Before I introduce Sophia, I’d like to pose a couple of questions that will become pertinent to the discussion that follows.
Do you know anyone who’s suffered a heart attack? Have you yourself had some form of heart disease? When I use the term “heart disease,” I mean a wide range of heart conditions from anxiety-induced palpitations, to heart attacks (myocardial infarction), to congestive heart failure and beyond. The answer is most probably yes.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death accounting for more than 17.9 million deaths per year in 2015, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030. (AHA 2018)
Now contrast these numbers with recent Covid-19 deaths worldwide of around 2.3 million (as of this writing) and you might think of heart disease as a global pandemic on steroids. But somehow we appear to accept death from heart dis-ease much more casually.
With all the miraculous advances in Western medicine why heart disease still the #1 cause of death globally?
We know that a huge underlying factor of heart disease first show up as stress, high-functioning anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, and numerous other symptoms. It’s a well-established fact that stress accounts for most disease states in the modern Western world, including heart disease. A research article published by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Boston reports that:
“The prevalence of stress in primary care is high; 60–80% of visits may have a stress-related component.” (Reference).
And according to the University of Rochester, “Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure.”
Sustained stress alters our body chemistry in profound ways. In turn, these physiological changes deeply impact our mind and psyches (Greek for soul).
But, I do not believe that we have been looking at stress and anxiety broadly enough. Beyond the physical factors lies the psycho-spiritual aftermath of stress and a “disconnect” from our hearts.
In addition to lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise, heart disease is a symptom of perhaps an even more systemic problem; it can be characterized as a “disconnect” from our hearts, personally and collectively. We have delegated all thought processes to the brain, and in doing so we have nearly extinguished heart wisdom, a form of intelligence that was known to ancient Wisdom traditions as “Sophia” (She has a myriad of other cultural names and dress, and She has appeared in Wisdom traditions throughout the ages as the feminine evolutionary force of the universe, She is the spark within the heart and all of nature).
Her form of wisdom lies beyond the domain of time and space. She is the divine/eternal Feminine principle that exists within all of creation, including humans, both men and women. The time has come to “lift her veil,” and discover her anew. Her absence for the past couple of millennia has had far reaching effects. Since the early Christian era, the masculine principle has dominated Western culture and has banished Sophia. This leaves a lopsided world, heavy on logos, the masculine principle of technological/rational thought.
The time has come to right the imbalance between logos and Sophia, mental logic and heart wisdom.
The ramifications of our collective disconnect from Sophia is a huge underlying factor of heart disease. But the problems resulting from her absence does not stop there; other emotional, physical, ecological, political maladies of the Western world are impacted as well. I will try to keep this discussion reigned into the topic of the heart as it relates to logos and Sophia. Please forgive me if it spills over into other areas unintentionally.
What is the Problem?
Western medicine has provided technological miracles that save countless lives from heart disease, yet little progress has been made toward solving the global heart disease epidemic. Logos (scientific rational thought) by itself is failing us.
Wisdom approaches value heart-centered intuition, inner knowing, and direct experience while Western science privileges reason and the scientific method. Western science relies on reproducible results, stating that proof lies in the ability to create the same results consistently, but the synchronistic or spiritual experiences central to Wisdom approaches cannot be repeated on demand and indeed, may be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Had English physician William Harvey not pursued his intuitive wisdom back in 1628 CE, he may never have come up with his theory of the heart and blood circulation that is still taught today in medical schools. At the time, Harvey was unable to prove his theory because the technology (the microscope) had not been invented yet. He drew his knowledge from the inner wellspring of intuition and creative thinking. Let’s consider the following questions.
Despite the apparent opposition (logos and Sophia), is it possible that we are missing a fundamental connection between the two approaches? What is lost when we address heart disease only through the Western scientific paradigm of the heart as a pump, essentially a mechanical device with replaceable parts? Can we make room for another viewpoint that allows us to also address the heart as a dynamic part of our entire being rather than remain “disconnected” from it?
What do I mean by a “disconnect” from our hearts?
Being disconnected from your heart simply means living life from the head alone, using logical thought processes based on rational thinking at the exclusion of the wisdom of the heart. Although once a predominantly male phenomenon, women too now recognize that they are largely living their lives from the neck up where technology, science, and rational thought prevails. That may sound right to many people today, but let’s consider an insightful quote from Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology that cautions such an approach.
Science is not indeed a perfect instrument, but it is a superb and invaluable tool that works harm only when it is taken as an end in itself. Science must serve; it errs when it usurps the throne. It must be ready to serve all branches, for each, because of its insufficiency, has need of support from the others. Science is the tool of the Western mind, and with it one can open more doors than with bare hands. It is part and parcel of our understanding, and it obscures our insight only when it claims that the understanding it conveys is the only kind there is.C. G. Jung, Introduction to the Secret of the Golden Flower
Science errs when it claims that the understanding it conveys is the only kind there is.
Well, what other kind of knowledge or understanding is there? Heart intelligence or what the ancient Greeks called Sophia, the feminine principle of wisdom. What happened to Sophia and why do we need her so desperately now?
