Dee Finney's blog

start date July 15, 2011

today's date June 15th 2014

page 697



6-15-14 -  DREAM -  I was living with some young people but they were in the generation after me - my grandchildren's ages.

None of them had jobs and I didn't either, and I was trying to figure out what to do, while giving these young people advice.

My daughter-in-law Becky had been sitting in a pool and got kicked out for sitting there, and I asked her, couldn't they just let you sit there?

A young blonde boy (teen) took a test and you had to get a score of 2 to pass and he only got a 1 so he couldn't get the job he was trying out for.  He said he wanted to be in a band, and I told him I could put him in touch with many bands at the bar I hung out in. (It was country western bar).

I was outside with the girl, wondering how long I could hang out with these kids without a job when I heard my cell phone ring inside the house in the bedroom.

I ran into the house and Joe's son T.J. handed me my cell phone which looked like a hand-held radio with an antenna on it.

The call was from my son Michael (archangel Michael?) and he was almost crying and trying not to.

He was alluding to the fact that my Mother was dead, but he wasn't saying those words, he was telling me my mother had been crossing the street and she fell and the doctor gave her a shot and that didn' help, so he gave her another shot and that didn't help so he gave her a third shot... and I was just about to yell at him, "Are you trying to tell me that my Mother is dead?"   and I woke up.

It wasn't until I woke up and realized that my real Mother died in the hopsital in 2006 and she had been there for months with a blood infection and they didn't know wherre it was coming from and they couldn't cure her and she finally died from it.

That was bad enough, but I hadn't been able to talk to my real life Mother on the telephone for three years before she died because she had multiple little strokes and didn't know anyone.  She lived with my brother who is a professional nurse and he took good care of her, but she used to sit in a chair and wish she would die while watching the cars go by out on the street.  I mourned her death for three years before she even died.  Being both dead and alive at the same time must be hell.


Binah, Chokmah, Kether

Only man can fall from God
Only man.

No animal, no beast nor creeping thing
no cobra nor hyaena nor scorpion nor hideous white ant
can slip entirely through the fingers of the hands of god
into the abyss of self-knowledge,
knowledge of the self-apart-from-god.

For the knowledge of the self-apart-from-God
is an abyss down which the soul can slip
writhing and twisting in all the revolutions
of the unfinished plunge
of self-awareness, now apart from God, falling
fathomless, fathomless, self-consciousness wriggling
writhing deeper and deeper in all the minutiae of self-knowledge, downwards, exhaustive,
yet never, never coming to the bottom, for there is no bottom;
zigzagging down like the fizzle from a finished rocket
the frizzling, falling fire that cannot go out, dropping wearily,
neither can it reach the depth
for the depth is bottomless,
so it wriggles its way even further down, further down
at last in sheer horror of not being able to leave off
knowing itself, knowing itself apart from God, falling.

"Only Man", D. H. Lawrence

The triad of Binah, Chokmah and Kether are a Kabbalistic representation of the manifest God. A discussion on this triad presents me with a problem. The problem is that while I have used the word "God" in many places in these notes, I have done so with a sense of unease, understanding that the word means so many different things to so many people that it is effectively meaningless. I have chosen to use the word as a placeholder for personal experience, with the implicit assumption that the reader understands that "God"is a personal experience, and not an ill-defined abstraction one "believes in". My view is not novel, but there are still many people who are uncomfortable with the idea of experiencing (as opposed to "believing in") God. A second assumption implicit in the use of the word "God" as a placeholder is that it stands only for experience; your experience, and hence your God, is as valid as mine, and as there are no formal definitions, there is no scope for theological debate or dispute. This leaves me with nothing more to say.

However.....these notes were intended to provide some insight into Kabbalah, and it would be odd, having begun to write them, to then turn around and say "sorry, I won't say anything about the three supernal sephiroth". I think I have to say something. Balanced against this is my original intention, at every stage in these notes, to relate the objects of discussion to something real, to make a personal contribution by adding my own understanding to the subject rather than simply pot-boiling the same old material. I cannot see how to put flesh on the bare bones of the supernal sephiroth without discussing my own conception of God and whatever personal experience I might have. I am loth to do this. For a start, it isn't fair on those people who study and use Kabbalah (many Jewish) who do not share my views, and secondly, remembering the parable of the blind men and the elephant, impressions of God tend to be shaped by the part one grabs hold of, and how close to the bum end one is standing.

Like it or not, my explanations of the supernal sephiroth are going to be lacking in substance. I can only ask you, the reader, to accept that the primary purpose of Kabbalah has always been the direct, personal experience of the living God, a state Kabbalists have called "devekuth", or cleaving to God, and the way towards that experience comes, not from a studious examination of the symbolism of the supernals, but from the practical techniques of Kabbalah to be discussed in a later chapter.

The title of the sephira Binah is translated as "understanding", and sometimes as "intelligence". The title of the sephira Chokmah translates as "wisdom", and that of Kether translates as "crown". These three sephiroth are often referred to as the supernal sephiroth, or simply the supernals, and they represent that aspect of God which is manifest in creation. There is another aspect of God in Kabbalah, the "real God" or En Soph; although En Soph is responsible for the creation of the universe, En Soph manifests to us only in the limited form of the sephira Kether. An enormous amount of effort has gone into "explaining" this process: one book on Kabbalah [1] in my possession devotes eight pages to the En Soph, twelve pages to the supernal trio of Kether, Chokmah and Binah, and five pages to the remaining seven sephiroth, a proportion which seems relatively constant throughout Kabbalistic literature.

Briefly, the hidden God or En Soph crystallised a point which is the sephira Kether. In most versions (and this idea can be found as far back as the "Bahir" [2]) the En Soph "contracted" (tsimtsum) to "make room" for the creation, and the crystallised point of Kether manifested within this "space". Kether is the seed planted in nothingness from which the creation springs - an interesting metaphor turns the Tree of Life "upside down" and shows Kether at the bottom of the Tree, rooted in the soil of the En Soph, with the rest of the sephiroth forming the trunk, branches and leaves. Another metaphor shows Kether connected to the En Soph by a "thread of light", a metaphor I used somewhat whimsically in the section on "Daath and the Abyss", where I portrayed the Tree of Life as a lit-up Christmas tree with a power cord snaking out of the darkness of the En Soph and through the abyss to Kether. Like the Moon, Kether has two aspects: manifest and hidden, and for this reason its magical image is that of a face seen in profile: one side of the face (the right side, as it happens) is visible to us, but the other side is turned forever towards the En Soph.

Kether has many titles: Existence of Existences, Concealed of the Concealed, Ancient of Ancients, Ancient of Days, Primordial Point, the Smooth Point, the Point within the Circle, the Most High, the Inscrutable Height, the Vast Countenance (Arik Anpin), the White Head, the Head which is not, Macroprosopus. Taken together, these titles imply that Kether is the first, the oldest, the root of existence, remote, and its most accurate symbol is that of a point. Kether precedes all forms of existence, all differentiation and distinction, all polarity. Kether contains everything in potential, like a seed that sprouts and grows into a Tree, not once, but continuously. Kether is both root and seed. Because it precedes all forms and contains all opposites it is not like anything. You can say it contains infinite goodness, but then you have to say that it contains infinite evil. Wrapped up in Kether is all the love in the world, and wrapped around the love is all the hate. Kether is an outpouring of purest, radiant light, but equally it is the profoundest stygian dark. And it is none of these things; it precedes all form or polarity, and its Virtue is unity. It is a point without extension or qualities, but it contains all creation within it as an unformed potential.

