Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Creation

Many Christians in America believe that everything in the universe was created in six calendar days of twenty-four hours each. There is also a group within this group (and maybe outside this group, I don't know) who believe that the Earth (and by extension, the universe) is only 6,000 years old. That's six-thousand years of 365.25 days each, with each day being only 24 hours in length. For a deity who is infinite in every sense of the word, this has been a blink for Him. Existential questions aside, it doesn't stand up to the fossil record very well, or the presence of modern homo sapiens thousands of years before the Earth was supposedly created.

This belief structure speaks of a certain level of arrogance on the part of its adherents. Be they Young-Earth Creationists, or just regular Literal Creationists, this arrogance stems from the logical end result of Sola Scriptura. What is this arrogance? It is the arrogance that an infinite God would not only create an entire universe within a specified period, but that He would also test the creation he put there by going the extra mile and creating millions of years' worth of fossils, and natural physical processes that require millions of years, give humanity the rationalism and intelligence to decode these things, and then expect us to believe that all of it is a lie. The Gnostics had a term for a deity that behaved this way. They called Him the Demiurge.

At this point I must insist that I do not adhere to the Gnostic idea of the Demiurge. I do not view the Old Testament God as some demonic, corrupt, jealous creature. My point is that the God envisioned by these Creationists embodies the qualities of the Demiurge. This image of God violates the God described in the Gospels. This was one reason why the Gnostics viewed the Old Testament God and the New Testament God as different beings. This worked for their worldview and comprehension of God, but for Evangelical Christianity wherein there is only the one God, it is problematic.

How, then, should a Collyridian interpret Creation? Well, I earlier blogged about the Annunciation and the idea that the Indwelling of Mary's divinity began at that moment, and the Trinitarian God and Sophiatic Goddess were reunited in the person of Mary for the gestation of the Christ. This idea stems from a particular passage in Genesis wherein God is described in the plural (Elohim, El Elohim) and a story that I call God in a Box (if anyone knows where this story originates, please let me know. I don't want to plagiarize). The story goes like this:

Imagine a hypothetical hyper-cube. A multi-dimensional box without limitation in time or space. All that has ever been, is now, and ever will be exists within this box at this very moment and in every moment. Now, imagine that the sum totality of all of creation is expressed as a solitary, uniform expression. This is God, but not just the Trinitarian God or Mary, this is the Unified God. Let's imagine this uniform expression of everything is represented by light. It fills the box. It is everywhere and every-when. But, because there is only light, this light cannot be understood as light. It just is. At some indeterminate point, this light became self aware. How? It receded a part of itself and created darkness. This is principally an allegory, but at this moment, the Unified God was not unified. God and Goddess were separated, and through further separation, and further distancing from the unified whole, all of material creation came into being. Because light and dark differentiated each other in different ways, and all material creation is defined because of the interplay of light and shadow, when man was created and imbued with intelligence, we were made "in our image". We have the qualities of both. As Our Lady of Guadalupe is wreathed in the sun, so is the light associated with the Goddess. Because God (darkness) can only exist so long as there is a lack of light, Collyridian cosmology accepts that the Goddess withdrew from this metaphorical box and existed beyond it. So it was the task of God to instruct man and teach him to utilize his intelligence responsibly. And this is where the biblical story of creation comes from, and why God became jealous; He believed Himself to be the only deity in existence, the only deity worthy of worship. This is why the book of Jeremiah condemns the offering of sacrifice to the Goddess. And upon the Indwelling, the Goddess re-entered the metaphorical box. She was reunited with her Consort. Wisdom was returned to the Masculine Divine. This is why the message of Christ and the message of the New Testament God is love instead of wrath. Patience instead of jealousy. The schism between God and Goddess was reunited in Christ and Mary.

