The Magdalene Mystique

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

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

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

To find Lila and David Tresemer’s DVD Re-Discovering Mary
Magdalene: The Making of a Mythic Drama (Cancom, 2001), go to

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