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Pilgrimage to the House of Wisdom

The Abode of Sophia

Janet Piedilato

The idea of a pilgrimage immediately conjures up visions: a long awaited one-time visit, a special crossing taken to a holy site, a journey to Lourdes, to the Kaaba, to the Wailing Wall, or to Chalice Well. Each visit could, to a great extent, be described within the boundaries of a specific history, philosophy or religious tradition. The devotees would likely be following a road well defined and well traveled. For them the goal could represent attaining proximity to the Divine in a space set aside as special, the sum of sacred geometry, the summation of years of dedication to a specific holy role. Each could be clothed in the garments of historical myth and legend. A visitation to such a site could represent for the pilgrim a life’s dream. For some it might even be symbolic of their devotion, a badge of their faith more powerful and meaningful than the medallion they wear above their heart. It might grant them special blessings, according to their particular religious tradition, certain benefits as a reward for their efforts as pilgrims of the faith.

I am well familiar with this form of pilgrimage for it was the mystery and magic of my childhood. While others went on vacation, my family went on pilgrimage: St. Anne de Beaux Pre, St. Anthony’s Shrine, Holy Cross Monastery, and the like. My tiny knees felt the bite of each of the hundred steps upon which I prayed my way up to the grand cathedral of St Joseph’s Oratory. I remember the intensity of my prayers on Holy Thursday during the pilgrimage to the three churches. I journeyed to the garden with Jesus on Good Friday, my lips sealed with inner prayer as my hands kept active in ritual preparations. My parents had a deep abiding faith around which our entire lives revolved. From my mother’s continual novenas to my father’s daily presence at the Holy Eucharist, as well as morning prayers upon awakening, grace at meals, and evening prayers before we retired, our lives were filled with the presence of the Divine. While we did not have funds to take us to the grand cathedrals of Europe, we visited every church and chapel reached by our humble car.

Back then, among my favorite readings were the many stories of the great pilgrimage sites, the great saints, the great sanctified places, the different localities and diverse traditions where humanity was visited by remarkable unexplainable visitations. Thus I was a seasoned pilgrim of the mind long before my vista expanded and these trips manifested in reality. I simply knew that I could visit each place I read about—in my mind, with my spirit—and so many a summer day found me wandering the great halls of medieval chapels or ancient temples. All this was merely the normal passage of time for the small child I was. Little did I know that it was far from ordinary, far from a common pastime.

As the years passed I was blessed with manifesting in the flesh visitations I frequently had made in spirit. Thus I became a pilgrim in fact, following the well-worn stones laid down by the many that have gone before me. Yet these pilgrimages to sacred spaces all over the world are only little resting places dotting my ongoing pilgrimage of life. For in the end I am still a pilgrim of the heart, still a well-seasoned journeyer of the imaginal, of the inner space that is without boundaries. For me, life is the spiritual pilgrimage and the goal is the House of Wisdom, the ultimate temenos. This life pilgrimage is often not on well-defined roads. I am often alone, often challenged, often lost. And yet I continue, following the tiny glimmer of light that leads me on, ever seeing the ultimate, seeking the House of Wisdom.

The House of Wisdom, just what is it? We all know what a house is, a place which provides shelter, which envelopes us in warmth, a safe haven, a welcoming place to rest, to refresh, a place where we might even interact with others, friends and family, new acquaintances. What then is a House of Wisdom? What is wisdom? What is a wise person? Wisdom, to me, is knowledge of our ignorance, our unknowing! Wisdom is possessing humility enough to see that we do not know everything and especially know little of that which is most important: the very nature of our being, the reason for our presence in this place called Earth in a certain time and locality, in the company of certain people and particular circumstances.

I believe Socrates had it correct. There is a story about how the high priestess at Delphi proclaimed Socrates the most wise of all men. He was baffled by her comment for he knew that he surely was not the wisest. Yet he honored the Oracle and thus set out to investigate her comment by visiting all those he thought to be the wisest. In the end he saw through each candidate’s inflation, for each arrogantly believed he was the wisest! Socrates concluded that the Oracle was indeed correct in pointing to him; for although he possessed knowledge, he was humble in accepting his limitations.

