Sophia Goddess of Spirituality in Mature Women
Sophia the Spiritual Goddess of Greece
Spirituality in Mature Women
Sophia is the Greek goddess of mythology archetype of spiritual wisdom in women’s spirituality circles, in which she is viewed as the Divine Feminine. Sophia's identity is hidden in the Old Testament by references to her in the lower case word “wisdom.” She was a part of the Judeo-Christian heritage of the west, but forgotten within a monotheistic, patriarchal religion that denies feminine divinity.
Hagia Sophia is the lovely, domed church in Constantinople which made her name familiar. This church was built to honor the divine mother in the sixth century CE by Eastern Christians. Roman Christians claim it was dedicated to a minor virgin martyr, Saint Sophia, rather than in honor of any Divine Feminine. Hagia means “holy” in Greek, and was once a title of respect for wise and protected older women, but sadly the meaning has been bastardized so these wise women are referred to as “hags”.
Sophia was a major figure in the beliefs of first century Gnostic Christians, who were denounced as heretics and persecuted in the fourth century. Thankfully, copies of the Gnostic Gospels were found in the mid-twentieth century, hidden away in the Nag Hammadi desert in Egypt. It is very important for women to be aware that the worship and knowledge of feminine divinity disappeared because the patriarchy is based upon negating women’s spiritual authority. The historical inferior status of women and the suppression of the goddess are related, just as the dominant position of men is related to monotheism.
Greek Goddess of Mythology: Spirituality and Return to Its Roots
Sophia's third part of life concerns have to do with the death, divinity, or mortality of our own religious beliefs and faith. Now is the time we instinctively come to pray more, as we lose more of our loved ones, who pass on or suffer from terrible illnesses. Women are usually the more devoted parishioners in this part of their lives, but the clergy is still mostly male. In the crone or wise woman years, women may yearn to return to their spiritual roots, even if they disagree with the doctrine of their old churches. It is women who encourage others to attend church and who still do the lion’s share of the volunteer work. As Sophia starts stirring in women, they will feel that now is the time to sort out their own religious and spiritual feelings, loyalties, and beliefs.
Sophia’s archetype of wisdom causes a pressing need to find meaning and reconcile one’s beliefs through gnosis. When women are on a spiritual quest, they are finding and developing their “inner” Sophia wisdom. Since solitude is usually the developmental ground for contemplation, prayer, and meditation, a conflict may arise between the needs of relationships in the secular world, and the needs for the time for inspired religious study.
This can be disruptive to a marriage if the woman wants to engage in Bible studies or groups and her husband does not. Surprisingly, many couples can end up divorcing over such an issue, if one person suddenly becomes much more devout than the other. I have seen splits like this in couples who have been married for twenty five years or more! The woman or man decides they want to go to a spiritual class, or read more religious material, or both, and the spouse can't deal with that tiny part of independence in a person they lived with, loved, and had children with for decades!
Sophia is gradually coming into Western culture and is the accepted feminine aspect divinity of God, as well as the Greek goddess of mythology that rules spirituality. Many women are unaware that patriarchal monotheism has not existed from the very beginning as the Old Testament would have them believe. It has been proven that matriarchal cultures which worshiped goddesses and lived without war were around as far as twenty thousand years ago!
Enlightened women know that men actually altered the Bible and got rid of any books of it that mentioned women in positions of power. There is no word for goddess in Hebrew. This non designation led to non recognition. The elimination of the goddess was required by monotheism. When the Bible speaks of “false gods” people can miss the point that God was eradicating worship of the goddess, making women abominations and cursed.
In Genesis, there is one Father God, who is supreme and exists from the beginning. He has no lineage, family, or spouse. Yet the promised land of Canaan already belonged to goddess worshiping people. After the land and people were conquered, the prophets were against Asherah, Anath and Ashtoreth, whom were women, and goddesses! Asherah was the Semitic name of the great goddess, the “Mother of all Wisdom.”
Canaan was a settled and cultivated land inhabited by an art making, goddess worshiping people. This was not acceptable to Yahwah, so the Old Testament prophets relentlessly eliminated the goddesses. Leonard Shlain’s analysis in The Alphabet Verses The Goddess, says of the first commandment, “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” This announces the disappearance of the goddess and declares that Yahweh will not tolerate any women.
The second commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”, forbids the likeness of anything . So it was a sin to make paintings or sculptures inspired by beauty and the power of nature or the feminine face or body. It was the commandment of a jealous God, whose rival was a goddess. Although many people are familiar with the story of how Joshua and the Israelites took control of the Promised Land, they do not always realize that enough people were killed in this process for it to be considered the genocide of those already living there.
