Mary Magdalene has Returned

The mystics among us are declaring her to be the long lost Holy Grail, the Bride of Christ, the Christian Goddess, even a Tantrika, a spiritually adept woman who initiates men into the sexual mysteries of the Divine.

Scholars are saying the opposite - that surely there was a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus but why are we obsessing about her sexuality? There is no historical evidence for Mary Magdalene as either prostitute or bride. Art historian Diane Apostolos-Cappadona reports that depictions of Mary Magdalene from the third to the seventh century show her status to be that of “a virgin” – meaning, in the ancient sense, a woman unto herself. *

These two points of view – the historic and the mystical – utterly contradict. What to make of these differences?

Paradoxically, both are true –

We need to remember that scholarship is by its nature conservative, based on available material evidence. As to the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were sexual partners, married or not - there are simply no texts or archeological remains that justify that claim.

The Da Vinci Code novel refers to documents about an organization called the Priory of Sion that kept alive the knowledge of a hidden marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. These documents do exist but they are of recent origin, fabricated by a man named Pierre Plantard and planted in the National Library in Paris. In other words they are a hoax. (See “So Really…Who was Mary Magdalene?”)

Henry Lincoln, one of the authors of Holy Blood Holy Grail, the book that originally put forward the allegation of a hidden marriage, repeatedly points out that the book was based on speculation not proof.

But the idea of the sexualized Magdalene -whether prostitute, lover or bride - has deep resonance with many people and is perceived as an intuitive truth. Ideas hold energy, particularly ones imbued with strong emotion. The idea of Mary Magdalene as the whore-who-repented dominated religious life in the European Middle Ages. There is no historical validity for Mary Magdalene as a repentant whore but the idea took off with a life of its own and became an essential element in the mythic reality of Western consciousness.

Mythic reality?

Myth is the stuff of imagination, heartfelt belief and unconscious projection. Accumulating over the centuries mythic reality has its own dynamic energy that is often viscerally felt and can readily be seen in dreams and visions. What I am calling the mythic reality is named the archetypal realm by Jungians or the mindstream by Tibetan Buddhists.

Mythic reality is very different than historic reality and some people consider it more “real” than historic reality. The late Joseph Campbell talked about the great myths as perennial themes in the working out of human ideas. These mythic or archetypal stories speak truth that is truer than most facts. But they do so by generalizing, abstracting, even distorting the particulars of everyday human life.

The lover / bride identities now being attributed to Mary Magdalene are mythic in nature. They do not tell us about the flesh and blood woman. If we want to know about the human being who walked on this earth as part of the grassroots Jesus movement, we need to look at the growing body of excellent historical research by scholars like Karen King, Jane Schaberg and Ann Brock.

The main point about mythic reality is that it tells us about us. The idea that Mary Magdalene was the lover / bride of Jesus is enormously popular – and the very popularity of this idea tells us that we as a culture will no longer tolerate the split between sexuality and spirituality that has been the hallmark of Church teachings.

The lover / bride identity serves to antidote the anti-sexual bias that has existed for so many centuries in the Christian–dominated West. As such, it is a source of profound healing, both personally and collectively. (See Healing Through the Magdalene)
Some would say that these identities emanate directly from the consciousness of Mary Magdalene. That she, like a bodhisattva in the Buddhist sense, is allowing herself to be used by humanity to work out certain aspects of our collective psyche. A powerful idea – and a matter of personal belief.

For myself, looking at both the evolution of mythic identities surrounding Mary Magdalene and the discoveries of contemporary scholars, it is enough to say: congratulations to us of the 21st century for throwing off the long-standing mind shackles of a hierarchical Church.

Through the agency of the mythic Magdalene, we are affirming sexuality and honoring the female half of humanity.

And through groundbreaking historical scholarship, we are getting to know a remarkable woman whose story has long been hidden, a woman who transcended the gender limitations of her time to become a leader among men, a spiritual teacher and a gifted seer who was able to grasp the inner teachings of the Christ and was called by him, “the woman who knew the all.”


* “On the Visual and the Vision: The Magdalene in Early Christian Art and Culture” by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona in Miriam, The Magdalene, and the Mother, edited by Deirdre Good