Wisdom is not to be confused with knowledge. For that which is welcomed as knowledge today, the sum of many facts gained by much study and reasoning, may tomorrow quickly be overturned by new insights and advanced thinking. Too often today’s knowledge becomes yesterday’s discarded folly. Unlike such knowledge, true Wisdom lies beyond the boundaries of time, space and human understanding.

Wisdom is perhaps best explained by turning to the ancient idea of Sophia, the Holy Wisdom of God. In early Christian mystical theology Wisdom, Sophia, is embodied as part of the Holy Trinity, infusing the masculine trinity with a feminine aspect. As a biologist, I have always seen Sophia as the essence of all, the Creatrix, the Ultimate Matrix upon which all takes origin. She is the Hidden One, the math behind the art and music of the cosmos. She is the physics of all movement. Sophia, Divine Wisdom, breathed all into cosmic existence and continues to orchestrate the movement of the spheres. Sophia is the Divine Architect who unfolds daily in every event, immanent and transcendent. And thus the Divine House possessing the essence of Wisdom is none other than the House of Sophia.

The House of Sophia is a sanctuary that holds the Ultimate Truth of being. It embodies all answers. It is thus the Ultimate Holy of Holies. It transcends all time and place, for its very existence is at the heart of being, unseen and stable, unlike the shifting panorama of our earthly knowledge.

The House of Wisdom is thus the goal of the wise one, the one who humbly accepts unknowing in the presence of Divine Wisdom.

Lourdes, France.
Lourdes, France

As a devoted pilgrim of the inner path, I find the House of Wisdom within, in the Unconscious, in the inner landscape of the imaginal. A lifetime of prayer and meditative practice makes it accessible. This sacred space of Sophia, this House of Wisdom, is not to be approached without guidance for it is too easy to get lost, deceived, or misled. The founding fathers and mothers, priests and priestesses of sacred traditions, were well aware of the dangers of the interior route and so set out to provide guidance. Today this guidance is found within the mystical traditions of various modern religions as they continue to provide direction for the pilgrim of the inner landscape: Sufism in Islam, Kabala on Judaism, Gnosticism in Christianity, and so on. Like spokes of the Great Wheel, these and other mystical traditions provide paths to the center, to the very same goal of accessing the House of Wisdom, coming into the presence of Sophia.

Such a path was found in the teachings of the ancient Egyptian tradition as well. The priests of the ancient Egypt religion designed their temple complexes not only as spectacular sites for public ritual but also as templates for their private initiatory practices. They believed that Egypt was a model on Earth of that which lay beyond in the unseen dwelling of the Hidden One, creator of all being. While one set of priests were dedicated to producing the great public celebrations, the less public priesthood of the House of Life was dedicated to a more mystical path, a union with the Hidden godhead. While the temple complex was for the former a stage of great productions, for the later is was a pattern of an inner journey. Many ancient Egyptian temple complexes remain standing today, reminders of the ancient ceremonies and beliefs as well as serving as lovely templates for our own reflections upon an inner pilgrimage to Divine Wisdom.

Just as I take pilgrims on physical journeys to the ancient temples of Egypt, I invite you, the reader, to come with me in spirit, to take up the role of an initiate of the House of Life, one devoted to the inner path, seeking the Hidden One Beyond All Names, seeking Sophia, the House of Wisdom, following the path of the ancient temple complex.

Journey with me as we travel to the House of Many Rooms, to our sacred inner space, our Egyptian House of Wisdom, our temple in the sands of the mind. Close the lights upon your earthly environment and for a moment come within. See the path stretching before you. Feel the years melt away. Come with me as we follow the inner road outside of time and space.