The "Zohar" [3] is packed with references to Kether, and it is difficult to be selective, but the following quote from the "Lesser Holy Assembly", is clear, simple, and subtle:

"He (Kether) hath been formed, and yet as it were He hath not been formed. He hath been conformed so that he may sustain all things; yet is He not formed, seeing that He is not discovered.

When He is conformed He produceth nine Lights, which shine forth from Him, from his conformation.

And from Himself those Lights shine forth, and they emit flames, and they rush forth and are extended on every side, like as from an elevated lantern the rays of light stream down on every side.

And those rays of light, which are extended, when anyone draweth near unto them so that they may be examined, are not found, and there is only the lantern alone."

Polarity is contained within Kether in the form of Chokmah and Binah, the Wisdom and Understanding of God, and Kabbalists have represented this polarity using the most obvious of metaphors, that of male and female. Chokmah is Abba, the Father, and Binah is Aima, the Mother, and the entire world is seen as the child of the continuous and never-ending coupling of this divine pair. The following passage is taken again from the "Lesser Holy Assembly":

"Come and behold. When the Most Holy Ancient One, the Concealed with all Concealments (Kether), desired to be formed forth, He conformed all things under the form of Male and Female; and in such place wherein Male and Female are comprehended.

For they could not permanently exist save in another aspect of the Male and Female (their countenances being joined together).

And this Wisdom (Chokmah) embracing all things, when it goeth forth and shineth forth from the Most Holy Ancient One, shineth not save under the form of Male and Female. Therefore is this Wisdom extended, and it is found that it equally becometh Male and Female.

ChKMH AB BINH AM: Chokmah is the Father and Binah is the Mother, and therein are Chokmah, Wisdom, and Binah, Understanding, counterbalanced together in the most perfect equality of Male and Female.

And therefore are all things established in the equality of Male and Female, for were it not so, how could they subsist!

This beginning is the Father of all things; the Father of all Fathers; and both are mutually bound together, and the one path shineth into the other - Chokmah, Wisdom, as the Father; Binah, Understanding, as the Mother.

It is written, Prov. 2.3: 'If thou callest Binah the Mother."

When They are associated together They generate, and are expanded in truth.

And concerning the continuing act of procreation:

"Together They (Chokmah & Binah) go forth, together They are at rest; the one ceaseth not from the other, and the one is never taken away from the other.

And therefore is it written, Gen 2.10: 'And a river went forth from Eden' - i.e. properly speaking, it continually goeth forth and never faileth."

A river or spring metaphor is often used for Chokmah, to emphasise the continuous nature of creation. The primary metaphor is that of a phallus - Chokmah is the phallus which ejaculates continuously into the womb of Binah, and Binah in turn gives birth to phenomenal reality. Phallic symbols - a standing stone, a fireman's hose, a fountain, a spear etc, belong to Chokmah, and womb symbols - a cauldron, a gourd, a chalice, an oven etc, belong to Binah. In an abstract sense, Chokmah and Binah correspond to the first, primal manifestation of the polarity of force and form. To repeat a metaphor I have used previously, Binah is a hot-air balloon, and Chokmah is the roaring blast of flame which keeps it in the air. The metaphor is not completely accurate: Binah is not form, but she is the Mother of Form - she creates the condition whereby form can manifest.

The colour of Binah is black, and she is associated with Shabbatai ("rest"), the planet Saturn. The symbolism of Binah is twofold: on one hand she is Aima, the fertile mother of creation, and on the other hand she is the mother of finiteness, limitation, restriction, boundaries, time, space, law, fate, and ultimately, death; in this form she is often depicted as Ama the Crone, who broods (like many pictures of Queen Victoria) in her black widow's weeds on the throne of creation - one of the titles of Binah is Khorsia, the Throne.

The magician and Kabbalist Dion Fortune had a strongly intuitive grasp of Binah, not just as a sphere of a particular kind of emanation, but as the Great Mother herself, as the following rhyme from her novel "Moon Magic" [4] shows:

"I am she who ere the earth was formed
Was Rhea, Binah, Ge.
I am that soundless, boundless, bitter sea
Out of whose deeps life wells eternally.
Astarte, Aphrodite, Ashtoreth -
Giver of life and bringer in of death;
Hera in heaven, on earth Persephone;
Diana of the ways, and Hecate -
All these am I, and they are seen in me.
The hour of the high full moon draws near;
I hear the invoking words, hear and appear -
Shaddai El Chai and Rhea, Binah, Ge -
I come unto the priest who calleth me - "

One of the oldest correspondences for Binah is the element of water, and she is called Marah, the bitter sea from which all life comes and must return. She is also the Superior or Greater Mother; the Inferior or Lesser Mother is the sephira Malkuth, who is better symbolised by nature goddesses of the earth itself - e.g. the trinity of Kore, Demeter, and Persephone. The Tree of Life has many goddess symbols, and it is not always easy to see where they fit:

Binah is the Great Mother of All, with symbols of space, time, fate, spinning, weaving, cauldrons etc.

Malkuth is the Earth as the soil from which life springs, matter as the basis for life, the spirit concealed in matter, best symbolised by goddesses of this earth, fertility, vegetation etc.

Yesod in its lunar aspect is the Moon, a hidden reality with the ebb and flow of secret tides, illusion, glamour, sexual reproduction etc, and is sometimes in invoked in the form of lunar goddesses - Selene, Artemis etc.

Gevurah is on the Pillar of Form; the whole Pillar has a female aspect, and Gevurah is sometimes invoked in a female form as Kali, Durga, Hecate, or the Morrigan, although it must be said that all four goddesses also share definite Binah-type correspondences.

Netzach has the planet Venus as a correspondence, and its aspect of sensual pleasure, luxury, sexual love and desire is sometime invoked through a goddess such as Venus or Aphrodite.

The Spiritual Experience of Binah is the Vision of Sorrow: as the Mother of Form Binah is also the Mother of finiteness and limitation, of determinism, of cause and effect. Every quality comes forth hand-in-hand with its opposite: life and death, joy and despair, love and hate, order and chaos, so that it is not possible to find an anchor in life. For every reason to live I can find you, buried like a worm in an apple, a reason not to live; the Vision of Sorrow is a vision of a life condemned to tramp along the circumference of a circle while forever denied a view of the unity of the centre. At its most extreme the creation is seen as an evil trick played by a malign demiurge, a sick, empty joke, or a joyless prison with death the only release. The classic vision of sorrow is that of Siddhartha Gautama, but Tolstoy records [5] a terrible and enduring psychic experience which contains most of the elements associated with the worst Binah can offer - it drove him to the very edge of suicide.

The Illusion of Binah is death; that is, the vision of Binah may be compelling, but it is one-sided, a half-truth, and the finiteness it reveals is an illusion. Our own personal finiteness is an illusion.

The Qlippoth of Binah is fatalism, the belief that we are imprisoned in the mechanical causality of form, and not only are we incapable of changing or achieving anything, but even if we could, there wouldn't be any point. Why try to be happy - happiness leads inexorably to sadness. Why try to build and create - it all ends in decay and ruin soon enough. As the author of "Ecclesiastes" says, all is vanity.

The Vice of Binah is avarice. Form is only one-half of the equation of life - change is the other half - and to try to hold onto and preserve form at the expense of change would be the death of all life. The Virtue of Binah is silence. Beyond form there are no concepts, ideas, abstractions, or words.

