By Christine Payne-Towler
ArkLetter 26, May, 2007
In this investigation I am searching out definitions and commentary regarding the historical lore of Sophia. The goal is to expose root-concepts, those old enough and well known enough to have survived the long and winding road linking the ancient Semitic and Greek Goddesses to the Divine Feminine hidden within the Catholicism imbuing our earliest Tarot magi. This will give us a way to examine the traditional chain of associations, the internal conceptual framing supporting the Sophia myth in human history, so we can know what we are looking at, should a glimmer of this tradition flash out of our Tarot cards.
Mother of Wisdom
The first set of Sophianic insights are taken from Jesus Christ, Sun of God; Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism by David Fideler. This book has proved invaluable to these studies over the years, as my frequent citations suggest. These remarks are lifted from his chapter on Gnosis. In our first clip, he analyzes the so-called "Hymn of the Pearl," which appears in the Acts of Thomas. [see: http://www.gnosis.org/library/hymnpearl.htm]. This beautiful poem is pre-Gnostic and pre-Christian, though the form we have it in the Acts of Thomas reveals it as a Manichaean text, bearing resemblance to earlier Mandaean traditional tales and such Gnostic myths as the Pistis Sophia.
The Hymn of the Pearl collapses the often-complex Gnostic pleroma down to a trinity -- two divine parents, the Father of Truth and Mother of Wisdom (Sophia) in the realm of Light, plus their firstborn son (though there is a second son waiting in the wings.) The King and Queen send the Prince on a spiritual journey into a human incarnation, that he might redeem a precious token and thereby inherit his parent's throne on high. The Prince is directed to descend to earth (named Egypt, the body), find and bring back the One Pearl (symbol of the soul) that is hidden in the sea (unconscious), guarded by a noisy and turbulent dragon (the passions and addictions of the flesh).
"...[D]uring his sojourn in the terrestrial sphere, the Prince puts on a robe like those of the Egyptians, so as not to arouse suspicion. Eating the food of the Egyptians, he falls into slumber, forgetting his mission and his true, royal identity. This forgetfulness causes his parents to grieve, and they resolve to send him a message reminding him of his origin, nature and destiny; this is the call of recollection.... This letter, bearing the exhortation to remember, takes the form of an eagle and, alighting beside the slumbering prince, it becomes speech, awakening him from his sleep. At this decisive point the bonds of sleep and forgetfulness are broken, allowing the Prince to complete his special task and begin his return to the royal kingdom, the Realm of Light, where he once again will put on his robe of glory and dwell with his true companions."
We must set aside, for now, the paradox of this Manichean text finding its way into a collection of early Christian cosmogonic myths. It's well known that Christian theology was much more mixed up and fluid in these early days than is comfortable for modern theologians to admit.
What is striking here is the tremendous universality of this simple story. Who among us has not felt at times like a stranger in a strange land? We wear the clothes and eat the food, but do we really feel at home here, in this world, in this body? And don't we sometimes feel a sense of dislocation, as if we can't quite remember how we got here, or from where? Ultimately, when the Prince catches sight of his Robe from his childhood, the sense of reunion, recognition, and fullness is so complete that even across the millennia, the miles and all the hurtles of translation, one's heart is still enraptured.
The early Christian Valentinus (circa 100-16-C.E) promulgated another Gnostic creation myth discussed by Fideler. According to this account,
"...the Ineffable Father exists before the beginning and can only be described as Depth or Profundity (Bythos). He is surrounded by a female power called Silence (Sige); together Depth and Silence give birth to the other Aeons or archetypal beings, through a process of emanation in which the Aeons emerge in male-female pairs known as syzygies. Each one of these Aeons is a divine principle unto itself, but is also an eternal aspect of the Ineffable Father who is beyond all names. Together these aeonnic pairs comprise the Fullness (Pleroma) of Godhead, the archetypal realm of spiritual perfection. In this influential teaching, Depth-and-Silence gives birth to Mind-and-Truth, who gives birth to Word-and-Life, who gives birth to Man-and-Church. These first Aeons make up the Ogdoad." (p. 128)
The story goes on to greater length, including the familiar rupture in the Pleroma, a "fall", and the need for divine healing and redemption sent from on high to rescue the souls that became lost in the gap. In these and other Gnostic expositions of the human condition, we see variations on the familiar global apotheosis narrative of exile, salvation and return.
