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Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Monday, 20 July 2015

The Zone of Sophia: a prayer form for difficult times



Over the last thirty years, I’ve practised a prayer-form that I first received in a dream. I’ve used different forms of it over the years, but the core of it remains the same. Within the dream, I was ushered into an enclosed garden which was surrounded by a high hedge with a central gateway in each of the four sides. It was the numinous hour before dawn and the air shimmered. From each of the gateways came four strong, tall, faery beings who bore the emblems of the elements in their hands. They walked with dignity and beauty as if carrying the most precious things in the world. In turn they spoke a blessing for each element. They then taught me the words and instructed me in what was done and intended, since all ritual and prayer comes with specific intention.

The Four Hallows by Miranda Gray
from The Complete Arthurian Tarot
by Caitlín & John Matthews
They showed me the stars and the *zone or belt of Sophia, the atmosphere which shrouds our earth. The faery women instructed me to tell people to send up our deepest aspirations for the universe nightly to this boundary of the earth's soul that all beings might imbibe, dream and be nourished by the common pool of aspirations gathered there. In daily life, we can bless the elements, and be aware of the messages of our bodies. In addition, we can dance to help keep our sense of connection between the worlds. If we maintained these things then all beings would learn to see these connections. The blessings of the elements were repeated to me in this vision:

Blessed be the precious and preserving air, by which we are given life.
Blessed be the precious and preserving fire, by which we are warmed.
Blessed be the precious and preserving water, by which we are cleansed.
Blessed be the precious and preserving earth, by which we are sustained.
Blessed be the precious and preserving spirit that is within and around me.

These are now the last words I utter before sleep and the first upon waking every day: sometimes the words vary, but the first part of the blessing remains the same. I sometimes add, ‘Blessed be the precious and preserving ancestors, now, then and to come.’ I especially use these blessings when I light the stove, draw water or step out of the house.
The Zone of Sophia - our atmosphere
In the last few weeks, the pressure has been on me to share this prayer form again, as I’ve been reminded that the aspirations we send up to the earth’s atmosphere, which is bounded by the sacred zone of Sophia, can also include those of peace for which our world yearns so much. The simplicity of the elemental blessing has its own effect around us, but the aspirations of the heart and soul that we send to become part of the earth’s atmosphere, have a much wider one: they become part of the zone or belt of Sophia, or the scarf that is woven by Persephone (see below.)

In doing this, we don’t need to specify an end to the aspiration because it is offered without condition from you to your equals. As soon as we try to refine aspiration or prayer to a specific aim, we get in the way of it. It was clear from my original instructions, that this prayerful aspiration was to be freely offered and made available, not sent to some particular person or aim: no-one and no being is excluded from this form.

About six years ago, over the weekend of a conference, I was asked to lead a dawn meditation at a house in the south of England. I went on a recce to check out the terrain, discovering that the designated place wasn’t really suitable for elderly people to get down to in the dark, and so I walked the extensive grounds to find a better place with a more even footing. Imagine my delight when, on turning into the unassuming gate of a wall, I found myself in an enclosed garden with a gate in each wall! Within that blessed place, at the first light of dawn, we recreated my dream in the enclosed garden. May we all contribute to bringing and maintaining the peace!

• The Zone or Belt of Sophia is a concept that is found in two sources: in the myth of Persephone and that of the Gnostic Sophia. According to Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, ‘Jupiter instructs Venus to go to her abode, and betray Proserpina from her retirement, that Pluto may be enabled to carry her away; and to prevent any suspicion in the virgin's mind, he commands Diana and Pallas to go in company. The three Goddesses arriving, find Proserpina at work on a scarf for her mother; in which she had embroidered the primitive chaos and the formation of the world.’

• In 4th century account by Claudian of De Raptu Prosperina, we read how this scarf was worked: ‘Proserpine herself, soothing the house with sweet song, was sewing all in vain a gift against her mother’s return. In this cloth she embroidered with her needle the concourse of atoms and the dwelling of the Father of the gods and pictured how Mother Nature ordered elemental chaos, and how the first principles of things sprang apart, each to his proper place – those that were light being born aloft, the heavier ones falling to the centre. The air grew bright and fire chose the pole as it seat. Here flowed the sea; there hung the earth suspended. Many were the colours she employed tricking the stars with god and flowering the sea with purple. The shore she embossed with precious stones and cunningly employed raised threadwork to imitate the swelling billows.’

• In the Gnostic text, On the Origin of the World, the will of Pistis (Faith) emanated as Sophia who ‘manifested itself as a likeness of heaven, having an unimaginable magnitude;’ and so Sophia ‘functioned as a veil dividing mankind from the things above.’

The Ever Living Lady by Danuta Meyer
from The Celtic Book of the Dead
by Caitlín Matthews