Renewal of Life

A Homily for New Year’s Day

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The New Year’s holiday is part of the progression of the Christmas season. Occurring subsequent to the winter solstice, Christmas and the New Year have similar significance as the rebirth of the light and the renewal of life at the darkest time in the semester of the sun’s waxing. The birth of the new year, like the holy birth of Christmas, is symbolized as a child, the birth of the infant light. Many old European customs and celebrations reflect the symbolism of the child during this beginning of the new year. One such custom is the election of the Children’s Bishop (episcopus puerorum). The elected child would dress up as a bishop, journey in children’s procession to the archbishop’s palace, and from a window in the palace, give a pontifical blessing upon the entire gathering.

New Year’s Day occurs in the Christmas cycle as one the twelve days of Christmas, the period between the ending of the lunar calendar and the beginning of the solar year, a time betwixt and between, a time of misrule when the usual rules and authorities of the world are suspended. It is a time of temporary chaos, confusion, celebration, and breaking down of old established forms to make way for a new light and new resolutions, the eternal new-born child of the year. These twelve days represent an opportunity for a psychological and spiritual renewal as well.

The Children’s Bishop was also called the fatuorum papam, the Fool’s Pope. At this time of the new year people would celebrate the festum stultorum (feast of fools). During this feast, a servant at court or, more often, the court fool would serve as the Lord of the Misrule in place of the usual head of the manor. The Lord of Misrule would rule for the one night of the feast and entertain the assembled guests with the making of foolish and madcap rules for everyone to follow. In the reversal of the relationship of the ruler to the ruled, a reversal of conventions and values also occurred.

The Lord of Misrule has a function similar to that of the medieval fool, whose task it was to mock authority and give a humorous and compensatory perspective to the convention of rulers and rulership. His task is also to point out the absurdities of convention by poking fun at the head of the court and keeping the conventional authorities from getting too puffed up with themselves.

The Gnostic in the world has a role similar to the role of the fool in medieval society. The role of the Gnostic is sometimes to reverse the conventional view of reality, to turn the wisdom of the world on its head, like the image of the Hanged Man in the Tarot with his radiant nimbus and beatific smile. The Gnostic writings often point out the absurdities of the conventional figure of Jehovah and reverse the interpretation of the Old Testament myths. The values of the world and the spiritual values of the Gnostic are often contrary. Even so, the values of unconscious are often polarized to the values of the conscious persona as well.

The “Time of Misrule” provides an opportunity for entering into the unconscious, so that something greater may come into consciousness, so that a greater consciousness might come to birth. The writings of Hermes Trismegistus describe a technique for bringing forth this birth of consciousness. “Your consciousness is in God; draw it into yourself, and it will appear; will, and it takes birth; suspend the senses of the body and the birth of the Godhead takes place.” Suspending the senses of the body breaks down the world that the lesser self (ego) has built up. The breaking up of the ego’s conventional structures for obtaining information allows consciousness to bring in and assimilate the birth of greater consciousness. This is the way of the birth of the Divine Life within. As stated in a Valentinian homily, “Those who dissolve the world and are not dissolved themselves are lords of all creation and destruction.”

The ego in the psyche has a function similar to the Gnostic Demiurge, which means “architect.” Like an architect, the ego creates an ongoing stream of worlds and ideas, but they are artificial creations. There is a difference between an artificial creation, lacking life and consciousness, and a creation to which we have given birth. The process does not so much involve a dissolution of the ego itself but a dissolving of the world that the ego has artificially created out of error and ignorance. Consciousness must overcome the four functions of the ego: sensing, thinking, feeling and intuition; it must overcome the power of the four elements in order to enter the stillness and silence of Midwinter where, in the hush of the night, in our own soul, the spiritual birth takes place.

The Hermetic writings state that the body of Gnosis is built by an inner purification through the mercy of God. “But first you must purify yourselves from the mindless torments of matter, one of which is ignorance, though there are many others, which force the man who is confined to the prison of the body to suffer by way of the passions. But these at once depart from him on whom God has had mercy, and so the body of Gnosis in man is built.” The ego persona can not manufacture the body of Gnosis by way of its own creations. The process of giving birth to a greater consciousness within us is not under our ego control; it requires the grace of God for the miracle of spiritual rebirth to occur. Yet it also requires an act of will on our part, a fervent intention, a desire for this change to occur.

