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Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God
By Caitlín Matthews
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2001 Caitlín Matthews
All rights reserved.
THE BLACK GODDESS
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Nature's mother who bringest all to life and revives all from day to day. The food of life Thou grantest in eternal fidelity. And when the soul hath retired we take refuge in Thee. All that Thou grantest falls back somewhere into Thy womb. —Third century AD, Prayer to Terra Matris
THE BLACK GODDESS
We live in an age of rediscovery and remembrance, where the Divine Feminine as Goddess is being recalled to consciousness. One of her key visionaries has been the poet Robert Graves, whose book The White Goddess has awakened a sleeping world. Though many have attempted to revamp his material, few have been as successful at provoking response at that creative level. Graves wrote lyrically and with poetic awe about the inspiring White Goddess and her priestess-muse representative, Woman. He wrote as a male poet, totally in love with and in the service of an exacting mistress. He also wrote, in less detail, about the challenging Black Goddess, she who "is so far hardly more than a word of hope whispered among the few who have served their apprenticeship to the White Goddess."
The Divine Feminine may indeed be discerned by men who, reasonably enough, are drawn to her attractive and fascinating qualities as a White Goddess of love and inspiration. But the Goddess of Wisdom, the Black Goddess who is at the heart of the creative process, cannot be so easily viewed, as Graves himself remarked: she "may even appear disembodied rather than incarnate." Why should this be so?
The Black Goddess is the veiled Sophia who, in many forms, is the primal manifestation of the Divine Feminine. She may be more readily discerned by women, because her hidden processes and powers accord to their own unspoken but instinctive qualities. Men rarely approach her except in fear, for she manifests not as a sensuous and desirable muse (although she may sometimes chose that shape) but as a Dark Mother, immanent and brooding with unknown and unguessable power, or as a Virago, a potent virgin. Fear of the feminine stems from this avoidance, and so it is that there are few texts speaking of her qualities, for few men have stayed long enough in her vicinity to record their findings, and even fewer women have written about their organic experience of her. For this reason I write this text as an introduction to the idea of the Black Goddess who is the powerful foundation for our understanding of the Divine Feminine, for it is only by homage to her that we may find the Goddess of Wisdom.
Sophia has been on the stage since the beginning, for she is a creating goddess. She lies waiting to be discovered within the Black Goddess who is her mirror image, knowing that, until we make that important recognition, she is going to have to come again and again in many shapes. She waits in the wings patiently to emerge, knowing that she will have to play many parts—including breeches parts—in the forthcoming scenario.
An appreciation of the Black Goddess is coming slowly into perspective in the West. Throughout the last two thousand years when the Goddess has been marginalized, most appearances of the Divine Feminine have been understood in a dualistic and problematic light. We have not had the safety valve of feminine metaphor in our spiritual understanding; consequently, the feminine, both divine and human, has appeared monstrously contorted, threatening, and uncontrollable.
The fact that our metaphors of deity can change or have different faces is foreign to Western understanding. The Goddess can be viewed in many ways, a fact that has caused many philosophers and theologians to call the Goddess fickle and mutable, changeable as a whore with her many clients.
It has always struck the Western mind as aberrant that Hinduism can accept so repellent a form as Kali. If the Black Goddess is denied, as she has been in our culture, she will make her appearance in ways that remind us to respect her in the future—if there is a future. In the Hindu succession of ages, we are in the time of the Kali Yuga, the age of destruction.
We have so often stressed only the beneficial and the beautiful that we have created a false archetype out of the Divine Feminine. The Goddess, to be acceptable to our culture, has had to appear as sweetness and light—a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Venus de Milo—sexy and largely unintelligent. Such dangerous polarizations have hit hard in the West. Not only has this image set the norm for how womankind is viewed, it has unbalanced our relationship with the whole of creation. Western culture, like its orthodox spiritual forms, is dominating, dictating, and patriarchal. It does not allow the basic human freedoms to develop in a balanced way, warping even the qualities of wisdom, love, knowledge, and compassion.
It is traditionally believed in Hindu culture that when someone establishes a spiritual relationship with Kali, a sacrifice will be demanded. Commitment to the Black Goddess is not to be taken lightly, certainly, for she leads us in many ways that we will find hard. However, if there is mutual respect between us and her, she will also lead us to the heart of truth and justice. Perhaps it is here that we find the beginning of wisdom within ourselves?
If we start with the Black Goddess rather than with one of her more socially acceptable faces, we will never be led astray. If we embrace her as she is, we will find that her wise love transforms us. And as we change, so she also will change into a transcendentally beautiful and wise metaphor that we have chosen to call Sophia. This subtle alchemy is our spiritual task.
The way of Sophia is the way of personal experience. It takes us into areas that we may label "heightened reality"—those creative realms to which ordinary mortals are called by right of their vocational and creative skills. However, the poetic, the magical, the creative inscapes of vision are often denied us by our culture. Anyone who has been into the world of vision—defined by many as unreal—knows that its power can enhance our lives. It is Sophia who acts as a way shower and companion on this inner quest, especially helpful for women. Because Sophia's creativity has been denied, we see her in the cloak of the Black Goddess, moving silently and mysteriously about her work.
