The Spiritual Meaning Behind the Story of Sophia

Spiritual Lessons from the Gnostic Sophia

A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

And our sister Sophia is she who came down in innocence in order to rectify her deficiency. Therefore she was called Life, which is the mother of the living, by the foreknowledge of the sovereignty of heaven. And through her they have tasted the perfect Knowledge.
The Secret Book of John

The first time I read the Nag Hammadi library I was immediately drawn to the saga of the heroine and anti-heroine that is the character of Sophia. Every story she appeared in was different but oddly familiar. I felt I had come home when I found Sophia, but that home was surrounded by a pathless labyrinth with her and her lessons at the end.

Years later, I am still fascinated by the Fall and Redemption of Sophia, variations found in such texts as The Secret Book of John, The Reality of the Rulers, and the Pistis Sophia, as well as the sundry Valentinian cosmologies.

But what do the accounts of Sophia all mean? What do they teach of about spirituality?

Let me share some interpretations in this pathless labyrinth I often call Gnosis. I won’t delve into plotlines of the many stories on Sophia, but you can find her foundations in my article The Pagan Origins of the Gnostic Sophia.

I will mention some shared keynotes, though. We do know that the Gnostic Sophia:

• Is the personification/hypostasis of the wisdom of the idealized Mind of God (one of the many Aeons in a realm referred to as the Pleroma, the Treasury of Light, or the Eternal Realm).

• Rebels or commits some infraction that causes her to be expelled into the void.

• Undergoes certain passions in her banishment that results in the very creation of matter and even the ruling divine entities of the cosmos.

• Must restore herself and the universe by gathering parts of her divine essence scattered in the material world.

This all may sound a bit uncanny, but the myth of the Divine Feminine fallen and lost in chthonic domains is shared with other, more prominent traditions of old. Some examples would be the stories of Inana, Persephone, and even Isis (in her quest to procure the body parts of Osiris).

With that in mind, here are some of the possible meanings to the Fall and Redemption of Sophia:

• Sophia represents the adventures of the soul across the universes. Like the fallen goddesses previously mentioned, this is also not an uncommon motif in ancient religions—with the soul represented as a female protagonist. Some instances would be Helen of Troy in the Homeric accounts and the lost Shekinah of God in Jewish wisdom literature. This trope is the root to the damsel in distress story, and certainly exemplified in Alice in Wonderland.

• Sophia represents the high cost of wisdom. Humans throughout history have sought the gifts of wisdom, attempting to couple it with knowledge. Yet the reality is that wisdom takes a heavy toll on human existence, rarely becoming purified before an individual’s personal universe is about to end.

• Sophia is that dangerous nexus between the spiritual and the material. In Gnostic accounts, Sophia is often depicted as hysterical, neurotic, or even schizophrenic—yet at the same the sage mediator between heaven and earth. This indicates what many mystics have known: when mortals contact higher planes of reality, the mind is going to be bend and even break. To be wise is to be sane, but to also to never forget those epochs of insanity that paradoxically paved the way.

• Sophia is a sort of Hellenistic Koan. A Koan, utilized mainly by Zen Buddhists, is a paradox to be meditated upon in order to abandon conventional reason and attain intuitive enlightenment. The saga of Sophia offers this by asking these “sound-of-one-hand-clapping” questions: How could the wisdom of God fail? Is wisdom without experience wisdom at all? Can perfection fail or is failing just part of perfection?

• Sophia represents that disastrous state of knowledge without wisdom. In Gnostic cosmology, once the divine realms lose wisdom, an unfortunate chain of events occurs. Wisdom may not be perfect in her attempt to teach us that there is no perfection, but casting her aside usually leads to the grimmer aspects of human history.

• Sophia represents the essence of comfort. Despite her mistakes and ambitions, Sophia finds a way to instill serenity within herself and her children (humanity). Not truly worshiped in any of the Gnostic writings, Sophia is a literary illustration teaching that peace is attainable through the hardest of times. Her characteristics of complex femininity, curiosity, and the ultimate ability to be humble enough to ask for help makes her the great companion in any dark night of the soul.

Certainly, let me know if you have your own interpretations of the Gnostic Sophia. The Gnostics, as with any myth, utilized Sophia in different attempts to explain existentialist truths concerning reality and suffering. They viewed her passion narrative as perhaps more important than the one by her often-consort, Jesus. Perhaps so because they saw themselves as Sophia: the ultimate exiles.

Being exiled is one chief reason I relate to the Gnostic Sophia. I am sure her many depictions grant an even greater lesson: that a return home is possible if we just dare that pathless labyrinth.

Perhaps she will be standing to comfort us at the end…even if it is East of Eden.

Spread the heresy:

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9 Responses

  1. Kevin. says:

    Hello Miguel,
    a really useful concise blog, thanks.
    ” Sophia represents the adventures of the soul across the universes ”
    ” Sophia is that dangerous nexus between the spiritual and the material ”
    ” Is wisdom without experience wisdom at all ?”
    ” Sophia finds a way to instill serenity within herself and her children (humanity) ”
    For me, the above lines you wrote are reason enough not to venerate Sophia. Do you differentiate between soul and spirit ?
    I know the soul is my gaoler(jailer) ; that which uses me and keeps me a feeble and ‘serene’ prisoner. Just like a cat playing with a mouse I sometimes manage a few brief tastes of freedom when the soul is ‘sleeping’ ; only to be somehow put back into the prison of form and shape.
    A late posted comment, but then we have all eternity ?