Sophia in the Bible
After this wonderful introduction, I turned to the Dictionary of Deities and Demons In The Bible, edited by van der Toorn, Becking and van der Horst. Checking the Index, I looked up every instance of the mention of Sophia (aka God's sophia or God's wisdom) in the DDD. In alphabetical order the relevant entries are:
Anthropos - is the highest being in many Gnostic systems, and means "man made in God's image" (often implying direct reflection, as that of a visage seen on the surface of still water). Anthropos is the title given to the human life-wave as a whole, across all time and space, and is understood to be the "Son of God, in whom IAM well pleased". Dualistic Gnosticism observes that the body, senses, and psyche granted to Anthropos (within which to incarnate as humanity) are all molded by the Demiurge, the Earthly time/space deity that controls the realm of time and space.
This deity is actually inferior (lower on the creation chain) relative to Anthropos, and so is the body he creates for Anthropos. The inferior skill of Demiurge is demonstrated by his imperfect effort at capturing the "image of God" in flesh. This explains the way the body often becomes an impediment and a distraction, holding Anthropos back in his destiny to remember his divine origins and return to the Light. Alternately, Sophia fosters the divine principle in humanity. It is She who bestows the particle of pneuma or soul upon Anthropos. This endowment of soul is a token of the co-eternal divine nature granted via Anthropos' conception by God and Sophia. This particle of pneuma will serve as a lodestone, drawing Anthropos forward on his path of awakening and ultimate return to his immortal Being.
Dove - From antiquity the bird of the Mother- and Love-Goddess in the Eastern Mediterranean world, this bird has also been an image of the soul for both Jews and Gentiles. Turtledoves and pigeons were the only birds offered for sacrifice in Israel, and the dove was also understood by the Egyptians to be the image of the soul-bird, ba. In the New Testament accounts of the baptism of Jesus, it is stated that the spirit descended upon Him "as/like (in the form of) a dove".
Given that the dove is one of the symbols of Israel, which widespread folktales employ as a device to indicate election to a high position, this descent of the dove has the effect of crowning Jesus as Messiah via the descent of the Christos (the pleromic son of the Everlasting Father and Sophia, his Wisdom). This version of the redemption of the soul lost in matter is found among early Gnostics and Christians in multiple forms. Philo and his followers took the dove as a symbol of Sophia (Wisdom), and the dove also serves allegorically for the logos or nous. Thus we see that the descent of Christos "like a dove” into the personhood of Jesus is understood as the awakening of the potential for self-awareness (meaning wisdom; knowledge of our divine origin and destiny) in humanity.
Logos - Usually translated 'Word' but sometimes also 'Reason', is a Greek term frequently associated with divinity, and often substituted for Wisdom in translations of the Old Testament. From p. 525-8 of the DDD:
"The Greek word is derived from the root leg-, meaning (1) to 'gather' or 'count' and (2) to 'speak'. From the former the noun comes to mean: ratio, proportion, order; from the latter a wider spectrum of meaning results: moving from concrete to abstract we may mention; word, saying, account, oracle, speech, conversation, dialogue, definition, argument, theory, reason or rationality.... The meanings of the word most relevant to the divine are 'reason' (i.e. divine thought), 'speech' (divine revelation), and 'order' (divine activity)."
After a fascinating peregrination of the meaning of Logos to the Greek philosophers, we find the remark that " 'Logos theology', though not well developed, was important for early Christian thinkers, who were able to exploit it in their reflections on the cosmic role of Christ the Logos". Further, we read that in the Old Testament tradition, "God's logos is associated with action rather than rationality... and is in no way yet regarded as in any way independent from God himself."
