The Nativity of Our Lady

A Homily for the Descent of the Holy Sophia

by Bishop Steven Marshall

The date that Gnostics celebrate as the Descent of Sophia corresponds to the traditional date for the Birth of Mary in the Church Calendar. Both of these mythic motifs relate to the coming down to earth of the feminine image of the Redeemer. The story of the descent of Sophia is the story of our own fall into matter. The story of the birth of Mary describes the role of the Holy Female Power in our own redemption and liberation. The apocryphal text of the Protevangelion describes the mission of Mary in this light:

“…But being an unparalleled instance without any pollution or defilement, and a Virgin not knowing any man, shall bring forth a son, and a maid shall bring forth the Lord, who both by his grace and name and works, shall be the saviour of the world.”

Here Mary is described as a Virgin-Power and relates to that feminine spirit of the Epinoia who was sent down into Eve and who was not defiled by the archons. This Holy Female Power watches over the Children of the Light and finds its fulfillment in the birth of Mary who is to bear the savior of the world. Whereas Sophia in her initial error, without her consort, gives birth to a flawed Demiurge, so Mary, without knowing any man, gives birth to a saving power that can correct the deficiency. By putting the two stories together in this fashion we can begin to see that Sophia’s fall into matter is a pre-ordained act in the pattern of redemption.

According to the Pistis Sophia, Sophia does everything that she does and suffers all that she suffers by the command of the First Mystery. Much of what happens to her is not her fault or intent; the very act of her leaving the Pleroma comes out of her yearning for the Light of the Father. That she was led downward into the chaos by the false light of the Arrogant One brings about the alchemical condition for her redemption. She becomes the light shining in the darkness. She becomes herself the manifestation of the redeeming mission that is the redemption of all creation. As she suffers and languishes in the darkness and the chaos, her calls for deliverance are the calls of our own souls for redemption. Our own yearning for the light and wholeness of the Pleroma leads us to follow the false light of the lower ego and fall into the chaos of material existence. It is not until we have truly descended into the chaos; it is not until we have bottomed out that we can become conscious of the nature of our own suffering and the divine light that suffers with us in the world. Not until we become conscious of the nature of our suffering in the chaos can we discover the true direction of our yearning for the Light of the Fullness.

The descent of Sophia and her suffering in the chaos represents the existential condition of the human soul in the world. The feelings of fear, frustration, alienation and despair that Sophia experiences when she is trapped in the chaos are certainly not unknown to the Gnostic soul, nor to many in our contemporary society. If we lift up our repentances to the Light, our voice becomes Sophia’s voice and we are redeemed from this condition with her. Sophia is then the redeemed redeemer. Through her prayers to the Light all salvation has come to earth and our redeemer and liberator comes to us.

In Ptolemaeus’ Letter to Flora it is not Sophia herself who gives birth to the Demiurge but her passions: grief, fear and ignorance. These passions become a Pandora-like figure named Achamoth. Achamoth, filled with some of the light-power of Sophia and left in the material chaos, gives birth to the Demiurge. She longs to return to the Pleroma but cannot pass the Limit, that boundary which exists between the spheres of the archons and the fullness of the Pleroma.

In response to the distress of Achamoth, the Alone-Begotten, the First Mystery, engenders a new pair for her redemption: Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Christ brings Achamoth out of the chaos and into the Pleroma, while the Holy Spirit remains on earth to guide and care for all the scattered sparks of Sophia’s light that remained. The fragments of light still trapped in the material world are collectively the anima mundi, the Soul of the World.

The Soul of the World still suffers. She is the anima mundi who cries out for redemption from the cruel and oppressive system in which she is trapped. The Holy Sophia still sorrows for us lonely ones in this world. As stated in the Sequence of Sophia, “I will never fall asleep upon the green grass, while the earth rings with the cries of the exiles.” We can seem to ignore and often even forget the world’s pain until we remember something better, our true and perfect home above the aeons.

We can not go to that perfect home until we find and bring back those sparks of light, our own human souls, which are trapped in the world. We must recover that pearl of consciousness that Sophia sowed in us in the beginning, for only through human consciousness can the redemption of all creation occur.