    • Miguel Conner says:

      Welcome to eternity and agreed on much!

      • seanah says:

        Your soul is your counterfeit spirit and will also be your judge. “Here ye have your counterfeit spirit” Is what to say to the Archon on your way up.” If you bring fourth what is inside of you, what’s inside of you will save you. “

  2. Chris says:

    I agree with the forms of Sophia addressed above as I think she was both figurative and literal.
    Hopefully the following will illustrate my understanding that Sophia once was known worldwide.
    I feel that Sophia has been reflected throughout the world literally, dating from prehistoric to early historic times. The first iterations of her I believe are the Paleolithic “Venus Statues” which date back at least for 35,000 years. The continuum can be seen in a figurine called “Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük” dating back to 6,000 B.C. The worship of which progressed later into Namma but especially Gaia and Cybele(Both who are shown more slender). The throne with two lions being the image connecting them.
    The oldest written historical references to her I feel is Namma in Sumerian tablets. Namma later became Tiamat which is discussed in detail in Enuma Elish, which is probably a later version of an earlier Sumerian tale.
    Just some brief similarities between Tiamat in Enuma Elish compared to Sophia:
    First Goddess,
    Mother of all “gods”(Demiurge, Archons),
    Created the World,
    Created within Chaos,
    Offspring rebel against her,
    Offspring destroy her and use her parts to make the “Heaven and Veil”(Outside the Eternal Realms).

    Some other ancient Forms I have found around the world that seem similar to Sophia and are in no means exhaustive or definite:
    China: “Queen Mother of the West” (Queen Mother, Divine Mother or by the ancient, familiar expression for “mother” or “nanny”, Amah). Amah and Namma being so close.

    Chaldean: Omoroca (Similar account to Tiamat.)

    Sumerian: Namma: (“mother who gave birth to the heavens and the earth.” “No husband or male god is attested in connection with Namma, thus leading to the belief that “the first cosmic production is asexual”)

    Andes: Pachamama(World Mother)

    Maya: Ixchel-Toci(Mother of the Gods, Created Heaven and Earth)

    Aztec: Coatlicue(Gave birth to moon, stars and Gods and sacrificed at the beginning of creation)

    I hope this is of interest and can be expanded upon by all fellow Gnostics.

  3. seanah says:


    Sophia saw a false Light and chased after it. She touched the primordial waters and created Yaltabaoth. She was ashamed of her creation and put him on a throne with a veil across it, so he saw nothing above him and believed himself to be the only God, a jealous God. He then manifested entities and took the Light from her and threw her in the chaos, or earth. She is trapped in a human body until Jesus is given the ok to restore her Light. She must learn the “song” and give her repentances, one for each Aeon and sing praises to the Height before her Light is restored. Once it is restored, also will be the Pleroma. The “song” is a repentance made up of Psalms. When put in correct order and sung to the Height, Sophia brings earth to heaven. Jesus came back to teach the Disciples how to get through the rulers of the Archon and teach the repentances. He had not yet ascended and could not teach them…

  4. Rafi Simonton says:

    I’m quite familiar with Gnostic mythologies and the Paleolithic art mentioned by Chris. There is archeological evidence of a transition between the voluptuous Mother figures of the type Marija Gimbutas wrote about and later slim folded arm figurines of the Cycladic Islands. Evidence of a change to what Riane Eisler calls the dominator culture from an archaic form of a partnership culture. To a male determined ideal feminine; young, virginal, and vulnerable. Humans did fall, but not from some perennial Platonic Ideal into evil physicality. Rather into self-consciousness. Gone was the old direct connection to information, ala Julian Jaynes, where deities gave instructions that were automatically obeyed. Now devolved to a few specialists like shamans and pythonesses. Of course humans felt abandoned.

    Sure, the protagonists of tales are often female. But notice they are young and lost. They reek of Jung’s anima, features of the male psyche, and are not about actual mature wise women. Nor about the transcendent Divine Feminine at the level of pneuma (aka Binah.) It feels appropriate that Sophia is linked to hysteria and lunacy. (Setting aside the prejudice that hysteria is about those with wombs.) The old instincts are still there, but they are of Yesod, the kabbalistic version of the moon. Those old night things feel dangerous and they are. We can’t simply live by them anymore, but they have to be given respect.

    Good point about the difference between knowledge and wisdom. However, looking at the Tree of kabbalah is even more clarifying. Wisdom (Chokmah) is reached only after passing through the Dark Night of Daath (Knowledge.) But also required is reaching Binah (Understanding.) At this level, some of the weird, negative, and destructive aspects of creation start to make sense.

    And how about thinking of Jesus as the New Man? One that is the prototype of how the divine within is realized. Who has brought back into conscious awareness his own very feminine values. He does not need to rescue Sophia; he just makes her own self enlightenment possible. He also shows that the very worst of Daath can be overcome. The telling feature of the tale of the cross is that “father, why hast thou forsaken me?” How very human it is to feel that the divine is elsewhere! I’ve personally had an experience where I just briefly felt what he did. All a finite being can stand. That he went through total abandonment while carrying ALL the hurts, fears, loneliness, and doubts of all of sentient creation. Then I “saw” him with a slight smile, and he said, “it’s worth it, you know.” Not the suffering per se, but the intense struggle toward enlightenment, transcendence that is also the world transfigured.

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