The Spiritual Experience of Chokmah is the Vision of God Face-to-Face. The tradition I received has it that one cannot have this vision while incarnate i.e. one dies in the process. One Hasidic Rabbi liked to bid farewell to his family each morning as if it was his last - he feared he might die of ecstacy during the day. In the "Greater Holy Assembly" [3], three Rabbis pass away in ecstacy, and in the "Lesser Holy Assembly" [3] the famous Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai passes away at the conclusion. There is a fairly widespread belief that to look on the naked face of God, or a God, means death, but fortunately there is no historical evidence to suggest that the majority of Kabbalists died of anything other than natural causes. Having said that, I would not like to underplay the naked rawness of Chokmah; unconstrained, unconfined, free of form, it is the creative power which sustains the universe, and talk of death is not melodramatic.

The Illusion of Chokmah is independence; at the level of Binah we seem to be locked in form, separate and finite, but just as death is seen to be an illusion so ultimately is our independence and free-will. We seem to be independent, and we seem to have free-will, but at the level of Chokmah we draw our water from the same well.

The Virtue of Chokmah is good, and the Vice is evil. Regardless of your definition of good or evil, Chokmah encompasses every possibility of action, circumstance and creation, and modern Kabbalists no longer try to believe God is good, and evil must reside elsewhere. Medieval Kabbalists liked to hedge their bets, but one has only to plumb the bottomless depths of personal good and evil to find they spring from the same place.

The Qlippoth of Chokmah is arbitrariness. The raw, creative, unconstrained energy of God at its most primal and dynamic can seem utterly arbitrary and chaotic, and some authors [e.g. [6]] have seen it this way. This removes the "divine will" from the energy and leaves a blind, directionless and essentially mechanical force which is unbiased - creation and destruction, order and chaos, who cares? The Kabbalistic view is that this is not so: Chokmah contains form (as Binah) in potential, and it is not correct to view Chokmah as a purely chaotic energy. It is an energy biased towards an end - "God's Will", for lack of a better description.

The Spiritual Experience of Kether is Union with God. My comments on the Spiritual Experience of Chokmah apply also to Kether. The Illusion of Kether is attainment. We can live, we can change, but there is nothing to attain. Even Union with God is no attainment; we were always one with God, and knowing that we are changes nothing of any consequence - as long as we live, there is no goal in life other than living itself. As the Kabbalist Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said [7]:

"No matter how high one reaches, there is still the next step. Therefore, we never know anything, and still do not attain the true goal. This is a very deep and mysterious concept."

The Qlippoth of Kether is Futility. Perhaps the creation was a bad idea. Maybe the En Soph should never have emanated the point- crown of Kether. Perhaps the whole of creation, life, the entire, ghastly three-ring circus we are forced to endure is nothing more thana complete waste. The En Soph should suck Malkuth back into Kether, collapse the whole, crazy house of cards, and admit the mistake.

The God-name of Binah is Elohim, a feminine noun with a masculine plural ending. When we read in the Bible "In the beginning created God...", this God is Elohim. The name Elohim is associated with all the sephiroth on the Pillar of Form, and is taken to represent the feminine aspect of God. The God-name of Chokmah is Yah (YH), a shortened form of YHVH. The God-name of Kether is Eheieh, a name sometimes translated as "I am", and more often as "I will be".

The archangel of Binah is Tzaphqiel; I have been told this means "Shroud of God", but I have not been able to verify this. If it does not mean "Shroud of God", it most certainly should. The archangel of Chokmah is Ratziel, the Herald of the Deity. According to tradition, the wisdom of God and the deepest secrets of the creation were inscribed on a sapphire which is in the keeping of the archangel Ratziel, and this "Book of Ratziel" was given to Adam and handed down through the generations [8]. The archangel of Kether is Metatron, the Archangel of the Presence. According to tradition Metatron was once the man Enoch, who was so wise he was taken by God and made a prince among the angels.

The angel orders of Binah, Chokmah and Kether can be derived directly from the vision of Ezekiel. In the Biblical text, Ezekiel describes successively the Holy Living Creatures, the great wheels within wheels, and lastly the throne-chariot (Merkabah) of God. The vision of Ezekiel had a great influence on early Kabbalah, and it is no coincidence that the angel order of Binah is the Aralim, or Thrones, the angel order of Chokmah is the Auphanim or Wheels, and the angel order of Kether is the Chiaoth ha Qadesh, or Holy Living Creatures. The forms of the Chiaoth ha Qadesh - lion, eagle, man and ox - have survived to this day in many Christian churches, and can be found on the "World" card of most Tarot packs.

It is difficult to grasp the nature of Chokmah and Binah from symbols alone, just as it is difficult to grasp interstellar distances, the energy output of a star, the number of stars in a galaxy, and the number of galaxies visible to us. The scale of the observable physical universe relative to our planet (and the planet is a big place for most of us) is staggering; there are something like a hundred stars inour galaxy alone for every person on this planet. When I think of Chokmah and Binah I attempt to think of them on this scale; the physical universe where we have our home, considered as Malkuth, is vast, mysterious, and contains inconceivable energies - to consider the Father and Mother of creation on any less a scale seems arrogant to me. Which brings me to the question "Can one experience, or be initiated into, the supernal sephiroth?".

If the Kabbalah is to be considered as based on experience, and not an intellectual construction, then the answer has to be "yes". The supernals represent something real. What do they represent? Is it possible to "cross the Abyss"? The answers to these questions depends on which Kabbalistic model one chooses to use, and precisely how one interprets the Tree of Life. For the sake of argument I have chosen three alternative models:

Model A:
the sephira Malkuth represents the whole physical universe; the sephiroth from Yesod to Chesed (the Microprosopus) represent a sentient, self-conscious being; the supernals represent the God of the whole universe, God-in-the-Large.
Model B:
the Tree of Life is a model of human consciousness; the supernals represent the God within, God-in-the-Small.
Model C:
the Tree of Life exists in the four worlds of the creation, namely Atziluth, Briah, Yetzirah, and Assiah. When talking of "the Tree", we are talking about "the Tree of Yetzirah"; "The Abyss" is in fact "the Abyss of Yetzirah" only.

All three models can be found in Kabbalistic writing, and it is rarely clear which version an author is using at any given time. I admit the fault myself. Model A differs radically from Models B and C: Model A is an all-embracing model of everything, whereas in Models B and C the Tree has been applied recursively to a component of the whole, namely a human being considered a divine spark. This is a valid (if confusing) Kabbalistic technique: take a whole, and find a new Tree in each of its components; apply the method recursively until you generate enough detail to explain anything. This idea is summed up in the aphorism: "there is a Tree in every sephiroth".

Is it possible to experience the supernals in Model A? I would say that it is only possible to experience them at a remove via the paths crossing over the Abyss from Tipheret; that is, as a living, incarnate being my consciousness rises no further up the Pillar of Consciousness than Tiphereth (or Daath), but it is possible to apprehend the supernals via the linking paths. To experience the consciousness of Binah in this model would be tantamount to being able to modify the physical constants of nature - Planck's constant, the speed of light, the Gravitational constant, the ratio of masses of particles etc. - the consequences don't bear thinking about! To experience Chokmah would be to experience the force which underpins a billion galaxies. I do not believe even the most arrogant twentieth century magician would claim to have achieved either of these initiations - the continuing existence of the planet is probably the best evidence for that.