" The theme is continued in the Wisdom literature. In a number of texts Sirach associates God's logos with the creation and maintenance of the creational order (39:17, 31; 43:10, 26). Logos is linked with the more prominent theme of Wisdom (Sophia), who is regarded as God's instrument in creation (Prov 8:22-31, Sir 24). In Wisdom theology a clear separation is made between God and his Wisdom: Prov 8:22 "God established me as beginning (arche) of his ways to bring about his works;" 8:30 "I was beside him bringing things together, and I was the one in whom he delighted".... Wisdom thus becomes an hypostasis (a self-subsistent entity), independent of God but remaining very closely associated with Him....” Further:
"In the intertestamental period God's Logos becomes a central theme in Hellenistic Judaism . . . the concept of divine Logos achieves the greatest prominence in the writings of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 15 BCE - 50 CE). Because he is well versed in Greek thought, Philo is able to exploit the various philosophical connotations of the concept in his exegesis of Mosaic scripture.... It is clear, however, that he also makes use of earlier Alexandrian exegetical traditions... The following main characteristics of the divine Logos can be listed.... (1) The Logos contains or is the divine intelligible plan of the cosmos.... (2) The Logos represents God's activity in the cosmos and embraces God's two chief powers of goodness and justice.... (3) The logos is God's instrument in creation (... at Her. 134, 140 described as the Logos-cutter). (4) The Logos is the bond of the universe, providentially maintaining its order... (5) Through his reason man is related to God as the image of God's Logos... and on account of this relationship can attain to the knowledge and vision of God (though not of His essence). "
Nomos - (meaning "Law") makes a link to Sophia via Jewish literature from the Second Temple period;
"...the identification of Law and Wisdom (sophia) is made by Sir[ach] (cf. 24: 1-6, 23) and presupposed in some of the Pseudepigrapha.... Like Wisdom, the Law is sometimes depicted as an acting subject: 'The Law does not perish but remains in its glory' (4 Ezra 9:37)." (p. 634)
Pronoia - (in Latin, Providentia) Foreknowledge, purposiveness, and far-seeing care for family or nation are core qualities of this divine energy. The Stoics fleshed out the concept to indicate "... the divine governance of the world, equivalent to Zeus and Logos". Early philosophical threads contrasted the idea that (a) divine Pronoia arranges all the lives lived on Earth (elemental, plant, animal and human) with exquisite organization and unique care for their individual and collective well-being, versus the idea that (b) divine Pronoia consists in creating a world filled with elements, plants and animals disposed to foster the growth and supremacy of humanity over the earth.
Ultimately, the concept of Pronoia representing God's plan for humanity won out. Plutarch attributes to Chrysippus the idea that "... Zeus and the ordered universe resemble the composite human being: Pronoia, equivalent of the World-Soul, is to the universe what the soul is to man." (We see this idea materialized in the concept of Adam Kadmon, whose body is the entire solar system and whose primary organs are the planets.)
