminine aspect of God, the season of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost, like Advent, is a beginning, the beginning of a new level of spiritual activity in our archetypal life. The Holy Spirit, like a great wind, blows into our spiritual life with something new, unexpected, and, even if somewhat unsettling, yet as a consoler and comforter that is not of this world.

The Gospel of St. Matthew states quite accurately “The Spirit bloweth where it listeth.” We cannot constrain the Holy Spirit into artificially created, ego-designed vessels. It does not matter how politically correct or psychologically comfortable they may be; it just doesn’t work. The wisdom of the Spirit suggests an entirely different value system than that of the material and ordinary world. The 8th Ode of Solomon gives a speech from the Holy Spirit to humanity. “Your flesh may not understand that which I am about to say to you; nor your garment that which I am about to show you.” The Holy Spirit requires a vessel for its manifestation, but it is not a worldly vessel or garment; it is a vessel of consciousness. The Gospel of St. John calls Her “the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Her not, neither knoweth Her; but ye know Her, for she dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” The world cannot receive Her because it cannot see Her, because it is not conscious of Her. In order to know Her indwelling we must acknowledge Her, become conscious of Her, feel Her presence, see Her, and finally hear Her. The Holy Prophet Mani was such a vessel; even his name means “vessel.” Mani received the visit of his Light Twin whom he recognized as the Paraclete, the promised Comforter, three times during his earthly life. In this instance, the coming of the Holy Spirit is a direct mystical experience of a transcendent reality. The inscrutability and timelessness of the Holy is expressed by the holy prophet Mani by comparing the timelessness of the Spirit as even beyond the task of counting all the grains of the dust of the earth:

“Know that the grains of the dust of the earth can be measured, one can count the grains of the dust of the earth year after year; but the length of time the Holy Spirit passed with the Father, that one cannot count.” (Kephalaia of the Paraclete)

The coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles was not something that came and went in History; it is a present and timeless, spiritual reality. Jesus knew of his impending death and told his disciples of the Comforter, who would come after him. He told them to expect the coming of the Holy Spirit which would abide with us forever, who “…shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Our Teacher of Gnosis is still here. Her voice remains to teach, to guide, to care for us, and to comfort us.

The Kephalaia of the Paraclete by the holy prophet Mani describes how the Holy Spirit not only looks after the sparks of light on earth, but all of the aeons of the light:

“He first formed her in his inner chambers in quiet and in silence; but when she was needed, than was she called and came forth from the father of greatness; she looked after all the aeons of the light.”

In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus reiterates to the disciples the timeless and unworldly nature of the Holy Spirit:

“Jesus said unto his disciples: I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, the she may abide with you forever… Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”

To know the event of Pentecost as an immanent and interior reality is the goal towards which the Gnostic’s striving is always directed. If we are to know this other Comforter, we must somehow come to the place in spirit where we can reach out and touch this timelessness and transcendence; we must pass over to a non-ordinary state of consciousness and perception.

Pentecost comes from an Israelite harvest festival called the “feast of weeks,” which occurred 50 days (seven weeks) following the Passover. It was a feast prepared from the first fruits of the grain in the form of leavened bread. The leavened as opposed to unleavened bread is symbolic of the power of the Holy Spirit, for the leavening that fills the dough with air and makes it rise has been long regarded as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel of Thomas makes such a comparison between leavening and the Holy Spirit. “Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman, who has taken a little leaven and has hidden it in dough and has made large loaves of it.” Here the Holy Spirit is associated with the Kingdom and the feminine task of making bread.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit signifies a recognition, a knowing of the feminine aspect of God. The Holy Prophet Mani also describes the Holy Spirit as a feminine image:

“The fount of every blessing and all the invocations is the mother of life, the first Holy Spirit, the first mother who has come forth from the Father and first appeared, the glorious one who is the beginning of all emanations that have come to this world.” (Kephalaia of the Paraclete)

Jewish Christians known as the Ebionites called the Holy Spirit “The Lady,” and described her as the real Mother of Jesus. They prayed to her as God, but called her an Angel because they experienced her personality so strongly and so personally. The Holy Spirit, as the Mother of Jesus occurs in many places in Gnostic literature. “Even so did my Mother, the Holy Spirit, take me by one of my hairs and carry me away to Mt. tabor.” (Gospel of the Hebrews) In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says, “My mother gave me a body, but my true Mother (the Holy Spirit) gave me life.” As we begin to contact transcendent reality, the feminine image of Deity is almost always the first to be experienced, often as an interior vision and voice.

