“She is the forethought of the All –
Her light shines like his light
The perfect power which is the image of the invisible, virginal Spirit who is perfect.
The first power, the glory of Barbelo,
the perfect glory in the Aeons,
the glory of the revelation…
…She became the womb of everything,
For it is She who is prior to them all,
– The Secret Book of John (Nag Hammadi Library)
Barbelo is a fascinating character in Gnosticism. She does not receive the same interest or reverence as her daughter, Sophia, yet is held up as a great and powerful divine being according to several Gnostic texts. Those who do acknowledge Her, see Her to be the Supreme Mother of the Godhead, second only to the ‘Unknown Father’, who Barbelo is believed to have ‘sprung forth’ from as ‘His’ first thought and the perfect reflection of ‘Himself’. While the Unknown Father becomes the Perceiver of existence, Barbelo becomes the Perceived, as well as the ‘active’ force of God. Interestingly, both the Unknown Father and Barbelo are described as androgynous in their true nature, being beyond all ideas of gender, yet are anthropomorphised by their roles in the creation of the Pleroma and the Aeons. As Barbelo acts as the Womb of creation, She becomes Mother, while the Unknown Father pours his life into Her to be given shape and being.
Sophian Déanists do not believe in the ‘Unknown Father’, at least not as a male deity, for we believe Barbelo (Déa Mysteria) is Eternal. If Barbelo is described as the First Power than there can be none before Her. If She is called ‘Mother-Father’ than She has no need for an outside agent to create life within Her. She requires no consort for She is the foundation of all existence. While Gnosticism divides the Invisible Spirit and Barbelo into two, Sophian Déanists see them as one. What role the Invisible Spirit plays is performed within Barbelo Herself.
The trope of the Great Mother being first created by a superior male or ‘Father’ character is not unique in Gnostic texts. One can also look to the story of Eve, the first Mother, being created from the rib of Adam. Another example of a male birth is Athena springing forth from the mind of her father, Zeus, after he swallowed her mother. Stories such as these were supposedly held up an example of a male figure creating life being hypothetically superior to women being the source of life. To these ‘wise men’, a woman giving birth always resulted in a flawed creation, whereas if a masculine figure gave birth they were considered to be ‘pure’. An example of this is shown in the Gnostic creation myth where Sophia attempts to bring forth an Aeon from herself, just as the ‘Father’ did with Barbelo, only She ends up bringing about the amoral Demiurge.
The Apocryphal ‘Odes To Solomon’ gives possibly the most blatant example of this sexist idea:
“She bore him as if she were a man,
openly, with dignity, with kindness.”
Because that is how ‘a man would do it’, surely! As if there is no strength or dignity or kindness in how a woman gives birth.
Therefore it is not outside the realms of possibility that Barbelo was given a masculine superior within Gnostic worship in order to discourage the idea that She could have brought forth all of creation by Herself. She is even constantly described as ‘male’, despite clear feminine pronouns, as if in order to justify Her role as Divine Creatrix. Great Mother Goddesses existed by other names before Gnosticism in many different religions. Nearly all of them became demoted next to their male counterparts, be it a consort or a son, or their devotion banned entirely. Barbelo Herself almost became lost to history before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library.
In the controversial ‘Gospel of Judas’, the titular character says he recognises Yeshua as being ‘from the realm of Barbelo’; implying that Yeshua’s true spiritual self is Her child. Many Gnostics believe the Pleroma, the Fullness of God where all Aeons reside, is held within Her womb. Indeed, all of creation may be carried with Her, for She is the boundless expanse of the multiverse.
Another name the Gnostics gave for the Divine Mother, the All That Is, is Sige (Silence). This is another accepted title for the Great Mysteria. One can see it befitting Her Being before all things existed or were emanated from Her; including the Celestial Mother Herself. While all life and energies of the Universe sing and dance around Her, She is still. Silent. Immovable. Forever at peace and impossible to disturb or shatter. She always simply Is.
“Earth moves but Heaven is still…” – The Clew of the Horse (1:1)
In Filianism, the Dark Mother (Déa Mysteria) has no name, and Sophian Déanism would agree with this and sees the word ‘Barbelo’ as an adjective rather than a name. Yet few seem to know for certain where the word comes from or what it describes; the word is a mystery in itself. Her other ‘name’ is Protennoia, which means Forethought, pointing to Her as the beginning of all things, as this would conflict with the Gnostic idea of Her being an ‘afterthought’ of the Father God. Sophian Déanism seeks to restore Barbelo to Her place as the Dark Mother or Absolute Deity. She may still hold the title of being the Great Mother-Father, both to show how She exists beyond all concepts of gender, but also to highlight Her being the Sole Creatrix without the need for a father god.
