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Majak Bredell

Towards a new iconography and re-imaging the mythology and legends of Mary Magdalene
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ARTIST’S STATEMENT........................................................................................................................... 3 I was christened Maria Magdalena, yet, I was never called by this name. Instead I
was called by the diminutive of Maria: Marietjie. This name, through
mispronunciation by a younger sibling, became Majak, the name by which I know
WHO IS MARY MAGDALENE?........................................................................................................ 4 myself. Maria Magdalena has always lurked in the shadows beneath my
by Professor Karen von Veh consciousness and I would be reminded of it only when submitting a passport
application or tax return. Yet, I have always had a particular fascination and
MANY MAGDALENES... ...................................................................................................................... 10 fondness for my namesake, this much maligned character from religion, legend, and
by Majak Bredell art. Mary Magdalene attracted many and diverse interpretations, ecclesiastic
projections and pronouncements on women, the female body, sin, repentance and
CODEX MAGDALENE........................................................................................................................ 41 redemption. I strip her figure of the layers of meaning that have been attached to
her in the course of two millennia, while simultaneously replacing some layers or
adding other meanings to create a quilt of many diverse and even contradictory
MARY MAGDALENE ON THE STAGES OF HISTORY..................................................... 58 patches. I see Mary Magdalene as a hybrid figure that belongs to both Christianity
by Dr Megan Lewis and to the deeper layers of the pagan past. My interest in, and research into, the
marginalized represented by the goddess, the witch, and the female body are all
MAGDALENE MONUMENTS......................................................................................................... 60 brought to bear on my exploration and re-interpretations of this enigmatic
woman. As I separate out the many layers of thought that have shrouded Mary
Magdalene in the course of two millennia, I find that she cannot be pin-pointed and
ARTIST’S BOOKS..................................................................................................................................... 110 that her figure remains ever-changing...

Twenty years ago when I was reading Susan Haskins' MARY MAGDALEN: Myth and
SOURCES & READING LIST.............................................................................................................. 116 Metaphor, I began keeping notebooks on all things Magdalene. CODEX
MAGDALENE is the transcription of many of these notes and ideas and comprises
of over a hundred single folios. MAGDALENE MONUMENTS* comprise larger
RéSUME.......................................................................................................................................................... 118 works, that were started in 1996 and completed up to the present, as well as new
works created recently. Along with these works are several artist’s books, both
symbolic and autobiographical.

Association of Arts Pretoria.
May 6 — 25, 2016.
University of Johannesburg Art Gallery.
August 10 — September 7, 2016.
White River Gallery.
April 1 — May 3, 2017.
"... the stone walls we run into have buried foundations."