Model B is a model of the Microprosopus as a complete Tree. There is some evidence in the "Zohar" that the author thought about the Macroprosopus and Microprosopus in precisely this way, with references to "the greater Chokmah" and "the lesser Chokmah". Model C is substantially similar to Model B, but cast in a slightly different model. With this interpretation it is certainly possible to consider "the lesser Chokmah" as an accessible state of consciousness, but "the Greater Chokmah" remains as in Model A; that is, we can experience the God within, "God-in-the-Small", and experience our essential unity with all other living beings considered as "Gods-in-the-Small", but beyond that lies a greater mystery, that of "God-in-the-Large". We may each be a chip off the old block, but individually we are notidentical with the old block.

This discussion may seem arcane, but there is a natural tendency in people to exalt spiritual experience to the highest level, which does nothing more than inflate and devalue the currency of the language we use to describe these experiences. The universe is too large, too mysterious, and too full of infinite possibilities of wonder for anyone to claim initiation into Malkuth, far less Kether.

Lastly, it is worth asking "what is God?". What does the Kabbalistic trinity of Kether, Chokmah and Binah represent in reality? I have deliberately avoided mentioning an enormous amount of Kabbalistic material on these three sephiroth because it is not clear whether it contributes to a genuine understanding. How useful, for example, is it to know that the name Binah (BINH) contains not only IH (Yod, He), the letters representing Chokmah and Binah, but also BN, Ben, the son? There is a level of understanding Kabbalah which is intellectual, and capable of almost inifinite elaboration, but it leads nowhere. What experience or perception does the word "God" denote? If there is nothing which is not God, why are so many people searching for God? Why do so many people feel apart from God? I quoted D.H. Lawrence's poem "Only Man" because of his deeply intuitive view of the Fall from God and the abyss of separation.

I was browsing in my local occult bookshop recently, a shop which contains a catholic selection of books covering Eastern religions, astrology, Tarot, shamanism, crystals, theosophy, magick, Celtic and Grail traditions, mythology, Kabbalah, witchcraft, and so on. I am not sure what I was looking for, but despite a couple of hours of browsing I certainly did not find it. What did strike me was the extent to which so many of these books were written to make human beings feel good about themselves. There is a smug view permeating so much occult literature that "spiritual" human beings are a little bit more "advanced" or "developed" than the pack, that they are "moving along the Path" towards some kind of "enlightenment", "cosmic consciousness", "union with God", "divine love", or one of many more fantastic and utterly sublime goals. It is all so empowering and affirming and cosy. Even in the less starry-eyed and gushy works the view is predominantly, almost exclusively human-centred, and I found it difficult to avoid the impression that the universe was designed as a foam-padded playground for human souls to romp around in. There is more than a little truth in Marx's statement that religion is the opium of the people, and a cynic could justify a claim that occultism and esoteric religion are little more than a security blanket for unfortunate people who cannot look reality in the face. Where are the books which say "you are an insignificant speck of flyshit in a universe so vast you cannot even begin to comprehend its scale; your occult pretensions amount to nothing and are carefully designed to protect you from any experience of reality; all human experience and knowledge is parochial, insignificant and largely irrelevant on a universal scale, and your personal contribution even more so; there are no Masters or Powers, no Secret Chiefs, no Inner Plane Adepti, no Messiahs, and God does not love you; the only thing you possess is your life, and the joy and mystery of living in a universe filled to the brim with life, where little is known and much remains to be discovered; when you die, you are dead." I do not concur with this position in its entirity, but it is a valid position to adopt, and one which is not strongly represented in esoteric and occult literature. Why not? Perhaps people do not want to buy books which say this. I will venture an opinion which reflects my own experience; as such it has no general validity, but it is worth recording nevertheless.

I believe that many religious, esoteric and occult traditions currently extant are unconsciously designed to protect human beings from experiencing God and lead towards experiences which are valid in themselves but which are biased towards feelings of love, protection, peace, safety, personal growth, community and empowerment, all wrapped up in a strongly human-centred value system where positive human feelings and experiences are emphasised. I believe that people are apart from God by choice, that they cannot find God because they do not want to.

It is difficult to justify this statement without resorting to an onion-skin model of the psyche; underneath the surface, unsuspected and virtually inaccessible, is a layer which does its best to protect us from the existential terror of confronting things as they really are. As a child I was terrified of the dark; the dark itself was not malign, but I was deeply afraid, and in this case it was fear which determined my relationship with the dark, not any quality of the dark itself. So it is with God - it is our deeply buried and unrecognised fear which determines our relationship with God. We read books, go to the cinema and theatre, argue, invent, throw parties, play games, search for God, live and love together, and bury ourselves in all the distractions of human society in a frenetic and unceasing effort to avoid the layers of fear - fear of solitude, fear of rejection, fear of disease and decay and disintregration, fear of madness, fear of meaninglessness, arbitrariness and futility, fear of death and personal annihilation. Like an audience in a cinema, we can live in a fantasy for a time and forget that it is dark, cold and raining outside, but sooner or later we have to leave our seats. And underneath all the fears is the fear of opening the door which conceals the awful truth: that we have wilfully, and with great energy and persistence, chosen not to know.

  1. Ponce, Charles, "Kabbalah", Garnstone Press, 1974.
  2. Kaplan, Aryeh, "The Bahir", Samuel Weiser 1989.
  3. Mather, S.L., "The Kabbalah Unveiled", RKP 1970
  4. Fortune, Dion, "Moon Magic", Star Books, 1976
  5. James, William, "The Varieties of Religious Experience", Fontana 1974
  6. Peter J. Carroll, "Liber Null & Psychonaut", Samuel Weiser 1987
  7. Epstein, Perle, "Kabbalah", Shambhala 1978
  8. Graves, Robert, & Patai, Raphael, "Hebrew Myths, the Book of Genesis", Arena 1989

Next chapter


Binah, (meaning "Understanding"; בינה), is the second intellectual sephira on the kabbalisticTree of Life. It sits on the level below Keter (in the formulations that include that sephirah), across from Chokmah and directly above Gevurah. It is usually given four paths: to Keter, Chockmah, Gevurah, and Tiphereth (some Kabbalists place a path from Binah to Chesed as well.) In an anthropomorphic visualization (in which the sephira are reversed, as if one is standing inside the tree, looking out) it may be related to the "right eye", "right hemisphere of the brain" or the "heart."

Binah is associated with the color green.[1]


According to the Bahir: "The third (utterance): quarry of the Torah, treasury of wisdom, quarry of God's spirit, hewn out by the spirit of God. This teaches that God hewed out all the letters of the Torah, engraving them with the Spirit, casting His forms within it".[2]

Binah is 'intuitive understanding', or 'contemplation'. It is likened to a 'palace of mirrors' that reflects the pure point of light of Chokhmah, wisdom, increasing and multiplying it in an infinite variety of ways. In this sense, it is the 'quarry', which is carved out by the light of wisdom. It is the womb, which gives shape to the Spirit of God.

On a psychological level, Binah is "processed wisdom," also known as deductive reasoning. It is davar mitoch davar—understanding one idea from another idea. While Chockmah is intellect that does not emanate from the rational process (it is either inspired or taught), Binah is the rational process that is innate in the person which works to develop an idea fully.

Binah is associated with the feminine. The Bahir states: “For you shall call Understanding a Mother.” Classical Jewish texts state Binah yeterah natun l'nashim ("an extra measure of Binah was given to women").