We, the children of Sophia, are the mediators between heaven and earth. The bodiless powers are really quite helpless in this world without our hands, and we are quite helpless to bring the redeeming light-power that can awaken the slumbering sparks without their divine aid and assistance. Even as the human soul cries out for redemption, so the soul of the world cries out for deliverance, a deliverance that can only occur when all human souls have been awakened and liberated.

The descent of Sophia is the descent of the redeeming power of the Divine Feminine as expressed in three important female images: Eve, the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen. In the Gnostic account of the myth of Genesis, Eve takes on the figure of the first redeemer. In this story, the first human created by the Demiurge has no intelligence or consciousness. He can only crawl around on the ground; he cannot even stand. Sophia, taking pity on this creature, infuses the first human, Adam, with an emanation of her own light-power and spirit which she calls Zoe (Life). The Demiurge is jealous of the light of this spirit-woman. The Demiurge causes a sleep to fall over Adam and, while he sleeps, takes the spirit-woman out of Adam and places her in another image of his own fashioning. This feminine spirit-self of Adam is named Eve. She awakens Adam from his sleep and raises him up. Adam recognizes the light of his own spirit in her and exclaims, “You are the one who gave me life.” (Eve means the “Mother of All Living.”) The archons become jealous of Eve’s light and attempt to rape her, so that her offspring might come under their dominion. When they forcibly take her, she secretly enters into a tree and leaves only a material replica behind. The archons cast their seed upon and defile only their own creation. Eve’s true spiritual self remains undefiled and virgin. She is an image of the virgin whom no power (archon) defiled. Through Eve a portion of the light-power of Sophia descends as the seed of light in the divine race of humanity. She becomes the source of that essential spark of the divine light which is the redeeming power within each of us.

Another image of the descent of Sophia is the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The Gospel of Philip refers to her as “the virgin whom no power (archon) defiled, who is anathema to the Hebrews, the apostles, and ignorant men.” This enigmatic description refers the Virgin Mary back to the figure of Eve and the descent of the Woman Spirit who gave life and intelligence to Adam. The Church has had a long tradition of Mary as the second Eve, and Christ as the second Adam, yet the Gnostics put an unusual twist to the story. The Hebrews do not simply refer to those descended from the cultural heritage of the Jews but to the “psychic” Christians who upheld the conventional teachings and laws of Judaism and Christianity, and failed to see the spiritual and redeeming role of the feminine. Eve is anathema to ignorant men, because of the conventional view of Eve as the origin and cause of the Curse and the Fall. The Gnostics, however, see the figure of Eve as the original embodiment of the redemptive feminine power, which is carried in the seed of light among the race of humanity and brought unto its later fulfillment in the image of the Virgin Mary.

A third image of the descent of Sophia is Mary Magdalen, the consort of Christ. The church has had a long tradition of identifying Mary Magdalen with the harlot who anoints the feet of Jesus with myrrh oil and her tears. Not only is one of the titles of Sophia “Prunikos” (harlot) but in the Simonian gnosis the Holy Spirit is also incarnated in a harlot named Helen. In the Simonian myth, Simon finds Helen in a brothel, recognizes her as the embodiment of the Epinoia, takes her as his consort and restores to her the memory of her divine estate. Even so, Mary Magdalen is depicted as the image of the harlot given to men that do not recognize her, yet who is eventually redeemed through her love of her consort, the Christ. So too, the divine soul of humanity is given to material powers and forgets her divine nature, awaiting the Savior who can come and restore her memory.

The Gospel of Philip describes Mary Magdalen as a reflexive image of the Virgin Mary, the spiritual and physical aspects of virginity being counterchanged between them. “The Sophia whom they call the barren is the Mother of the Angels and the consort of Christ is Mary Magdalen.” The Virgin Mary knows no man physically and yet gives birth as a physical mother. Mary Magdalen knows many men physically, is barren physically, and yet has given birth to spiritual children as the Mother of the Angels. By this description Mary Magdalen refers to that aspect of Sophia, the consort of the Christos, who emanates the light-power that becomes the sparks of light, the angelic light-seeds that come to rest in the Children of the Light.

