Thursday, 13 November 2008


"These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." - John 14:25-26

The chief agencies of this unified relationship between God and Man are Love and the Holy Spirit (as well as Belief). As we shall see, Love and the Holy Spirit are very closely related. In fact they are one. But for now, let us explore this notion of the Holy Spirit, the third and least-understood element of the Christian idea of the Godhead. In John's account of the Last Supper, Christ has certain very specific things to say about it:

"If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you." - John 10:15-17

Here and in the quote at the top of this page Christ is referring to the Holy Spirit as the 'Comforter', a rather weak translation of the Greek word 'Parakleitos', meaning "one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate". In this passage he also refers to it as 'the Spirit of Truth', or 'Alithea' in Greek. What is interesting here is that, just as he describes himself as potentially dwelling within us, so does he speak of the Holy Spirit, in words which suggest that it is the medium whereby God can and will dwell within us, just as predicted in the Book of Jeremiah :

"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." - Jeremiah 31:32

and the Book of Joel:

"And it shall come to pass afterward. that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." - Joel 2:28

In Kabbalah and Judaism, the Holy Spirit is known as the Ruach HaKodesh, 'Ruach' meaning, as we know from an earlier post, 'Breath'. For the Jews, this was the spirit of Prophecy, the energy with which the great Seers of the Old connected with God. For the Greeks, the word for the Holy Spirit, the 'Haghia Pneuma', meant the same: 'Holy Breath' ('Pneuma' meaning 'Breath'). In fact our word Spirit comes from the Latin 'Spiritus' which also means 'Breath', and yet nowhere has it ever been translated this way in our Churches. Understood in this way, as the Sacred or Holy Breath of God, it becomes synonymous with the Hindu idea of Prana, the Divine Breath of Brahman which infuses the Universe and gives us life. It is the energy which 'moved upon the face of the waters' in Genesis and which was breathed into the clay out of which Adam was formed by God. Suddenly Christianity connects with the primary aspects of Creation and the most universal pan/panentheistic ideas of the East. In a sense, the Holy Spirit is the point of connection between Western Spirituality and ideas such as the Dao of China or Brahman/Prana in India. It is no wonder, perhaps, that it has fallen short of the attention given to the more anthropomorphic and masculine images of the Father and the Son, and yet if Christ is to be believed, neither the Father or the Son can be understood without it. For the Gnostics, the Holy Spirit was the key to everything. In the Pistis Sophia, the so-called "First Mystery' is described as 'the Father in the form of a dove'. In other words, one cannot comprehend the higher reaches of the Godhead in any other way...

The Greek concept of the Pneuma existed long before Christianity reached the peninsular. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus posited the existence of the Pneuma as a fire-like energy which pulsed through everything, sustaining and giving life. If one reads 'Light' for 'Fire' one gets a sense of what he was getting at. Indeed most so-called 'Fire-worshipping' cultures, such as the Zoroastrians are actually revering Light, fire and flame being the most concrete manifestation of that Light-Energy available to the human eye. The subtleties inherent in the names and imagery associated with the Holy Spirit, be it as the Pneuma, Spiritus or Ruach HaKodesh point towards an extraordinarily complex and multi-dimensional appreciation of its true nature. Traditionally, the Churches have insisted that it is a male energy, thus creating an entirely masculine Godhead from which femininity is excluded, but if one looks deeper the reality is very different. At the very least the Holy Spirit is beyond gender, or is androgyne. If anything it errs more on the feminine than the masculine, as its appearance as a Dove at the River Jordan suggests:

"And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and lo the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." - Matthew 3:16

"And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him." - Mark 1:10

"And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." - Luke 3:22

"And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." - John 1:32

Given the non-synoptic nature of John's Gospel, the fact that it agrees with all the others over this central image suggests that it was a key one. The one other significant moment in the Bible which features a dove is in the story of Noah when, after the Deluge, a dove and a raven are released to find evidence of land. While the raven does not return the dove does with an olive branch, suggesting that the waters are receding. In Alchemy, the dove symbolises the purified White Rose which emerges from the 'Death' phase of the Nigredo. Thus here the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove represents the result of the purification process undergone through the Baptism of John in the sacred River Jordan. By any standards a dove is a female bird. Clearly, then, the Holy Spirit is not male, or at least not wholly male and, for its primary manifestation, it choses an image of femininity. Perhaps the Church should think again. But to do so would bring it line with the Gnostics who saw the Holy Spirit as the expression of the Divine Sophia. So perhaps not...