The spread of Hellenistic rhetorical and philosophical education among the Jewish elite fostered acceptance of God's 'providential koine' both in Palestine and in the Diaspora (2nd century BCE - 2nd cen. CE), and this blending of Stoic and Hellenistic Jewish thought is evident in several Old Testament books and also in the writings of Philo. The primary reference to Pronoia in New Testament times is to be found in the Shepherd of Hermas (Vis.1: 3,4), where Pronoia/Sophia is the Goddess educating Hermas in the healing of his soul; also in 1 Clement, where God's Pronoia upholds the divine plan for humanity the same way it causes the sower's seeds to sprout in the ground. (p. 664-7)
Son of God - grants us an eye-opening insight into Sophia, though it only takes up a few paragraphs of this 6-page entry. Quoting from page 791 we read:
"At an early stage, Jesus was even conceived of as the pre-existent Son who had been sent by God into the world in order to bring salvation to humankind.... Schweizer (TDNT 8  375) has explained this notion against the background of Hellenistic Jewish ideas about God's personified word (Logos) and wisdom. Now the divine Word is called God's 'Son' by Philo, but is not said to have been sent into the world, while Sophia (Wisdom) in Wis 9 is said to have been sent (the sending of Sophia and the Spirit in vv 10 and 17 corresponds to that of the Son and the Spirit in Gal 4:4-6), but is not the 'Son' of God . . . Philo also furnishes evidence for the idea of the many-named intermediary in Hellenistic Judaism. In one passage, he heaps various epithets upon the intermediary: "God's Firstborn, the Word, who holds the eldership among the angels, their ruler as it were. And many names are his, for he is called 'Beginning', 'Name of God', His 'Word', 'Man after His image'... and 'He that sees', i.e. 'Israel'"... In another text, Wisdom (Sophia) is called 'beginning', 'Image', and 'Vision of God'."
Wisdom - is the mother lode, tying these mentions together in a grand web work of references that helps us to understand why Sophia has never been far from the mind of the mystics, Old Testament and New. This article runs from page 900 to 905, and I'm clipping from all through it to glean out these remarks:
-"Wisdom, sometimes in scholarly literature referred to as 'Lady Wisdom' or "Woman Wisdom', is the name of a biblical goddess.... Wisdom, [in Hebrew hokma and in Greek sophia] is the goddess of knowledge, shrewdness (both implied in the semantic range of hokma), statecraft and the scribal profession... Her name sums up what the goddess stands for and suggests that scribes and rulers must excel in intellectual qualities."
-"...the home of this goddess called Wisdom must be the 7th century BCE Mesopotamia or perhaps Syria.... Possibly the Aramaic-speaking scribes shared the cult of Wisdom with their Hebrew-speaking colleagues.... Elsewhere in the ancient East scribes also had their female patron deity. The Sumerians called her Nisaba, giving her the beautiful title of 'Mistress of Science’... while the Egyptians referred to Seshat as 'foremost in the library' or 'she who directs the house of books".... Scholars have often referred to the Egyptian goddess, Maat, as the equivalent of, if not model for, Wisdom. However, the evidence produced by authors like Kayatz (1966) and Winter (1983; 511-514) is not convincing. There is evidence, though, for the Hellenistic goddess Isis to be the Book of Wisdom's model for Sophia. Isis, like Sophia, is both a savior involved with the endangered life of individuals, and a goddess associated with the King. "As many as are in prison, in the power of death ... and having called upon you to be present, all are saved", says a hymn to Isis... Sophia, in the same way, is with the prisoner (Wis 10:14) The triad God -- Sophia -- king Solomon (with Sophia being the spouse of both God and king: Wis 8:3-9) is probably patterned on the model of another triad: Re/Osiris -- Isis -- king of Egypt."
"Proverbs 1-9 provides a fairly complete picture of Lady Wisdom: she is Yahweh’s daughter and witnessed her father as he created the universe... she guides kings and their staff of state officials in their rule and administration... she teaches (no doubt, through human teachers) young men wisdom, a wisdom no doubt to be identified with the scribal art... she serves as the 'personal deity' of the student, for whom she acts as lover... protector... and guide to success and wealth... Abandoned by the personal goddess, the individual is lost... Although she many be angry with her protégé, she appears generally as a kindly, caring, assuring, motherly figure."
"In Prov 8:22-31, Lady Wisdom describes her career in three stages: she was begotten by Yahweh... she witnessed her father's creative activity... she established her relationship with humans.... Only the middle one of these stages is fairly straightforward; witnessing how the world was created, Wisdom, as an infant... learned what constitutes the universe. She may also have acquired the (magical?) skills necessary to perform acts of creation. Accordingly, she is the wisest being one can imagine.... One aspect of the wisdom she acquires is no doubt the 'nature wisdom' elsewhere referred to in the biblical tradition and identified as knowledge about sky, earth, and sea, complete with beasts, birds, reptiles, fish.... Thus Lady Wisdom is uniquely qualified and authorized to teach.... We may suggest that Prov 8 reflects the apprentice scribe's cosmic initiation; symbolically present at creation, the novice draws upon creation's fresh and inexhaustible powers; refreshed, empowered and instructed, he can now assume political and administrative responsibilities of cosmic dimensions."