Essay on page 4:
© Prof. Karen von Veh (PhD)
Visual Art Department
Faculty of Art Design and Architecture
University of Johannesburg
subvert |səbˈvə:t|
verb [ with obj. ]
Essay on page 58: undermine the power and authority of
© Prof. Megan Lewis (PhD) (an established system or institution): an
Department of Theater attempt to subvert democratic
University of Massachusetts Amherst government.
subversion |-ˈvə:ʃ(ə)n|noun, * Marjory Malvern in her 1975 study, Venus in Sackcloth: the
Catalogue design and all photographs of Bredell artworks by the artist. subverter noun
Printed by FourColourPrint. Magdalen’s Origins and Metamorphoses, refers to all the
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old
French subvertir or Latin subvertere, from artworks, movies, musicals, literature, and plays on Mary
sub- ‘from below’ + vertere ‘to turn Magdalene as “a multitude of monuments to her memory (3).
ISBN NUMBER 978-0-620-69432-2 ’.
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Mary in the Bible, commonly designated as Magdalene and popularly considered a trilogy by Kathleen McGowan. The first book: The Expected One, was published by
sinner or prostitute, is actually a construct of both Biblical and ecclesiastical dogma Simon and Shuster in 2006 and presents an alternative ‘gospel’ supposedly written
that has been adapted to the needs of various teachings and ideologies over the by Mary Magdalene the wife of Jesus.iii McGowan’s research for her books derives
years. Marina Warner (1983:226) points out that if you search for a coherent from the gnostic gospels, where Mary Magdalene is described in the Gospel of
persona in the pages of the Bible you will be disappointed. She has been pieced Mary as “a supreme initiate into Christ’s mysteries and the teacher of the other
together from many different stories, probably of many different women, in such a apostles” and her status is reinforced by accounts of Jesus often kissing Mary, in the
way that her attributes can be manipulated at will, and have been manipulated in Gospel of Philip (Warner 1983:229).
the past to present a scapegoat or cautionary tale for womankind. Warner There are more Biblical anomalies around who the Magdalene might be and
(1983:226) for example explains how the appellation of prostitute was mis-applied many examples of her conflation with other cultural myths and legends such as Eve
to Mary in her discussion of the account in Luke’s gospel (chapter 7) where an and Pandora (Jolly 2014:203) and including her display of ancient ‘goddess’
unnamed woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. A attributes. I will not list them all here as they are commented upon, overturned,
Pharisee berates Jesus for allowing her, a sinner, to touch and therefore defile him; reclaimed, celebrated and beautifully presented in Majak Bredell’s multi-faceted
but Jesus replies that she was truly repentant because she had been forgiven a Magdalenes. Mary Magdalene is clearly not a singular entity, she appears in so
great debt – his words in Luke 7:47 are “her sins which were many, are forgiven, for many guises throughout history that she has become the canvas onto which
she loved much…” The story has, however, been twisted by the church as Warner anyone can inscribe their ideas, ideals and ideologies; and art is the perfect vehicle
(1983:226) explains: for reinforcing particular ideological points of view. One of clearest examples of
the manipulation of Mary Magdalene’s image to promote a particular ideology can
The implication that Jesus would be polluted by her touch has never led be found in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s drawing of Mary Magdalene at the door of
Christians to think of her as a murderess, a thief, a liar, but only as a whore. Simon the Pharisee (1853).
Christ’s explanation, ‘for she loved much…’ which manifestly describes the Before discussing the image itself I will give a brief background to the ideals
generosity of her gesture towards him, has even been misread as a reference and beliefs held by Victorian society which aid in identifying the subliminal message
to her sins. This aptly reflects the Christian ideas about sexual love, but in this image. Rossetti was part of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood – a group of
misunderstands altogether Christ’s use of the verb diligere, to love, or agapo
male artists and craftsmen who were trained at Oxford University. There they
in the Greek, which has no erotic connotation whatsoever.
were particularly influenced by the teachings of John Ruskin, who stressed the
need for rigidly moral ethics in society to counteract what he considered the social
In all the gospel stories of this incident the woman is not named. In
evils that arose as a by-product of the rapid industrialisation introduced during the
Matthew and Mark the unnamed woman brings expensive oils and anoints Jesus’
Industrial Revolution. The narrow opinion he had of the role women should play
head. When Mary Magdalene is named it is as the woman who had seven devils
in this endeavour can be clearly seen in Sesame and Lilies (Ruskin 1865: 59-60),
cast out of her (Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2). This latter Mary is present at the
where he urged woman to comport herself as a household nun, because he
Crucifixion and burial of Christ and is the first person to whom the risen Christ
believed that unlike a man she was unable to invent or create. Instead a woman’s
appears (Matthew 28:16). In Mark 16:1 she and other women bring spices to
talent was for “modesty of service”, she should aim therefore to “be enduringly,
anoint Christ’s body and Warner (1983:227) suggests this might be where the
incorruptibly good, instinctively, infallibly wise – not for self-development but for
unnamed woman is conflated with the Magdalene as one who anoints Christ.
Warner goes on to explain that the gospel of John further complicates her
During this historic period painting was largely a male prerogative and
identity: “John describes Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised
images were often made with a male viewing public in mind. The Pre-Raphaelite
from the dead as ‘that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointments and wiped
brotherhood’s position as a group of middle class men, and the fact that they
his feet with her hair (John 11:2).” With this statement we now have a conflation
insisted on a high moral content in their art, meant that the images they made of
of three entirely different women from three different stories into one Mary
women were inherently infused with morals and ideals prevalent in their strata of
society. Part of the morality of Victorian women thus centered on their
Her identity crisis is further compounded by her mythical life story in the
demonstration of ‘purity’ and ‘virtue’ which was promoted through art in the many
Golden Legend, written by Jacobus de Voragine between 1255 and 1266.i In these
paintings made at this time of the asexual Virgin Mary. These images were
tales she purportedly travelled to France to flee from persecution in the Holy
designed to present aspirational role models for contemporary Victorian women.
Land after Christ’s death and resurrection (Warner 1983:229). This Mary created
Edwin Mullins (1985:79) points out that in the late 19th Century:
many miracles, and lived in austerity as an ascetic and a hermit, a penitent whore
who “expiated her wicked life in conditions of grim austerity…[yet]…at the
Only bad (or lower class) women were supposed to enjoy sex: good women
canonical hours, angels raised her heavenwards”(Warner 1983:229). She is also closed their eyes and thought of the Empire. Good men venerated the
often mistaken for (or conflated with) another penitent whore with a similar good women as goddesses and guardian angels: bad men went a whoring.
legend, known as Mary of Egypt. The complexities of the Magdalene’s identity But of course they were the same men. The pressure on them was colossal
have been compounded in recent times with the suggestion that she might have because in this society of such vaunted virtue the only kind of sexuality that
been Christ’s consort. This premise is discussed in a scholarly book by William could be enjoyed was dirty, sinful...the art they bought in huge quantities and
Phipps from 1970, entitled Was Jesus Married? More recently the 2006 film and the at huge prices precisely mirrors their dread of the sexuality of women and
2003 book of The Da Vinci Code caused some outrage in religious quarters by their need to despise and hate women who possess it…Victorian painting is
suggesting Jesus married Mary Magdalene, although it was not considered nearly as to a large extent obsessed with defilement. It enshrines the misogyny of fear.
offensive as Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, despite the .
fact that, as A.F. Segal (2007:214) points out, the scandalous content in both is the Middle class Victorian women were also expected to protect their virtue by
same.ii This is a myth that has also been promoted through the Magdalene Line not engaging with the outside world or tarnishing their purity by the evils of
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and the consequences for society. This is where Rossetti’s image of Mary
Magdalene at the door of Simon the Pharisee comes in. Mary Magdalene takes
centre stage and is presented as the ‘new woman’ in the derogatory sense of the
term. She is shown standing outside in the street instead of within the ‘protective’
realm of the domestic space. As we know from many of the interpretations of
Mary Magdalene – she was a woman who dared to be active (even in some
instances labelled a prostitute). Her long hair would have been understood in
Victorian times as a sign of abandonment and sexual readiness as it is not neatly
tied up and constrained to conform to the public expectations of a virtuous
middle class coiffure. Her demeanour therefore illustrates the belief that woman,
removed from her sheltered position of ‘domestic sainthood’, would head straight
for a fall. In other words an unprotected woman was not strong enough to
maintain man’s saintly image of her and by entering a man’s world she was opening
herself to defilement and degradation. The visual complexity evoking apparent
chaos that surrounds her in Rossetti’s drawing is indicative of the Victorian male
attitude towards the consequences of her action. She is surrounded on the left
hand side of the image with tumultuous revelry, half-clad people, flowers, dancing,
swirling hair and the profusion one normally associates with the fecundity of nature
or just wild joyful abandon. She strides confidently to the door flinging back the
hair on one side of her face so we can see her sense of purpose while everyone in
the street is watching her. To us she appears alive and energetic, perhaps even
enviable, but to the Victorians her sense of display would have been anathema and
a stark contradiction to the meek and virtuous ideal of women who conform to
patriarchal strictures.
The right hand side of Rossetti’s image is the antithesis of the swirling
movement seen on the left. It is made up largely of horizontal layers of brick and
vertical corners, walls and rectangular windows. This is the rigid mathematical
approach that demonstrates the imposition of reason and order in a very limited,
patriarchally sanctioned regulation of the world. The only softening of this severity
is the small deer eating leaves in the right hand foreground – perhaps a metaphor
for the passive, helpless, ‘natural’ woman, needing care and protection. Within the
window one can see the head of Christ indicating that salvation from her ‘sin’ and
the imposition of patriarchal order is to be found once she steps though the
threshold. She is to throw off her freedom and find redemption and her ‘true’
position in society within the domestic confines of the home. She must exchange
the bondage of sin for the bondage of domesticity to become an acceptable
member of society. It is fascinating to see how the metaphor of wantonness and
the imposition of social mores can be imbued into this image using merely the
contrast of energetic swirling lines and pattern on one side with order on the
commerce. If they went out it should be with a chaperone. The home was their other provided by the mathematically based grid system. The (male) Victorians
domain and their protection. It is not surprising then that the 19th Century is also might have approved of the direction in which this Mary Magdalene was moving
PEN AND INK DRAWING, 54X47.7 CM. FITzWILLIAM marked by the militant rise of women fighting for the right to vote and other but we, as happy recipients of the battles fought by the early Suffragettes, must
personal and social freedoms denied to them by the restrictive moral expectations stand appalled at their blindness. How can we glory in her repression? How can
of bourgeois English society. This was not well received by Victorian men who we not be beguiled by the joy and energy of the street scene behind her?
believed, as Bram Dijkstra (1986:58) explains, that: “Women needed to be guided It is precisely this energy, fecundity, freedom, joy and love that is being
by the male towards the proper apprehension of human motivation as the male expressed in Majak Bredell’s many Magdalenes. They have been freed from the
had a more ‘intellectual’ comprehension of right and wrong.” The women’s rights limitations of a one dimensional apprehension of women and their role in society.
movement was consequently seen as a perverse delusion of the ‘weaker’ feminine Unlike Rossetti, Bredell inscribes meaning directly onto the bodies of her
mind. It was this self-endorsed male superiority that was threatened by the ‘new Magdalenes. Unlike history she is not trying to discover a singular identity, nor is
woman’s’ insistence on power, equality with men and an active life in which she she trying to impose a narrow ideology that precludes dialogue. Instead she gives
might compete with them in business and economics and, perhaps, show herself to us every possible contradictory and composite facet of this enigmatic figure,
be superior. The women’s emancipation movement thus “struck fear into the displayed through gestures and physical attributes. This exhibition is an
hearts of males who were terrified of losing their own privileges” (Dijkstra opportunity for us to engage with them all, good, bad, difficult or joyous, and allow
1986:265). It is this turmoil caused by the interaction between assumed social their diversity to coalesce and resonate with the complex nature that pertains to
attitudes and the emergent demands of women that informed the representations all life. Like Bredell’s Many Magdalenes we are not prescribed beings, our identity
of women by many male Victorian artists and the Pre-Raphaelites in particular. is not pre-defined but multiple and diverse and the freedom we have today to
While virginal images of good women were expected to provide role models choose who and what we will be should be celebrated.
for women to aspire to, the evil or femme fatale woman often provided a didactic
exemplar to demonstrate the evils of uncontrolled behaviour (including sexuality) January 25, 2016
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End notes:
i The apocryphal gospels dealing with the infancy of Christ and the life and death of Mary dated from
as early as the second century and were in general circulation by the end of the sixth century. They
were subsequently compiled as the Golden Legend by the Dominican, Jacobus de Voragine in the 1260s
(Wright 2006:13). HISTORIC MAGDALENE
ii Segal ascribes the different level of response to the fact that The Last Temptation of Christ had a scene
depicting Jesus and Mary in bed together (although it was made clear that this was an imaginary event)
whereas The Da Vinci Code merely describes him as a husband and father. Ironically, a graphic display of CHRISTIAN MAGDALENE
Christ’s sexuality (even if it is imagined) far outweighs, in shock value, an inference that not only was
Jesus married and had sexual relations, but the church conspired to conceal this fact for thousands of
years (Segal 2007:214-215). GNOSTIC MAGDALENE
iii According to Decca Aitkenhead (2006) Kathleen McGowan also claims to be a direct descendant of
the Christ/Magdalene bloodline.











