Saint Joseph for Mystics

“Joseph, Joseph,” the high priest said, “you’ve been chosen by lot to take the virgin of the Lord into your care and protection.”

-Infancy Gospel of James 7:7

San Giuseppi,  Yosef,  Patron of Carpenters: today I’m writing about the gentle powerhouse, Saint Joseph.  Evangelical and Orthodox Christianity regards Joseph as the stepfather of Jesus and husband of the Virgin Mary.  There’s an abundance of literature concerning his attributes, folk customs and traditional prayers; largely related to the Catholic Church.  But I’m here tonight to share a different angle of Saint Joseph, one steeped in Christian Gnosticism and therefore universally accessible to people of many faiths: the mystic’s Saint Joseph.

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Phillip the messenger said,

“Joseph the carpenter planted a garden of paradise

because he needed wood for his trade.

He made the cross from the trees he planted,

and his seed hung from what he planted.

His seed was Jesus, and the plant was the cross.”

The tree of life in the middle of that garden

of paradise is an olive tree, and from the olive tree

comes chrism, and from that oil

comes the resurrection.

-“Joseph and the Wooden Cross,” The Gospel of Philip

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Don’t get me wrong, without the canonical (or Orthodox) Gospels, you and I wouldn’t have a concise, foundational narrative for the life of Jesus and his relation to Joseph the Carpenter.  But the Nag Hamadi library and the Gnostic Gospels, especially the so-named “Infancy Gospel of James,” offers a deeper, symbolic understanding of the man called Yosef.

Twelve years before his marriage to Mary, she was installed by her parents Anna and Joachim and the high priests in the Temple, where she is fed by hand from a “holy messenger.”  Eventually, the priests hope to choose a husband for her.

“…go out and assemble the widowers of the people and have them each bring a staff.  She will become the wife of the one to whom the Lord God shows a sign.”

-Infancy Gospel of James 8: 7-8

     After collecting the staffs, the high priest prayed.  Afterward, he left the temple and handed the staffs back to the widowers.  Joseph’s was returned to him last.

Suddenly a dove came out of this staff and perched on Joseph’s head.

-Infancy Gospel of James 9: 6

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     The dove being the symbol of the Holy Spirit or Divine Wisdom, Sophia, of whom Mary is considered the incarnation in Gnosticism, a role she shares with her predecessor, the Ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis.  Saint Joseph, as her protector, corresponds beautifully with Osiris, the brother and husband of Isis, father of the Egyptian Christ Horus.  When I pray to Saint Joseph, I remember this, and address him as the protector of the Christ and the Sophia within us all.

On a familiar level, Saint Joseph is the protector of families, a man who supported his wife and son as a carpenter and passed down his trade.  When I look at images of Saint Joseph, I don’t see the stern stepfather archetype.  I see a loving man fond of flowers,  a carpenter and an artisan, who likely has a fondness for the arts.  My boyfriend and I work part time jobs during the day, but we also work daily as independent writers and artists.  I like to think Saint Joseph can appreciate and identify with us.

I do recite his traditional novenas when I need to.  Historically, Saint Joseph has helped me find stable employment.  He’s also helped bolster my finances.  But my prayer to Saint Joseph on his sacred weekday, Wednesday, arose slowly:

O, Saint Joseph,

You are the father of Jesus and husband of Mary.

You nourish the Christ and the Sophia within us all.

Please accept this gift.

May it merge with you,

May it offer you energy, strength, life and power.

Saint Joseph, my patron,

You are welcome with me at all times,

And in all places.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen.

     My gift of choice, by the way, for San Giuseppi is frankincense with powdered or pulverized cinnamon on charcoal.  I feel sandalwood also resonates with him, and it’s highly accessible in a pinch.  He is shown with lilies in iconography.

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