So if Barbelo is androgynous, both Mother-Father, then why call Her female?
The answer is; we don’t. Barbelo is feminine but not ‘female’. Within Her lies the basis for all realities. The concept of ‘sexual gender’ is but one human concept which She is not bound by. Gender is fluid; a fact we are slowly coming to accept within our own society. If one wishes to view the Absolute as ‘male’ then they are free to do so. Déanism would not say that Theist is wrong in their belief, only that our religion relates to the Divine in feminine language, though not necessarily linked to being biologically female.
But more than that, Barbelo acts as the Matrix of the Universe. In how She acts in setting up the foundations of reality, of giving birth to the Celestial Mother who generates Her essence and builds upon Her energy, we observe a great cosmic womb creating all within. Now this is not to say a womb = a mother, or a woman. But it is how many of us have, in our human history, come to understand the creation of life. It is also a fitting metaphor for the difference between the Celestial Mother and the Dark Mother. The Celestial Mother, being closer and taking ‘form’, can better interact with us as a living parent comforting and guiding Her child post-birth. However, in the Dark Mother, we are still inside of Her womb that is all creation and every Aeon – including the Mother and Daughter. We experience the glorious order and beauty of the Life She creates, yet we cannot know Her fully, for none can exist outside of Her. It is for these reasons that Trinitarii Déanism assigns the Dark Mother as ‘feminine’, but does not necessarily restrict Her to that.
For a better explanation on the ‘gender’ of Déa, I recommend reading this article by Sorella Yejide of the Matrical Déanism tradition.
Going back to Barbelo, She does not often receive the same anthropomorphism as Sophia does, despite having just as many titles applied to Her which are shared with the Virgin Mary and other ‘heavenly mothers’ of the period. This may be fortunate, for as in Orthodox Filianism, the Dark Mother has no form to hold, for She is beyond all idea of ‘form’. The closest one can envision Her as is the First Grandmother, yet one still cannot interact with Her as we do the Heavenly Mother who is also too bright and brilliant to fully look upon. While the Mother is the dazzling sun, the Dark Mother is the black abyss of space. She is beyond comprehension and human understanding.
That is not to say it is impossible for one to attempt to approach Her, or even discouraged. For She is the source of all Love which the Mother and Daughter bestow. Encountering Her would be akin to attaining Pure Bliss. To know the Dark Mother would be to have attained divine knowledge – which to a Sophian is called ‘Gnosis’. This can rightly be compared to the Dharmic concept of Enlightenment. In Déanic terms, it can be described as becoming One with Déa again, as all souls were said to be in the beginning, without the separation of kear. This idea of coming to know Barbelo’s glory can be daunting, almost unfathomable to comprehend, but She is not to be feared, for She is still Our Mother. All Love that is poured through the Mother and Daughter flows from Her. It is merely advised that one who seeks to know Her does so with great caution and respect, both for Her and her or himself.
While religions such as Buddhism, Sikhi and Gnosticism set the goal for one to try to achieve Enlightenment / Gnosis, it not a necessary path in Sophian Déanism. The Daughter has guaranteed that all souls will eventually return to the Mother, in this life or the next. If one does not feel ready to attempt to know the Dark Mother than that is absolutely understandable. The Celestial Mother and Holy Daughter are Déa here with us. There is no shame in those seeking a religion of devout prayer and ritual alone. For those seeking a more esoteric and meditative practice, then that path is also available for them, if they feel this is the life in which they are destined to do so.
However, it is always important to remember the importance of the Dark Mother, whether one seeks to understand Her mysteries or not. For She, in truth, is Déa in Her complete form. Just as the Janati / Aeons are emanations of the Mother and Daughter; they are themselves emanations of the Dark Mother. This does not subtract from the importance of the Mother and Daughter; for without the Heavenly Mother there would have been no carpenter to give the Dark Mother’s essence a form, and without the Daughter we would simply be form without an internal, divine soul with the potential to return to Her. Put simply, the Mother and Daughter act as the ‘hands’ of the Dark Mother. She is the body, the Whole, the One.
Because of you salvation has come to us;
From you comes salvation!
You are wisdom! You are knowledge! You are truth!
Because of you is Life; from you comes Life.
Because of you is Intellect; from you comes Intellect.
You are Intellect; you are a universe of truth….
Unify us according as you have been unified!
Teach us the things you see!
Empower us, that we might be saved to eternal life.
For, as for us, we are a projection of you,
as you are a projection of the one that primally preexists.
Hear us first—we are eternal!
Hear us—the perfect individuals!
It is you who are the Aeon of aeons, the all-perfect One who is unified!
– “Hymn to Barbelo”, The Three Steles of Seth (NHL)