XXI – St. Sophia – The World

This is the final card, I’ve done all seventy-eight over the last three years, and I have learned so much.

Sophia relates to the Shekinah in Judaism and I first came across her in The Grail Tarot in that respect. She is like the divine feminine, sometimes referred to as the Bride of God, or his virgin spirit. She is a feminine aspect of God or a divine presence of the feminine aspect. It is like God dwelling or inhabiting the tabernacle or temple, like the spirit of God comes down to settle like a bird; her presence makes God more perceivable.

Perhaps before Christianity placed such an emphasis on Mary or the holy spirit, people needed that balance? In Christianity, the holy spirit is a parallel to the indwelling of God like the Shekinah. It reminds me of the avatars in the Hindu pantheon.

My other reference for Sophia is of course that magnificent church in Istanbul called the Hagia Sophia. I was first introduced to that by dear Kenneth Clark in his Civilisation series and later by John Romer in his Testament series. It was originally an Eastern Orthodox Christian church, the cathedral of ancient Constantinople, taken over by Muslims for hundreds of years, and it is now a museum so that we don’t have to fight and murder each other over it. The hushed reverence of Islam and Christianity surrounds the building.The beautiful Islamic calligraphy, raised on huge disks within the church is very haunting juxtaposed amid the Christian symbolism and mosaics. It is an unbelievably sacred place.

The Hagia Sophia was often called the Holy Wisdom church, and mystical thinking twists again into the idea of the divine logos that Robert Place often speaks of with reference to Gnosticism. Logos means “wisdom” in Greek, most commonly translated as “word,” and Jesus became logos in the flesh. Or to put it another way, Jesus is the incarnation of the word of God, or the incarnation of the divine logos that formed the Universe, a much more mysterious concept. And yes, we have years and years of disagreement on what logos is and what was really meant by it and translators and theologists wrangling over meaning. Robert Place is concentrating on Gnosticism, so we have Jesus as the literal incarnation of the word of God.

And Sophia is like a facet of that, another avatar of that. I borrow that phrase from Hinduism because it’s very apt. Avatar is a Sanskrit word meaning “descent,” as in the descent from heaven to earth of a deity. So it’s an appearance or manifestation of God, like Jesus, like Sophia.

I’m sure fundamentalists would rail against this terrible idea, but it has a long history in Christian doctrine and particularly the Eastern church and Judaism. I was interested to read that Hildegard von Bingen depicted Sophia in her artwork.

This is an old, old idea, and goes back to the very basis of Saints it seems to me: intercession or an intermediary to God. Humans do not feel safe in the terrible presence of God so he sends intermediaries, avatars, emanations, a more comfortable aspect of his divine presence for us.

In legend she is the mother of Faith, Hope and Charity, hence the symbols on the card at the bottom. She is sometimes referred to as the mother of all angels, which might explain her wings in Bingen’s illumination and her depiction as the Temperance angel in the Golden Tarot of the Tsar. In the corners of the card are the symbols of the four evangelists. These are often also associated with the four directions, the four elements, and the Four Cardinal Virtues of the Church. So, the three plus the four equals seven rungs of the ladder to the One in Place’s symbolism. Isn’t that interesting? He’s done it again, lovely, lovely artwork illustrating a very deep concept.

This is how Sophia is viewed across many belief systems: truly a concept belonging to The World. She does not yell or cause people to be killed with divine wrath, she settles down like a bird. The ultimate gnosis or enlightenment as Place says, oneness with God.