The Magdalene Mystique

Why her archetype matters

| November / December 2005

Never before has a thriller hit the reading market like Dan Brown's 2003 book, The Da Vinci Code. Millions of readers rushed to buy the novel, debates raged about its authenticity, the Louvre and other museums used the story to sell tickets, cults of followers took tours that explained how 'the code' was cracked.

At the center of all the debate and mystery is Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus and is now considered a saint by major religions. Magdalene has come to the forefront of people's consciousness for a reason -- not because of Brown, but because her archetype is re-emerging. Brown captured the attention of millions through good storytelling, and to some extent, her voice came through.

Still, the story of Magdalene and all she represents is far from settled. There are many questions that may never be answered. Was she the lover and wife of Yeshua Ben Joseph (Jesus)? One first-century text observes that the two of them used to kiss frequently. There are many hints in Gnostic texts that she and Yeshua had an intimate connection. Perhaps the wedding at Cana was their wedding; perhaps they had a daughter named Sarah. Perhaps Magdalene was an initiate of the Egyptian mysteries and a priestess. We think this part is true. But . . . perhaps not.

One thing is certain. Mary Magdalene -- her life and her archetype -- are resonating, especially with women. Her archetype is an essential one, which the modern-day feminine needs to reclaim, rediscover, and re-engage.

Several years ago, before The Da Vinci Code, my husband, David, and I traveled deep into Israel and France to 'track down Magdalene.' We wrote a play about what we found, and made a video. Our work was stimulated by a dream I had while I was sleeping near the Sea of Galilee, in which 'She' directed me: 'Tell my story.' I've spent a lot of time reviewing the materials and meditating, and I've come up with this personal interpretation of Magdalene and her life:

A beautiful woman lives in the early first century at the time of a great teacher, and she travels with him and his disciples. She doesn't accept the roles assigned to women and is not about to meekly accept her place as defined by the spiritual and cultural authorities. She is intimate with the teacher, and he respects and encourages her intellect as well as her spiritual process. He calls her koinonos, which means companion or partner. She asks insightful questions of the spiritual teacher, and she is familiar enough with the Egyptian mysteries to know when and how to anoint the 'King,' seven times in all. She witnesses her beloved teacher and friend die a brutal death, while most of the men disappear out of terror. She is the first person to witness his successful initiation rite, the rising from the tomb. At that time, she receives a teaching from him in his 'light body,' or his resurrected form. When she returns to report on this encounter, some of the male disciples scorn and belittle her, jealous of her close relationship with the teacher. By tradition, she would be the first apostle and the recipient of the mantle of the spiritual teacher; but alas, she is mocked and ostracized. Later she is named a prostitute. She, who was deeply loved by the anointed one, has no more place in the community he founded. But she leaves a trail of mystery, some bread crumbs along the way, so that perhaps at another time, when women are more independent and empowered, they might discover her trail. They might find that there is a root to Western mysticism that has the face of a beautiful and powerful woman.