In these three images of the descent of Sophia, we find a continuity of the manifestation of the Holy Female Power from illo tempore (outside of time) to the present day. The manifestation of Sophia in the world is the connecting principle between the feminine figures of redemption from the generation of Eve and the nativity of Our Lady to the love of Mary Magdalen. In this way, Sophia is present in all the relationships of the feminine to the Redeemer Christ. Even so, these three images describe our relationship to the Redeemer as well. As stated in the Gospel of Philip, “For Mary was his mother and his sister and his consort.”

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

Rising into the Light

A Homily for The Assumption of Sophia

by Bishop Steven Marshall

August 15th is the traditional date for the feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and the Dormition of Mary in the Orthodox Church. The feast commemorates the assumption of Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It was not until the year 1950 that the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church, yet her feast goes back to the middle ages. According to C.G. Jung the proclamation by the Pope was accompanied by visionary revelations of the Blessed Virgin to himself and others. This suggests that the image of the Assumption of Mary relates to a phenomenon of the archetypal feminine in successive experiences of a revelatory nature. The story of the Ascension of Sophia, originating in the fourth century, predates the Feast of the Assumption by many centuries, and yet its imagery seems to be the archetype upon which later revelations about Mary are patterned. For this reason, it seems apt as Gnostics, to celebrate the Ascension of Sophia, on the Sunday nearest the feast day of the Assumption. The story of Sophia in many ways prefigures the Marian myth that has grown throughout the history of Western civilization. Her image is the archetypal mystery that is closest to us in our terrestrial existence.

The story of Sophia is the story of our own soul. Her ascent follows her descent, but like our own journey, it is not an easy climb. The descent is like a lightning flash, but the ascent is a slow and winding path, like that of the Serpent of Wisdom on the Tree of Life. The Logos does not reach down and immediately pull Sophia out of the chaos of the lower worlds. Her assumption back into the Pleroma is a gradual and incremental process. The Redeemer raises her just a little at the first. She is aware that things are better, that her tormenters, the archons are farther from her, but she does not know who her helper is, nor can she see him. Eventually, after several incremental steps out of the chaos of matter, the Helper is revealed to her. She sees the Logos revealed in all his dazzling glory. At first she feels ashamed and covers herself with a veil, but when she sees the virile emanations of his light-power, she can hold back no longer and rushes to his embrace. In their ecstatic reunion, a fountain of light-sparks pours forth between them, which showers the world with its redemptive seed to empower all of the exiled light of Sophia to return to the Height. With their reunion so consummated in the bridechamber of light he brings her finally into the Height and back to her aeon in the Pleroma.

Sophia is named Pistis Sophia or Faithful Sophia. She was never defiled by the archons, she remained a virgin-power, because she kept faith in the Light; she remained faithful. Though she was betrayed by the false Light of the Chief Archon, the Arrogant One, she never lost her longing for the Light of the Father, the Alone-Begotten, the First Mystery.

So there exists within us a divine spark, a beautiful pearl, unsullied, undefiled by the world and the chaos of matter. This is the priceless pearl, the light of the Gnosis for which we strive, and which in itself is the source of our own longing for the Light of the Pleroma. Though we can effectively approach these mysteries psychologically, Sophia is not just a “head trip.” Neither is our own divine Self a psychological head trip. The things of archetypal, spiritual reality are as real if not more real and more lasting than our physical sensate reality. The Gnosis is a knowing of the heart, not a knowing of the senses. Though sensate experience can be a valuable avenue to Gnosis, the aim and direction of the experience must be on something transcendent and outside of this world. Gnosis requires an experience of the archetypal bedrock of reality, which can not simply be taught in a workshop, lecture hall or classroom. It is a long and winding road to Gnosis.

Many maps of the journey have been left by those who have been “there and back again,” as the original title of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit describes. The story of Sophia is one of those maps. It shows how we got here and how we can return to the Fullness of the Pleroma. Certainly, we can make up our own maps, very beautiful, politically correct, wonderfully creative, but if those making the map do not clearly remember the way, these made up maps are not going to get us back to the Light. Other naive approaches include simply picking the parts of the map we like, or picking a piece from this map of one terrain and another from that of another terrain, either of which appreoaches must ultimately fail to get us to the sought for destination. This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves to following only one spiritual path and symbol system; the more maps we can use, the more terrain we can know and experience in finding our way out of the chaos. But, if a map is to be useful on the journey of the soul, it must be from one who truly knows the way, and it must be maintained in the integrity of the one who made it.