In its fully articulated form, Binah possesses two partzufim. The higher of these is referred to as Imma Ila'ah ("the higher mother"), whereas the lower is referred to as tevunah ("comprehension"). These two partzufim are referred to jointly as Imma ("the mother").

Qualities derived from Binah[edit]

Ethical qualities[edit]

In the medieval text the Tomer Devorah, Rabbi Moses Cordovero elucidated the ethical qualities associated with each Sefira, which one must attempt to imitate. The attribute associated with Binah is complete repentance, for 'just as Binah sweetens all severities and neutralizes their bitterness, one should repent and rectify all flaws'.

Non-Jewish associations[edit]

In Western occultism, Binah is seen to take the raw force of Chokhmah, and to channel it into the various forms of creation.[citation needed] For example, in a car, you have the fuel and an engine. While Chokmah is the fuel, pure energy, Binah is the engine, pure receptivity. Either one without the other is useless.

In its role as the ultimate Object, as opposed to Chokmah as the Subject, its role is similar to the role of Shakti[citation needed] in Indian mysticism. It is feminine, because it literally gives birth to the whole of creation, providing the supernal womb, with Chokmah providing the raw energy.

The name of God associated with Binah is Jehovah Elohim, the archangel that presides over it is Tzaphkiel, the order of angels that resides in it are the Aralim (the Thrones) and the planet associated with it is Saturn.[citation needed]

The aspect or attribute of being associated with the feminine, is why Binah is often associated with various occult things that reflect the females. It is related to the Yoni, and to the womb. It is related to the priestess card in the occult tarot (according to Arthur Edward Waite's "Pictorial Key to the Tarot") and Liber 777 associating it with Isis, Cybele, Demeter, Rhea, Woman, The Virgin Mary, Juno,Hecate, Yoni, The Three Threes of the Tarot, etc. etc. etc.

Occultists have tried to compare the sephira with the chakras of Indian mysticism, and one such comparison is in comparing both Binah and Chokmah with the Ajna chakra, which is where both Shiva and Shakti are united.

For its negative opposite on the Tree of Death, it has Sathariel.

In the correlation of Binah with Shakti and Chokmah with Shiva, Shakti is the animating life force whereas Shiva is dead, a corpse, without her energy.


  1. Jump up^ "According to the kabbalists, the attributes of God relate to each other in a scripted way.". Sefirot. My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  2. Jump up^ Arthur Green. A guide to the Zohar

External links[edit]



Kabbala #8: Binah - Processing Wisdom

The second of the Ten Sefirot -- binah – is the womb where raw understanding is developed and processed.


In the last installment in this series, we have discussed chochmah or "inspired wisdom." We now come to the second of the Ten Sefirot, which is binah or "processed wisdom," also known as deductive reasoning.

We have a definition of binah in our non-mystical Midrashic literature which defines binah in the same way that Kabbalah defines it, and that is davar mitoch davar –- understanding one idea from another idea.

A person has an idea -- generated by chochmah -- and left the way it is, the idea is not really useful; it is raw. But then one begins to analyze it. What exactly are the parameters of the idea? What axioms is it based on? What are all the ramifications of this idea, and are they internally consistent? What are its applications?

In Kabbalistic literature the metaphor of a "father" and a "mother" is used to describe this relationship of raw idea to processed idea.

Just like a father sows a seed, sochochmah is a mere seed, an undeveloped code for potential.

Just like a father sows a seed, so chochmah is a mere seed. The father's seed is infinitesimally small, containing an undeveloped code that is mere potential.

It is in the mother's womb that it begins to develop. Every line of DNA code begins to become a human cell, a budding tissue, or a specific organ. Here is the ability to develop the germ of a human.

This relationship is also expressed in Talmudic literature:

The man brings home wheat and wool from the fields. Can a man eat wheat? Can he wear wool? The woman then takes this wheat and makes flour, then dough, and then bread. She takes the wool, spins it, weaves it, and sews it.

Thus we see that the woman develops the potential in every item. (Without stereotyping perhaps this explains the special talent in education that mothers possess, for they are capable of seeing potential in children, long after their father has given up on them.)

One more point about the metaphor of a father and mother. The original man -- Adam -- was created from "nothing." He started out as lump of clay into which was instilled the Divine breath. Thus the essence of the man is that he comes from "nowhere" much the same as chochmah does.

Eve, however, was taken from Adam. Her very existence demonstrated that she was a davar mitoch davar, an entity coming from something.

Adam seemed to be but one person, but it was then revealed that out of this person, another person could be carved out. Or put more correctly -- within this Adam there was latent an entire person, waiting to emerge.

The Bible then explains that this is the reason that a woman is called ishah for she was taken from man, ish.


Let us find the contrast between chochmah and binah in a very different area: the study of Torah.

The Talmud states that Torah was given to Moses to give to Israel. At that time Moses also received the art of pilpul, which translates roughly as the process of logically extrapolating new Torah laws from the existing body of law. Moses was not required to hand this skill to Israel, but out of his "good heartedness" he did so. Indeed, the skill became very useful because when Moses died, Israel forgot many laws, and these were restored through the pilpul process.

This teaching of the Talmud is actually a description of the role of bothchochmah and binah in the study of Torah.

Torah is certainly an example of chochmah. It is an outside injection of God's wisdom into the world. Its validity is not because we understand it, but rather because G-d said it is so.

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Torah simultaneously has an internalbinah, which translates as logical extrapolation.

Yet Torah simultaneously has an internal binah. Given the basics one can use logical extrapolation and rebuild the rest of it. Even the mode with which pilpul was given to us reminds us so much of binah. Torah per se was given from God, but binah (i.e. pilpul) was passed onto us from the person who already had it! Much the same as the woman was created from the man who already was there!

Indeed for an outsider visiting a yeshiva, the method of study seems strange. On the one hand the students display a tremendous reverence for the Torah as being God's word. On the other hand, every point is meticulously debated with the keenest logical analysis possible. This is because Torah does indeed contain both components: chochmah bestowed from God and human binahdeveloping it.

Let us sum up. Chochmah is intellect that does not emanate from the rational process. It is either inspired or taught. Binah is the rational process that is innate in the person, and works to develop an idea fully.


Wisdom goddesses are a primary survival of Goddess consciousness within patriarchal systems. In an intact Goddess cosmology, Wisdom is not sharply differentiated from other divine qualities. In that sense the separation is artificial, and typical of the divisions that arise when theologians erect their esoteric hegemonies. But I’m struck by the recurrence of Wisdom deities in the “major” religions, and how archaic streams of Goddess reverence continue to flow through them under the doctrinal surfaces. For seekers groping a way back to Origins, it can be illuminating to meditate on divine Wisdom in these forms.


Khokhmah and Sophia

Max Dashú

Thou art a Wisdom. Thou are a Knowing. Thou art Truth. 
Because of Thee, there is life. Life is from Thee. 
Because of Thee, there is mind.

--The Three Stelas of Seth, an Egyptian Gnostic scripture

The ancient Hebrew name for Wisdom is Khokhmah, a feminine noun. In Jewish scripture, it was Khokhmah who personified the female Divine. She is understood as an emanation of God, yet she resonates with the Hebrew Goddess who is otherwise assailed in the Bible, especially Asherah, she of the sacred Tree. Proverbs 3:18 calls up an image of Khokhmah that originates in the oldest core of Jewish culture: “She is a Tree of Life to all who lay hold of her.” 