In the Christian mythos the festival of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the fire of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Two principle symbols appear here. The first is the tongue of flame. Shin, the name of the Hebrew letter corresponding to Fire and Spirit, means tooth and also tongue of flame. The addition of the letter Shin (the Holy Spirit) to the name Jehovah (YHVH) reveals the mystery of the Spirit in the qabbalistic name of Jesus, YHShVH. In this fashion, the name of Jesus represents the healing of the deficient and unregenerate Demiurge Jehovah (YHVH) by the addition of the missing feminine aspect of deity, the Holy Spirit. The second image in this description of Pentecost is the speaking “in tongues.” This is not described as the babbling of jibberish, but as recognizable languages, symbolizing a speech that was miraculously understandable to everyone regardless of their language: symbolically, a healing of the division symbolized by the division of languages in the story of the Tower of Babel. This “speaking in tongues” suggests a phenomenon of communication associated with experiences of an otherworldly and transcendent reality, yet on a mass scale.

This phenomenon comes about also through the coming together of the feminine and masculine potencies of the Trinity. While the Logos is the Word, the Holy Spirit is the breath that gives it its utterance, that gives it a voice. Whereas the Logos (the Word) is symbolic of the masculine polarity, the voice of the Holy Spirit is feminine. In Qabbalah, this voice, like the Holy Spirit, is represented by a dove, and is called Bath Qol, “the Daughter of the Voice.î” In the Song of Solomon she is the “voice of the dove… heard again in our land.” In the Jewish Targum she is called the “Voice of the Holy Spirit of Salvation.”

The recognition of the Holy Spirit is an essential step to the restoration of the Kingdom of Heaven, the descent of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom which is spread out upon the earth but cannot be seen by the eyes of the world. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas, “Jesus said: It (the Kingdom) will not come by expectation; they will not say: ‘See here’, or: ‘See there’. But the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.” In late versions of the Gospel of Luke, the portion of the Lord’s Prayer which reads “thy Kingdom come,” is translated as “Thy Holy Spirit come and cleanse us.” The Kingdom of Heaven is the manifestation in a greater consciousness of the Holy Spirit on earth.

In Qabbalah, the Kingdom is referred to the sphere of Malkuth, which is also titled Shekinah, Matrona and Bride, the Kingdom adorned as a Bride as written in the Revelation of St. John the Divine. In Qabbalistic teachings, the Shekinah is a feminine symbol of the immanent presence of God on earth. Followers of Valentinus called the Holy Spirit, “this Holy Earth,” “Mother,” and “Jerusalem.” In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells the disciples of the Holy Spirit that will come in his name and shall bring all things to their remembrance. Remembering the teaching of the Word and the role of the Holy Spirit in giving it a voice gives the Holy Spirit with Her title of “Jerusalem” remarkable meaning. It refers Jerusalem to that spiritual Kingdom of Light, which has been called the New Jerusalem, and which the Gnostics consider their true origin and home. The verse of the 137th Psalm, which is included in our Gnostic Ordination to Cleric reads, “If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember not Jerusalem above my highest Joy.”