"[Some] problems are involved in the birth of Lady Wisdom.... [through a complicated exegesis of pre-canonical sources the original text of Proverbs may] have spoken of El or Elohim as her father. El(ohim) seems to have been the creator god of ancient Israelite polytheism, and we would expect Elohim, rather than Yahweh, to be the wise creator of Prov 3:19-20.... Prov 30:4 seems to imply that El(ohim) was Israel's creator god and Yahweh the creator's son (as in Duet 12:8-0, in the reading of Qumran and LXX). Thus in the pre-canonical view, Wisdom was Yahweh's sister!"
"Problematic, too, remains the precise meaning of Wisdom's speaking at the city gate and at the crossroads.... It has been suggested that she may have shrines there.... At any rate, she seems to be connected with 'liminal' places. In Greece, the goddess Hekate presided over the entrances and crossroads where she had shrines; the Romans called her Trivia...so Wisdom may be Hekate's Hebrew equivalent. Liminal places are conspicuous or even dangerous and need divine protection."
-"Prov 1-9, as a school text, remained a widely known piece of literature through many centuries, and we can find its echoes in several early Jewish writings. Ben Sira identifies Wisdom and Torah: when the Law is read in the synagogue, it is Wisdom's voice that people can hear."
"In Aristoboulos and the book of Wisdom, we find philosophical re-interpretations of the figure. Both the work of Aristoboulos and the book of Wisdom are in Greek, therefore they call Lady Wisdom by her Greek name, Sophia. They also re-cast Sophia in philosophical terms. Identified with pneuma (spirit; Wis 7:22-26) and (intellectual) light (Aristoboulos, Fragment 5 = OTP 2, 841), Sophia is taken to be an impersonal power emanating from God and pervading his creation. She also resides in the souls of prophets and leaders, inspiring their divine utterances or guiding their deeds (Wis 7:27; 10:16)."
"Interestingly enough, the book of Wisdom retains the personal language and can portray Sophia as a goddess. Picturing Sophia as a goddess, the book of Wisdom draws upon both Prov 1-9 and the Hellenistic favorite goddess, Isis. Like Lady Wisdom of the book of Proverbs, Isis is a goddess related to kingship and nature. In the Old Greek version of Prov 8:30 Wisdom works as harmozousa at creation, which presumably means that she acts as a technician who 'arranges' or 'structures' things, putting them together in the appropriate manner (cf. Prov 9:1 -- Wisdom builds a house!). In the book of Wisdom, Sophia acts as an 'artisan' or 'master builder', possibly at creation and ever after.... She shares Yahweh's throne as his consort (9:4), and is also King Solomon's spouse (8:9).
"The mixture of personal/mythological language with impersonal/philosophical notions makes the book of Wisdom a most attractive piece of literature. It allows for two interpretations of Sophia, a more philosophical one (for the elite, presumably) and a more mythological one (for others).... Concerning the ... philosophical reading, one can look beyond traditional mythology and give it a new, more abstract and sophisticated meaning. This side of the book of Wisdom reveals how Jewish philosophers began to play with their inherited mythology as well as the traditions of others. If these philosophers had lived at a later age, perhaps that of Plotinus in the 3rd century CE, they would have called Sophia an hypostasis: a being that emanates from a higher reality to which it owes its existence and force, but one which also enjoys a certain independence. Was not Christ also such an emanated divine being, sent from a higher world? Here we can grasp one of the reasons why early Christians relied on Sophia, renamed Logos ('speech, utterance') for developing the Christology of the gospel of John (John I). In a similar vein, Jewish Kabbalists perceived Torah as a hypostasis...