In interpreting this passage, we must meditate on the rising above or transcendence of the passions of the body. This is not at all the same as the repression of the bodily appetites with which most of us in our Puritan culture are well acquainted. In many ways the path of rebirth is the reversal of the Puritanical repression of the bodily passions. In repression we are exerting the control of our lesser wills; in transcendence we are invoking and receiving the grace of a higher Self within us, that takes us to a still place where, like in the hush of midwinter, the new birth comes about in us. “This is the way of true rebirth. And now my child be still, and keep solemn silence; and thus will the grace from God not cease to come upon us.” Kyrie Eleison. “O lord, pour forth thy grace upon us.”

As in the Hermetic Literature, C. G. Jung was also very much inspired by the subject of rebirth in Gnosticism:

“When a summit of life is reached, when the bud unfolds and from the lesser the greater emerges, then as Nietzsche says, “One becomes Two,” and the greater figure, which one always was but which remained invisible, appears to the lesser personality with the force of a revelation. He who is truly and hopelessly little will always drag the revelation of the greater down to the level of his littleness, and will never understand that the day of judgment for his littleness has dawned. But the man who is inwardly great will know that the long expected friend of his soul, the immortal one, has now really come, “to lead captivity captive”; that is, to seize hold of him by whom this immortal had always been confined and held prisoner, and to make his life flow into that greater life—a moment of deadliest peril.”

In the above quote we hear echoes of the insights contained in the Hermetic writings about rebirth. Here Jung describes the rebirth in relation to a summit of life. This suggests the transitions and passages that we experience in our lives. It also implies the need to transcend the “little will” and the “lesser personality” to make this transition from the lesser into the greater life. These changes and transitions are often painful and entail a letting go of a previous state in order for a new state to appear. In such a fashion, there is a mystical death before the interior and spiritual rebirth. How this spiritual rebirth differs from many life passages is that the aftermath of our suffering and loss transports us to a place of greater consciousness where the pain and sorrow is transcended. As promised in the Revelation of St John: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and their shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be anymore pain.”

In order for all things to made new, the former things must pass away. The consummation of Gnostic rebirth gives us a way to transcend the sense of loss and pain, and to make the transitions and passages in our lives occasions for renewal and joy. We can consummate this rebirth by becoming the dwelling place for the interior God and the greater life. The Revelation of St John proclaims, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” According to Jewish mystical writings the Tabernacle of God is dwelling of the Shekinah, the feminine presence of God. In the Gnostic writings She is Sophia, the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. She is described as a city, a community of people not built by human hands, a fellowship of knowers. The fifth Gnostic Mystery describes this mystical fellowship in terms of a new birth of the light within our hearts.

“Behold a small star from the heavens descends to earth with light more brilliant than the sun. It comes to dwell in the hearts of the children of men and women, and these hearts are the foundation upon which is built the Eternal City, New Jerusalem.”

So this renewal in which there is no more pain, comes through the hearts of those in an invisible fellowship of Gnosis and in community with each other. If we care for each other through the passages, we can make them occasions for renewal and joy. Consciously will, desire and intend with inner resolve and the birth of the Godhead takes place within the tabernacle of our hearts. As we go into the New Year let us make our resolutions not on the basis of worldly expectations but on the true grace of insight and resolve that comes from the divine light within us. So may we prepare a place in our hearts and in our community for the mystical rebirth to take place. Then we shall proclaim with our Indwelling Divinity, “…for the former things are passed away. Behold, I make all things new.”


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

The Angelic Defender of the Gnosis

A Homily for the Day of the Holy Archangel Michael

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The Day of the Holy Saint Michael the Archangel, also known as Michaelmas, is an important feast day in the Gnostic liturgical calendar. The Archangel Michael has enjoyed a surprising prominence in all three of the great world religions of the West—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. It was a day of particular importance among the feast days of the liturgical calendar of the Medieval Christian church, thereby obtaining the common name of Michaelmas. Of the three Archangels mentioned in the canonical writings of the Roman Catholic Church, none has enjoyed more popularity or had as many Churches and Chapels dedicated to him, as the Archangel Michael. His popularity and presence in the mystical dimension of the human psyche eventually forced the Roman Catholic Church to include him in their theology as a Saint.