The map must describe the journey from where we are; it must include both our starting point, the goal and the way between them. Like a treasure map that says take so many paces this direction and so many paces another direction, it only works if we start from the right place. But we need more than a map. If that was all that was needed we could more easily blaze our own trails back to the Light. We require also a spiritual energy, a light-power, to be able to see the path ahead and follow the markers along the way. The world in which we live is a dark place, unless we have a spiritual light to illumine it for us. If we can not even see the spiritual reality of ourselves or those closest to us, how can we possibly see our way back to the Light. We can but stumble about in the darkness following the voices of attachment and despair.

We lack sufficient light-power to see who we are and a mirror by which we can see our Self reflected. This is why the Logos says in the Acts of John, “I am a lamp to thee who seest me. I am a mirror to thee who understandest me.” As put forth in the writings of Mani, the Savior comes not only at the right time but at the right place as well. The Messenger of Light, the Savior, comes to us at the place where our journey back to the Light begins. Our ascent begins where our descent ends, at the very bottom, in the furthest depths of the chaos.

The Logos does not bring Sophia out of the chaos by immediately grasping her back into the Pleroma but by restoring her light-power little by little, by revealing to her who she is. So it is in our own souls; the Messenger of Light comes to give us the light to see who we are as spiritual beings, and being akin to that Light, we mystically and simultaneously know both the beginning and end of our spiritual journey within our very Self.

The Christ is the alchemical stone and the Self, the true, constellating center of the psyche, a real, unique and yet universal being, which both surrounds and penetrates us from the very core of our own being. Like Sophia we are mostly and usually unaware of our divine helper. As we become aware of this presence, this mysterious other, we must acknowledge that it is not simply a state of consciousness that the ego may eventually evolve to; we recognize that the ego personality can serve to mediate our true center in the outer world, but it cannot accomplish the redemptive soul-making work of the Self, the Christ within. The ego cannot by itself lift us out of the chaos; it cannot save itself from its own condition—something outside of the ego is required.

The error of the ego is ignorance of any power above it. This also is the error of the Demiurge in the story of Sophia. The demiurge forgets his Mother Sophia who engendered him, when he arrogantly proclaims, “There are no gods before me.” The supernal Sophia then calls from the height to remind him, “You lie, Samael (blind god), there is the Man and there is the Son of Man.” In the same fashion, the demiurgic arrogance of the ego considers itself to be the sole power in the psyche, unneeding of redemption or sufficient to the task itself, whether alone or in a group of other egos all attempting to lift themselves by their own bootstraps and remaining in the chaos together. Christ consciousness is the conscious expression of a real being, the true royal Selfhood, which includes and transcends the ego personality. It does not displace or take over the ego personality but has access to the totality of the psyche, with knowledge, experience, understanding and compassion that is far beyond what the ego alone can possibly know.

By her descent Sophia gives birth to the Demiurge, who like the ego personality, can take command of life in the material world but is incomplete and deficient. The entire story of the descent and ascent of Sophia represents the great scheme for correcting this deficiency both in ourselves and in the world.

In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, Sophia is called “the Mother of fair love, and of patience and perseverance, and of holy hope.” We must persevere in the work of redemption, the particular task to which we are called, not in response to our ego needs for recognition and greatness but in response to the call of the Holy Spirit who has remained here on earth to give us guidance and spiritual nurturance. We must have the patience to wait for our time to act. We must have holy hope to remember the treasures of the spirit, the Treasury of the Light to which we aspire.