"The little Wisdom myth told in 1 Enoch represents a special case. In a polemical piece the apocalyptic author relates how Wisdom, not finding a place to stay among humans, returns to her heavenly home: 'Wisdom went out to dwell with the children of men, but she found no dwelling place. [So] Wisdom returned to her place and settled permanently among the angels. Then Iniquity went out of her rooms, and found whom she did not expect. And she [Iniquity] dwelt with them' (1 Enoch 42 = OTP 1, 33).
"While the idea of Wisdom searching for a home among mortals is indebted to Sir 24, the idea of return and the domination of Iniquity relies on pagan mythology. Greek mythology knows the story of the good goddess or goddesses who leave the country because of human iniquity. As they return to Mount Olympus, the land is dominated by crime and misfortune: and thus a new, less attractive era of human history begins, the Age of Iron. In Hesiod (Op. 197-201) the two goddesses forsaking the earth are Aidos (Shame) and Nemesis (Indignation); Theognis (Elegiae 1135-1142) calls them Pistis (Trust) and Sophrosyne (Wisdom); in Aratos, it is only one goddess, Dike (Justice). As injustice began to prevail on earth, 'Dike, full of hatred for the human race, flew up to heaven, taking her abode at that place where, at night, she can still be seen by men'.... Such is the Greek myth echoed in 1 Enoch.
Finally; "Traces of a Sophia-Christology are already present in the N[ew] T[estament] writings: 'this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God’.... It was especially in the development of the idea of the pre-existence of Christ that Jewish Wisdom speculation made itself felt.... As bricoleurs, the NT authors took elements of the old myth to construct a new one."
Europe's Response to Sophia and Sapiental Theology
In another article I have detailed aspects of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance fascination with the feminine form of God. However, for the sake of completeness, and because this is a remarkably compact recitation of the issues, let me quote a few paragraphs from The Myth Of The Goddess: Evolution of an Image, by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford. This is found in the section called "Sophia: Mother, Daughter and Bride", page 611.
"...[A]s we move into the Christian era there is a profound shift in archetypal imagery as Wisdom becomes associated with Christ as Logos, the Word of God, and the old relationship between Wisdom and the Goddess is lost. Now, the archetypal feminine is finally 'deleted' from the image of the divine, and the Christian image of the deity as a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit becomes wholly identified with the masculine archetype. Because of a sequence of theological formulations -- grounded on the assumption that nature was inferior to spirit, and that whatever pertained to the female was inferior to the male -- the image of the Holy Spirit lost its former association with the feminine Hokhmah, or Sophia, and was assimilated, first in Judaism, and then in Christianity, to the concept of the masculine Logos, the Divine Word. This theological development effectively erased the ancient relationship between Wisdom and the image of the goddess.
"Gnostic Christianity, however, retained the older tradition and the image of Sophia as the embodiment of Wisdom survived. Here she was the Great Mother, the consort and counterpart of the male aspect of the godhead. When the Gnostic sects were repressed by the edicts of the Emperor Constantine in AD 326 and 333, the image of Sophia as the embodiment of Wisdom was again lost. However, after an interlude of several hundred years, it reappeared in the Middle Ages, in the great surge of devotion to the Virgin Mary and the pilgrimages to the shrines of the Black Virgin, as well as in the philosophical impulse of these times, expressed in the writings of great scholars, such as John Scotus Erigena (AD 810-77), who, although he lived at the time of Charlemagne, had a profound influence on the philosophy of the later Middle Ages. Then, in the sudden manifestation of the Order of the Knights Templar, the Grail legends, Alchemy, the troubadours and the Cathar Church of the Holy Spirit, Sophia, or Sapientia, as the image of Wisdom, became the inspiration, guide and goal of a spiritual quest of overwhelming numinosity.