Our journey begins with our arrival on the Avenue of Sphinxes. We stand for a moment and peer down the seemingly unending row of towering mythical beings that line both sides of our path. These Sphinxes, with heads of humans and bodies of lions, represent powerful beings, knowledgeable protectors that may offer or withhold their assistance to us. Like the loving yet powerful Ganesh statues that adorn Indian temples, these sphinxes protect the temple complex as well as the pilgrim. For only those of pure heart are allowed to begin this journey.

Our guardians are the angelic beings, the power animals, the deities, the saints in the varied forms that in actuality transcend form, who serve so that we might learn. And so it is that we recognize our teachers, guides and companion spirits, there for us, guiding us on our destiny, our path of recognizing our pilgrimage. For the pilgrimage to the temple complex, the physical House of Wisdom, is but a template of that which is already beyond time and space in the deepest part of our psyche. And so we connect with it in an attempt to understand the meaning of our being, to honor and appreciate all, both the joys and sacrifices of life, to come into the presence of Divine Sophia.

We pause before the Avenue of Sphinxes before we, pure of heart, are allowed to pass.

We come to towering obelisks. These polished granite needles seem to pierce the very sky, reaching right into the heavens with their radiance. The sun reflects off them and we are immediately impressed by their grandeur, connecting the earthly ground and the realms above. The obelisks focus our eyes towards the Unseen, toward the Essence of our being, towards Sophia, Wisdom.

Beyond the obelisks is the enclosure wall of the temple complex. To the right and left of the opening in the wall, there sit two gigantic statues of the reigning pharaoh, He who is the incarnation of Divinity upon the Earth. Each pharaoh was the living Horus, the divine child blessed to rule. We are reminded of the image of Sophia as Divine feminine, as Creatrix, for this same Horus receives power through Her. Like the Christ child seated upon the knee of the Virgin, Horus sits upon the knee of the Divine feminine, of Isis Our thoughts thus return to Sophia, Wisdom, as we are reminded that all power comes from divinity and is merely a reflection of such; that true teachers are conduits for the message, helping us to cross from the courtyard of yearning through the doorway into the enclosure of understanding. We need to recognize our teachers, being ever aware that the true teacher is often hidden and that the honored celebrity is often a decoy, an imposter leading to a dead end. Thus we pray for the ability to discern the difference between the two. Our eyes move towards the enclosure as we contemplate the teachers who have been manifest in our lives.

We pause for a moment, and as initiates of the House of Life, those truly devoted to truth, to weathering the storms that the earthly powers thrust upon us, we are rewarded, and allowed to enter the enclosure.

Once inside the sacred enclosure we see the temple doorway and the Great Hypostyle Hall. We observe the soaring columns, and their designs from nature, the earliest vegetative forms, for the Hypostyle Hall is constructed to bring to mind the act of creation. In the beginning there was the Hidden One who breathed upon the great Nun, the eternal waters from which all rose and manifested. We thus pause as though on the edge of being, seeing this, the beginning of the manifest, the beginning of all journeys. It is our origin and our destination. Upon this pilgrimage road we return to the great beginning, to the abode of the Hidden One, to Sophia, the Ultimate Matrix. And so this is a journey of the heart and spirit, of the entire being we call the Self. This pilgrimage called life, does not manifest in a day, a week, or a year, for it takes a lifetime of devotion to make all the steps, to suffer the setbacks, to face the challenges, to find our way here, to the very portal of the inner space. We thus rest in awe in the Hypostyle Hall, remembering our origin and our end.

We pause at the threshold of the enormity of our manifestation, recognizing that with our rational senses we can never empirically know the how, why, where we came from. We in humility recognize, as did Socrates, that there shall always be much we do not understand. We can intuitively sense that which is beyond articulation, that which cannot be diminished by the boundaries of language.

And so it is with humbleness that we enter the temple, the holy place in the Unconscious, the dwelling place of Sophia, Wisdom. In awe we enter, remembering that many came before us, and that many shall follow. We are merely part of the flow, the current of the Cosmos, and so we reverently say a brief prayer for all who across time and space join us in this pilgrimage. We then raise our heads and move on.

