I have stated this before here and here, but I think it bears repeating – we need to stop treating the physical world like it’s less important than the spiritual world! These two worlds are connected to each other and are of equal importance. As above, so below; as within, so without; as the Universe, so the Soul. The material world is not something to be use and be discarded. It’s also not a bad thing to have material things and seek comfort. The problem isn’t having them or wanting them, but rather when we get out of balance and start hoarding all of the things!
But the spiritually-inclined often get into the mindset that this physical existence means less than what is spiritually on the other side of this life. I think this is where things get lopsided and twisted for us on both a conscious and unconscious level. If we incarnate here to learn lessons, have experiences, reach gnosis, awaken to our spiritual reality – whatever term you want to use – then this physical world is of extreme importance. If we could do it without incarnating, I think we probably would. Physical incarnation is part of the process. Recognizing this is part of our spiritual growth. We can’t do it without all of the flesh and bones and sinew and gaseous star stuff and leafy greens and bumble bees.
When we devalue the physical world over the spiritual one, it leads to all sorts of abuses. The environment, women, minority groups, how we produce out food, how we treat animals, how we produce and use non-renewable resources – all are treated as commodities for consumption rather than as precious people and resources that help balance our world. Everything on this planet is intrinsically good and part of a great ecosystem worthy of reverence and respect.
While I know most reading this post would agree with this sentiment and are environmentalists themselves, unconsciously we absorb a lot from our language and the dominant cultures and religions in our communities. Countless times (today in fact) I’ve heard the suit of pentacles or disks in the tarot referred to as the lowest level or least important of the suits. Why? Because it’s the suit that correlates to Earth and material things. The Moon, a symbol of women in the West, is still often associated with concealing, misleading, delusion and lunacy, when it just as often is an illuminating force in the darkness, a force of creativity, and where dreams are forged.
How we use and perceive our language and symbols matter. Becoming aware of how we speak and interact with symbols can help us bring our unconscious biases to the light.
I’ve been pondering writing a book that centers on a gnostic ecology and the Goddess Sophia. At face value this seems paradoxical because the Gnostics were a fringe group that sought to transcend this material world, which they saw as a grand illusion made in error by a being known as the Demiurge. This being was at best confused and misunderstood, and at worst just down right evil, intent on deceiving the beings that occupy the realm of the material. So, the Gnostics had good reason to want to get the hell out of this world of deception and become one with the infinite Mystery through a process called gnosis.
But there is way more to the story. While the world of matter is problematic to the Gnostic for all of its sticky, clingy being-ness, it’s also necessary for any soul on the road to gnosis.
So, what is this gnosis? I will warn you now, I can’t answer that in a short definition. So, this is a very bad answer to that question. Gnosis is to know the divine mystery through direct participation with It. It is mystical knowledge of the Divine that one arrives at through an interactive process. There are many Gnostic writings that survive today that give some insight to that process. But gnosis is an ongoing thing that one engages in throughout their life. It is in the experience.
The gist of the Gnostic cosmology is this (and this is greatly simplified for the point of this post), the great divine Mystery, who existed before all else, wished to know Itself. To know Itself it divided into two and thus created duality; Consciousness (male) and Soul (female). There were others and they subdivide and carry on some. Soul or Psyche, now in the form of Sophia, descended into the material world thinking she caught a glimpse of her Parent in a flash of light. This was a mistake (orwas it?). Through the power of metaphor she ends up reproducing in error. One of those reproductions was the Demiurge who then really went to work creating all sorts of things. But the Demiurge thought he was the only deal around. He didn’t know about Consciousness, Soul or the Great Mystery. He had no idea that his mother even existed. He wanted to be worshiped as the creator of all things and in his defense, he had no reason to believe there were bigger fish out there. Sophia sees that he’s a dick and doesn’t get involved with him directly, but realizes she needs to correct things because he’s making a mess of creation. When she sees Demiurge’s creation of Adam, she implants consciousness in him and then brings it into the world through Eve. As a result of this trickery, we are all souls with the spark of consciousness buried in us caught up in a cycle of reincarnation. We are asleep in the underworld, the material world, until that day the spark of consciousness is ignited and we begin the journey of true awakening through reaching gnosis.
According to the Gnostics, we are all on that journey and at various stages of it.
Anyone else get the feeling that the Great Mystery pulled a fast one on us? It divides itself, and then divides again and again and on and on in order to get to know itself. It creates the world of duality and the material world so that our little sparks of consciousness can do shit. All sorts of shit; the good, the bad and the ugly! And by doing all of this shit, It grows in knowledge. Each living thing, at whatever level of consciousness is has, contributes to the knowledge of the Great Mystery. This is in line with a branch of philosophy developed by Alfred North Whitehead in the early to mid-20th century known as Process Philosophy, for which Process Theology emerged.
But the point here is that this makes the material world entirely necessary to the Divine experience. To know Itself the material world must exist. Each thing goes through its life collecting knowledge. For us to awaken and achieve an understanding of our own consciousness by witnessing the reality that our souls’ experience, we must be born to this material world. It is not superfluous and merely something to be transcended. In the end, we are all part of the Great Mystery. We’re all One. So there is no actual distinction between spirit and matter – duality is illusion. To look at it from the perspective of polarity, matter is the denser end of the lighter, fluffier spirit side.
I’m attempting to formulate an argument of how Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom on Earth, the World’s Soul, the Anima Mundi, can be the Goddess of our time and a rally cry for an ecological spirituality based in Gnosticism.
Thus far I have read – or – have on my reading list:
Jesus and the Lost Goddess, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God, by Caitlin Matthews
Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief, by John Lamb Lash.
Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, by Karen King
The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford
The Gnostics, by Jacques Lacarriere
In the Shadow of Ancient Ruins: Hellenism and Gnosticism in Contenporary Environmental Ethics, by Jim Cheney (article, 1991)
The Nag Hammadi Library
Pistis Sophia (annotated version)
Corpus Hermeticum (not Gnostic, but of an age)
If anyone reading this has some thoughts on sources that you think may be helpful, please drop a line in the comments or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate the information!