Jerusalem is not for us an earthly city but the celestial City, the Kingdom of Light, our true home among the Aeons of the Light. The Holy City is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, the coming of the Heavenly City to dwell in our hearts in greater consciousness. Quispel translates Jerusalem as the “Kingdom of Peace.” Such a “Kingdom of Peace” is the Rest, the Repose that the Gnostics used as a metaphor for the Fullness of the Pleroma where all of the warring dualities and opposites are transcended and resolved into a “single one.” Dr Carl Jung, in his treatise on the Trinity, makes a case for the recognition of the feminine aspect of God as the completion and final individuation of the Trinity of God. Therefore, the coming of the Holy Spirit, as an immanent reality in the Gnostic soul, represents not just a beginning but the culmination of Gnosis, both the beginning and the end.

The recognition of the feminine aspect of the Godhead is not a political fancy but a spiritual necessity; our own wholeness as spiritual beings, even the wholeness of God, depends on it. And so we remember this day in honor of the Holy Female Power in every place, who is the Mother of Christ in every heart, and the “wholeness upon which the universe is erected and destroyed.” We, as Gnostics, seek not a political and worldly kingdom on earth but a spiritual kingdom of an interior and transcendent reality that is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit within us. May the Voice of the Holy Spirit guide us on our quest to the Light of the Divine Soul within, comfort us in our travails in the world and restore within us the Kingdom of this Holy Earth within which we “live and move and have our being.” Amen.

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

The Wealth of Spirit

A Homily for the First Sunday after Easter (Low Sunday)

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The first Sunday after Easter has been called “Low Sunday”, so as to distinguish it from Easter Sunday, which has been called “High Sunday”. Ecclesiastics facetiously explain the title supposedly because attendance is typically so low on this Sunday in comparison to Easter Sunday. This phenomenon, not always born out in my experience, is in a certain way symbolic of the dichotomy of how the success of a religion, church or person is measured when contrasting a worldly versus a spiritual view of the matter.

The Gnostic point of view expresses this dichotomy most often in the contrasting of material wealth and an exterior, visible growth in the world with spiritual wealth and an interior, invisible growth in the Spirit. One can appreciate this dichotomy in the contrasting of the two parables of the rich man in the Gospel of Thomas:

“Jesus said: There was a rich man who had much money. He said, ‘I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant and fill my storehouse with produce so that I lack nothing.’ Such were his intentions, but that same night he died.”

Now, contrast the previous saying with the following parable of the wise merchant:

“Jesus said: The Kingdom of the Father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You, too, seek this enduring and unfailing treasure where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys.”

The pearl here is symbolic of the priceless treasure of the spirit, the seed of the Light within us, our authentic and immortal Self. Acknowledgment of the value of the pearl by the wise merchant, as opposed to the rich man who thought only of the temporal wealth of the world, signifies a recognition of the true value of knowing our authentic Self, often obscured by the material and psychological obfuscation of the world, but which is a recognition of our authentic Selves as sons and daughters of the Light. The rich man who put his value in the things of this world is contrasted with the wise merchant who gives up all to obtain the single pearl. As stated in the Gospel according to St. Luke, “Likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.”

There is a great treasure of the Light within us of whose nature most of are only temporarily or vaguely conscious, yet it is of a reality that is truly enduring, that is incorruptible and immortal. Such a treasure of the Light is so powerfully obscured by the overvaluing of material things and psychological and social preoccupations that very little of it shines into everyday consciousness and out into the world. The hidden nature of our authentic Self, most tragically occulted even from our own awareness is further amplified by the following passage from the Gospel of Philip:

“No one will hide a large valuable object into something small, but many a time one has tossed countless thousands into a thing worth a penny. Compare the soul. It is a precious thing and it came to be in a worthless body.”

This passage exhorts us to avoid identification with anything that falls short of our authentic spiritual Self, the true treasure of the Light. Do not put our value, our authenticity, into anything less than our true pneumatic Self; do not compromise our spiritual integrity. If we identify ourselves, our value, our wealth, with any of the myriad, worthless things of the world, we become eaten up by that. As stated in the Gospel according to Thomas, “Blessed is the man who eats the lion and the lion shall become man, but cursed is the man whom the lion (world) eats and he will become a lion.” If we identify our value with material things and the body, we are eaten up by that and fall into the snare of the Hyletic. If asked who they are, they answer, ” I am the possessor of such and such in material wealth or status,” or , “I am the possessor of such and such physical attributes of my body.” If we identify with what we think or feel, we are eaten up by that and fall into the prison of the Psychic. If asked who they are, they answer, “I am a believer or unbeliever in such and such,” or, “I am a lover or hater of such and such.” We get stuck in these false identities and become blind to anything greater. In the logion from the Gospel of Thomas recited for this Sunday, Jesus further explains this blindness:

“And my soul was afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see that empty they have come into the world and that empty they seek to go out of the world again.”

