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.
If this is true, one of the most enlightened individuals of all history loved and honored a woman. If this is true, their partnership was at the core of a dominant religion for the past 2000 years. Maybe celibacy and sin are not as important as we think. Maybe partnership is the central tenet of Christianity. This aspect of partnership is what has captured the collective imagination. Yeshua and Magdalene loved one another, regardless of the nature of that love. They were, in my opinion, intimate. Intimacy doesn't need to be sexual; it implies that two people are close, and honor deeply the gifts of the other.
Looking back to Leonardo da Vinci's depiction of the Last Supper, scholars and historians have asked, 'Is that figure on the left John the Beloved, or Mary Magdalene?' The bigger question might be: 'Is there a place at that table for a woman, for the feminine?' Accepting that Magdalene was part of Jesus' inner circle could make a significant difference to us now, at a time when people need to know that powerful, capable women are essential to solving the world's problems. As I watch women rediscover Mary Magdalene as an archetype, I see them wake up to feisty spirit and boldness. I witness them standing up and facing discrimination, not violently or reactively, but with grace and dignity. I also see that they are able to look back at the story, the myth, of Christianity and claim something as their own: another archetype besides Virgin, Mother, and Whore.
If women can believe this, they change their roles: They can accept that women have a place at the table. They can claim the teacher who, at the core, accepted a woman who burned a wilder fire than was acceptable, and loved her. He saw her. He honored her.
This is her time to be remembered. And as this memory fires up the passion of women and men, may we find the way to respect the feminine and let its power lead the way to healthy living for all.
To find Lila and David Tresemer's DVD Re-Discovering Mary Magdalene: The Making of a Mythic Drama (Cancom, 2001), go to www.pathoftheceremonialarts.org.