The story of Sophia
Sophia is the Gnostic goddess of wisdom. Wearing Victorian dress and moko kauae (Maori chin tattoo) this woman presents a stable centre of self in the presence of both Western tradition and ancient Māori tradition. She is a wahine toa (courageous woman) and her sword is a call to the hero's journey, to become the hero of one's own myth.
"We're not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalises."
- Joseph Campbell
Embracing diverse cultural elements
Her face is from my imagination, based on hundreds of 19th and 20th century black and white photos of Māori as well as my own tupuna (ancestors). She has become something entirely new in the creative process.
I am Swedish, Irish, Māori and English and have lived periods of my life here in Aotearoa as well as overseas in Samoa, Sri Lanka and China.
I find this portrait inspirational in terms of embracing diverse cultural elements with dignity. She has reintegrated the traditions on her own terms, with higher self-knowledge.
Composure in spite of the conflict
This painting presents a challenge to ancestral voices from the past. The goal is to distinguish true guidance from inherited social programming that no longer serves. Conflicting advice, histories, tikanga and rules can sometimes feel like an impossible situation to navigate. And yet within this portrait there is composure and wisdom in her eyes. She doesn't seem overwhelmed but embodies mana wāhine (the divine feminine).
Her Victorian dress is stifling with its tight, buttoned corset. It is impractical with its extra folds of heavy material and yet the form is undeniably beautiful. It creates a gorgeous shape. Equally beautiful is the ornate, golden floral wallpaper design.
Moko Kauae (chin tattoo)
She strikingly wears moko kauae, traditional Māori tattoo carved into her lips and chin, signifying mana and status. The colour of the ink mirrors her pounamu (greenstone) earrings. Tā moko is an indelible, outward sign of an inner, spiritual link to one's roots. This is particularly acute for those who wear moko in the 21st century.
The Hero's Journey
On the Hero's path, Joseph Campbell has this to say:
"Where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the centre of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world."
Her ornately detailed sword is an outward expression of defiance. Yet its true value is its invocation of inner power. The symbols adorning the golden handle point to an inward alchemical journey of consciousness transformation, heightened intuition and wisdom.
Organic curved koru designs at the base of the sword's handle symbolise rebirth, growth and feminine flowing energy.
They lead into sharp triangular patterns on both sides of the handle, which resemble the Egyptian hieroglyph for water. Water and oceans are mysterious places of the deep and can be interpreted as realms of chaos and potentiality.
Energy, unification and balance
Partially in view below her fingers is the Star of David or the Merkabah made of two intersecting triangles. This is the sacred geometric symbol for Metatron's Cube, which, beyond two dimensions is a complex oscillating energy field that can surround and transport beings through dimensions.
Winding upward are the dual Caduceus serpents indicating wisdom, wellness and mastery through the unification of opposites.
They pass by a Christian cross, which is the perfect balance of divine vertical orientation and the horizontal manifested realms.
The dual serpents rise up, like Kundalini energy rising up the spine. In Tantric practices the goal is for this energy to reach the pineal gland situated at the third eye, and activate ultimate creative power and connection with The All, symbolised here as the Flower of Life pattern.
The idea is to face chaos in our own lives voluntarily and through the integration of light and dark within ourselves, transform our awareness to higher levels of creativity and connection.
The Gnostic Myth of Sophia
The goddess Sophia is wisdom. She is the divine feminine and God manifest. God is Source and the Goddess is the emanation or the play of God. In other words, the Goddess is the world. Sophia's story is a parable for the plight of the lost human soul seeking Gnosis, or God-consciousness. Sophia is the soul. Christ is that which enlightens the soul.
In the beginning was pure unmanifest consciousness and it was aware. Gnostics called it All That Is. With neither gender nor form, All That Is emanated pairs of Aeons to play various roles in creation.
Sophia was the original female principal. She found herself separated from Source and grew fearful. She felt exiled, lost in this lesser place. Wandering through the world of matter created by her own fear and confusion, Sophia suffered. She was a "fallen woman" for years beyond counting, longing to return to All That Is.
Eventually, All That Is took pity on her and sent out her other half, so that she might once again see the light. As her paired Aeon and saviour, Christ rescued her from the physical world. He gathered her up into Gnosis (knowledge of the divine) so that she remembered herself.
Living a mortal tale
Sophia's story is our own mortal tale. We seem doomed to wander alone through the world of matter. We don't know where we're going, why we're here or who we are. We're afraid and push ourselves further into matter to escape the aching feeling that we have lost our home.
The Goddess Sophia not only created matter, she lived in it to show us we are not alone in our suffering. Christ, her partner and equal, is Gnosis, who comes if we call.