The legends including him in the Christian tradition stems primarily from the story of his fight with the dragon in the Book of the Revelation of St John.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there a place for them found any more in heaven.”

Many of the legends about St. Michael the Archangel relate to the mystery of the Holy Grail and the tradition of the Cathars, which flourished in the area of France from which these stories sprang. Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Grail romance is one that brings together most effectively the mythical imagery related to Michael. In the War in heaven, the Archangel Michael, brandishing his sword, strikes an emerald out of the crown of the Devil. It falls to earth, and from this one great emerald is fashioned the Holy Grail. According to a similar French legend, this same Holy Grail was guarded by the Cathars, its custodian being Esclaremonde, the Countess of Foix. Throughout history, the Devil and his archons strive to retrieve the emerald for his crown and to destroy its guardians. To keep it safe from the human minions of the Archon, St Michael strikes the top of Montsegur with his sword. A great cleft opens in the rock, into which Esclaremonde casts the Grail, and which closes over it to keep it from harm or theft. The story recounts that after her death her Cathar friends secretly buried her in the same place where the Grail lay, that she might guard it even in her death. The legend goes on to foretell that one day she will awaken from death and bring the Grail back with her.

Many of the chapels and churches dedicated to St. Michael are connected as well to devotees of our Lady Wisdom and the military order of the Templars. Although one of the great proponents of the crusade against the Cathars, St Bernard of Clairveaux, who drew up the rule for the Templar Order, was a devoted student of the Wisdom literature and our Lady Sophia. The Order of the Templars also took on the mythical character of guardians of a mystical wisdom encountered on their journeys through the Middle East. The military protection of the Templars given to pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land aptly symbolizes the military role of St. Michael in legend and in the mystical life. Just as the Templars vowed to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land, so St. Michael is the Defender who guards us on our journey back to the Pleroma. In the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the small figure holding her up represents St. Michael bearing her away to safety.

In approaching the subject of angels and archangels from an experiential and Gnostic point of view, there is not a lot of evidence in the material reality of our everyday lives for their existence or interaction with human beings. As far as the current reports of angels rescuing people from run-away trucks and curing people of cancer, whether true or not, ultimately, the Gnostic considers valuable those interactions with angelic beings that concern the spiritual and transcendent dimension of human existence. The appearance of angelic beings is, for the Gnostic, an indication of an altered and transcendent state of consciousness. Whenever we deal with angels we are concerned with a different degree of consciousness and sublimation of perception than the everyday, an altered state of consciousness through which we can perceive spiritual realities of a transcendental and transformative character. The emphasis here is on the inwardly transformative character of the experience. The acid test of Gnostic experience is that what we perceive changes us in a fundamental way on an interior level of being. Concerning this difference between ordinary and non-ordinary perception, the Gospel of Philip states:

“But you saw something of that place and you became those things. You saw the Spirit, you became spirit. You saw Christ, you became Christ. You saw the Father, you shall become the Father. So in this place you see everything and do not see yourself, but in that place you do see yourself—and what you see you shall become.”

A transformative contact with angelic presence does not come in ordinary states of consciousness but in extraordinary states of consciousness where what we see changes our inner perception in the deepest and most interior part of our being, so that what we perceive spiritually we truly experience as our Self. Such contact may occur in dreams, a spontaneous flood of interior images, various hypnagogic states of consciousness, or even synchronistic events related to such interior images. Occasionally these visionary states may take on the character of a seizure, as is often reported of shamans and some mystics in their contact with the spiritual realm.