As in the story of Sophia, the Helper comes at the place in our descent where we can acknowledge our powerlessness and regain our remembrance of our Mother Sophia and our faithfulness to the Light. We can not acknowledge our need for redemption until we remember the Light, until we remember who we are and indeed why we descended, the answer to which can only be found in its origin in the Light. And so the Sophia, as our own soul in the chaos of matter, cries, “O Light have mercy upon me, for there is no virtue in the cup of forgetfulness.” In the heart of the Gnostic, this cry brings forth tears of both sorrow and joy, for they are tears of love and tears of beauty—Sorrow for our condition of alienation in the chaos of the world and joy in our discovery of our long forgotten and true spiritual friend whose beaming radiance reminds us of the Place of Light in which we may be united once again.

One of the values of the story of the Ascent of Sophia, is the portrayal of the Logos as a Hero figure, as Liberator and Lover. The Savior comes to Sophia as the Hero to rescue the damsel in distress, yet he does not pick her up and carry her up; he gives her light-power to rise above the chaos, to become more conscious of who she is in her own power. Her response is gratefulness, greater faith in the Light, and love. Like Sophia, all of our souls are damsels in distress, suffering the distress of the soul not knowing who she is and like Sophia beseiged by material powers. Until our response to receiving that light is an increase in gratefulness, faithfulness, and love, the Liberator and Lover is not revealed to us.

In the Biblical stories and the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, the Christ rescues Mary Magdalen in much the same fashion as in the Ascent of Sophia. Jesus rescues her from ignorance by showing her who she is. By her redemption the Magdalen, like Sophia, becomes the one who redeems. She recognizes in herself the feminine image of hero and savior as she treads down the dragon-faced power and awakens to the love of the Logos. “The Lord loved her more than all the other disciples and kissed her on her mouth often.” (Gospel of Philip) The image of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalen is an image of the spiritual reality of the redemptive process. Mary Magdalen, Sophia and the Divine Soul within us all recognize that the bridechamber is not complete without herself.

Sophia is the feminine image of the Redeemer because she is the completion of her Redeemer, the Christ. We require a saving power, a Hero-Liberator-Lover and a Sophia, both of which have been denied us in mainstream Christianity. The Christ of mainstream Christianity is often either a suffering victim, a wrathful judge or a namby-pamby Jesus who could not possibly be a hero figure to anyone. The image of the Hero-Christ requires a Sophia.

The story of Sophia is not just a philosophical conundrum or a moral tale. Sophia is the bringing back of the feminine image of the redeemed redeemer, which restores the hero in all of us. We all have within us, regardless of our gender, the potential to be noble knights in service to Our Lady Sophia; we are all, male or female, prepared as a bride to receive the Bridegroom, our true royal Selfhood, the Christ within.

As described so beautifully in a prayer attributed to Valentinus:

“Prepare yourself as a bride receiving her bridegroom, that you may be what I am, and I what you are. Consecrate in your bridechamber the seed of light. Take from me the bridegroom, and receive him and be received by him. Behold Grace has come upon you.”

So may the grace of the one who is full of grace dwell with us and lead us into the Light, that we may find the redeeming power of Sophia within us, where we might put her on as a “robe of honor” and put her about us as a “crown of joy.”

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.

The Mystery of Divine Love

A Homily for the Day of Holy Valentinus

by Bishop Steven Marshall

February 14th has been a holiday associated with love and lovers, since ancient Roman and Pre-Christian times. The Roman festival of Lupercalia, a spring festival celebrating sexual and romantic love, coincided with this date. Ancient Romans believed that the springtime mating of birds occurred on this date as well.

The naming of this holiday after a St. Valentine seems to be a case where the Catholic Church of Rome attempted to find a saint’s feast day to substitute for a popular pre-existing holiday. In fact, there were three saints who could be associated with the theme of love, all three of them named Valentine.

It is thus only fitting that we, as Gnostics, should pick our own Valentinus as the saint for whom this feast day is dedicated. In studying the Valentinian tradition of Gnosticism, particularly in that of his disciples in Ptolemaeus’ Letter to Flora and the Gospel of Philip, we find that this is more than a mere coincidence of the name, but that the Valentinian literature is filled with the imagery and metaphor of spiritual love and the Gnostic sacrament of the Bridal Chamber and marriage.