In the same book, Khokhmah sings, “The one who finds me, finds life.” Like the goddess Asherah, regarded as the partner of Yahweh by the ancient Hebrews, Khokhmah is linked to the pillar. “My throne was in the pillar of cloud,” she declares in Ben Sirach (24:4). In Proverbs 9:1 she builds a house of seven pillars. 

Asphodel Long’s book A Chariot Drawn by Lions offers profound insights into the survival of the Hebrew Goddess. She points out that Wisdom is another form of the Shekhinah, the divine Presence. Both are “expressed in light and glory,” both involved in creation, enthroned in heaven, intermediaries between god and the world, ascending and descending, and winged. 

The Book of Wisdom of Solomon, written by Alexandrian Jews in the Hellenistic era, renames Khokhmah as Sophia, the Greek word for Wisdom. In this text, as Long points out, Sophia “takes over the powers and function of God” and the creation story is told using the word “she.” The ancient author is careful to qualify this audacity by describing Wisdom as God's breath and emanation, but still praises her at length in her own right as “holy” and “all-powerful”: 

For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle;
mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible,
Beneficent, human, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, 
overseeing all and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle.
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things
. [Long, 46-7]

Another beautiful passage likens Wisdom to “a flame of stars through the night.” [Allegro, 171] The praise-names in the Book of Wisdom of Solomon resonate deeply with those in the goddess litanies of India. The most celebrated of these is the Sri Lalitaa Sahasranama, an invocation of Goddess under a thousand names, including Intelligence, Holy, Unique, Multiformed, Subtle, Pure, Beyond All Danger, Loving the Good, Beneficence, Steady, Without Anxiety, Great Power, and All-Pervasive.

Long’s illuminating exegesis of the Alexandrian Wisdom litany brings forward the little-known fact that the Greek name monogenes (“unique, singly born”) began as a title of female divinities. It originates in a Kemetic title of Neit, Hathor and Isis: “self-born, self-produced,” and later appears in Orphic hymns to Demeter, Persephone and Athena. Christians subsequently applied it to Yeshua of Nazareth who was cast as the “only-begotten son” of god. [Long, 49] 

In late antiquity other titles arose in the Judaic tradition: Shekhinah (Divine Presence) and Matronit (the Mother). Kabbalists redefined Khokhmah as a masculine power, and assigned Binah (Understanding) to the feminine sphere. Torah became to some extent a personification of Wisdom, and Jews in many countries invited Shabbat to enter their homes as the bride of god and the essence of peace and joy.

There is not room here to enter the Egyptian Stream of Wisdom, but what follows can only be understood in the light of the veneration of Auset, known in Hellenistic culture as Isis. This goddess had come to be worshipped beyond the borders of Egypt, first in west Asia and north Africa, then in Europe. Isis aretalogies (praise-songs based on the affirmation “I am”) emphasize creative Wisdom as one of her divine qualities:

I am Isis, mistress of every land
I laid down laws for humanity and ordained things that no one may change... 
I divided the earth from the heavens 
I made manifest the paths of the stars 
I prescribed the course of the sun and moon 
I found out the labors of the sea 
I made justice mighty... 

—Aretalogy of Isis
 from Cyme, circa 200 CE [Drinker, 114]

A syncretic ferment of Egyptian, Greek and Hebrew traditions occurred in Alexandria and the eastern Mediterranean during the Roman empire. Jewish writers appear to have initiated a Greek series of Oracula Sibillina which begin to appear around 150 BCE. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria identified Sophia as Mother of the divine Logos and as Isis, mother of Horus. But Philo followed Biblical tradition in according primacy to the father-god as creator, treating the divine mother—Sophia — as his attribute or emanation. Nevertheless, he described this god as the husband of Wisdom. [Long, 46, 162; Patai, 98] 

The pagan priest Plutarch agreed that Isis was the same as Sophia, creator of all. [Allegro, 157] Pagan mystery religions equated Isis with Demeter, Kybele, Juno Caelestis, Bona Dea, Tyche and other Mediterranean goddesses, mixing their attributes and titles. Isis was sculptured wearing the mural crown of the Asian goddess Tyche and holding the cornucopia of the Italian Fortuna and Terra Mater. (These statuettes have been found in distant Kazakhstan and Pakistan.) Multitudes of molded figurines of Isis seated on the basket of the Eleusinian Mysteries were mass-produced for home altars within Egypt itself. 

Most of these Hellenized terracotta statuettes shrink the horned solar crown of the ancient Kemetic goddess and flank it with ears of wheat, assimilating her to Demeter in a historical double rebound. The Knot of Isis that was for millennia tied around her belly moves up to her breast in a tied Grecian shawl. Other terracottas show Isis Baubo with skirts pulled up around her hips and legs opened wide. Still others look to the headwaters of the Nile, as the goddess Besit, linked to the BaTwa peoples, socalled "pygmies," or perhaps to other little people (“dwarves”). 

In the midst of this syncretism, many Isis terracottas retain the Egyptian convention showing her suckling her son (now represented as a sketchy afterthought). She also appears as Isis Bubastis -- Ermouthis to the Greeks -- with the lower part of her body in the form of a snake. This form of Isis has turned up as far east as Iraq.

Some Egyptian Jews engaged in ecstatic forms of worship. Philo wrote that the Therapeutae (“healers”) became “transported by divine enthusiasm.” They danced and sang hymns in harmonies and antiphonies, women with women and men with men. Then, says Philo, they feasted and drank wine, and at last all joined together in one assembly:

Perfectly beautiful are their motions, perfectly beautiful their discourse; grave and solemn are these carollers; and the final aim of their motions, their discourse, and their choral dances is piety.[Drinker, 159-160]

The Therapeutae were among the Jewish sects in which women “conducted the Sabbath services and provided influential commentaries on the scriptures.” [Long, 38] Philo described their practice as a form of spiritual healing, which in fact gave this community its name:

Inasmuch as they profess to the art of healing better than that current in towns, which cures only the bodies, they treat also souls oppressed by grievous and well-nigh intolerable diseases.[Contemplative Life, in Allegro, 109]

The biggest community of Therapeutae lived near the Mareotic lake in northern Egypt. Their huts had little prayer alcoves, and they gathered in a central building for communal meals. Like Philo, they seem to have syncretized Isis with Wisdom and called upon her for healing: “She was reckoned to cure the sick and to bring the dead to life, and she bore the title 'Mother of God.'“ This was an ancient name of Neit, Isis, and other Kemetic goddesses.


The Gnostic Goddess

The syncretism of Judaic, Egyptian, Hellenistic and Persian traditions gave rise to Gnosticism, a name which arose directly from an emphasis on inner knowing. Until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi scrolls, what was known of the Gnostics came mostly from their sworn enemies, the institutional clergy. When church patriarchs selected the books that became the canonical christian bible, they rejected some of the earliest texts, Gnostic scriptures. Among these excluded scriptures were writings that pictured Wisdom as a divine, creative female presence. 

The Goddess was still well-loved in Egypt, whose ancient religion exerted a tremendous influence on early Gnostic philosophy. The Gospel of Thomasretains an invocation from ancient litanies of Auset: “Come, lady revealing hidden secrets...” Aretalogies of Isis made their way into several Gnostic scriptures, as Great Isis continued to be syncretized with Judaic wisdom traditions of Khokhmah under Hellenistic names. 