One of the universal difficulties of non-ordinary states of consciousness is that the initial impact on our ordinary, worldly-habituated egos is that of disorientation and confusion. The experience may initially inspire fear and trembling—fear because of the complete otherness of the experience and trembling because of the flood of psychic energy that shakes up the psyche and the electrical activity of the brain and of the body. As recounted in the Book of Enoch the prophet:

“In the five hundredth year, and in the seventh month, on the fourteenth day of the month of the lifetime of Enoch, in that parable, I saw that the heaven of heavens shook; that it shook violently; and that the powers of the Most High, and the angels, thousands of thousands, and myriads of myriads were agitated with great agitation. And when I looked, the Ancient of days was sitting on the throne of his glory, while the angels and saints were standing around him. A great trembling came upon me and terror seized me. My loins were bowed down, my reins were dissolved and I fell upon my face.”

What has this to do specifically with the Archangel Michael? As with most questions of a Gnostic orientation, the best answer is that which we obtain from our own experience. Yet, to obtain such experience, some poetic and archetypal imagery is exceedingly helpful and often necessary. As stated in the Gospel of Philip, “Truth did not come into the world naked, but it comes in the types and images.” The Archangel Michael has not only a metaphysical correspondence but serves also as the archetypal defender and protector of those assaying the journey into non-ordinary states of consciousness on their way to achieving Gnosis. The Book of Enoch further describes this role of the Archangel Michael:

“The holy Michael, another holy angel, one of the great holy ones, was sent to raise me up. And when he raised me, my spirit returned, for I was incapable of enduring this vision of violence, its agitation, and the concussion of heaven.”

Enoch’s experience of being raised up is central to the role of St. Michael the Archangel. This passage might commonly be interpreted as describing Enoch’s return to ordinary bodily consciousness, but I would like to propose that perhaps it is describing his being raised into a higher state of consciousness that raises him above the agitation and roiling maelstrom that is perceived when first seeing the chaos of material existence from the viewpoint of spiritual perception. I would propose that what Enoch experienced is a mystical vision of heaven from the vantage point of a spirit yet trapped in the chaos, but who is raised above it by the assistance of the Archangel Michael. By such an interpretation the Archangel Michael becomes the one who raises us up, the defender who raises us above the ignorance and darkness of the chaos of matter into the Light of the Pleroma. In the Pistis Sophia, Michael is one of the two archangels that guard and accompany Sophia in her assumption into the Pleroma.

“It is again thy word: Thou hast given commandment to Gabriel and Michael, that they guide Pistis Sophia in all the regions of the chaos, until they lead her forth and that they uplift her on their hands, so that her feet do not touch the darkness beneath, and that on the other hand they of the lower darkness do not seize hold of her. And I led forth Pistis Sophia, she being on the right of Gabriel and of Michael. And the great light stream entered into her. And Pistis Sophia beheld with her eyes her foes, that I had taken their light-power from them. And I led Pistis Sophia forth from the chaos, she treading under foot the serpent-faced emanation of Self-willed, and moreover ctreading under foot the seven-faced basilisk emanation, and treading under foot the lion and dragon-faced power. I made Pistis Sophia continue to stand upon the seven-headed basilisk emanation of Self-willed; and it was more mighty than them all in its evil doings.”

Such an ascent and raising up is again described in the Sufi story, Mohammed in the Golden Valley:

“Over against the valley I saw an Angel in meditation, perfect in Majesty, Glory and Beauty. When he saw me he called me to him. When I had come close I asked, ‘What is thy name?’ He said, ‘Michael. I am the greatest of the Angels. Whatever difficulty thou conceivest, question me; whatever thou desirest, ask of me.’ I said to him, ‘To come hither have I undergone many toils and sufferings. But my purpose was this: to attain to gnosis and the vision of Truth. Show me the direction that leads to Him, so that perhaps I may attain the goal of my desire, and receive a portion of His universal Grace.’ Then that Angel took me by the hand, he made me enter and led me through so many veils of light that the universe I saw had nothing in common with everything I had previously seen in these worlds.” (Avicenna)

In both of the preceding stories, St. Michael assists the supplicant in rising towards transcendence and union with the Light of the Fullness. There is a particular direction of the soul that leads to our transcendental interaction with angels and archangels. As Mohammed, our purpose and motive must be to attain Gnosis and a vision of truth. Angels and archangels are the messengers and servers of the ineffable greatness that transcends human intellect and desire, so their interaction focuses on the spiritual dimension of life and they accompany those who direct themselves towards the highest divinity. The Gospel of Truth describes those who direct their contemplation to the transcendent heights.