Now, it is the goal of all of creation to recede back to its primal state when the box was filled solely with light and nothing else. All of our collective experiences, our consciousness, our love and life will be unified with the light, and it really doesn't matter if God created the universe in six days or six eons.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Ave Maria

I closed my last entry with the Ave Maria. It's my favorite Marian prayer, aside from the Salve Regina, and I find myself saying it every day. Often, I say it multiple times a day. I would like to do with it what I did to the Annunciation: break it down according to Collyridian theology.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee."
This is the salutation given by Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation. Summation of this also summarizes my last post, which should be directly below or here if it's not. Anyway, the summation is this: Mary is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, marking the indwelling of the goddess and making Mary Her avatar. "The Lord is with thee" is marking the unification of the female and male aspects of the divine. Mary is the divine incarnate, ready to carry the avatar of God.

Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
"Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus."
She is the most blessed of women, being the vessel through which the Christ will be born and the vessel for the indwelling of the feminine spirit. The fruit of her womb, Christ, is also blessed, filled with the same grace as she. She is, ultimately, the vessel of grace. For this, she is most-favored.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in ora mortis nostrae.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death."
I am going to relate a story that was told to me by a Carmelite nun that sums up this part of the prayer.
During the Inquisition in Spain, a very honest prince that was lax in his faith went to Confession prior to the Easter celebration. While there, he informed the priest that he did not understand the point of Confession if God could see the hearts of men and know when man was sorry. The priest told him to pray but one Ave Maria, piously and sincerely to show that his heart truly was repentant. The prince went home and hurriedly prayed a rosary and went about his business. While out, he tripped on a stone in the road and was crushed under a wagon wheel. He saw instantly the divine light of heaven, and standing next to a golden scale was a weeping woman. He realized she was the Blessed Virgin, and he cried out to her, but she continued weeping. He saw on the scales a mountain of his sins weighed against nothing but broken beads and rotting string. The prince begged for forgiveness, only to find himself being woken up by a physician. The physician said that the prince did not have much time. He asked for a rosary, and brought his friends into his chambers. As he lay dying, he prayed the rosary over and over again, asking his friends to pray with him. As he died, he instructed his friends and subjects to pray the rosary daily. He closed his eyes one last time, and passed away. The prince found himself standing before the scales again, but the Virgin was no longer weeping. She looked directly into the divine light, then to the scales heavily weighted with the mountain of the prince's sins. And then the Virgin produced every rosary he had prayed, every rosary his friends had prayed, and every rosary that would ever be prayed due to his pious and inspirational devotion. The beads were solid and the rope was strong, and there was no amount of sin that could outweigh the weight of those rosaries being laid down on the scales. The prince felt the weight of his sin lift from his shoulders, and he entered the heavenly realm to be reunited with God.

This story is ostensibly Catholic, and a Catholic will interpret this simply as the intercession of Mary for which we pray when we recite this prayer. But it is more. It illustrates more fully that ongoing and continual grace pours forth from Mary's heart. She is not only the intercessory mother we run to in times of trouble, she is the original vessel through which grace poured, and she continues to pour out her grace on her devotees. This is the role of the Divine Mother--she is the Advocate, the Clementine, the Blessed Virgin to whom we run and from whom we receive comfort and confidence. Ave Maria, ora pro nobis.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Collyridian Meaning of the Annunciation

The Annunciation is found in Luke 1:26-38 and details the appearance of Gabriel to the Virgin Mary announcing the conception of the Christ. The resultant feast day is held on March 25, near the Vernal Equinox, nine months before Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ. For Collyridians, this event should be understood as something very momentous. It is the same moment that Mary's divinity was assured and the indwelling of Mary would have begun.

Before we break this down, it is important to understand two things: 1. in the Gnostic tradition and in my own personal theology, Mary-as-Goddess is the subsequent identification of the Goddess who existed before time and before the God of the Old Testament, and 2. the Greek word for "Holy Spirit" pneumia is feminine. These two things will be important soon. Read on.