Source list:
Aitkenhead, Decca. 2006. Mary and Me. In The Guardian. Saturday 19 August 2006. [O]
Accessed: 18 January 2016.
Brown, D. 2003. The da Vinci Code. New York: Doubleday.
De Voragine, J. 1922. The Golden Legend as Englished by William Caxton 1483. F.S. Ellis
(ed.). London: Temple Classics.
Dijkstra, Bram. 1986. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture.
New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jolly, P.H. 2014. Picturing the ‘Pregnant’ Magdalene in Northern Art, 1430-1550. Farnham
and Burlington: Ashgate.
McGowan, K. 2006. The Expected One. New York: Touchstone.
Mullins, E. 1985. The Painted Witch: Female body, male art. London: Secker &
Warburg.Phipps, W.E. 1970. Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Christian
Tradition. New York: Harper and Row.
Ruskin, John. 1865. Sesame and Lilies. London: J.M Dent, Everyman’s Library, (reprinted
Segal, A.F. 2007. Christology in the Dark: The Da Vinci Code and The Passion of the Christ –
What They Tell Us About American Religion Today. In P.C. Burns, (ed.). 2007. Jesus in Twentieth-
Century Literature, Art and Movies. New York and London: Continuum. pp.211-222.
Warner, Marina. 1983. Alone of All Her Sex: The myth and the cult of the Virgin Mary. New
York: Vintage.
Wright, R.M. 2006. Sacred Distance: Representing the Virgin. Manchester, NY: Manchester
University Press.
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My readings and thoughts on, and re-interpretations of Mary Magdalene1 created a the ancient goddess of love, Aphrodite/Venus, mirroring an older, chthonic layer of
bricolage, a mosaic, a quilt of many diverse and even contradictory shapes and relating creative sexuality and the body — art so often retaining the story the
forms as I mined her history, mythology, and symbolism, hence Many Magdalenes. official narrative does not. By comparing Botticelli’s Venus and Gregor Erhart’s
The artistic record from all over the globe attests to the fact that image preceded Magdalene (opposite) one finds that Erhart by-passed the penitent sinner and
writing. Small sculptures and painted images on cave walls embody the way our instead saw the essence of Magdalene as the goddess of love when he took her
bricolage |ˌbrɪkəˈlɑːʒ| Paleolithic forebears made meaning through image. In my explorations and legendary hair and combined it with a body that reflects Venus/Aphrodite.
noun ( pl. same or bricolages ) [ mass interpretations of her complex and composite figure, I re-image different Over the centuries many creative and liturgical liberties were taken with who
noun ]
(in art or literature) construction or understandings of Mary Magdalene in an effort to allow the image to over-write Mary Magdalene was supposed to be. The early church not only suppressed the
creation from a diverse range of available the word. This is both a process of restoration as it is an attempt to create anew. intimate relationship she had with Christ, but also her role as disciple, questioner,
Mary Magdalene, who lived and died in the first century CE, took on a and teacher. Instead, she was named a whore who had to endlessly repent in
mosaic |mə(ʊ)ˈzeɪɪk| mythologic life as a consummate time traveller reflecting qualities and personas abject solitude. In art her naked body became fodder for the pious voyeur. Her
• a combination of diverse elements emanating from both the learned and popular attitudes towards women at many legend as a repentant hermit living in her grotto clad only in her long hair gave rise
forming a more or less coherent whole: given points in time across two millennia. Carl Gustav Jung wrote that, “…a myth to some amazing artistic renditions in paint, print and sculpture of hair as garment
is dead if it no longer lives and grows.” (M.D.R., 332) Magdalene’s mythology is not or covering. Later artists like Felician Rops (1833-1890) and August Rodin (1840 -
a cultural mosaic.