The story of the Baptism and the appearance of the Dove brings up another issue about the Holy Spirit - that of its relationship to the four elements, for as befits the highest expression of the Spirit, the Haghia Pneuma is identified with all of the elements except for Earth. John the Baptist begins the revelation of the Spirit by the distinction he draws between the Baptism he offers and that Christ will:

"And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me: Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." - John 1:33

The Baptist's point here is that with the New Dispensation ushered in by Christ, Baptism will no longer only have its material or physical dimension but will be endowed by its spiritual, more Cosmic one. The water of the earth will be transformed and transfigured by the 'water' that is the Holy Spirit. Quite literally, the Gospel is revealing the esoteric truth of 'As above, so below'. Christ reinforces this claim in his discussion with Nicodemus in a dialogue which again hints at the feminine nature of the Holy Spirit:

"There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know though art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." - John 3: 1-5

The imagery of birth and rebirth, of water and the Holy Spirit all points towards feminine energy. In almost all cultures, and especially in pre-Christian ones, the transformative moment for the Soul lies in the moment of reentry into the Womb of the Great Mother, or Divine Feminine. In an earlier post we looked at how the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone were echoed in the story of Mary Magdelene and Christ at the Tomb. Similarly, it should be remembered that the Creation was begun by the spirit of God moving "upon the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). In Kabbalah, the Spirit of God and the Waters here are known as the Higher and Lower Shekinah (ie Binah and Malkuth) or the Great Mother and the Daughter. The spiritual waters and the earthly waters combine to bring forth life. Thus, perhaps, in reuniting the image of water and the Holy Spirit within references to being born, Christ is suggesting a return to the wholeness inherent before the Fall. There is a connection here with the "bitter feminine waters" of Kabbalah too, sometimes referred to as 'Marah', which is the root word for the names Miriam and Mary. Once again, the Bible points towards a feminine energy when speaking of the Holy Spirit. It is no coincidence, perhaps, that in John's Gospel, one or more Marys are always present at the key miracles to do with Resurrection - Lazarus, the Tomb etc etc.

If the Holy Spirit is here identified with the element of Water, elsewhere it is Air and Fire. We have looked at how Pneuma, Spiritus and Ruach all mean 'Breath'. This makes immediate sense of Christ's references to 'the Wind':

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." - John 3:8

Once again, there are echoes here of previous cultures which also identified the Spirit as Wind as a feminine energy. For the Egyptians, for instance, Isis was also known by the epithet 'The Wind of Heaven' and was the chief agency of the Resurrection of Osiris. The Pneuma as Wind appears in the New Testament most famously, though, in the Book of Acts:

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." - Acts 2:1-4

Here the Holy Spirit is both Air and Fire. If one adds the imagery of Water, one sees that in the encounter of the Holy Spirit with our material world (Earth) everything is made whole, all four elements being united as one. Given the Spirit's transcendent nature, its oneness with God, it provides the fifth element, or Quintessence, which provides the goal of all mystical striving: Spirit, also known as Ether in the West and Akasha in the East. This in every way the Holy Spirit is the Healing Breath of God (David Bohm was always fond of pointing out that the word 'Holy' shared the same root as the words 'Whole' and 'Healing'). Through its agency, Christ fulfils his role as the Soter, the original Greek from which we get the English 'Saviour'. In its most ancient meaning, Soter simply means 'Healer'...

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