by Tricia Szirom
Who was she?
While this Mary was mentioned more than any other disciple in the New Testament, there is confusion about who she was, where she came from, what her relationship was with Jesus and what part she played in the story of the early Christian church.
As I grew up Mary was described variously as an irresponsible sister, a prostitute, a repentant sinner, a faithful follower, a wasteful and wanton woman and a friend to Mary the Mother of Jesus. She was always fragments without substance.
More recently discovered and analysed documents indicate that:
- She was from a wealthy family of the House of Benjamin and the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany (See www.magdalene.org)
- She had status within the community and was possibly a high priestess in the temple.
- She was not a prostitute (there is no part of the Gospels that supports this claim).
- She was the loved one of the disciples who Jesus often kissed on the lips and who rested her head on his breast.
- She was actually the Apostle to the apostles and an equal to Jesus in knowledge and understanding (See the Gospels of Mary, Thomas and Phillip which were excluded from the New Testament).
- She was at the crucifixion with his mother and the first to find Jesus after the resurrection.
Magdala is not the name of a town in the 1st century, nor is it a term denoting a prostitute. In Micah 4:8-18 it refers to the Magdal-eder as the Watchtower of the Flock. This is a woman of royal blood needed to activate the Messianic King. She then becomes the bereaved and exiled bride who is reviled. Rev. Dr. S. DMontford in New Dawn No. 97
There is also conjecture that Mary and Jesus (of the House of David) were the Goddess (represented by Mary) and King of the Sacred Marriage, which would fit with her role as a priestess in the temple. Strong beliefs exist that Mary bore Jesus children; some say a son, others a daughter named Sarah and others a number of children.
"...The Magdalene is not, at any point in any of the Gospels, said to be a prostitute. When she is first mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, she is described as a woman 'out of whom went seven devils'. It is generally assumed that this phrase refers to a species of exorcism on Jesus's part, implying the Magdalene was 'possessed'. But the phrase may equally refer to some sort of conversion and/or ritual initiation. The cult of Ishtar or Astarte - the Mother Goddess and 'Queen of Heaven' - involved, for example, a seven-stage initiation [the seven veils]. Prior to her affiliation with Jesus, the Magdalene may well have been associated with such a cult. Migdal, or Magdala, was the 'Village of Doves', and there is some evidence that sacrificial doves were in fact bred there. And the dove was the sacred symbol of Astarte." - Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
At the time of Mary Magdalene, the Romans had control of most of the known world including Palestine. This area had earlier been part of a matriarchal focused, Goddess loving society that stretched into what is now Iraq and Turkey through Greece and into Egypt and Africa for thousands of years.
For thousands of years the fertility rituals of the region included the Sacred Marriage which both honoured the Goddess, brought plenty to the land, and gave the blessing of the Goddess to the new King. As a major part of this ritual the King is sacrificed (at first actually and later symbolically), comes back to life after three days, having been found by the High Priestess who has acted for the Goddess in these ceremonies.
This focus had been destroyed by patriarchal tribes moving into the area and changing the paradigm from one where there was an integration of the Feminine Principle and a focus on the Goddess, which saw women as having a key role and revered place in society. The many and varied groups and their beliefs were in flux and, while there were still temples to the Goddess, Her role in society was diminished as was the role of women.
The gospels provide evidence that Jesus preached a new/renewed approach, which would again integrate the Divine Feminine and provide balance; his was a message of peace, tolerance, equality and appreciation of the Divine Within. A critical aspect of his message was displayed in his relationship with Mary the WatchTower. Mary represented, with him, the balance required for the world to be whole.
The parallels between the Divine Marriage ritual and the story of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus are compelling when considered with the material now available. What is different in what we have been taught, is the banishment of the Goddess/Sacred Feminine and the confusion about the importance of the Female Aspect in the Bible Story.
The early groups that accepted the teachings of Jesus were diverse and there were internal disagreements between various factions, which increased over time especially as the movement attracted new people from different cultures and beliefs.