static and it remains ever-changing, ever-growing. Surrounded by the Christian 1917), among others, saw the eroticism embedded in her relationship with Christ.
myth are the many waxing and waning myths of Mary Magdalene. In my As legendary prostitute she gave her name to the many laundries in Britain and
exploration of her myths and iconography, I dig beneath the images and stories of Ireland that housed outcast unmarried mothers. Her relics still draw pilgrims to
her many facets and qualities to unearth other hidden potentials. For me the Vézelay and Sainte Maximin, and pilgrims journey to her legendary grotto at Sainte DETAIL OF ALTARPIECE

symbol, the myth, and the archetype outweigh the so-called historic facts on which Baume.
BY JAN POLACK (C . 1500)

people base their faith. And when I engage the biblical stories and legends in my The woman, Mary Magdalene, rarely stands simply for herself. She is the KRAKOW-MUNICH

re-working of Mary Magdalene, it is because these stories have been told, not that blank canvas, the crisp new folio, receptive to the imprint of artist or writer. She is
I have faith in them. I like blurring the lines between sacred and profane, Christian named, imagined, and understood differently by different thinkers. Susan Haskins,
and pagan, West and East, history and mythology. My exploration of my namesake for instance, calls her MARY MAGDALEN. Margaret Starbird in The Lost Bride calls
lies in the interstice between representation and symbolism. her MARY THE MAGDALENE. Karen King calls her MARY OF MAGDALA … and
Magdalene acquired an invented persona of vanity and sexual licentiousness thus, even in something as simple as her name, there are individual preferences and
that was converted by medieval preachers into the obedient, repentant sinner and interpretations. I myself like using Mary Magdalene or Magdalene and will use it
penitent recluse. She was elaborated and contorted into whatever image, throughout even where I refer to her having been named otherwise. She
stereotype, idea, or ideal masculinist Christian/patriarchal minds employed to continues to be redesigned and repositioned, the Piscean Age’s4 most plastic of
control the bodies and behavior of women. Their theories were inscribed onto saints. Her image and story was, and is, layered in words and colors of many
the composite figure of Mary Magdalene as though she was their empty slate. I stripes: clerical, dramatic, scholarly, esoteric, fanciful, romanticized, or sentimental. It
want to clean that slate and write my own narrative — as Maria Magdalena — is as though she does not allow herself to be easily pinned down and insists that
protesting those old roles for her specifically and for women in general. My focus anyone interested in her sift through the many declarations and plain falsehoods “… in her journey through the
is not on a new role for her in religious thinking,2 but rather to recreate/resurrect that became attached to her name.5 In the many publications preceding and centuries, Mary Magdalene took
an older pre-Christian image of woman and her relation to the sacred. By following Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (Doubleday, 2003) Mary Magdalene is on a mosaic of meanings: she was
recreating an older image I do, however, slyly suggest a new role/image to fill the understood and given meaning in diverse ways, her historiography forming a varied variously prostitute, goddess,
chasm that was formed by masculinist monotheism’s denigration of the female and patchwork of her figure in the historic, legendary, and artistic records. preacher, mystic, contemplative,
the resultant historic female deficit. I second Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s In my own work process — reading, writing, and art making — I am drawn
miracle-worker, and muse

suggestion that Mary Magdalene was a figure of such suggestive mystery that to, and identify with the marginalized, whether she be the sacred female, the witch
inspiring artists and writers as

legends continually wove themselves around her, pointing to what was missing
well as the Christian faithful.”
or Mary Magdalene.6 My quarrel with Christianity and the Calvinism of my
from the human imagination in the image of Mary the Virgin Mother (588). And I childhood forms a continuum throughout my work. Through Mary Magdalene I & DE KEIzER, 200
would add, what is missing from the grand narratives of the three Abrahamic come to my own protesting voice — I protest the prohibitions and proscriptions
religions — the bride, consort, goddess.3 Re-creating the goddess, bride, and that separated body from spirit — I protest the silencing of women and their
consort mitigates against the barren roles offered by the virgin-whore dyad. exclusion from meaningful roles in the church up to the 21st century — I protest
Thus Mary Magdalene juxtaposes two split-off mythologies: that of the pagan
“... one must sift through the
the abject servility demanded of women during my growing years — I protest the
deities and that of the solo god of patriarchy. Christian theorists insisted that all
nonsense and hostility that
goddesslessness of the religion of my childhood and through my own name, Maria
pagan gods are demons. Out of this belief grew their justification for the witch
characterized thought and
Magdalena, I interweave an autobiographical thread into the patchwork of this work.
hunts that blighted Europe from the 1100s to the 1700s. Susan Haskins argues
writing about Mary Magdalene,