“Indeed marriage in the world is a mystery for those who have taken a wife. If there is a hidden quality to the marriage of the world, how much more is the undefiled marriage a true mystery! It is not fleshly but pure. It belongs not to desire but to will. It belongs not to the darkness or the night but to the day and the light.” (The Gospel of Philip)

The teachings of Valentinus do not advocate celibacy or sexual abstinence, but point us to something more, a mystery that is wholly other, something transcendent and hidden, something which can be missed if we do not penetrate beyond, behind, and beneath the surface of the physical, psychological and social manifestations of sexual union. In my experience, the usefulness of an extended period of sexual abstinence is that it may be the means by which some people come to the insight that beyond, behind and beneath the desire for sexual satisfaction is a love-impassioned will and longing for a spiritual wholeness that no amount of purely physical sex can fill. Once this insight is realized, sexual abstinence no longer serves any real spiritual purpose; one can see the purely physical nature of sex for what it is, and know that it is simply not what it has been cracked up to be; it is an imitation and counterfeit of the real union. After this realization, abstinence may serve egotistical, neurotic, moralistic or social purposes, but it no longer serves a spiritual purpose. One is then liberated to make the choice of settling for the lesser or seeking the greater without the attachments, suffering, resentments or disappointments that so often fill up our sexual lives.

The Valentinians did not deny the physical dimension of love in the world but sought something greater, something that could truly bring wholeness, that could fulfill the desiring of the longing heart for that which truly fills the emptiness of the soul and heals the fragmention and separation of the human condition. They symbolized this consummation of wholeness, of the union of the human and the divine, in the image of marriage and the rite of the Bridal Chamber. “Those who are separated will be united and will be filled. Every one who will enter the bridal chamber will kindle the light, for it burns just as the marriages which are observed at night. That fire burns only at night and is put out. But the mysteries of this marriage are perfected rather in the day and the light.” (The Gospel of Philip)

The hidden spiritual dimension behind the mystery of marriage has been a favorite inspiration of Christian mystics as well. Indeed, Jung quotes St. Augustine of Hippo where in one of his most mystical writings he describes the cross as a marriage-bed, and Christ as a bridegroom consummating his nuptials.

“Like a bridegroom Christ went forth from his chamber, he went out with a presage of his nuptials into the field of the world…He came to the marriage-bed of the cross, and there in mounting it, he consummated his marriage. And when he perceived the sighs of the creature, he lovingly gave himself up to the torment in place of his bride, and joined himself to the matrona forever.”

The cross is a particularly apt symbol for the divine marriage. Indeed, there are more references to the cross as a holy symbol in the Gnostic literature, a symbol of transcendence and union, than exists in the entire canon of the Bible. The horizontal bar of the cross represents the pairs of opposites in the world, the marriage in the world. The vertical bar of the cross represents the union of the below with the above, the celestial or heavenly marriage of the Gnostic bridechamber. We must perfect the vertical union, before the horizontal union can be truly realized. Through union of the above and the below, the outer and the inner, we can become united with all living souls. As expressed so beautifully in one of our occasional collects, “…until we awaken to our true estate in Thee, and living in unity and concord attain to Thy Gnosis in which there is no division or separateness, but only unity with Thee and through Thee with all other souls.” A person in certain exalted states of consciousness may report spiritual experiences shared in union others who have no knowledge or memory of sharing those experiences, yet, in these exalted states on the vertical bar of the cross, the sense of spiritual union with others on the horizontal plane of being cannot be denied.

Though the Valentinian Gnostics seem to have disappeared after the Fourth century, the spirit of transcendent love in the poetry and message of St. Valentinus has never really died. Joseph Campbell has theorized that the spiritual marriage of the Valentinians may have survived in some form in the Valentine Clubs of Southern France described by him from John Rutherford’s The Toubadours. On the 14th of February the members of the select society would process in two rows, male and female, on horseback, led by four officials representing Cupid, Mercy, Loyalty and Chastity. The procession stopped at the Hotel de Ville where Love was worshipped in a parody of the Mass. After the Mass a silver casket was brought out that contained slips of paper with the name of each of the assembled gentlemen written on them. Each Lady would pick a name and Cupid would read out the names of the couples thus chosen. Each gentlemen was to remain faithful to the lady chosen for him during the entire year, to keep her supplied with flowers, poetry, and gifts, to escort her wherever she wished to go, and to do knightly deeds in her honor. The pair were strictly forbidden to marry.