Gabriel descends and announces to Mary: "Hail, highly favored one, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are you among women." This is the source of the salutation that opens the Hail Mary (which was translated from Latin, which is why it sounds slightly different). In the resultant confusion, Mary is told that she will conceive by the Holy Ghost. Matthew, in his annunciation to Joseph (1:18-21), confirms this: "The angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary they wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." Phillip takes umbrage with this when he says "Some said, "Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit." They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?" Here he is not simply being ignorant. Grammatical gender does not mean a feminine noun cannot perform a masculine act. What he is implying is that, as the Goddess (Sophia in Gnostic tradition) predates the God (which I do not associate with the Gnostic Demiurge), and brought all things into being according to her own self-understanding (that's an entirely separate blog post), so too would the feminine indwelling of Mary have brought forth the Christ on her own terms. And this fits with the canonical Gospel as well. Mary was not inseminated by the Spirit. She was filled with the Grace at birth that was rightfully hers to not only prepare her as a vessel for Christ, but as a vessel for her own divine indwelling. She did conceive by the Holy Spirit because she was not pregnant prior. But what is important is to understand the proper way by which she conceived. She was made Goddess-on-Earth to prepare the way for the birth of Jesus Christ, the avatar of God-on-Earth.

Let us go back to what Gabriel said to Mary. "Hail, highly favored one, the Lord is with thee." If Sophia created of herself everything that exists, the separation of the material from the intelligent (physical from spiritual) resulted in the creation of God. This God proceeded to create the material world. Because this material world was made imperfect (lacking the wisdom of His Progenitrix), sin was permitted to enter. After the fall of Adam and the fall of Eve, the world became darker and darker until finally the indwelling of Mary could occur at the same time that the conception of the Lord occurred. The Annunciation, when Mary is told that the Lord is with her, is more than just an announcement that the Messiah has arrived. The Goddess and the God have been reunited and the world is now able to move back towards a perfect, sacred, and holy state.

So, even though the Annunciation was four months ago, I thought it would be nice to discuss what the event means for the deeper theology of Marian tradition that holds to Mary's place as the renewal of the divine feminine. And we'll end it with the Ave Maria just because.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in ora moritis nostrae. Amen.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Gospel of Phillip and the Three Marys

I'm currently writing a (short...maybe) discussion on the Three Marys as they pertain to my particular theology. As a Collyridian, the Virgin Mary is treated as a divinity equal to God. Because of this, I was recently accused of being a Wiccan. I thought about this for a while and said "No...I believe in the Trinitarian God but deny the Trinitarian Goddess" which is one of the central tenets of (most) Wiccan traditions. But then I started thinking about it some more, and wondered if I was maybe being unfair to Mother Mary. Is she Trinitarian? There are many Marys in the Gospel narrative. The Valentinians, an early Gnostic sect, informs us through the Gospel of Phillip that there were exactly three: Mary the Virgin, Mary the Mother of John (identified as both Mary's and Jesus' sister...more on that in a moment), and Mary the Magdala. There are also some very interesting associations within the Gospel of Phillip that discuss the nature of this Trinitarian Mariology. So I wanted to share some of what I've reasoned.

First, we have to rely on tradition a bit here. There are several women in the Gospel canon that Jesus interacts with. First is Elizabeth (also Mary's sister) when his interaction via Mary in her womb causes the infant John to jump in Elizabeth's womb. Later comes the woman at the well, the prostitute, and Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet with her hair. The Virgin and her sister Mary are present at Calvary, and it is the Marys that find the tomb empty after the Resurrection. Later, the Virgin is present at Pentecost, and then Paul's woman-bashing begins and active female personages disappear from the New Testament except when referenced by the speaker for a specific purpose. Tradition holds that, of these women, the woman at the well, the prostitute, and Mary Magdalene are the same person. There is often mention of "the other Mary" when referencing Mary and Mary Magdalene together, and sometimes Scripture will say "Mary and the other Mary". Additionally, there is mentioned "Mary, the Mother of John". Depending on how you treat these references, there are either three or four or possibly more Marys running around at any given time in the Gospel record. This really isn't incidental. Mary or Maryam or Miriam was and is still a common female name in the Jewish and Muslim world. It has fallen out of use in the West since the Reformation, but we should be relieved that there aren't a thousand Mary's being referenced in the Gospels, because there surely were that many historically. The Valentinians, who believed in the Gnostic idea of Sophia and the Demiurge, were also highly mystical in their outlook. The Trinitarian nature of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit was established early on. Though the Valentinians believed the Holy Spirit to be an extension of Sophia and, therefore, female (very interesting play on words in the Gospel of Phillip regarding the conception of Christ*), they also accepted the Trinitarian nature of God. Though there isn't much as far as how they viewed Sophia, Trinitarian parallels would have been expected. Thus, it would have been quite easy for them to conflate "the other Mary" and "Mary, the Mother of John" to be the same person, especially considering that no where in the Gospels does it say "Mary, the Mother of John, and the other Mary".