that the true Mary Magdalene has much to offer when freed from the restrictions
to find some images, shards, and
which gender bias has imposed on her (394). I want to go further than the “true”
fragments, glittering in the
When we attempt to discover who Mary Magdalene was, on the one hand we find
Mary Magdalene to dig for the image beneath the image. Whatever religious
the first century woman who was healed by Jesus and who became his disciple MARY GORDON: BURSTEIN & DE KEIJzER, 9
dogma generally suppressed about women, the body, and sexuality was projected and companion, and on the other hand is the Gregorian Magdalene of medieval
onto this particular woman. Through those projections she actually kept alive that legend and sermon who stood as a model of sin and forgiveness. In between
which was meant to be excised or controlled through fear and threats of eternal these two we find the gnostic Mary Magdalene. Surrounding all of these lies the
damnation: sexuality. The sexual energy that permeates her mythology was not just symbolic Magdalene who absorbed and reflected qualities associated with pre-
the obsession with notions of original sin according to the church fathers, but Christian goddess lore. It is this symbolic figure that lends herself to diverse and
embedded in images of the naked repentant/penitent sinner is also a reflection of
EHRART,1510. LOUVRE, PARIS. contradictory interpretations. Over time Mary Magdalene would appear to
12 13
repeatedly cast shadows on herself in overlapping images that sometimes enforce of society, Magdalene was fashioned by patriarchy as the poster-girl for women’s
and sometimes obliterate one another. Lamentably, the contemplative, penitent, obedient silence.
repentant Magdalene of legend and art remains a static figure without agency. She Over the course of Christian thinking, the characterization of Magdalene as a
is portrayed as a woman confined to a role of silent absence. In 1969 the epithets prostitute embedded itself in popular understanding. In 1342 Robert of Anjou’s
Maria poenitens (penitent Mary) and magna peccatrix (great sinner) were deleted Majorcan queen, Sancia, founded a convent for reformed prostitutes under the
from the entry for Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic Breviary, thus officially protection of Saint Mary Magdalene (Ludwig Jansen, 322). Although this act of
removing the stigma which had been attached to her name for almost two social conscience is laudable, it remains nothing short of perverse that the woman
millennia. But how many people know this? And what remains of her once the who, it is told, was the first witness to the resurrection, the cornerstone of
harlot sinner has been put to rest? Christian belief, has for fourteen centuries been represented as a repentant whore.
The artistic record to the contrary, what we do know of Mary Magdalene is As would happen later in the witch hunts, the early church fathers linked the
often in negation. She was not named as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, nor demonic and the erotic — the demons driven from Mary Magdalene were
as Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany who sat at his feet listening to understood by ecclesiastic minds to denote sexual sin and she was named a
his words. She was not named Luke’s sinner, nor a prostitute. She therefore could whore. Baring and Cashford reveal that the word “harlot” was a translation of the
not have become the penitent, repentant hermit of legend. Nor was she the vain word quadishtu which in its original sense meant “sacred hierodule or priestess”
woman of the painted image renouncing her worldly goods for a life of abject (592). They further suggest that it is possible that behind the story of Mary
solitude. From the gospels we learn only the following, the essence of which I have Magdalene’s exorcism of seven devils and forgiveness is a further story of the
marked in bold type: conversion of a temple-priestess from the Canaanite religion to the new teaching
of Jesus. The seven planetary gods of Babylon were the spirits of the underworld
Mary Magdalene was the woman from whom seven devils had gone out, that she is known as the Annunaki (592). Prostitute priestesses dispensed the grace of the
referred to as Mary called Magdalene (Luke 8:1,2). Goddess in ancient Middle-Eastern temples (Walker, 819). The original meaning of
Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ followers and, with other women, provided for his the word “prostitute” was “to stand on behalf of,” that is, to represent the power of
group from their means (Matthew 27:55,56, Mark 15:41). the goddess. The Christian whore, unlike her ancient ansisters, was stripped of
Mary Magdalene was present at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:55,56, Mark 15:40, John
sacred import. Although Mary Magdalene became known as a prostitute only
Mary Magdalene witnessed the entombment with “the other Mary”, sitting opposite from the writings of the early church fathers there remains this interesting echo of
the tomb (Matthew 27:59-61). ancient times that aligns her mythology with the sacred hierodule or priestess.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb with the other Mary on Easter morning and And as Marina Warner confirms, the Christian harlot has absorbed to some extent
brought spices, so they might anoint him. She is variously accompanied by Mary the the role of the classical goddesses of love (235).
mother of James, and Salome, or by Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other The harlot of Christianography — the Gregorian Magdalene — was born
women. They saw the empty tomb and went to tell the disciples (Matthew 28:1, when Pope Gregory I delivered his homily in 591CE sealing Mary Magdalene’s
Mark 16:1, Luke 24:1). identity to believers, scholars, and painters for the following fourteen centuries.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary met the risen Jesus and fell to his feet (Matthew Pope Gregory declared: “She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls
Mary, we believe to be Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to
“It is the winners who write Mary Magdalene arrived alone at the empty tomb with spices to anoint his body. She
history - their way. No wonder, wept because she could not find him and saw a man she thought was the gardener. Mark. And what did these seven devils signify, if not all the vices? It is clear,
then, that the viewpoint of the He called her by her name and she knew it was Christ. He sent her to tell the others brothers, that the woman previously used the unguent to perfume her flesh in
successful majority has that she had seen him in the garden (John 20:1, John 20:11-18). forbidden acts” (Picknett, 47; Schaberg & Johnson-Debaufre, 48). Thus the
prostitute jumps fully formed from the misogynistic prejudice of Gregory’s mind.7
“I wish to show you Truth herself;
dominated all traditional
for I have brought her down from
accounts of the origin of The Gnostic Gospels give a different and more fleshed out portrait of Mary Ean Begg describes how the Age of Pisces idealized and concretized its opposite above, so that you may see her
Christianity.” Magdalene. It is written that Jesus loved her more than the other disciples and sign, Virgo. Chastity was admired while sexuality was denigrated and repressed. without a veil, and understand
ELAINE PAGELS: GNOSTIC, 142 often kissed her on her [ . . . ]. There is a hole in the parchment that has been Penitent whores became favorite cult objects, while the Virgin Mary, like Athena her beauty.”
popularly filled in with “mouth.” Mary has a place at his side as his companion and before her, was promoted to be the token female in a patriarchy essentially hostile MARCUS, A STUDENT OF VALENTINUS C.150CE
is described in the Dialogue of the Savior as a woman who understood everything. to woman and nature (131). Characters from the new testament were thrown PAGELS: GNOSTIC, 20
She asks questions of Jesus and answers questions put to her by the disciples. She into the harlot basket, or converged into the mythic figure of the repentant sinner:
has post-crucifixion visions of Jesus and imparts Jesus’ secret teachings and the woman who had been caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); the Samaritan woman
revelations to the apostles. She comforts and encourages them when they who had five husbands and came to draw water and gave Jesus a drink (John 4:27);
become despondent and is clearly a leader in the early Christian church (Nag Luke’s sinner (Luke 7:37-38); and Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus (Matthew
Hammadi Library). Contrary to her legendary sojourn that takes her in Southern 26 & Mark 14).
France, this places her elsewhere with Jesus’ followers after his death. However, when Luke’s sinner, Mary of Bethany, and Mary Magdalene were
conflated into one composite person and no longer understood as three separate
CHRISTIAN MAGDALENE individuals, two things were done; one negative, the other positive. Unfortunately
With the rise of Christianity as the dominant religion in the first few centuries of Mary Magdalene was named a prostitute. Fortunately, on the other hand, this
the common era, the woman in the Gnostic Gospels who was Companion to the collapse of three figures into one attributed to Mary Magdalene the many symbolic
Savior, Spouse, and Beloved, vanished from the popular imagination to re-emerge aspects of her ancient ancestress: anointer of the year god for his annual death; a
as witness to the resurrection, apostle to the apostles, and the long-suffering partner in the sacred sexuality at the core of the hieros gamos; and hierodule in
repentant whore. As such Mary Magdalene was used as an instrument of service of the goddess. Her later legends would align her with the Earth Mother in
propaganda against her own sex (Haskins, 94). Katherine Ludwig Jansen illuminates her grotto, nature-clad in only her long hair. The many depictions in art of her
how medieval preachers and moralists invented a Magdalene in order to address naked body would subversively keep alive the memory of the pagan Goddesses of
what they perceived to be a “woman-problem” (147). The contemplative life was Love thereby becoming the covert carrier of the sexuality the church feared to
emphasized for medieval women while a pro-active life of inquiry and learning was integrate into its canons. Her uncovered body stood for the naked truth of all the
prohibited. In the image of the penitent in the wilderness, banished to the margins bodies forced by doctrine and edict to deny the life-force in their own groins.
14 15
GNOSTIC MAGDALENE Legend compiled by Jacobus de Voragine (c.1230 – c.1298) in 1275 tells of Mary
From the beginning of the Christian movement, patriarchal dismissal of women’s Magdalene, her sister Martha and bother, Lazarus, who after the ascension, are put
agency stripped Mary Magdalene of hers. She remains virtually voiceless in the in a rudderless boat that lands at Marseilles where Mary Magdalene preaches to
New Testament, and even in her words that were preserved in the gnostic writings, the pagans. She mediates in the resurrection of the princess of Marseilles whose
her authority or “special knowledge” is disputed by Peter whose patriarchal envy of husband, the prince, she converted to Christianity. The royal couple is baptized and
a strong woman prevents him from believing that a woman is worthy of receiving all pagan temples become Christian churches. Later Mary Magdalene retires to the
or understanding special teachings from Jesus. St Paul of the New Testament and grim austerity of a cave where she spends the last thirty years of her life as a
Quintas Tertullian, a second century Christian thinker, among others, insisted on the naked, contemplative hermit while angels lift her to heaven at the seven canonical
silencing of women. hours. Extraordinary artistic renditions of the hair-clad or hairy woman
Contrary to their admonishments, the gnostic Mary Magdalene found in the surrounded by angels were inspired by this legend. When she dies she is raised
Pistis Sophia had a voice, to the point where the other disciples complained that above the earth by angels and Maximinus buries her at Aix (Schaberg & Johnson-
she was asking most of the questions (Meyer, 68). In the beginning of Christianity Debaufre, 51-54). Is this nature-clad, hair-covered, feral woman in the grotto not
“the gospel” was porous and incomplete. It was also varied and reflected different closer to the Earth Goddess than to a penitent sinner? Another legend that
“Let the woman learn in silence views. The New Testament gospels tell the history of Jesus biographically while the conflates her story with that of Mary of Egypt, has the penitent Magdalene retreat
with all subjection. But I suffer
gnostic accounts begin where the others end with stories of the spiritual Christ to the Egyptian desert to live the rest of her life in solitary exile after the death of
appearing to his disciples (Pagels: Gnostic, 15). The Gnostic Gospels were Jesus (Gadon, 211).
not a woman to teach, nor usurp