Many people’s minds are going all day and many even find that their thoughts invade their nightscape. For decades, women had to act like men to get a foothold into successful careers, and remembering back to the ‘80s, we (for those women who go back that far) even wore the shoulder pads to masculinize ourselves. Fortunately, that trend has long passed and women are beginning to recognize the price they have paid for relinquishing their feminine side to compete. The tide is now turning, for both women and men, and competition is giving way to collaboration and cooperation, qualities of the feminine principle.
To understand where the feminine principle of knowing was expunged from the Western mind, let’s go back to the time of William Harvey in the 17th century. In his groundbreaking book, On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, he proposed his theory of circulation which essentially states that the blood moves in a circular motion throughout the body.
Like most revolutionary ideas, his was slow to be recognized, especially since he was challenging the long standing paradigm of Greek physician, writer, and philosopher, Galen (c. 130-210 CE). One essential point of Galen’s theory was that the blood did not return to the heart. This notion was not going to be easily dislodged; it had been accepted for nearly 1,500 years.
One critically important thing that Harvey and Galen agreed upon was that the heart and blood were “ensouled.” The ancient Greek philosophers and scientists, including Hippocrates, Aristotle, Galen and Harvey, believed that living things contained a “vital spark” of energy and were “ensouled.”
The vital spark infusing matter was known as the goddess Sophia, embodied wisdom. Before I talk about Sophia, let’s remember how the gods and goddesses were a very real part of life in ancient Greece. The entire earth and cosmos was ensouled.
To the ancient world, the gods and goddesses were not only present but necessary to healing. The original Hippocratic oath required of all physicians before they could start practicing began thusly: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygeia, by Pancea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.” Clearly, the ancient Greek concept of inviting in supernatural forces transcended rational thought; it has since been modified several times over.
Hippocrates of Kos (460-377 BCE), for whom the oath is named, is still considered today as the Father of Modern Medicine whose ancestry is legended to date back into the mythological times of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.
While Harvey brought the art of healing into the world of a disciplined science he did not cast out the gods and goddesses; rather, he added to them.
Holding both notions, the gods/goddesses with scientific observational knowledge, was not contradictory to Harvey’s mechanistic theory of circulation. The “sister sciences” strengthened one another, the qualitative and quantitative, Sophia and logos existed side by side. We have lost that in modern medicine today.
Harvey believed that his theory of circulation to be held alongside and the greater cosmos itself. He wrote:
. . . The animal’s heart is the basis of its life, its chief member, the sun of its microcosm; on the heart all its activity depends, from the heart all its liveliness and strength arise. Equally is the king the basis of his kingdoms, the sun of his microcosm, the heart of the state; from him all power arises and all grace stems.
De Motu Cordis, Anatomical Account of the Motion of the Heart and Blood, 1628
Harvey instinctively knew how to tap into the intelligence of his own heart and its connection with the greater whole.
The beauty of Harvey’s description exemplifies a mindset and zeitgeist that simultaneously holds both possibilities of science and spirituality.
Harvey intuited his circulation theory and while he didn’t have the scientific means to validate it he had the inner vision to believe that it was true. While proposing a new model as the heart as a pump, he did not challenge the theory of ensoulment; rather, he added a scientific principle to it. He continued to champion a vitalistic and qualitative perspective of the human body, including the notion that the blood mixed with pneuma, Greek for breath of life. In early Greek thought pneuma was often connected with the soul.
Harvey was the bridge between the ancient “ensouled” view of the heart as pump and modern view of the heart as solely a mechanical pump. So how then did we go from perceiving the heart as ensouled to being a pump? Back to Harvey.
In addition to bucking the long standing tradition of Galen, Harvey’s theory was met with resistance because he could neither explain nor demonstrate how the arteries and veins were connected.
He intuitively knew that arteries and veins were connected, but could not prove it because the technology, microscopes, wouldn’t come along for another 30 years. The microscope was invented in 1681 and proved that capillaries are the mechanism that bridges arteries with veins.
Harvey’s plight began to change when René Descartes (French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, 1596–1650) championed his theory of circulation with a caveat. Descartes left the intrinsic “spark” of the heart behind and with it, he took its soul. Descartes’ paradigm replaced Harvey’s ensouled heart with a mechanized pump and this theory stands today in Western medicine resulting in a “disconnect” from our ensouled hearts.
The mutation of Harvey’s vitalistic theory into Descartes’ purely mechanical notion is symbolic of the critical bifurcation of spirit and matter that has dominated Western thought since the 17th century. The propensity of the Western mind to feel the need to extract what it perceives to be the essence or essential point may do so at the expense of the greater truth or whole. Descartes extracted the soul and Sophia from the heart, perhaps even single-handedly.
But can we really go back to Harvey’s time, pre-“enlightenment,” when the world was ensouled?
No, and I don’t think we would want to. The answer lies not in returning to a previous era, but to continue to evolve as humanity and anima mundi (soul of the world) are destined to do. The way that the ancient Greeks expressed ensoulment is not likely going to appeal to the modern psyche. But that’s not to say that the underlying archetype of ensoulment, Sophia, is not just as critical today as it was for the ancients.
In Part II we explore how we can unveil Sophia in ways that speak to our times in a language that both logos and Sophia/wisdom can understand. Unveiling or rebirthing Sophia, an integrative approach to healing soma (body), psyche (soul), and anima mundi, is vitally important and needed now.
In Unveiling Sophia Part II we will take a deep dive into the archetypal nature of Sophia in modern Her dress.