The ritual celebration of the Valentine Society describes a strictly spiritual marriage after the ideals of courtly love. This celebration of Love in a Mass and the mythological characters portrayed indicate the recognition that the true essence of romantic love is not in the traditional marriage of conventional society but in a relationship which transcends the world and enters the realm of myth, poetic imagery, and the symbolic life of the spirit. The ritual of the Valentine Societies of medieval France, as in the mysteries celebrated by the Valentinian Gnostics, and our own sacramental mysteries has as one of its fundamental purposes that of providing a symbolic enactment upon which the powerful archetypal energies of wholeness within us can be projected and brought into consciousness.

The archetype of romantic love is one of the most powerful of those energies. It unconsciously pervades our entire culture — ninety percent of our popular movies, art, music, and literature revolve around this theme; yet most are blind, like the blind-folded figure of Cupid in the Tarot card of the Lovers, to the spiritual root of this archetype and continue to confuse the mythic image of romantic love with the worldly goals of marrying and raising a family. When this archetype is not allowed expression in ritual or some other symbolic, transcendental context, then it erupts in our human relationships. We go about seeking the perfect anima or animus in the perfect woman or perfect man; we hope to find the Holy Grail in worldly relationships. St. Valentinus, like the Gnostics before him realized that the perfect marriage was not to be found in the world but in the spirit. Yet this spiritual and divine union must be found while in this embodied existence. As stated in the Gospel of Philip: “If anyone becomes a son of the bridal chamber he will receive the light. If anyone does not receive it while he is in this world, he will not receive it in the other place.”

The symbols and rituals of our Valentinian forebears provide an effective vehicle for bringing the archetype of the romantic, spiritual love of the Bridal Chamber into conscious recognition and memory. What begins as a faint wisp of nostalgic memory becomes an opening to the effulgent light that embraces and pervades the entire universe. In the Gnostic myth we have the image of the Savior as a romantic love figure with Mary Magdalen as his consort, who is described as the Virgin who yet has many husbands and the barren one who is the mother of the angels. This enigmatic description can only have meaning in a spiritual sense. When we attempt to apply it to our conventional image of human sexual relationships, our vision of it becomes like the marriages that are observed at night, we cannot see the spiritual dimension of what is being described poetically and mystically, because we cannot get through to the transcendent level in which the romance of perfect love is a reality.

The proper sphere for the archetypal energy of romantic love is in the spiritual and symbolic dimension of one’s life. When we fall in love with Love, as an eternal archetype of our spiritual wholeness, the presence of that mysterious other, the spiritual helper and true lover of our inmost being becomes realized and recognized. Unlike our experiences of secular relationships, this one never fails us. The archetype of romantic love no longer overwhelms and controls us unconsciously, we need no longer resent the spoiled ties of our secular marriages and we can approach those relationships in a more loving, caring and conscious fashion, as we no longer unconsciously expect from them the wholeness which they cannot provide.

One of the problems with traditional Roman Catholicism is the institutionalization of the spiritual marriage as a replacement for human sexual relationships. The fulfillment of the spiritual marriage does not replace the need for physical and emotional comforting from other human beings. The spiritual marriage frees us from the unconscious possession by the archetype of romantic love, so that we can approach physical relations in a more conscious fashion. We must neither confuse the longing for the perfection of romantic love with sexual desire nor attempt to quell sexual desire with the institutionalization of spiritual relationships. The spiritual marriage is something wholly other; it comes from an alternative worldview categorically different from the conventions of both society and the flesh; it transcends the world.

This transcendence of the world and the falling in love with Love is expressed nowhere more simply and beautifully than in the short prayer of St. Francis, who also in his spiritual life followed the myth of the virgin knight of the grail romances and the romantic love sung by the troubadors:

“May the power of your love, O Lord, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart of all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, you who were so merciful as to die for love of my love.”