unearthed in December 1945, the year I was born, at Nag Hammadi in Egypt — Many miracles and cures were ascribed to the intervention of Provence’s
authority over the man, but to be

Egypt: mother land of Goddess Isis. In the Gnostic writings Magdalene is both a
in silence.”
1 TIM. 2:11-12
patron saint and protector, Mary Magdalene. She was credited for protection from
receiver and revealer of gnosis (knowledge) (Malvern, 32). Thus she becomes the shipwreck and storms at sea, aiding soldiers in captivity, and alleviating difficulties of
holy grail of Jesus’ lost teachings. According to Karen King the Gospel of Mary pregnancy and childbirth (Ludwig Jansen, 324-7). Through the lens of legend and
“It is not permitted for a woman directly challenges the claims of apostolic succession through a direct line to Jesus’ sermon Mary Magdalene could become the image behind the role assigned her or
to speak in church, nor is it immediate male followers, that instead insists in the leadership of men and women she would play the roles behind the images. Her layered story is never static. The
permitted for her to baptize, nor who have attained strength of character and spiritual maturity (Burstein & De independent woman in the gospels dons medieval garb in the 1200s when legend
to offer the Eucharist, nor to Keijzer, 104). Early Christians honored Jesus, their ICHTHYS (fish) as the zodiac makes of her a wealthy sinner whose great wealth and royal lineage served to
claim for herself a share in any symbol for Pisces long before they chose to identify themselves with the cross, dramatize her renunciation of her worldly goods for a cloistered life of
masculine function - least of all asserts Margaret Starbird, who emphasizes that the symbol for that new age was contemplation. Preachers and moralists created fanciful and misogynistic
a priestly office.” not one fish alone, but two. Mary Magdalene is the “other fish” of the sign of explanations as to why this woman of wealth and beauty fell into prostitution,
TERTULLIAN Pisces. This sign was perceived as a “partnership” by the egalitarian nature of the ascribing her moral turpitude to the fact that she was outside the realm of male
earliest Christian communities (Burstein & De Keijzer, 88/89), a sign that touches supervision (Ludwig Jansen, 151). The image of the pre-conversion and post-
on the mystery of the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus, and is so conversion Mary Magdalene became a whip in the hands of medieval preachers to
beautifully echoed by the yin-yang symbol of integrated opposites. flog wealthy matrons into denouncing a life of luxury and vanity and don the habit
“Perhaps the legends surrounding