It is important to remember that Jesus wasn't Christian, and neither was Myriam M'Gadolah (as she is also known). The message they brought to the world had no name at the time; that was to come later. What did exist following the crucifixion was a group of frightened and confused men who were scared that preaching the gospel of Jesus would lead to their deaths. According to the lost Gospels Mary was the one to give them courage – she was the inspiring leader who preserved the faith.
However there were those amongst the apostles who did not support her role; in particular Peter the Rock, saw his role as the leader and challenged Mary (Gospels of Mary and Phillip). In spite of this, women continued to play a major role in the early church. Male leadership of the church was not a forgone conclusion.
According to an article on psyche.com (a site on esoteric topics) early Christianity formed its identity as a shell for Jesus' revelation by marginalizing Jews, Gnostic thought, and women. Mary Magdalene resides at the conjunction of this triple repression.
It was not until the C2&3 that the church commenced a ban on women preaching and teaching. Prior to that time women played a major role in spreading the teachings of the Christos which was a teaching of love and of the importance to re-emerge the place of the Feminine which had been diminished over time. Both Peter and Paul played major roles in the oppression of womens place in the early church.
In the fourth century the church took a formal stand and introduced celibacy for priests and made statements that made women less than equal and even the source of temptation and sin. In the sixth century Pope Gregory recast Mary Magdalene as the repentant sinner and named her a prostitute; a final step in removing the Divine Feminine from the core of Christianity to the detriment of women and the world for some generations.
The Persistence of Belief
There have been many stories about the importance of Mary Magdalene that have persisted over the centuries and keep re-emerging in spite of the insistence of the church that they are heresies:
- Mary took her child(ren) by Jesus, fled to Egypt and then on to Southern France where she died and was buried.
- She visited Glastonbury with Joseph of Aramathia where they founded a true version of the teachings.
- She is associated with the Black Madonnas, which keep appearing in Southern Europe.
- She was core to the true message of Jesus as Christ.
In a fascinating thesis by Anna Fedele, Learning to Honour Their Body and Blood: Pilgrims on the Path of Mary Magdalene, the author describes a pilgrimage of women to sites associated with Mary Magdalene in France and Catalonia.
They consider Mary Magdalene both as a forerunner of feminism and as a model for independent women.
As a historical person Mary Magdalene is seen as a forerunner, a powerful woman who belonged to the ancient tradition of the Goddess religion and blended her knowledge with that of Jesus, showing that the union between the Christian and the Goddess tradition is possible. As an archetype Mary Magdalene is seen as a reference and a model that offers women the possibility to live out their creative power without being mothers. (Fedele).
This is a description of one of the many tours and pilgrimages that are now undertaken in search of understanding and connection with Mary Magdalene.
Associated Artifacts and Activities
Perhaps the most commonly associated artifact with Mary Magdalene is the Alabaster Jar in which she carried the spikenard and myrrh with which she anointed Jesus. (For a fascinating story about the jar/grail go to grahamphillips.net. The second artifact is the Holy Grail or San Greal with which she became associated in the stories of the Knights Templar, the Cathars and more recently the stories of The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown).
Mary Magdalene at the Foot of the Cross
Mary is also associated with green, in which she is often dressed (along with a red cloak) in Medieval art. Flowers associated with Mary are roses and lilies.
There is a tradition in many eastern European countries that links Mary to a red egg which is exchanged at Easter and seen by some as the origin of the Easter Egg. (See for example stmarymagdalene.asn.au.
This medal has been cast as a representation of the symbols of Mary (for further information see rossettagrams.com.
It is worthy of note here that the egg was part of the fertility rites for the Goddess Astarte who was worshipped in Canaan. (other names include Ishstar, Isis, Asherah, Ashtaroth and Ashtoreth). The cult of Astarte spread as far north as Britain where she was called Oestre. The Christian holiday of Easter and the Wiccan holiday of Ostara are named after her.