The Gospel of Phillip, when announcing that there are, indeed, only three Marys of importance, states:
"There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary."
Phillip does not tell us that "In addition to the Twelve..." or "There were three women who always walked with the Lord..." just that "There were three who always walked with the Lord." The implication is clear. Of those who followed Jesus during his lifetime, these were the three that did not leave his side for any appreciable amount of time. Gaps, irregularities, and variations in the Gospel accounts can, to an extent, be explained by the fact that they were a) written at different times, and b) written for different audiences, but could it be possible that there were times when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and/or John was absent for key events or sayings? Paul fills the New Testament but his Gospel was not considered canon. In fact, his Gospel reads like a hate-filled exegesis for why women are less than men. In one scene, his female companion is about to be eaten by lions, and he does absolutely nothing but watch. At the last moment, God intervenes on her behalf. And Paul continues to write epistles that illustrate his hate-gluttony for women. But enough about Paul. It is obvious that the Apostles were not present for everything. Luke even states as much when he concludes his Gospel by saying he intentionally left out certain events. Were they unimportant? Were they redundant? Was he even present for some of them? The Gospel of Phillip says plainly that Luke probably wasn't present. John probably wasn't present. Mark and Matthew probably weren't present. But there were three that were: the Three Marys.

In another passage, Phillip discusses the Magdala. The Apostles ask Jesus why he loves Mary more than them, and he gives them a beguiling allegory:Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.The blind and the sighted are the same in darkness—this is the base condition of humanity. Christ is the light that comes. The blind remain in darkness and the sighted see the light. Throughout the Gospel narrative, blindness is used as a means to describe those that cannot correctly perceive or understand Christ’s mission and purpose. Two sayings later in the Gospel of Phillip, it is made clear that the blind are those who do not possess the Holy Spirit, and the sighted are those that do:
If one goes down into the water (baptism) and comes up without having received anything, and says "I am a Christian," he has borrowed the name at interest. But if he receives the Holy Spirit, he has the name as a gift. He who has received a gift does not have to give it back, but of him who has borrowed it at interest, payment is demanded. This is the way it happens to one when he experiences a mystery.

The same allegory can be used here: for a blind Christian and a sighted Christian who are in the dark, there is no difference. But when the light of Christ comes, the blind Christian still cannot see while the sighted Christian can see the light of Christ.
The use of this allegory to discuss Mary’s position in regards to the other Apostles can only mean one thing: Mary Magdalene was possessed of the Holy Spirit at the time that Christ was on Earth. This is incredibly important because the book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit descended after the Resurrection and Christ’s Ascension. The Catholic Church holds that only Jesus’ Mother was possessed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost, but the Gospel of Phillip makes it clear that at least one other Mary had this gift while Christ was alive.
So we have established that Mary Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of John were all present at all times for Jesus' mission. Mary, his Mother and Mary Magdalene were both filled with the Holy Spirit while He was alive. But what about the Other Mary? Let us go back to the Valentinians and see what the Gospel of Phillip says.