We find in this prayer and in the mythic stories of romance a willingness of the lover to die for the beloved. The subtle connection between love and death runs like a thread through all of the literature of romance. In the world of suffering, the round of birth and death is fueled by physical attraction and worldly marriage; in the realm of the spiritual marriage a love transcendent to wordly things kindles a fire that never goes out. In a spiritual expression the connection between love and death becomes that of transcendence; it is translated into the sphere of poetry and the realm of the archetypal powers of eternity, beyond the wheel of death and birth. The dying for love becomes a symbol for the spiritual rebirth that transcends physical death and suffering.

One of the symbols of Valentine’s Day that has always struck me as holding some symbolic and hidden mystery is that of the heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. It reminds me of the heart of Jesus pierced by the lance of Longinus and the heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Yet these religious images transcend history, and point to a mystery of redemption that transcends the physical death described by these images even as the arrow pierced heart signifies the piercing by Love’s shaft, instead of a physical slaying. This mystery of redemption to which St. Valentinus’ description of the Bride Chamber points us is that expressed in the Gospel of Truth:

“This is why Jesus appeared: he opened the Book of Gnosis. He was nailed to a tree, he fastened the testamentary disposition from the Father to the Cross. O such magnanimity, such that he draws himself downward to death while eternal life encloses him. Having divested himself of these perishable rags he clothed himself with the imperishability which none has the power to take from him.”

The contrasting of the perishable with the imperishable in the above quoted passage from the Gospel of Truth is essential to the Valentinian worldview and mythic context necessary for understanding the Gnostic mystery of the Bridal Chamber. The message of Valentinus in the Gospel of Philip is almost throughout a point by point contrasting of the marriage in the world with the spiritual marriage of the Bridal Chamber. In this fashion he contrasts the conventional world view with an alternative spiritual view of the world. He describes the terrestrial marriage as an imitation of the Bride Chamber of the Light. Indeed, he even describes the whole of the material universe with its seemingly endless cycles of birth and death, of decay and growth, as a mere imitation of the eternity and timelessness of the alternative spiritual vision of reality.

“When the Demiurge, the god of those who know not the true God further wanted to imitate also the boundless, eternal, infinite and timeless nature of the original eight Aeons of the fullness, but could not express their immutable eternity, being as he was a fruit of the defect, he embodied their eternity in times, epochs and great numbers of years, under the delusion that by the quantity of times he could represent their infinity. Thus truth escaped him and he followed a lie. Therefore his work shall pass away when the times are fulfilled.”

The timeless marriage is the true one, the other is an imitation, a counterfeit of the true. We can stay trapped in that imitation of love that keeps us chained to the wheel of death and birth, or we can seek the liberating vision of Gnosis that St. Valentinus expressed in his teachings and the writings of his disciples. We can know the love that transcends the death in this world and gives rebirth in the spirit. Again, the Valentinian message contained in the Gospel of Philip describes this relationship between the Resurrection (the spiritual rebirth), the Bridal Chamber, and the overcoming of death by a spiritual union.

“If the woman had not separated from the man, she would not die with the man. His separation became the beginning of death. Because of this Christ came to repair the separation which was from the beginning and again unite the two, and give life to those who died as result of the separation and unite them. But the woman is united to her husband in the bridal chamber. Indeed those who have united in the bridal chamber will no longer be separated.”

When we see through the imitation to the real, when we transcend the world to enter the eternal, instead of a wheel upon which we are chained like Ixion, we can receive another symbol, the symbol of the marriage ring whose circle is a symbol of the eternal and timeless, that signifies the love that transcends death and birth in the world, that brings us into the Bride Chamber of the Light where the two are made one and no longer will be separated, where we will no longer be separated by death or by birth in the world, where we can dwell in union and wholeness even while we dwell in the world. Such is the message of the mystery of divine love given us by the holy Saint Valentinus of Rome. As stated in the Gospel of Philip:

“He who has received that light will not be seen, nor can he be detained; and none shall be able to torment one of this kind even if he dwell in the world. And again when he goes out of the world he has already received the truth in images. The world has become the aeon. For the aeon is for him the pleroma and it is in this manner; it is revealed to him alone, not hidden in the darkness and the night but hidden in a perfect day and a holy light.”

Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.