The Black Goddess lies at the basis of spiritual knowledge, which is why her image continually appears within many traditions as the Veiled Goddess, the Black Virgin, the Outcast Daughter, the Wailing Widow, the Dark Woman of Knowledge. Our own search for the Goddess is one that is begun in darkness and unknowing. Ours is the knowing ignorance of the child in its mothers womb: we have to be born, and we are frightened of the extrawomb dimension. Once out of that womb, we begin to be terrified of our origins. But one of the prophecies of Sophia is, "I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places." Those treasures of the Divine Feminine lie deep within us, waiting to be discovered.
We have only to consider the mystical experience of the Dark Night, as exemplified by John of the Cross and other mystics. Within the darkness of night or the cloud of unknowing, we discover the heart of our spirituality. This is the seed experience of spiritual growth, to be held fast in the dark earth, to suffer the coldness of winter, that germination may take place. It is return to the spiritual womb, in which we find the dazzling darkness spoken of by the mystical poet, Henry Vaughan:
There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness ...
Reentering this womb is both a rebirth of the spirit and a death of the ego:
Dear beauteous death! the jewel of the just,
Shining nowhere but in the dark;
What mysteries do lie beyond thy dust;
Could man outlook that mark!
This school of dark-night spirituality is found in most traditions that venerate the Black Goddess, not because she is sinister or evil, but because she is the powerhouse from which our spirituality is fuelled. It is a way of unknowing, of darkness and uncertainty. Yet the experience obtained by this path is one of illumination, when the sun shines at midnight. This is the kindling of Sophia, who is the transcendent pole of the Black Goddess, though because of our dualistic conditioning, finding the connection between the two may take a long time.
We fear the Black Goddess because we project our terrors onto whatever we do not know and what remains hidden from us. Her image has been pushed away so long, and now we reencounter her wherever we look, for she takes the face of Nature to remind us of our responsibility for creation. Once our vision of Nature and of the Goddess was integral to ourselves: "We participate in her substance, her nature, her processes, her play and her work."
Our divorce from this total participation is one of the effects of civilization. One of the chief problems is our disdain of matter, our own bodies and their functions, for they remind us of the humbling fact that we are matter. Communion with the Black Goddess is usually nonverbal, nonintellectual—it derives through the body itself, for she is our basic prima materia. "Do you know ... what matter is? Have you tried taking the word back to its roots? It goes right back to Sanskrit ... Push through the fissive nature of matter and where do you find yourself? Not, I assure you, in the kingdom of the Leptons and the Quarks, but in the black hole of Magna Mater. Yes, the Great Mother herself, and it is a terrible thing to fall into the lap of the living Goddess." Our fear of being exploded, diffused, or made chaotic may be our reaction to the idea of the Black Goddess who, like dark matter, "controls the structure and eventual fate of the Universe."
The Black Goddess is the mistress of the web of creation spun in her divine matrix. She is not separate from it, for she is it. One of the great spiritual mysteries is the way in which a mystic identifies with the deity: such identification is considered the highest state of mystical awareness. The Goddess, similarly, identifies with her creation. Many Goddess mystics already acknowledge that identification with the Goddess is also identification with the whole of creation. As science strives to uncover the mystery of dark matter, the Creating Mother as Black Goddess is already activated in the imaginations of spiritual seekers.
THE WISDOM OF THE SERPENT
The goddessly creation myths usually take one of two elemental forms: creation from water, from the amniotic waters of the womb where the primal soup is mixed, or creation by and from the earth.
Chaos is frightening, and in many cultures the Goddess manifests first in chaotic images, though she also manifests in ordered images. The Wisdom of the Bible, who makes everything with her partner, delighting in the fashioning of creation, is acceptable within our society. It is a metaphor we have chosen to adopt, based on ancient pancultural symbols that we will examine shortly. Set against this image is the real birthing mother like Tiamat, who produces creation from her body when Marduk rips her into clouds, water, and earth. We have chosen to retain this metaphor for Nature—red in tooth and claw, chaotic, elemental, unpredictable. We can identify this aspect as the Black Goddess, our primal Wisdom.
Nature is always imaged by female metaphors. She is present both as Dame Kind, the beneficent and providing mother, and also as the Great Dragon, her terrible aspect that roams through all things. With these dual expressions of the Goddess go fear of chaos and love of order, reflected in the pairing of the Black Goddess and the Sophia.
Which is the oldest myth of creation—the heterosexual or the parthenogenic? Science tells us that single cells divide to reproduce themselves. Whether we look to older or later myths, the chaotic feminine is in there at the beginning, either as the Goddess riven in two or as the Orphic darkness of night laying her solitary egg.