There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
There are three Marys listed in two different ways. 1a. Mary, his mother, b. her sister, and c. Magdalene; and 2a. [Jesus'] sister and b. his mother and c. his companion. And they "were each a Mary". The Other Mary, Mother of John is not listed explicitly, but Tradition tells us that she was the Other Mary, and that she was the sister of Christ's mother (for clarification, Tradition also tells us that Mary's father had other wives, so it wasn't the case that her parents simply named each of their daughters Mary, but likely, the Other Mary was from a previous marriage). This passage in Phillip then claims the Other Mary to be His sister. Why?

Let's delve into this passage a little deeper first. Mary Magdalene is explicitly referred to as His companion in this passage. But they are all implicitly his closest companions because the three of them "always walked with [Him]". Additionally, two of them are direct blood relations. These three women are closer to Christ than anybody else in the Gospel narrative. It also seems redundant for Phillip to specify finally that all three were Marys since he identifies two of them earlier. That is, unless there is something important about this designation.

Phillip spends a lot of time discussing the importance of given names and secret names. This redundancy would not be necessary unless there's something important about the name of Mary to Phillip, and he would not make sure the reader knew these three women specifically were all named Mary unless the importance of this name applied to these three women. That information, paired with what we just discussed concerning Mary Magdalene's possessing of the Holy Spirit, can mean only one thing: the Other Mary had the Holy Spirit, as well. She may have been biologically His mother's sister, but she was also the sister of Christ. This makes the Other Mary just as beautiful and mysterious as her sisters.

Mary the Mother of God, Mary the Mother of John and Sister of Christ, and Mary Magdalene the Companion of Christ are three facets of a highly-developed and beautiful Goddess. But they coexist in the Biblical history at the same time as distinct people. The Trinitarian God does not do this. The Wiccan Trinitarian Goddess does not do this. No deity that I have come across in any pantheon of any world religion does this. But Mary, the embodiment of the Gnostic Sophia, the Mother of God, does simultaneously bring together a Trinitarian nature in the persons of the other two Marys. Are the three collective avatars of the Divine Feminine? I'm not sure. Are the three simultaneous avatars of the indwelling within Mary? Not sure. What I do know is that Phillip also talks a lot about things that appear "defiled" but are naturally "pure" (marriage and sex being two that come up a lot). So this simultaneous triple manifestation of a Trinitarian Goddess figure could have a deeper meaning below it. But that's an exploration for another time.

*FOOTNOTE!: The play on words concerning the conception of Christ goes like this: 'Some said, "Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit." They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?' This is because, in Greek, the word used for "spirit" is female. Phillip's precise play on words is explored in the excellent book "The Gnostic Bible" by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Greetings and salutations!

Wow, what a morning. Woke up and took my partner to work, filled out some job applications, and decided that I needed to finish out my morning by setting up a project I've wanted to do for a long time.

The Marian Menagerie is a specific exploration of Marian spirituality. It is not a place of every-day Catholic or Orthodox Marian devotion. It is an exploration of Mary in her aspects as the New Eve, Theotokos, Ever-Virgin, Mother of God. It is a space to explore her divine spirituality--that fullness of Grace that, for the Collyridians (more on them later) of the first few centuries CE, made Mary more than a woman. The purpose of this project is two-fold:

  • Explore what it means to follow Mary's path to Christ independent of 2,000 years of established Christian Traditional teachings; and
  • Present to you, the reader, devotions and resources that will help in tackling the rarely-mentioned-in-the-Bible Mother of God.
Mary has been called the perfect example of a Christian life, and it is this that informs the cosmology of anyone who is offering devotion to Mary as the expression of Divine Femininity. Christ is an ideal of perfect personhood, but Mary is existentially linked to Christ as Son of God and Messiah. Her perfect life means nothing if it is not striving for Christian perfection. So as the Gnostics expressed Masculinity as Active and Femininity as largely Passive, Christ's active death and resurrection fulfilled his mission and confirmed his divinity, and Mary's passive living showed us the way to the same fulfillment. She is the mother of us all, pointing the way to our happiness and fulfillment. Through Mary can we come to know and love Christ more. It is the ultimate goal of this project to show everyone that.