Fear of being teased, of appearing superstitious, or being irrational inhibits many from sharing mystical gnosis that may have been or could have been a turning point if it were acknowledged and supported by others. Parents or clergy would label women as foolish or heretical if they discussed any kind of mystical experience. Even discussing mystical happenings with a therapist could lead to being diagnosed as delusional. Insights gained from gnosis are not really welcomed as good conversation at gatherings. To speak about your spiritual reality, or tell another about a magical experience of your own philosophical insights only becomes possible for many women when they are over fifty and have found friends with a measure of spiritual depth.
The Sophia aspect of most remains dormant until later in a woman’s life, because she does not have the time to ponder these issues while raising children, having so many household duties, and taking care of relatives. This requires a great juggling act on her part to accomplish all the expectations of her, and she has little time to herself. But once you are a crone or wise woman, maybe you will find a group of women with whom you can share your spiritual journey. This group can be the means where each woman can develop her inner Sophia. Receptivity to spirit, the ability to listen and value mystical experience, and the learning that gnosis was behind major life choices that others have made creates a safe space to talk about your Sophia wisdom.
Sophia Personification of Wisdom
Wise Woman or Soul Knowledge
Sophia's wisdom is insightful, what we know as soul knowledge, or gnosis. Gnostic or noetic knowledge is what we know to be intuitively and spiritually true. Gnosis is also that mysterious way of knowing that is sometimes called “women’s intuition.” But it really is not so mysterious, it is just noticing what is happening around you, and processing that information in an intuitive way. It has to do with knowing people and being able to assess character, to see beyond the façade.
The moment you just “know” someone you love is hurt or in trouble is gnosis. This is wisdom that does not belong to any authority above us, it is wisdom that dwells within us. Growing older and wiser is a long process, and the archetype of Sophia is with women at the wise woman stage, or last third of her life. She is there to help you find all the gnosis in yourself, so you can focus your attention on the soul of the matters that most concern your own life.
Mystic experiences are common in the Sophia type woman, those which inspire awe, beauty, grace, and dignity. Often when a woman has such an experience, getting to know God becomes the central focus of her spiritual life. She may seek to stay in a mystical union with God, and flourish in a community of women mystics, as have many before her, such as Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and Catherine of Genoa.
In times when women in the secular world married young, had many children, and a household to run, the place for a devout woman was a religious order. It was possible for a nun to seek mystical union with God or Christ, and she did not have the everyday duties of running a household. She was celibate and her passion could be directed toward spiritual union, and she did not have to work to support herself.
Sophia defines her experiences as having spiritual or philosophical meaning. Women in our times are still sometimes drawn to a Western cloister or an Eastern Ashram. But since people can experience divinity on their own, they will not automatically defer to hierarchy; they question dogma, and are aware of sexism. They will leave if the exacting dogma or belief system of a particular religion conflicts with what they feel is their truth or pathway to it.
Being receptive to mysticism may be a natural talent, or one which comes along as the result of much meditation practice. The sense of oneness and revelation may occur in one Holy moment, or be part of a longer quest, just as the meaning may become clear more slowly in a longer amount of time. Each woman celebrates or cultivates her relationship with the sacred in her own way. Some find themselves more spiritually in tune in nature, or find inspiration while writing, or painting, or singing. As more people practice meditation to relax or as a spiritual practice, they are making space for the Sophia archetype to enter them and guide the way.
The religious roles of priest, pastor, or rabbi were not held by women until the end of the twentieth century. They were not allowed to fulfill an inner calling to mediate between divinity and a congregation. Now liberal denominations of Protestant churches do allow women become ordained, but Catholic, Orthodox Judaism, and Baptist churches still feel these roles should be filled only by men. This is when the literal meanings of scriptures from the Old Testament or the Koran are used to discourage the spiritual leadership of women.
It is sad because women in the congregation suffer when they have no woman pastor to which they can go to discuss their questions or problems. Men simply do not understand certain problems or issues that a woman may have. And how can a priest who is not allowed to marry council a married couple in any kind of meaningful way? If he is celibate, how can he advise them on issues about their sex life? Priests in the Russian Orthodox Church are allowed to marry, and it would seem sensible to this writer if all of them were allowed this privilege. There is also an exoteric meaning to the scriptures, which is the literal one. The esoteric meaning is the one where a person needs to search behind the words to find what further meaning is behind them.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda 2001 publisher Harper Collins NY Goddesses in Older Women Archetypes In Women Over Fifty Part 1 Her Name is Wisdom Goddess of Mystical and Spiritual Wisdom pgs. 7-25
Monaghan, Patricia 1999 Llewellyn Publications Woodbury, MN The Goddess Path Basics of Goddess Spirituality: The Goddess Within, The Goddess Outside pgs.7-18 The Crone Goddess pgs.23-25
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© 2011 Jean Bakula