The title of this article makes a bold claim, in a crowded and competitive field of feminine divinities that includes the Virgin Mary, Isis, Venus, and Ishtar, among many others. Yet a stronger case for supremacy can be made for a seemingly obscure figure from an obscure faith known as Gnosticism.
Her name is Norea, and she is possibly the most remarkable female figure in all religions.
Norea’s legend should be addressed first, before making an argument for her peerless status among feminine deities. In truth, there is little written about Norea. As scholars have posited, Norea was once revered by a Gnostic sect known as the Sethians, before two events erased her prominence—the rise of Orthodox Christianity and the Sethians abandoning the Judeo-Christian matrix for pagan Neoplatonism. The former event likely forced the latter, sometime during the fourth century.
Norea the Gnostic Fire Goddess
Norea’s most prominent role occurs in The Reality of the Rulers, a text found in the Nag Hammadi library. Norea is depicted as the fourth child of Eve, and the author claims he draws this information from Jewish tradition older than even the book of Genesis. Adam is not mentioned as the father, though, indicating her birth as virginal in the sense of being assisted by the Alien God of the Gnostics (the only such occurrence in their scriptures). Norea is portrayed as a wholly spiritual entity, incorruptible by any evil force in the cosmos, and the one who conceives all future heroes of humanity. Most of all, Norea is seen as the one true savior, heralded as “an assistance for many generations of mankind.”
Norea’s one deed in The Reality of the Rulers occurs when the Creator God—based on Old Testament Yahweh—decides to destroy civilization with a flood. (Unlike the book of Genesis, in this Gnostic account the Creator God wishes to punish humanity because it has become too good!) Norea attempts to board the Ark, to abort its voyage. When Noah refuses, she breathes fire on the ark and destroys it.
Sensing Norea’s power and purity, the Creator God and his angels materialize and attempt to recruit her to their cause. She refuses, incurring their wrath, but is rescued by an astral entity named Eleleth—a mighty avatar of the Alien God. In a parallel dimension, while the planet perishes in the flood, Eleleth explains to Norea the secret history of the universe and her upcoming role as the champion for those seeking spiritual liberation.
Norea the Consort of the Flood
The narrative of The Reality of Rules is similar to the account of the church father, Epiphanius, although he claims that Norea destroyed the ark a total of three times. The other main difference is that Norea takes the role of Noah’s assertive wife. Epiphanius mentions that the text he uses corresponds to that of Pyrrha and Deucalion—the husband and wife main characters of the Greek version of the flood myth (an odd admission during a time when Christendom was attempting to adopt Judaism entirely as its foundation and renounce all Paganism).
Norea being the wife of Noah is supported in Mandean lore, which calls her Nuraita (a Mandaic term for Norea).
Norea’s other mention is in the Nag Hammadi library’s, The Thought of Norea. It’s a short invocation that holds her as having the very mind of the Alien God and dwelling in the hearts of those seeking Gnosis (see this article for a definition). In essence, the text portrays her as the ultimate feminine principle. Another Gnostic sect, the Manichaeans, corroborates her status, referring to her as a “virgin of light” (Acta Archelai 9). The term “virgin” in Gnosticism refers to a female who is beyond the powers of the Archons and their material powers.
Norea the Demon Queen
Norea’s impact was felt beyond Christianity and into Rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Jewish literature likewise places Norea as the rebellious wife of Noah. Furthermore, the Kabbalistic book, The Zohar, vilifies her as a seducer of angels because of her incredible beauty. She is referred to as Na’amah. In Ancient Gnosticism, Birger Pearson argues how Norea and Na’amah are one and the same, writing in one section:
Later mystical Jewish lore has Na’amah in a sexual liaison with the “songs of God” (angels) whose illicit descent to earth is reported in Genesis 6:2…it is said that she went about stark naked, and seduced the angels Aza and Azael.