The Babylonian creation myth tells of the God Apsu and the Goddess Tiamat, who are the spiritual essence of the sweet waters and the bitter waters. These may be seen respectively as fresh water and sea water. By the mingling of these pure waters, the gods were created. Eventually, Anu the Sky God begot Ea the God of Wisdom. There arose a tumult between the first-begotten gods. Apsu was for destroying them; Tiamat for biding their time until their children were mature. Like the gnostic-Sophia, "she was stung, she writhed in lonely desolation, her heart worked in secret passion." Like Zeus with Cronos, Ea arose and drowned Apsu, thus taking on the role of first father of the gods. He lay with Damkina, his wife, and she conceived Marduk. Anu sent storms to torment Tiamat and her rebellious children, who begged their mother for help. She accordingly made eleven monsters to fight on their side, taking one of them, Kingu, to be her captain and husband. She hung the tablets of fate about his neck to empower him.
Ea "took the short road, went the direct way to Tiamat," but he could not face her. No one could be found to face her, save Marduk. Anshar, God of the Horizon, sent his messenger Kaka "to primordial sediments, (to) call together the generations of the gods." Kissing the primordial silt, Kaka called upon the male and female deities of silt and told them what had befallen, inviting them to come and decide the nature of the world. They met with the younger gods and appointed Marduk as king and leader of the gods, bidding him: "Slit life from Tiamat, and may the winds carry her blood to world's secret ends." Armed with magical weapons, Marduk flew to meet Tiamat, calling in the midst of the fray: "Mother of all, why did you have to mother war?" Tiamat was netted and the Wind God blew into her body so that it became inflated. Marduk pierced her distended belly with an arrow which cut out her womb. He then smashed her body into pieces, scattering her organs to the directions. Splitting the carcass in two, he set up the upper half to create the arch of the sky, setting the celestial lights to cross over it. The lower half was heaped up with mountains and pierced for water courses. Tiamat's spittle became the rain. "High overhead he arched her tail, locked in to the wheel of heaven; the pit was under his feet, between was the crotch, the sky's fulcrum. Now the earth had foundations and the sky its mantle." The titanic monsters were imprisoned and their likenesses set up as guardians to the Abyss. In the assembly of the gods, Marduk proclaimed: "In the former time you inhabited the void above the abyss, but I have made Earth as the mirror of Heaven," and he made Babylon his chief abode where the Annunaki, the fallen gods, made his temple. Kingu was sacrificed in order to provide the matter for the first human beings.
We see here that Tiamat is a primordial Sea Goddess whose body creates the earth, which does not exist prior to the gods' rebellion. Hebrew qabalistic tradition calls her Marah, the bitter sea, a name that is etymologically linked with both Miriam and Mary. Tiamat is the Elder Mother of all, she who is the essential moisture from which life proceeds. Her husband, Apsu, gives his name to our word abyss, frequently used as a term for the Underworld. The Akkadian Tiamat and the Hebrew tehom are closely associated, meaning "the deep." It is upon the waters of the tehom that God's spirit moves in Genesis 1:2. The overlaps between this creation myth and the Hebrew and gnostic ones are considerable. Kingu is very much a demiurge, and Tiamat, like Sophia, creates her offspring by herself.
Myths of how the Goddess was split into many fragments are told throughout the world. Feminist exegesis frequently reads such myths as patriarchal takeover bids or heroic one-upmanship of god over goddess. The ubiquity of these myths cannot lie, but they may bear other interpretations. Do they arise from cultures who strive to leave their mother and discover metaphors of maleness and fatherhood in the process of maturation? The cutting of the umbilicus is essential for physical survival, but whether this metaphor may be also applied to spirituality is unclear. Sometimes the myth supports the Mother Goddess at the expense of her consort.
War between the older gods and their offspring is a common mythic theme. In Greek myth, Ouranos as Father Sky and Gaia as Mother Earth lie together nightly, but Ouranos hides away all children born of their union. Gaia hides her son Kronos, who then castrates Ouranos. Gaia receives the blood into her womb, and the Erinyes are conceived. But no longer do sky and earth meet in union. The same pattern of devouring or hiding children is enacted by Kronos and Rhea, until her son, Zeus, castrates his father.
Further echoes of the myth are discernible throughout Mediterranean tradition, notably the manner in which Oceanus and Tethys create the gods. Plato sees them as "the offspring of flux and motion." Their story precedes all other Greek creation myths. It is not difficult to see the parallels between Oceanus and Apsu and Tethys and Tiamat. The trail of Tiamat survived in the Bible as Leviathan, the sea monster of chaos, where she is likened to Rahab, the harlot, and also in Egyptian tradition as the crocodile of Set. It is ironic to identify this same beast as the serpent of knowledge in the Garden of Eden who tempts Eve and as the devouring serpent of Revelation 12 that combats the Virgin.
The dragon energy of the Black Goddess recurs in the myth of St. George and the Dragon. This story is often taken as implying the overthrow of both the earth and of women, but its subtext is more subtle than that. The dragon of the Black Goddess is transformed into the maiden Sophia who, with her symbol of the dove, is released from her primal form by love, a theme recurring in the Grail cycle.
Excerpted from Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlín Matthews. Copyright © 2001 Caitlín Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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