Many coming from a secular, socio-economic paradigm of salvation continually complain about the problems of material poverty. Indeed, there is much suffering due to conditions of poverty in the world, and we should help to alleviate it to the extent that opportunities avail themselves to us on a personal level. But material poverty pales in comparison to the spiritual poverty, the spiritual emptiness that afflicts the vast majority of people, both the rich and the poor. As the Gospel of Thomas explains, They do not see that empty they have come into the world and empty they seek to go out of the world again.”

For such dispirited people the phrase, “wealth of the Spirit,” is an oxymoron. They can not acknowledge even the existence of the things of the spirit, let alone assign any value to them. In the portion of the Gospel of Thomas read today, Jesus points out what is truly important to consider in this regard:

Jesus said: If the ?esh has come into existence because of the spirit, it is a marvel; but if the spirit has come into existence because of the body, it is a marvel of marvels. But I marvel at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.
People have not truly come into the world empty, but being unconscious and ignorant of the treasure within them, they are effectively empty. The recognition of that treasure can not come about through an abstract or theoretical speculation on the origin of material or immaterial things but through experience, both a consciousness of the poverty of ignorance as the existential condition of the human being in the world , and the recognition of the true treasure of the Spirit, that fragment of the Divine Light that enlightens the soul and aids her in transcending the material and psychological obscurations of the world.

The Gospel reading for today further explains the process by which these conscious recognitions occur:

“Jesus said: I took my stand in the midst of the world and in flesh I appeared to them; I found them all drunk, I found none among them athirst… But now they are drunk. When they have shaken off their wine, then will they repent.”

This passage indicates two steps in the process. First we must shake off our drunkenness by the things of the world. Then only can we repent and turn the awareness of our soul from external and material things to inner and spiritual things.

The captive and unrepentant soul is drunk on the drink of the world, a world that is made of substitutes for the spirit, that hold the soul captive, a worldly drink that befuddles our awareness, that puts us into a stupor of unconsciousness, and prevents us from becoming conscious of the spiritual treasure within us and of anything beyond the world’s counterfeits of the real. This drink comes in a myriad of masquerading and superficially attractive forms, but they are all unfulfilling and counterfeit creations, they are only replicas of the real, they are the promises and threats of false gods and archons. We become attached to and captured by the ideas of the mind, the emotional affections of the passions, the dressed-up desires of our instinctual drives. But they are false gods; they give false promises of fulfillment, comfort and peace, but they do not deliver it in any enduring fashion. Ultimately, they are empty and they leave us empty.

What we are really seeking behind all of these counterfeits are the enduring things of the Spirit, the wealth of the Spirit, the treasure of the Light within. Being drunk on the drink of the world is an attempt to find wealth, happiness and fulfillment on the horizontal and external dimension of being. Wealth is related to the word “weal,” meaning wellbeing and happiness, but material and psychological things can not really offer this in any lasting way. How often have people found that the achievement of their worldly desires did not bring them the happiness that they sought. How often we say to ourselves, “If only so and so believed in my ideas then I would be well and happy. If only I had such and such a possession or physical characteristic then I would be well and happy. If only I had this like satisfied or that dislike removed then I would be well and happy. But when we have obtained these objects of our desires, we find that we are still not well nor happy and another thing takes its place.

