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Wisdom Carries a Sword

"Shekhinah revealed Herself and rested upon him before the eyes of all."

In many traditions, Wisdom bears many faces - she may be blissful waters of Saraswati or Anahita, open and available to everyone without discrimination, offering herself to whoever invokes her. But, human art throughout cultures also reveals another image that's sitting deep in our psyches - when she is not a blissful silver light, wearing a blue robe, offering a hand to pull us out of the water that one was about to drown in, and when she is not hiding behind a veil, saying: "I am still the great Isis! None has yet lifted my veil! My fruit is the Sun!", she bears a sword, a spear, or her companion is a lion or another predatory animal, or she might be a fierce, passionate or wrathful dakini.

In the Western lore, the image assigned to wisdom, is often the one of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, warfare, justice and law, and who was also the sponsor of arts, trade and strategy. Sometimes, she, besides her shield, and helmet, is also carrying the "sword of justice".

Minerva or Athena is the embodiment of culture and civilisation, and even in times far after the ages of Romans or Greeks, we often portray civilisation or motherland as a proud, towering woman carrying a sword. Walter Otto in "The Homeric Gods" says: "Not as lover or mother, not as dancing girl or Amazon, but as a knowledgeable and artistically constructive nature does woman belong to Athena."

She is the "knowledgeable constructive nature" but the knowledge she guards with her sword, isn't knowledge of mere facts - it is a knowledge far greater and deeper. This is the knowledge that both allows liberation by showing the inner truths, and at the same time offers the constructive nature that builds the world.


The Grace of Eden

"(I meditate on Devi Sharada) Who is Pure White in Colour, and whose deepest Essence can only be fathomed by enquiring into the nature of Brahman (Absolute Consciousness); Who is Supreme and Primeval, and Her Essence is spread across the whole Universe (as Consciousness), Who is holding the Veena (symbolising the essence of Music) and Book (symbolising the essence of Knowledge), and displaying the gesture of Fearlessness (arising out of Knowledge); the Knowledge which removes the darkness of Ignorance from our Minds, Who is holding a Garland of Crystal beeds in Her Hand (shining with Purity), and Who is abiding on the Seat of Lotus (blooming like an awakened Consciousness), I Extol and Worship Her, Who is the Supreme Goddess Who awakens our Intelligence; I Worship Devi Sharada." - Namaste Sharade Devi

In a tarot deck, the swords are associated with the element of air, and therefore intellect and knowledge. Air is a masculine element - as it is externally focused and seeks to know the environment, rather than go inside for introspection. For this reason, swords, or air, are also associated with depression, sorrow, fanaticism, anxiety, doubt, avoidance, and many other unpleasant states we experience when we, as we popularly say it, are "overthinking" or spending too much time in our heads. Intellect indeed, is the one who knows, but if the intellect doesn't know what it needs to know, it becomes and endless "seeking", and roaming - it may push us to change our interests, philosophies, religions, while never truly getting immersed into something, therefore never allowing the true construction of anything, including true knowledge.

Rabbi Abba ben Kahana said commenting on the verse: "They heard God walking to and fro in the Garden at the cool of the day (Gen. 3:7): "Walking is not written here, but "walking to and fro". This means that God repeatedly leapt skyward and ascended. The real home of Shekinah was in the realm below, not the heavens above. When Adam sinned, it departed to the first level of heavens. With Cain, it departed to the second; the generation of Enosh, to the third; the generation of the flood, to the fourth; the builders of the tower of Bebel, to the fifth; with the Sodom, to the sixth; and with the Egyptians in the days of Abraham, to the furthest remove possible, seventh heaven. But over against these sinful generations, seven righteous rose: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kohtah, Amram, and Moses. They brought Shekinah from the seventh back to the realm of Earth."

Shekinah, the divine presence, in Kabbalah, besides being seen as the Sabbath Bride, is also seen as the feminine aspect of God, similar to Sophia. Alan Unterman, in "Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legends" says: "In the imagery of the Kabbalah the shekhinah is the most overtly female sefirah, the last of the ten sefirot, referred to imaginatively as 'the daughter of God'. The harmonious relationship between the female shekhinah and the six sefirot which precede her causes the world itself to be sustained by the flow of divine energy. She is like the moon reflecting the divine light into the world."

The Qur'an, also mentions Shekinah as the presence of God's peace. It is the reassuring, gentle, aspect of God that tells the believers that everything shall be good. The Surah Victory (48:4) mentions this by saying: "It is He Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add faith to their faith;- for to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom." The word Sakinah is mentioned to describe Allah's calming presence in other chapters of the Qur'an as well.

Kabbalah, as is mentioned above, says that Shekhinah is the tenth sefirot. Sefirots are attributes or emanations through which the Infinite reveals itself, and creates, sustains and destroys all realms. The tenth sephirot is named Malkuth - as its symbol, it has the Bride (Tifereth, the sixth, is the realm of the Bridegroom, as mentioned in the quote above). Malkuth is unique as it is the only sephriot that does not emanate directly from the Infinite, rather, it arises from the creation itself. It is the source of life in the sphere of the material, tangible existence, and also, the presence of God in the world. As interpreted by the Rabbi above, the Earth and Heaven were not split, but by human's sin, Shekinah, or God's presence departed from humans. And since Malkuth is the presence of God within humans, the humans, by their transgression, were not able to find the God within, symbolically represented by Shekinah becoming ever more distant. The realised, enlightened beings bring Shekinah among humans. In a way, she is always present and everywhere around, but since feminine principle has a tendency to hide - most do not see her, even if they look at her day after day. A non-dual Shakta would say that it is only her that is ever looked at, but not everyone knows what they are looking at.

When the sword of intellect knows what it is looking at, the seeking, the anxiety, the airy restlessness ends, for it has found source of all knowledge.


The Slayer of Ignorance

"Minerva and the Muses", Jacques Stella (1596 – 29 April 1657), French

Athena is known to guide and lead her favourite heroes; she is also the slayer of the giant Pallas, and the monster Gorgon. Understood metaphorically, Athena, who is wisdom, slays the overexpansion of the physical represented by the Pallas, and she is also the slayer of the serpentine ego, symbolised by the Gorgon. Before the Wisdom guides, she first slays the obstacles that stand between the hero and his apotheosis.

With the same sword by which she slays ignorance, she protects herself from being profaned, mocked and forgotten by the brutish violence of the giant, or the unfathomable hunger of the ego, that only knows how to possess.

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Lionel Chan
Lionel Chan
Nov 18, 2021

Peace Friends,

The "element" of Metal in Chinese understanding resonates with Autumn/the Fall. It counters/prunes/keeps the Spring expansion and imagination of Wood.

Rabbi Abulafia was known to criticise (critique itself a very Metal quality) those that followed the Sefiroh as often straying into polytheism and idolatry. Perhaps this relates to his understanding that imagination is so often a great enemy to the initiate seeking authentic identification with Hashem, becoming distracted by psychic powers on the way instead. Vanity that has yet to be tamed.

Imagination can bring the image of Sakina, the real thing being a marker of an instantiated non-dual state. This image, powered by Wood, may actually bely deep anxiety and panic. An alchemical litmus test is…

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