“The place to which they direct their thoughts, that place is their root, which brings them upward in all the heights to the Father. Theirs is His head, which becomes a repose for them, and they are enclasped as they approach Him, so that they say that they have partaken of His face by means of the embraces…This is the way of those who have something on high through the immeasurable Greatness as they stretch after the One, alone and perfect, who is there for them. And they are not to go down to Amente, and they have neither envy nor groaning, nor is there death in them, but they rest in Him who rests, not toiling nor writhing round about the Truth. But they are themselves, the Truth.”

To partake of the countenance of the Godhead by means of embraces is a common means of describing the mystical union with the Most High. The image of St. Michael with the sword and scales symbolically shows us his role in aiding us in transcending the clash of opposites in the lower worlds to achieve the unifying experience of the Gnosis of God. The sword is double-edged, dividing the world into a duality of opposites, the right and the left, light and darkness, good and evil, yet the hilt by which he holds the sword ends with a perfect orb for its pommel, a symbol of perfect unity and transcendence of the opposites. The scales refer him to the zodiacal sign of Libra, which esoterically is the sign of relationship, of love and war. St. Michael not only makes war upon the foes of Gnosis but also aids us to rise above the warring opposites within our selves. This sense of rising leads us to an experience of the Godhead that at once embraces and fills us with such a sweetness and sense of familiarity and authenticity that we cannot but feel totally known to the deepest core of our being. This all encompassing and indwelling presence has no resemblance to the vengeful and punishing god of the Old Testament but fills us with a feeling of being our true, most loving, and most perfect Self. Thus it is described in the Gospel of Truth:

“But they do not stand revealed in such a manner as not to have risen above themselves. Nor did they lack the glory of the Father, nor did they think of Him as small nor that He is bitter or wrathful, but that He is guileless, imperturbable, and a sweetness, knowing all before they were, and not having need to be taught… And the Father is in them, and they are in the Father, being complete, being indivisible in the truly Good, lacking nothing at all but taking rest, being fresh in the Spirit. And they will heed their root, they will be at rest, they in whom He will find His root and not do harm to His soul. This is the place of the blessed — this is their place.”

As the archetypal warrior and defender, from what does St. Michael defend us? The Gnostic collect for his feast day indicates that he defends us from ignorance, the darkness and chaos of the world. The image of St. Michael defeating the Devil does not signify some moral defense against the temptations of the Devil endangering our souls but against ignorance of our divine origin, our root, and those forces both interior and exterior that would keep us in ignorance of that truth. When we have a numinous experience of transcendence many of the social forces of convention would have us deny or minimize the experience. Interior forces of pride, hatred, and false delusion may also keep us in ignorance or personalize our experience into a false semblance of the truth. One of the most powerful interior forces of our psyche that keeps us in ignorance is the inclination to personalize and concretize transcendent experience. Enoch cannot bear the vision of heaven primarily, because of his initial tendency to personalize the experience and identify with the clashing of the opposites. It is St. Michael who can aid us in transcending this tendency, so that, as stated in the Gospel of Truth, we might rise above our selves.

The name Michael is the Hebrew for “likeness of God.” His name is a reflection of that Divine Light to which our own divine spark is also akin. Michael is our guide and guardian back to the Pleroma, back to the Light from which we came. As stated in the Gospel of Truth, “this is the way of those who have something on high.” This way opens into an alternate reality where angels and archangels speak with us and help us toward our divine goal. Their aid and particularly that of the Archangel Michael can defend us from the spiritual evils of the midst as we wend our way on the long journey to behold the great flame from whence we are a spark. Not only shall we behold that flame but we shall become it ourselves. So may St. Michael’s strong hand uplift us and guard us in justice and strength. As in the story of Mohammed in the Golden Valley, may he make us enter and lead us through so many veils of light that, as we ourselves are changed by that vision, the universe we see shall no longer have anything in common with anything we had previously seen in this world.


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.