Eventually, we must throw off our wine of worldly attachments; we must come to a point of dissatisfaction and sometimes, even despair with these counterfeits of the real before we can ask for and receive the spiritual drink of another and higher reality, before we can drink of the Living Water of the Spirit, which alone provides a weal that is fulfilling and enduring. We must lose the life oriented to the poverty of ignorance to obtain the life of liberating Gnosis. In some instances, before we can be disappointed with the false wine of the world, we must experience that which truly offers a wellbeing and that endures; we must experience something better and greater, then we can repent.

Repent means to turn back, to reverse our direction. Instead of giving our worship to the shibboleths and false gods of the ego and of the human nature directed toward the external world on the horizontal dimension of being, we must turn back to our authentic Selves and to our beginning, our source in the Fullness. We must turn the womb of the soul inward so that she bears us spiritual children as insights of Gnosis. When the soul becomes directed to the Light within, she bears forth the wealth of the Spirit. The Qabbalists teach that the highest is the innermost. In the Pistis Sophia, the Most High is called the Inmost of the Inmosts. That interior star of our being is the door, the way, the opening to transcendence and freedom. Yet that pearl, that treasure of the Light, is hidden beneath layers and layers of dust and darkness. It is imprisoned and entombed by the rulers of matter and psyche, so thickly obscured that we can barely know where to seek for it. What the Gnostics knew is that we cannot find it outside of ourselves.

The title for this Sunday from early times is Dominica in Albis, meaning “Sunday in White,” as it signifies the day when at the end of the service, the neophytes, those baptized on Easter Eve, stripped off their baptismal garments of white and put on their civilian dress. The white vesture of the Light becomes interiorized and hidden beneath the outward and worldly appearance. As St. Paul the Apostle wrote, “We have this treasure in earthly vessels.”

We must find a way to penetrate these layers of obscuration. We must cleave the wood of outward semblance. We must lift the stone. We must roll the stone away from the tomb of matter, lift it away from the tombs in which our spirits are buried while we live in this flesh.

This work of finding and rescuing the Light within ourselves and in the universe is simple but not easy. The alchemists have said of old, “Nature unaided always fails.” And so it is with our own human natures. We might also say, “Human nature unaided always fails.” The work of freeing the wealth of the Spirit cannot be accomplished by the mental-emotional-instinctual complex of the ego, or by a social organization simply devised and orchestrated by such egos. We require a light from outside of the archonic system of the world and yet lies within us, such a light as that represented by the flame of the Paschal candle, to find our way back to the Light, to give us the spiritual strength and sustenance to lift the stone away from the tombs of our spirits.

So from whence does this aid for us come. As sung by the Psalmist, “From whence shall my salvation come?” It comes in diverse ways through the Messengers of the Light, and for us through the Gnostic sacraments or mysteries, particularly the central one of the Eucharist. The Eucharist does not do the work for us, but it provides the necessary aid; it provides the spiritual nourishment and sustenance that gives us the strength to make the great journey in this life, to search out the hidden tomb of our authentic being and to lift the stone away. The inner light that makes the way clear in the darkness of this world is increased by our participation in the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” It is a thanksgiving for the wealth of the spirit given to us in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of what has been rightly called “the most precious gift.” It is a thanksgiving to the one who came down through all the Aeons of the Light and all the Archons of the Spheres to bring that gift to us. And so we are also thankful for the true and pure bishops, such as our Right Reverend Father Tau Stephanus, who represent the apostles of that Light. For as written by the holy prophet Mani, “For all the earlier religions were true so long as pure leaders were in them,” so has our bishop maintained the purity of our tradition by his leadership and remained true to his calling and his promise to the Light.

He has remained true to the Light from whence he and indeed all of us have come; and there shall he stand in Gnosis and in Truth, so that he and his successors might ever offer the Living Water, the true wine of Gnosis, and the Bread of Life, the Sustenance of the Angels, to the generations now and in the future, to provide the drink and the waybread of heaven to the weary pilgrims in this world who long for return to the Light and who long for the wealth of the spirit in Gnosis.

Delivered on Low Sunday, 2002, in Hollywood.

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.