There is a strong belief in Southern France and Spain that Mary was the Black Madonna and is through that linked with Isis, Cybele and Dianna (For further information go to Cassandara Eason.)
According to a number of writers (Wickipedia) there is a sense of power in the Black Madonnas, which is not present in the pale-skinned statues of the Virgin Mary (more associated with purity and motherhood). This supports ideas that these images are more associated with Magdalene. According to Lucia Birnbaum in her seminal work, Black Madonnas represent feminine power linked with the earth goddesses and attributed to the archetypal "great mother" who presides not only over fertility, but over life and death (Read more on darkmother.net ).
Links between Mary Magdalene and Astarte
Small Statue of Astarte
Bellini Museum Venice
In undertaking this project I have identified a number of coincidental pieces of information which seem to link Mary Magdalene to Astarte including:
- Mary came from Magdala where doves were bred and doves are a sacred symbol of Astarte.
- In her meeting with Tiberius in Rome Mary is carrying an egg, again a symbol sacred to Astarte Goddess of fertility and abundance.
- Mary was later described as a prostitute and there was a practice of Divine or Sacred sex in the temples to Astarte.
- There is a strong tradition that Mary the mother of Jesus retired to live her last years in the hills just above this temple.
- Along with their link to Mary Magdalene, Black Madonnas are also associated with Astarte.
The temple to Astarte at Ephesus.
This temple was still in use well into the first centuries of the Christian church.
Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Dell Publishing
Eason, Cassandra - The Complete Book of Womens Wisdom, Piatkus, 2001
Fedele, Anne - Learning to Honour Their Body and Blood: Pilgrims on the Path of Mary Magdalene Universidad Aut—noma de Barcelona, ƒcole des Hautes ƒtudes en Sciences Sociales1
Leloup, J-Y - The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Inner Traditions International, 2002
Haskins Susan, - Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, Field Books
King Karen - The Gospel of Mary Magdala, Polebridge Press, 2003
Songbird Margaret - The Goddess in the Gospels; Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine
The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Bear and Company, 1993
Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile, Bear and Company, 2005
Stone Sharon - Mary Magdalene Apostle to the Apostles, New Dawn Magazine
Thiering Barbara - Jesus the Man:Decoding the Real Story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Nov 2006, Simon and Schuster NY.
Other Links of Interest
Church of Gnosis: This site has a Sanctuary to Mary Magdalene. (www.gnosticsanctuaty.org).
Barbara Thiering www.pesherofchrist.infinitesolutions.com is an Australian theologian who has researched and written on the early Christian church and in particular Jesus and Mary Magdalene
Gnostic Information: www.newdawnmagazine.com
Songaia Sound Productions: The site for Ani Williams, Harpist, Singer & Composer, Sound Therapist, Author and Pilgrimage Guide. Ani conducts pilgrimages to Magdalene sites and has recorded a number of CDs in her honour. Internet: www.aniwilliams.com
An interesting analysis of the archetype that Mary Magdalene represents is presented at www.thoughtsandplaces.org
Margaret Songbird provides an analysis of The Little Mermaid and links the story to Mary Magdalene as a metaphor for the loss of the Sacred Bride and the Divine Feminine at www.members.tripod.com
The website for Margaret Songbird one of the leading exponents of the role and importance of Mary Magdalene is www.MargaretSongbird.net
There is a series of films by DrBogdanovic about Mary Magdalene on YouTube. These films provide input by Magdalene scholars such as Dr. Pheme Perbis, Susan Haskins and Rev. Ester De Boer.
www.d-annbaldwin.com is the website for The New Earth Feminine which bases its teachings on the archetype of Mary Magdalene and conducts a series of programs to assist women to claim their strength and independence.
This article was published at goddessschool.com, and is the intellectual and creative property of Tricia Szirom
(c) 2009 Tricia Szirom