The Gnostic scripture Eugnostos the Blessed hails “the all-wise Sophia, Genetrix.” It was she, says the Origin of the World, who “created great luminaries and all of the stars and placed them in the heaven so that they should shine upon the earth.” This Gnostic passage echoes the Isis Aretalogy of Cyme: “I divided earth from heaven, I created the ways of the stars...”

Other Egyptian Gnostic texts name the Divine Female as Ennoia (Thought), Pronoia (Forethought) or Protennoia (Primal Thought), Pistis (Faith), Sige (Silence), Eidea (Image, Idea), or Charis (Grace). These titles are often used interchangeably with Sophia. Several texts address the goddess as Arche (“beginning”), following the Hebraic representation of Wisdom as Reshiit in the Palestinian Targum and the Samaritan Liturgy. [Arthur, 65, 55, 61; Long, 87ff] 

The early Egyptian Gnostics embraced the Wisdom goddess as a power higher than the god who created the world. A Greek-Coptic text named Origin of the World reworks Genesis to show the Goddess taking part in creation, and restores Eve to her primordial sacred status as the Mother of All Living. In a section known as the “Eve intrusion,” Sophia creates “the Living-Eva, that is, the Instructress of Life.” This androgynous being takes form according to the image of the Mother, and proclaims her identity with her. She assumes titles of Isis, such as “consoler of the labor pains.” [Arthur, 99, 117, 131] 

This book calls Eve “the mother of the living,” a title that goes back to the earliest Hebrew roots, and even further, to the Sumerian goddess Ninti. In this telling, it is Eve who gives life to Adam. The archons beheld Eve and compared her to Sophia, “the likeness which appeared to us in the light.” They plotted to rape and “pollute” Eve, and to cast Adam into a sleep, teaching him that she came into being from his rib “so that the woman will serve and he will rule over her.” But Life/Eve laughed at their scheming, darkened their eyes and left her likeness beside Adam. “She entered the tree of knowledge, and remained there. She revealed to them that she had entered the tree and become tree.” The archons ran away in fear, but later came back and defiled Eve's likeness. “And they were deceived, not knowing that they had defiled their own bodies.” [Young, 54; Arthur, 207]

A Nag Hammadi scroll called the Testimony of Truth deifies the wise Serpent who counsels Eve to eat the fruit of knowledge: “On the day when you eat from the tree which is in the midst of Paradise, the eyes of your mind will be opened.” The scroll's author points out that god's threat of immediate death didn't come true, but the Serpent's promise of knowledge did. He calls the god of Genesis “a malicious envier” who begrudged humans the power of knowing. This theme of an imperfect creator god recurs in other Gnostic texts. Sophia rebukes this god as a liar and fool when he, unaware of her role in creation, claims sole divinity. 

Another form of the syncretic Egyptian Gnostic goddess is the mysterious Barbelo. Presented as an emanation of god, she resembles Khokhmah. But christian Egyptian texts refer to Mother Barbelo as part of a trinity, along with the Father and Son. The Barbelo literature's attempts to reconcile conflicting traditions result in contradictions. The Gospel of the Egyptians says that Barbelo originated from herself, as the ancients had said of Neit, Mother of the Gods. But the Three Stelas of Seth present her as “the first shadow of the holy Father,” who had existed before her. It addresses her with feminine pronouns, but paradoxically praises her as “the male virginal Barbelo.”[Arthur, 165-6] A later passage reverts to goddess imagery:

Thou art a Sophia. Thou art a Gnosis. Thou art truth. Because of thee, there is life. Life is from thee. Because of thee, there is mind... Thou art a cosmos of truth. Thou art a triple power...
 [Arthur, 166]

The Sethian Gnostics said that this trinity was made up of Light, Breath, and Darkness. The Peratae had it as Father, Son and Matter, with the Son mediating between the exalted Father and a passive female principle. [Philosophumena, in Doresse, 52, 50]

However, the Trimorphic Protennoia exalts “Barbelo, the perfect glory,” from whose thought originated the trinity of Father, Mother, Son. This scroll contains an aretalogy that unambiguously praises the goddess Protennoia as the origin: “I am Primal Thought that dwells in the Light... she who exists before the All... I move in every creature... I am the Invisible One within the All.”[Pagels, 55; Long, 92-3] Her divinity is immeasurable, ineffable and radiant. [Arthur, 168]

The Apochryphon of John contains another aretalogy of “the perfect Pronoia (forethought) of the universe,” who was “the first.” She wandered in the great darkness, “into the midst of the prison,” even into the depths of the underworld. She represents “the light which exists in light.” But this christian text compared “sister Sophia” unfavorably to Barbelo. A splintering of Gnostic goddess images was underway. They were being subordinated to “the Father,” and those not firmly partnered to a male god disparaged. The derivative Gnostic aretalogies reflect an emerging concept of the “fallen” goddess. 

The longest Gnostic aretalogy appears in Thunder, Perfect Mind (originally titledThe Divine Barbelo). It follows the form of the old Isis litanies: “I am the wisdom of the Greeks / And the knowledge of the barbarians / I am one whose image is great in Egypt...” Unlike the aretalogies, however, Thunder is marked by dualism, pairing negatives—“ignorance... shame... fear”—with Barbelo's divine qualities. [Arthur, 164, 175] Still, it contains verse of remarkable beauty and profundity:

I am the first and the last
I am the honored one and the scorned one
I am the whore and the holy one
I am the wife and the virgin
I am the mother and the daughter
I am the members of my mother
I am the barren one, and many are her sons....
I am the silence that is incomprehensible
And the idea whose remembrance is frequent
And the word whose appearance is multiple
I am the utterance of my name.

Though Sophia is prominent in the Gnostic creation accounts, she was being stripped of the radiant holiness the Egyptians attributed to Isis and the Hebrews to Khokhmah. In her ground-breaking and all-too-little-known study The Wisdom Goddess, Rose Arthur shows how the positive view of Sophia in the early, pre-christian scriptures was gradually broken down and degraded by a masculinizing, christianizing movement that emphasized a “fallen Sophia.”

Arthur demonstrates that the older texts were consistently reedited to reduce and subordinate female divinity, while exalting the male god. The Hypostasis of the Archons is no more than “a christianized, patriarchalized and defeminized summary of On the Origin of the World.” It blatantly substitutes the christian god for the Gnostic goddess. For example, the line “But all this came to pass according to the Pronoia of Pistis” becomes “But all these things came to pass in the Will of the Father of the All.”

The pre-christian scripture Eugnostos the Blessed was revamped as the Sophia Jesu Christi, in which Sophia rebels against the “Father of the Universe,” repents of her fault, and is saved by her male partner, Jesus Christ. The revisionist text repeatedly refers to the “fault of the woman.” The same process was at work in the Pistis Sophia, where the fallen Sophia is made to sing thirteen hymns of repentence before Jesus helps her to regain the spiritual heights.

These new patriarchal discourses still had to contend with a deep-rooted conviction in the Goddess as the ultimate source of life. Even hostile writers acknowledge that Sophia gives the breath of life to Adam, though they show this happening indirectly. But they view the material creation as evil, imprisoning the souls who live in it. Often Sophia herself is shown falling into bondage. 