The words spoken by Mary Magdalene as the gnostic Sophia contain — and thereby endowing their wealth to the cloister! (253) Penitential theology
Mary Magdalene are nothing
more than the human longing for
wisdom, wisdom to which Peter, who founded the church that would strip her of used the tearful Magdalene as prime source for the vocabulary of repentance. She the Sacred Feminine”.
her apostolic role and name her a whore, objected (Mead, 47 & 318). In a could not escape her characterization as a converted sinner/harlot that literally JUDITH SHAW
conversation from the Gospel of Mary, Peter addresses Mary Magdalene with the chained her to every pulpit preaching penance. The notion of forgiveness for sins
request, “Sister, we know that the savior loved you more than the rest of women. became hard-wired into the image of the Magdalene weeping at Christ’s feet, and
Tell us the words of the savior which you remember, which ... we do not [know] was used by layperson and cleric alike as a model of conversion and forgiveness.
and have not heard.” But Mary’s answer, revealing secret teaching on the soul’s The Gnostic Gospels as compiled in the Nag Hammadi Library, give a
spiritual journey, met with objections from both Andrew and Peter who asks, “Did different and probably more historic picture of Mary Magdalene, who with the
he really speak with a woman without our knowledge and in secret? Are we all to followers of Jesus — disciples and women — discuss and argue over post-
turn around and listen to her? Did he love her more than us?” To which Mary crucifixion revelations they received from Jesus. However, these papyruses were
protests, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think I made this up in my buried in Egypt sometime in the fourth century, remained undiscovered until 1945,
heart? Do you think I am lying about the Lord?” Levi, who breaks in to mediate and were not available for reference by medieval and other mythographers who
the dispute says that “the Savior knew her very well, and made her worthy” used the Magdalene as protagonist in the legends that would support official
(Pagels: Satan, 68). Antti Marjanen considers the different translations to the church doctrine that became canonized with the Council of Nicaea in 325CE.
passage from the Dialogue of the Savior where Magdalene is named as the woman A Byzantine legend tells of Mary Magdalene evangelizing to the Emperor
“who knew the ALL”. A revised translation has a different meaning: “She uttered Tiberias during dinner. The skeptical emperor is told to have said, “No more could
this as woman who understood completely” or “…understood everything” (86). a man have died and risen after three days than a white egg could turn red.” Mary
Whichever translation is preferred, Mary Magdalene has perfect understanding of Magdalene picked up an egg, and it turned red in her hand (Lester, 107). Whilst
what Jesus has said. She is portrayed as a supreme initiate into Christ’s mysteries this story was told to enforce belief in the resurrection, I like to reference the egg
(Warner, 229). back to the prehistoric and Neolithic bird goddess — the bird having taken on
It is told how one of Magdalene’s relics was found with a green plant growing cosmic powers by her “miraculous” ability at two-fold birth, first the egg, then the
from the mouth of the skeleton. I find this to be a poetic image of the life/growth chick. The bird, with its ability to soar in the air, alight on earth, on the tree tops
of her words — that which emits from her mouth is alive — a green metaphor for and on water, became a symbol that connected the above to the below, sky and
her voice. earth, the sacred and the mortal. Red is not just any color, it is the color of blood, of THIS STATUE, IN THE MEDIEVAL CHURCH AT LES-
the pulse of life! Not resurrected life at the end of time, but rather the great round of SAINTES-MARIES-DE-LA-MER, DEPICTS THE ARRIVAL
LEGENDARY MAGDALENE life, the ever renewing cycles of gestation, birth and death, over and over again. PROVENCE
Magdalene’s story is so deeply shrouded in mythology of various kinds that this The Eastern Church, that has always seen Mary Magdalene as separate from
very mystique lends itself to the continuous creation of mythic stories. The Golden Luke’s sinner and Mary of Bethany, has her go to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary and
16 17
John the Evangelist where she supposedly lived to the end of her days. When she plant was reportedly growing out of the skeleton’s mouth.
died she was buried at the mouth of the cave of the Seven Sleepers (Wellborn, In the late 12th century, Hugh of Lincoln, an avid bone collector, visited the
84). Ephesus is also the ancient dwelling place and temple of Artemis, the virgin monastery of Fécamp which owned an arm of Mary Magdalene. Desiring a bit for
huntress of Greek mythology (Haskins, 104). I see a parallel between Artemis, the himself he unwrapped it from its silks and linen and tried to break off a piece with
Goddess of untamed nature, and Mary Magdalene in her grotto at Sainte Baume his fingers. Finding it too hard, he then, to the shock of the monks present, bit it
that is surrounded by an ancient forest. Both these feral or wild women preside in first with his incisors, and finally attacked it with his molars. He justified his crude
the wilderness. Another story is told of Mary Magdalene traveling with Joseph of treatments of the holy remains with these words, “If a little while ago I handled the
Arimathea — the Holy Grail in their possession — to Glastonbury, the legendary most sacred body of the Lord of all the saints with my fingers, in spite of my
island of Avalon in Britain where the first wattle Christian church was built unworthiness, and when I partook of it, touched it with my lips and teeth, why
(Rameijer, 69). Another tale tells of her dying in Wales and has her body brought should I not venture to treat in the same way the bones of the saints … and
back by angels to be buried on Avalon (70). It seems that every parish wanted to without profanity acquire them when I have the opportunity?” (Haskins, 101). It is
have a part of her, this woman who walked with Jesus. Lila Cannon and David hard to keep track of all Magdalene’s relics, but it is clear, however, that she was
Tresemer in their documentary film on DVD, Rediscovering Mary Magdalene, loved to pieces!
suggest that legends of Mary Magdalene live in the mythic archetypal realm. A single rib of the saint is held aloft in a reliquary at Vézelay by three golden
Starbird refers to her as the lost bride. The archetype of the beloved is a powerful figures, a monk, an angel, and a king. This image draws me to recognize the parallel
replacement for the popular, lurid perpetuation of her as a prostitute in the images of Eve, Adam’s rib, and Magdalene’s rib, she who is called the second Eve.
misogynistic works of Kazantzakis8 and many others who simply cannot look Baring and Cashford relate the Sumerian tale of the goddess, Nin-ti, a goddess of
beyond the trope of the fallen woman and who themselves are snagged by the childbirth. She forms the bones of infants in the womb from the ribs of their
allure of the harlot while simultaneously despising her. mothers (493). This lady of the ribs predates the Hebrew creation story involving
Adam’s rib and Eve’s subsequent genesis from it. The rib is no ordinary subservient
RELIQUARIED MAGDALENE bone! Mary Magdalene’s infamous body did not rest in peace after her legendary
Susan Haskins comments that the texts of the New Testament themselves yield death at Sainte Maximin in Provence. Men were fighting over her bones and her
nothing but the “barest of bones” about Mary Magdalene (11). However, the saint hair and they dismembered her over and over again since it was believed that a
herself left behind more than bare bones: five corpses, a breast bone, blood and finger of the saint was as miraculous as her whole body.
spikenard, a legless body, a finger, a head, fragment of her cranium, a headless body,
hair, an arm, a jawbone, three teeth, a tibia, a hand, a lock of hair with which she DRAMATIC MAGDALENE
wiped the savior’s feet, and her apostolic staff. The un-body of faith paradoxically In the many Medieval Passion Plays, Mary Magdalene is cast in her important role
fixates on the bodily relic of this saint whose corporeal remains at times were as witness to the resurrection and apostle to the apostles which features a foot-
purported to give off sweet smells. Karen Jo Torjesen explains how, in the race of disciples running to get to the empty tomb first. Marjory Malvern states
convergence of the eucharist and the cult of saints, a eucharist meal was often that like the writers of second century apocryphal works, Jacobus Voragine in the
celebrated at the grave of the martyrs and how the bones of the saint were thirteenth century pictures the Magdalene both as a goddess of life and as the
placed under the altar where the sacred meal was set (106). The cult of relics led Christ’s female counterpart (96). Theresa Coletti in Mary Magdalene and the
to the most bizarre inventions of relics, bones, and “an extraordinary abundance of Drama of Saints, suggests that Mary Magdalene serves as both reporter and
female hair” (Haskins, 122) to draw pilgrims to the remains of Mary Magdalene, recipient of Jesus’ illuminations (123). In the medieval Digby play, Mary Magdalene
“It is during the complex twelfth

who stood as the model of sin, forgiveness, and repentance. is written into scenes where she is the recipient of visionary revelation imparted to
century that playwrights