Norea’s name certainly attests to her role in the various accounts. The name Norea is possibly associated with the Syriac word for “light” or “fire” (nur). It also might be related to the Greek for “beautiful” (oraia).
Norea the Doom of the Archons
In the Reality of the Rulers, as well as other Gnostic texts, the Demiurge and his angels sexually brutalize Eve, an avatar of Sophia, as part of their plan to keep her power trapped in the material world. With the help of Adam and Seth, Eve is able to overcome the cruel slavery of Yaldabaoth and the other Archons.
But it is Norea that is the turning point in the battle of Gnostic versus Ignorance. In her book, The Rape of Eve, Celene Lillie explains the role and importance of Norea in the divine plan of Sophia:
Norea is the virgin, the self-possessed one who, inheriting the experiences and insight of her mother, cannot be defiled and possessed by the rulers. Norea is the one who wields the same fiery breath as Life in Eleleth’s teaching tale—a fiery breath that for Life binds Yaldabaoth. For Norea, this breath is an affirmation of her own life in the face of Noah’s refusal. It is this same fiery breath that causes the rulers to desire her, but it is Norea who, in many ways, binds the rulers in their own world as she embodies the hard-won knowledge of her mother and refuses to play a role in the rulers’ ongoing cycle of violence: Norea binds the rulers as she names and exposes them for who they are. Norea binds them as she says no to their violence, as she says no to her own violation and enslavement. It is Norea who stops the rulers as she, faced with the imminent threat of violence, dares to cry out with her power and ask God for help—Norea, who refuses to be silent, whose “I” is unafraid to ask questions, for she knows there are answers that others need to hear. Norea is the embodiment of her mother’s legacy.
As the spiritual Eve embodies and imbues Adam with the qualities of the divine realm, Norea embodies and imbues the qualities that the divine desires for humanity as a whole. She extends the insight of both the spiritual and material Eves, seeing the rulers for who they are and naming them as such. She refuses to participate in their cycle of violence; she refuses to be their slave—and she breaks the intergenerational violence the rulers attempt to foist upon her. In these ways, Norea refuses humanity’s accommodation to the rulers, whose actions are always ultimately destructive; she refuses to be a part of the enslavement and imprisonment that mark humanity in the world under the rulers and refuses it in the reality of her life as well. She continues to bear the insight of the fruit her parents ate from the tree.
Talk about an awakened being that dispels the darkness.
Norea the Virgin of Light
Returning to the claim of Norea being the most remarkable feminine figure in all religions, one needs only to draw out her characteristics from her mythic narratives:
- She is a savior figure.
- She is a being of complete spirit dwelling in a dimension of matter, a perfect balance of virginal and material-seductive forces.
- She has no male consort.
- She is both an avatar and encompasses the supreme divine feminine.
- She is the herald of ight and the destroyer of spiritual wickedness
When compared to other goddesses, mythological heroines, or even historical woman saints, Norea is arguably unparalleled.
Jewish and Christian polemics attempt to portray her as a wanton demigoddess defying established order; but these must be taken lightly, as they are the traditional calumny leveled against female luminaries (Lilith and Mary Magdalene are two prime examples). Norea only defies the unjust structure of the universe, as her tales indicate. Any passion she uses is for the awakening of humanity’s Divine Spark.
Norea Can Be You
It is unfortunate that no other literature on Norea has survived, up to now. Epiphanius mentions a Sethian scripture simply titled Norea. Gnostic writings speak of The Account of Oraia and The First Book of Noraia (both referring to versions of her name). However, none of these texts have surfaced.
Regardless of Norea’s mention in the annals of religion, the truth is where there is smoke there is fire. Following that smoke leads to the burning wreckage of an ark symbolizing the wrath of angry gods and their wooden religions. In the middle of it all stands Norea, the perennial symbol of the Gnostic ethos: that a small spark of divine fire can ignite holy meaning in the darkness of mere being, hold off the floods of history and mortality—even if just for a while.
Check out this powerful show on the Gnostic goddesses: