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Textual Sources

Fallen Goddess Scenario


The task of piecing together the FGS relies on longish passages and isolated clues in the Nag Hammadi Codices and in paraphrases of Gnostic cosmology found in the polemics of the Church Fathers. The NHC materials are wildly inconsistent in how they present the full-scale cosmological narrative. The most consistent, near- complete versions of the FGS occur in four documents, the longest in the NHC.

Nag Hammadi Codices, earliest surviving bound books.

Basic Cosmology

The Apocryphon of John. 31 pages. Found in three versions of various lengths in the NHC and in one fragmentary version in a non-NHC text. This is most comprehensive text on the Sophia mythos, giving a relatively coherent overview of all nine episodes.

The Hypostasis of the Archons. 11 pages. Omits features 1 and 2, presents crucial details on the activity of the Archons and Sophia's correction (feature 8).

On the Origin of the World. 30 pages. Found in two versions in the NHC. Omits features 1 and 2, presents a detailed treatment of features 4 and 5, including the Gnostic narrative of Adam and Eve. Ends with a rare apocalyptic passage referring to feature 8.

The Tripartate Tractate. 78 pages, longest in the NHC. Describes the Sophia Mythos without using the name of Sophia. For instance, Sophia's plunge (feature 3) is called "The Imperfect Begetting of the Logos." Refers to the chief Archon as the Demiurge, a term found in Plato and the Hermetica. Contains important details on episodes 4 through 8, with an emphasis on the salvific action of the Aeon Christos. This text presents the Demiurge as an artisan assisting the Pleromic gods, rather than as an aberration and adversary to them and, by extension, to humanity. In this and other elements, Tri Trac is not genuinely Gnostic. Rather, it more closely resembles Hermetic texts that develop a favorable view of the Demiurge (i.;e., the Archons) as an "artificer" who assists the Pleromic gods in engineering the world-process.

Excerpt from the commentary on the Tripartite Tractate in the Nag Hammadi Reading Plan:

Tri Trac describes the fall of the goddess Sophia in terms of the drama of the spiritual Logos, logos pneumatikos. Sophia as such is not named in the text. The Archons are named outright, and their chief, the demiurge, is specified in sections 6 and 8. Section 5, "Aeonic Life," proceeds in the lofty metaphysical idiom of the opening passages. It states that the Archons do not resemble the eternal beings, the Aeons (71.5), and further explains how the Originator selflessly confers generative power on the Aeons, acting from pleasure, sweetness, and love. "Each one of the Aeons is a name, a code" (73.5): that is to say, the Aeons are generative powers that encode the infinite undefined potentiality of the Originator. "Their begetting is like a process of extension," i.e., emanation, compared to a wellspring of many currents. Unlike the literal, artifactual creation attributed to the father god, Aeonic emanation proceeds "in an imaginary way" (78: 5). I have explained what this means at length in the chapter on "Dreamtime Physics" in Not in His Image.

Trimorphic Protennoia. 15 pages. A revelation discourse presenting the descent of the Aeon Sophia in obscure mystical language. Rich with allusion, although it contains almost no concete elements of cosmology. For an extended discussion of this text, see Sophia's Passion in Coco de Mer, Part One.

The Paraphrase of Shem (41 pages), like The Tripartate Tractate, presents the FGS in abstract language, but even more vaguely. This text is allegorical rather than mythological. Sophia is named, but not as a main character. Paraph Shem features Darkness, Spirit and Nature as the three principal actors in the cosmic drama. In allusion to feature 4, the emergence of the Archons, it refers to an "afterbirth" rather than an "abortion." It is difficult to extract anything relevant to the FGS from this material.

A Valentinian Exposition (8 pages, very fragmentary) describes the Pleroma and paired Aeons (feature 1), omits 2, the projection of the Anthropos, and treats 4 in a manner specific to the Valentinian School, contrasted to the Sethian School, whose version I follow in reconstructing the mythos. This text refers to feature 6 by the phrase, "Jesus and Sophia revealed the creature," and other obscure clues relating to the mysterious co-action of these Aeons in the formation of all species. It uniquely describes Sophia laughing despite Her unexpected exile from the Pleroma; in short, amusing Herself as She can. Val Exp contains the memorable, almost taunting line: "Indeed, the Devil is one of the divinities." Thus the Gnostic view that Ialdabaoth, the chief Archon, who is a diabolic entity working against humanity, is still entitled to divine status, of a kind.

In A Valentinian Exposition, episode 8, the intervention of the Aeon Christos in behalf of Sophia, tends to be treated separately from the evolutionary narrative. The precise manner in which Christos assists Sophia, and the ongoing effects of this intervention for humanity, are deeply problematic issues in Gnostic study. Some texts make Christos and Sophia the paired Aeons who project the Anthropos, the template for the human species; hence, presenting them as the divine parents of humanity. This action occurs within the Pleroma, before Sophia falls. There follows an intervention of Christos into Sophia's evolving world. Some clues on this feature of the scenario occur in the parallel texts The Sophia of Jesus Christ and Eugnostos the Blessed.

NOTE: The most detailed account of the Christic intercession is not found in the NHC or any Coptic Gnostic materials but in Against Heresies by the Christian ideologue Irenaeus, in Book 1, Chapter 4 (my italics):

CHAP. IV.--ACCOUNT GIVEN BY THE HERETICS OF THE FORMATION OF ACHAMOTH; ORIGIN OF THE VISIBLE WORLD FROM HER DISTURBANCES. 1. The following are the transactions which they narrate as having occurred outside of the Pleroma: The enthymesis of that Sophia who dwells above, which they also term Achamoth,(14) being removed from the Pleroma, together with her passion, they relate to have, as a matter of course, become violently excited in those places of darkness and vacuity [to which she had been banished]. For she was excluded from light(15) and the Pleroma, and was without form or figure, like an untimely birth, because she had received nothing(16) [from a male parent].

But the Christ dwelling on high took pity upon her; and having extended himself through and beyond Stauros,(17) he imparted a figure to her, but merely as respected substance, and not so as to convey intelligence.(18) Having effected this, he withdrew his influence, and returned, leaving Achamoth to herself, in order that she, becoming sensible of her suffering as being severed from the Pleroma, might be influenced by the desire of better things, while she possessed in the meantime a kind of odour of immortality left in her by Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Wherefore also she is called by two names--Sophia after her father (for Sophia is spoken of as being her father), and Holy Spirit from that Spirit who is along with Christ. Having then obtained a form, along with intelligence, and being immediately deserted by that Logos who had been invisibly present with her--that is, by Christ--she strained herself to discover that light which had forsaken her, but could not effect her purpose, inasmuch as she was prevented by Horos.

And as Horos thus obstructed her further progress, he exclaimed, IAO,(1) whence, they say, this name Iao derived its origin. And when she could not pass by Horos on account of that passion in which she had been involved, and because she alone had been left without, she then resigned herself to every sort of that manifold and varied state of passion to which she was subject; and thus she suffered grief on the one hand because she had not obtained the object of her desire, and fear on the other hand, lest life itself should fail her, as light had already done, while, in addition, she was in the greatest perplexity. All these feelings were associated with ignorance. And this ignorance of hers was not like that of her mother, the first Sophia, an AEon, due to degeneracy by means of passion, but to an [innate] opposition [of nature to knowledge].(2) Moreover, another kind of passion fell upon her her (Achamoth), namely, that of desiring to return to him who gave her life.

2. This collection [of passions] they declare was the substance of the matter from which this world was formed. For from [her desire of] returning [to him who gave her life], every soul belonging to this world, and that of the Demiurge(3) himself, derived its origin. All other things owed their beginning to her terror and sorrow. For from her tears all that is of a liquid nature was formed; from her smile all that is lucent; and from her grief and perplexity all the corporeal elements of the world. For at one time, as they affirm, she would weep and lament on account of being left alone in the midst of darkness and vacuity; while, at another time, reflecting on the light which had forsaken her, she would be filled with joy, and laugh; then, again, she would be struck with terror; or, at other times, would sink into consternation and bewilderment.


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2018 by John L. Lash.