"It is a fascinating story, and one that reveals the soul's constant attempt to restore relationship and balance between the feminine and masculine archetypes reflected in the images of goddess and god. Further, it seeks to give emphasis through the feminine archetype to the intuitive, inward-looking tendencies of the soul as well as to the nurturing, compassionate qualities traditionally defined as feminine, which may not be valued in societies where only the masculine archetype is named as divine."
Aspects of Sophia that Appear in the Tarot
Reviewing the above compilation of the qualities, attributes, and associations traditionally made with Sophia, several things become clear. For one thing, the feminine component of Deity is so rich, deep and intimately embedded in the human psyche that no amount of suppression by patriarchal monotheism could wipe it out despite thousands of years of effort in that direction.
For another, the sheer volume of avenues by which this mythic and philosophical presence could have reached our early Renaissance magi pretty much guarantees that they would have had more than one channel of access, wherever there was even a modicum of interest in Sophia, the Virgin of the World, Lady Wisdom, the Spouse of God, Holy Nature, Holy Spirit or any other name She might have been known by. Finally, it appears as if this abundant fount of devotion to the feminine has at least influenced, if not dictated, many of the female personae of the Trumps of the Tarot.
Let's see how many Trumps can be drawn out of just the quotes I have marshaled above:
Juggler: Anthropos, made in God's image or reflection, also seen as "the scribe" or aspirant to initiation. Awake and seeking his Path of Return. This could also be viewed as Christos, male half of the Christ/Sophia pair who are each sent to redeem the world at different stages of the split in the Pleroma.
High Priestess: Silence, spouse of Depth, first syzygy of the Valentinian Gnostics. She was present in the beginning, and is the shaper of Divine thought into individual "things" (also known as "the Logos-cutter"). Personal guide and invisible lover of the Scribe, She is also the Mistress of Books, Foremost in the Library.
The Empress: the Great Mother (Sophia), wife of the King of the realm of Light, She originally granted Anthropos the spark of divinity that animates him. She sends a letter in the form of an Eagle down to her son who has forgotten himself, slumbering in earth's distractions. Goddess of Nature and giver of life to all, without whom the soul is lost.
The Emperor: King of Heaven, Bythos, first-father of the Pleroma, God (Zeus, Yahweh).
Hierophant: The role for which the scribe is being prepared and tutored by Sophia; assuming political and administrative responsibilities of a cosmic nature.
Lovers: Sophia as lover and personal tutor of the Scribe, offering the path to success and riches if she is valued over all other offers.
Chariot: Sophia immanent in the human world, traveling across all cultural boundaries seeking an abode among the children of men.
Justice: Law, Torah, Nomos; shrewdness, statecraft, and the scribal profession. Also intellectual light, the "Mistress of Science". She embodies the canon of weights and measures.
Hermit: Sophia teaching at the gateways and the crossroads, calling from the ramparts of the city, appearing in the liminal places "between the worlds". Hecate, Trivia. Also Sophia's link with prophets and diviners, whose calling it is to interpret the oracles.
Wheel: God's providence or Pronoia, seeing-forward through time towards the outworking of the Divine Plan, God's 'providential koine' expressing as divine governance through what may, in the moment, seem to be chaos.
Strength: The 'power' of God working through Sophia, to harmonize the creation and organize the animal, vegetable, and mineral world for humanity's sake. Harmozousa, a technician who 'arranges' or 'structures' things, putting them together in the appropriate manner.
Hanged One: The Prince who must redeem himself before he can recapture the Pearl and return to the World of Light; The Christ/Sophia, which must self-sacrificially descend to the lowest level of creation and harvest the fallen soul-sparks before making the turn-around to begin the ascent again.
Death: representing the risk the eternal Soul runs while still embedded in the flesh and serving out its allotted time. The relative oblivion of incarnation, compared to the harmony and peace of the pre-fallen state within the Pleroma.