In one Gnostic myth, Sophia was made prisoner by the seven archons. The essence of Wisdom made flesh in female form was subjected to every indignity, including being forced into whoredom. In one version, Simon Magus rescues “Helena” from a brothel in Tyre. But in actuality she is the creator of the angels who made the world. She is called Kyria, Lady, a Greek term corresponding to the christian god's title Kyrios. [Allegro, 141-5] These stories don’t refer to idealized notions of sacred harlots making love in freedom, but to female degradation in the prison-brothels of the Roman empire. While they may be taken as an affirmation of the presence of the sacred within the enslaved women, they also demark a clear demotion of the Wisdom goddess, who has lost her original sovereign power.

The earlier view of Goddess as the supreme Source, or alternatively as a male god's perfect partner, now gave way to the idea that she was a lower being in need of pardon and salvation. New authors developed themes of a deluded and foolish Sophia (contradicting the very meaning of her name, “Wisdom”). They accuse of her of breaking cosmic law by creating without a male partner and describe her creation as defective. [Couliano, 78-9] 

While these writers blamed Sophia for conceiving alone, they praise the male god for creating without a partner. In their tellings, Sophia he is cast down and made to suffer and repent until a superior male god deigns to “correct her deficiency.” As Sophia is mythically overthrown, other female figures pick up aspects of her power, but the force of the Gnostic Wisdom goddess is almost spent. 

Under the oppressive climate of the Roman empire, with its heavy taxation, displaced populations, urban crowding, plagues, slave economy, and arena executions, to say nothing of pervasive violence against women, a profound negativity had seeped into religious consciousness. People felt like prisoners in the world, and a conviction arose that creation itself was flawed. The taint reached back to the Goddess herself, since she manifested herself in matter, in birth, in bodies. 

This new doctrine identifying the female with bondage, weakness, inferiority and fault was the final means of overthrowing the Goddess Mysteries in the Mediterranean. The process was erratic. Judaic Wisdom mysticism, so influential in early Gnosticism, exalted the creative power of Khokhmah, and held that creation was good, even though the female is formally subordinated to the male throughout the Bible. But increasingly Gnostics gravitated toward an “value-inversion,” not only revolting against the Biblical god, but rejecting all creation as well.

Although Gnostics were strongly influenced by Judaism, which features Wisdom as a co-creator, many of their writings evince a strong animus against it. Some emphasize the female creative principle, while others, especially the later texts, demote her. Much of Gnostic scripture reinterprets the biblical creation story, making Yahweh (cast as Ialdabaoth or Saklas or Authades) junior to the creating Wisdom goddess, unaware of her presence but working with her light. Possibly this theme originated as a reassertation of the Goddess (especially she of ten-thousand-names in Egypt) whose scattered signatures are visible in the Gnostic amalgam of Hellenistic, Judaic and Persian cosmologies. Some of these accounts can be read as a defense of her divinity and creative power as against the increasingly influential concept of a masculine god as sole creator.

But the syncretic Goddess of late antiquity was gradually subjected to heavy-handed reinterpretation as Gnostics embraced a heavily polarized doctrine of dualism. Thei rejection of the “lower” world ended up dragging down the Goddess in the midst of its attack on Judaism. It demanded rejection of the body, of lovemaking and the ancient birth mysteries: of Earth and Nature herself. New christian doctrines stripped Sophia of her divine qualities, dramatically subordinating her to the Father and to Christ as her male partner and savior. Later writers dropped the name Sophia altogether. Some introduce new names, but the visible trend is away from myths exalting a creatrix. 

The variant picture of the Gnostic scriptures reflects an intense campaign to beat down goddess veneration and to split body and spirit. The tension is more open in the Gnostic gospels precisely because the female divinity is still powerful, in contrast to the christian canon. It was in Egypt and other centers of the Mysteries that the last stand for open Goddess worship was fought -- and ultimately lost -- on the battleground of Gnosticism. 

Eradicating the Goddess proved to be an impossible task. She survived in myriads of forms in popular belief, veiled as Mary or christian saints. The Virgin Mary occupied a much less powerful position in church doctrine and scriptures than the old pagan Goddess. Folk tradition is another story; there devotion shifted to Mary from the old goddesses and persisted over centuries as new ethnicities entered christendom. Due to this popular pressure and the role it played in the clergy's conversion strategy, Mary escaped the degradation that Gnostic christians ended up heaping on Sophia, and the stigma that theologians cast over Eve. Catholicism ended up absorbing goddess traditions over the centuries, through progressive engorgements, while Gnosticism gradually shed them.

But the story of Sophia does not end there. Her Greek worshippers succeeded in assimilating her to Orthodox christianity, as Hagia Sophia. The greatest cathedral of the Byzantines was raised in honor of this “Holy Wisdom,” supported by the great porphyry pillars taken from the Ephesian temple of Artemis. The early Orthodox Greeks regarded Hagia Sophia as a female member of the Trinity, the "Holy Spirit.” This strand persisted in Orthodox Christian mysticism, and is still a force in Russian spirituality. Western Christian feminists have also reclaimed it in recent decades. 

This title of “Holy Spirit” also belonged to Ruha d’Qudsha, the goddess of the Iraqi Mandaeans. She had been demonized by the Christian era, but she is an Aramaean analogue to the Hebrew Shekhinah: compare Biblical ruach, “spirit” and qadoshah, “holy,” and remember, too, the ancient Canaanite-Egyptian goddess QDSU or Qudsha. The Aramaean goddess undergoes the same debasement in Syria and northern Iraq as Sophia had in the eastern Mediterranean. Ruha d’Qudsha, as mother of the “evil” planets and zodiac spirits, is another fallen, or rather toppled, goddess. She is called deficient and defective, and must be uplifted and guided by the Father. 

The Torah uses the word “hovering,” as with beating wings, to describe the divine Presence that Talmudic writers had begun to call the Shekhinah. Her image resonates with the ancient veneration of doves as sacred to Canaanite, Syrian, and Cypriot goddesses. Christians adopted this imagery, picturing the Holy Spirit as a winged radiance and a hovering dove. She flutters above Mary in innumerable scenes of the Annunciation, and above the consecrated chalice and bread.

As for Khokhmah, she remained a presence within the Hebrew Scriptures. Thousands of years after her praises were embedded in the Book of Proverbs, medieval christian mystics were attracted to this female image of Wisdom. Hildegarde of Bingen knew her as Sophia, Scientia Dei, and Sapientia of the seven pillars. One of her manuscripts even shows her wearing the mural crown of the ancient goddess of Asia Minor. Hildegarde’s profoundly animistic poetry sings the praises of Life endowed with Wisdom, as a goddess in all but name:

I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all living sparks. Death hath no part in me, yet I bestow death, wherefore I am girt about with Wisdom as with wings. I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields, and in the shining water, and in the burning sun and the moon and the stars, and in the force of the invisible wind, the breath of all living things, I breathe in the green grass and the flowers, and in the living waters...

[Book of Divine Works, circa 1167, in Partnow, The Quotable Woman, 48]


Copyright 2000 Max Dashu.

This article was originally published as chapter III of Streams of Wisdom 
(Oakland CA: The Suppressed Histories Archives, 2000). 
An early serialized version appeared in Goddessing Regenerated, 
a journal edited by Willow LaMonte, Malta, 1998.


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Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen, Female Fault and Fulfilment in Gnosticism, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel, 1986

Couliano, Ioan, The Tree of Gnosis: Gnostic Mythology from Early Christianity to Modern Nihilism, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

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Drinker, Sophie, Music and Women, Coward-McCann, New York, about 1948

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