Slowly we cross the threshold, our heart leading the way, and enter the House of Many Rooms. We take detours, praying our way round the many images that fill the space; the forms that greet us, that arise from beyond the boundaries of defined language; images of deities, of symbols, of sacred events, each directing us inward, connecting us to the Unseen. We feel blessed with these gifts, for each outpouring radiates from Sophia, each but a tiny display of Wisdom’s boundless magnificence. To us, limited as we, each sign, each image, is like the birth of a new star in the dark heavens.

Once we have gained access here we may visit easily again as often as we desire. And so the years may stretch until finally, when we least expect it, we come upon the innermost room, the darkest, the most hidden space. We have found the Holy of Holies, the heart of the temple, the soul of the House of Wisdom. We pause at the portal of this dark place, then slowly we enter, feeling our way, for our eyes cannot lead us. We move in the dark cautiously, for the space darkens as we go deeper within it. It is only when we are completely engulfed in blackness that we see it—the Light of the Golden One, Sophia. It is the Light beyond all light, showing us that indeed light most reflects Divine nature. For that light, which defies the rules of time, space and matter, transcending both, best points the way...

In this innermost, darkest and most elevated space of the temple complex, light emanates from a single golden icon, the image of the Deity wherein, symbolically, the ancient priests sought to recreate the dawn of being. In the beginning there was darkness; and the Hidden One breathes light into the darkness, the word was whispered, and all manifest came to be. And so in the darkest hour of unknowing, at a time when all seems lost and most sorrowful, one finds the Hidden Light of Sophia, Divine Wisdom, Ultimate Matrix, source and strength of our being.

As initiates, our pilgrimage is a daily devotion, an ongoing journey weaving through the days of our lives. There are many paths within and many mystical traditions and teachers to gently show us the way. Yet it must be our decision and our feet that make the trip. As initiates we take this responsibility.

The light fills us as we return. Daylight welcomes us as we once again turn to the needs in the waking world, to our earthly obligations. Yet the temple remains within, Sophia, Wisdom, always there for us, waiting for our return, guiding and informing us, infusing us with all we need to continue on, fulfilling the reason for which we were incarnated.

This pilgrimage to the ancient Egyptian temple is merely one path leading to an inner journey to the House of Wisdom, one spoke of the wheel of mystical pathways with different landscapes, different symbols, different names, deities and sacred prayers that in the end all lead to the center, to attaining the presence of Sophia.

No physical location claims sole ownership of this Holy of Holies, although many sanctified places retain recognized and hallowed presences as honored vessels of the sacred. One cannot put boundaries on Sophia! She is both immanent and transcendent to all. She is the Ultimate Matrix. Her House of Wisdom is found everywhere, accessed within the essence of our being, a constant welcome space for our weary spirits, a sanctuary without boundaries.

Our humble quest in search of Wisdom joins us as one—one consciousness, one manifest, one brother, sister, friend and enemy, all part of the Divine plan, the Divine unfolding, all beginning and ending within the safety and welcoming embrace of Sophia, our common birthplace and home, the holy House of Wisdom.

Janet Piedilato is a transpersonal psychologist, a complementary health care consultant, and an ordained minister.  She holds a doctorate in biology from New York University and a doctorate in transpersonal psychology from Saybrook Graduate School. She took her herbalist training at David Winston's Center for Herbal Studies. Janet holds the distinction of being the first woman practitioner to present shamanic ritual at the Harvard Divinity School Conference on Reinterpreting Shamanism. In private practice she creates complementary therapies incorporating natural supplements as well as psycho-spiritual techniques. Janet is the founder of Immaginal, a company that grew from her practice of creating scent memory experiences during relaxation therapy protocols. She resides at Temenos, an environmental sanctuary, co-founded with her husband and soul mate, Iggy.

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Comments (1)
  • The quest for wisdom is my whole search. If only Janet would please write and so inspire yet more in their quest!

    — Caitlín Matthews on April 3, 2010

15 October 2009

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