Temperance: The dove, unique bearer of the germ of soul, moves all directions between the heavenly and earthly planes, mimicking the shamanic role in effecting communication between the worlds. Also signifying election, the Dove marks the initiated soul for immortality. The Alchemist.
Devil: The passions, desires, addictions, disturbances, and distractions imposed upon the soul by incarnation and embodiment. Alternately, the Demiurge, creator of the body and ruler of time & space.
Tower: Sophia is with the prisoner, both of the worldly regime, and of the bodily incarnation. She is the architect of release from the "sleep" of the incarnated soul, and the savior of the endangered individual.
The Star; The Moon: The Sun: Symbols of the pagan, Hermetic, Hebrew and Christian cosmos, these three Trumps center the individual spiritual quest and align it with the collective calendar. Changes in the understanding of the solar system could have adjusted the order in which these Trumps would appear, but in general The Moon rules the elemental sphere immediately surrounding the Earth, the Sun is the figurehead of the planetary corps, and the Star represents the eighth or starry sphere beyond the visible planets, the final limit of human experience verging on the borders of Heaven. These are not specifically mentioned in the quotes I have extracted (above), but they form the backdrop as standard features of the traditional 'three worlds' scenario.
Judgment: the sending of the Divine Word into matter, the Call, the descent of Sophia into the World. The Eagle of Speech provokes the awakening of the Prince.
World: Logos, meaning Reason and Order, the bond of the universe that holds the creation within God's plan.
Fool: the soul in its innocence and untrammeled Divinity preparing to descend into matter, with the best of motives but at immediate risk of losing consciousness and forgetting its divine mission to return to the Pleroma with the One Pearl.
Admittedly, this list is rough and deserving of much greater attention. However, I don't think I have done violence to the Trumps in the process of lining them up with Sophia's attributes and correlates. In fact, some of the connections between the body of Sophianic myth and its possible expression in Trump form seem startlingly on-target to me, even more so than I suspected when I began this exercise.
Universal Cosmology of the Soul
What strikes me as important to emphasize is the transcultural nature of both the myth of Sophia and the Trumps of Tarot. I have no doubt that there are sound astrological reasons for why there is such coherence between Sophia/Shekhina/Holy Spirit stories despite the differences between religions and across cultural lines.
For example, taking the Sefir Yetzira as a standard reference for the Hermetic cosmos, we are introduced to a model that contains a graded hierarchy of meaning-units; 10 numbers, 12 single letters, 7 double letters, and 3 mother letters, 32 in all. Just how coincidental is it that the Valentinian cosmos, extended to its fullness including the salvific Christ/Sophia syzygy, is built outward from the Ogdoad (made up of four syzygies), through the Decad (five syzygies), to the Dodecad (six syzygies), also totaling 32?
Despite superficial appearances of difference, there are a certain fixed number of entities that have to be accounted for in any traditional cosmology. These are the signs, planets, elements, and numbers defining and harmonizing the World. Sophia is credited with being the "Logos-cutter", dividing up the great life-wave emanating from the Father into all the discreet things of the world. Therefore it is She whom we must credit as the designer of the dear particularities of our local cosmos.
With the intercultural model that Sophia embodies held firmly in mind, it is fascinating to witness how cunningly and effectively the Tarot mirrors again the classic cosmograph in a format new for the Renaissance. It might be said that there is no way one pack of cards can contain all the possible variants of each card. Just so, there is no single-culture description that contains all of the relevant aspects of the Sophia myth, though the egregore of Sophia is large enough to contain it all.
Looking through the lenses of the Feminine Divine at the Trumps of the Tarot, it becomes easier to understand how the Renaissance mind might have enjoyed Tarot's distillation of our intercultural Wisdom tradition. Those brilliant, beautiful and stunningly convenient manual computers (the complete pack of 78 playing cards) both expedited and reflected a spiritual revolution that has never stopped since they first appeared, that of self-initiation to the Goddess through the icon.
"Sophia, Holy Word"
May 16, 2007
copyright christine payne-towler 2007, all rights reserved
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