Hoaxes, trickery, and sacred theft were at the order of the day as remains of her by angels (119). These are interesting echoes when one considers her role in
simultaneously restore to the
Magdalen the attribute of the
saints were invented to draw pilgrims from far and wide. The Second Council of the Gnostic Gospels where she receives post-crucifixion communications from ancient earth goddess lamenting
Nicaea ruled in 787CE that churches could not be consecrated without relics, Jesus. The medieval playwrights at least could envisage a more substantial
RIB AT VézELAY, FRANCE. the death of the heaven god and
MIDDLE: RELIQUARY WITH MARY hence the visual component of these relics set in sumptuous reliquaries became an Magdalene than the New Testament gospel writers did! emphasize the manness of
important factor in a belief based on the incredible or the supernatural Carl Orff ’s 1936 oratorio, Carmina Burana9, is based on poems from a 13th
BOTTOM: RELIQUARY WITH MARY (Haskins,100, 102). Monastic rivalries and jealousies of the Middle Ages invented century manuscript from the Abbey of the Benedictbeuern in which the Mary MARJORY MALVERN: SACKCLOTH, 101
the many remains of Mary Magdalene, without which she may never have become Magdalene character sings the words of the young woman who beautifies herself
BELOW: RELIQUARY OF MARY as popular as she did. In the jumble of bodies and bones it is hard to figure out for the delight of the young men. We hear her singing, “Look at me,Young men! Let
MAGDALENE’S ARM AT FéCAMP, FRANCE which came first. In 769 CE Magdalene’s remains were translated from Marseilles me please you!” In both the older manuscript and in Orff ’s opus the content is
to Vézelay. Pilgrims flocked from all over France to touch her tomb at Vézelay, frankly pagan and sensual and sexuality is celebrated within the seasonal cycles of life.
bringing great riches to the church. It is also told how, in the same century, her For many eighteenth and nineteenth century playwrights, novelists, and poets,
remains at La Sainte-Baume were moved from their alabaster tomb to another in in whose hands beauty was turned into vanity, Mary Magdalene was used to
the same crypt for fear of them being stolen. King Louis IX of France had a represent the vain woman who cast off her worldly goods for a life of penance
particular fondness of Mary Magdalene. He attended the transferring of her relics and obedience. In the dance between Mary of Bethany, her sister Martha, Mary
at Vézelay from their old coffer to a new silver one on April 24, 1267. The king Magdalene, and the sinner who washed Jesus’ feet these writers created a
received a considerable portion of the relic, and desirous of sharing with his masquerade in the long mythological life of this woman in which characters rarely
contemporaries concrete reminders of the object of his devotion, in front of a play themselves, often playing each other until the audience/reader becomes so
huge crowd in the basilica, he gave bits to members of the illustrious throng, and to bedazzled by this interplay of characters that anything can be believed about any of
the abbey an arm, the jawbone and three teeth, keeping the major part to himself them. But most of all, Mary Magdalene was type-cast as the great sinner whose
(123). In 1279 another body of Mary Magdalene had been found in the crypt of conversion from a life of vanity served as a lesson to all women who stepped
the monastery church at Sainte Maximin in Provence. On December 11, 1283 her outside the restrictions of the male-determined and controlled sphere assigned to
head was put into a golden reliquary surmounted by a royal crown which had them in which humility was prized above self-assurance, and passivity above action.
been sent by the king of Naples. Her body was also found at the cave in La She is used to embody everything Clemens of Brentano (1778-1842), for instance,
Sainte-Baume where a fragrant scent issued from the tomb and a green fennel criticized in women — her dress, her jewels, her pearls, her coiffure — arguing for
18 19
grace without being noticed. He embroiders his morality tale using women as the Britain were built on sites that were sacred to a goddess in antiquity. Roger “...the presence of the notorious
thread with which he admonishes and restricts them. The image and enactment of Woolger, who leads a Mary Magdalene tour in France, states that “It’s all about the harlot registers in the collective
Magdalene at Christ’s feet, according to Ingrid Maisch, was used to shape the place” (Fedele, 127). I suggest we need to metaphorically dig beneath the edifices imagination as three, ever-
bourgeois ideal of nineteenth century placement of “woman at a man’s feet” of thought that now stand on top, penetrate many layers of spiritual thinking, to deepening levels of impact: Level

(97,98 &153). arrive at “the beginning” that lies in the deeper layers.
one, where an alternative story

The ancient Mesopotamian lunar imagery of death and regeneration comes

of Jesus emerges. Level two,

together in the telling of the annual ritual of the crowning of the sacred King by the
where the hitherto unknown
PAGAN MAGDALENE background of Jesus’ life,
Mythology favors clusters of 3 — wise men, virgins, Graces, Fates10, 3x3 Muses, and Goddess who will later anoint him for his sacrificial death, descent, and subsequent including Pagan and non-
so on. The goddess in her multiple aspects is an idea planted so deeply in cultural resurrection. The makers of the solar myths of the ancient Egyptians saw the sun Christian factors, emerges. Level
traditions that it cannot be uprooted. Joseph Campbell explains how the Sumero- rise above the earth every morning and arc its path across the heavens only to die three, where the Passion of
Babylonian astral mythology identified the aspects of the cosmic female with the at night on the Western horizon and be resurrected each morning on the Eastern Christ mutates into the passion
phases of the planet Venus. As morning star she was the virgin, as evening star the horizon. Lunar mythology drew on observation of the moon waxing and waning of the Lovers, and archetypes
harlot, as lady of the night sky the consort of the moon, and when extinguished in the night sky — being consumed by the darkness and again emerging from the clash like tectonic plates”.
under the blaze of the sun she was the hag of hell (Hero, 303). Other ancient pre- darkness into its bright fullness. Both solar and lunar mythic understandings JOHN LAMB LASH: BURSTEIN & DE
Christian threesomes remind us that from the earliest ages the goddess was contributed to the creation of the idea of death and resurrection. The mythology KEIJzER,126
worshiped in 3 phases in accordance with the visible phases of the moon — young of Inanna and Dumuzi; Ishtar and Tammuz; Isis and Osiris; Cybele and Attis; Anat
woman, birth-giving matron, and old woman. Hekate, patron of midwives, is a and Baal — all tell of the dying god, his descent to the underworld while he is
noteworthy triple moon goddess who presides where 3 roads converge or mourned by the goddess who is instrumental in his resurrection after three days.
diverge. The triple goddess is echoed in the three women at Christ’s tomb, in the Unfortunately somewhere along the trajectory of mythic thinking, the emphasis
3 Mary’s around him: his mother, his sister and Mary Magdalene (Robinson, 245). shifted from the regenerative cycles of life on earth to a belief in an afterlife that
Legend tells of 3 Marys — Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe — subtly served to denigrate the life of the body in the here and now. This became
who arrived on the shores of Gaul in a boat with Black Saint Sarah at Saintes- prevalent in Christianity’s emphasis on the hereafter with the final resurrection of
Maries-de-la-Mer. We find a threesome of hirsute penitents — St Mary of Egypt, the body on Judgement Day when some bodies will be cast into eternal
St Agnes of Rome, and Mary Magdalene — who behind their veils of hair are damnation while others get to enjoy heavenly bliss. Misfortune, hardship, illness,
employed by the church to send out messages to believers about women and and death may have contributed to a longing for an after life, but I suggest it was
their shameful sinfulness. Yet, these, now tamed, wild women nonetheless indicate clerical fear of the life-force itself —sexuality — that shifted the balance from that
THE WAXING & WANING MOON a return to the primal state — to wild, untamed nature. of the body in the present to that of the un-body in the hereafter. Ironically this
Three anointing scenes are described in the gospels — the same scene of became a belief in death rather than life.
anointing Christ’s head in both Matthew and Mark; then an elaborate scene of Susan Haskins points out that around 2000 BCE the goddesses among the
tears and hair and feet and kisses and ointment in Luke; and John’s naming Mary, Israelites who had impregnated the land of Canaan, began to vanish and were
the sister of Lazarus and Martha anointing Christ’s feet and wiping them with her replaced by Yahweh with his male attributes and wrath and vengeance — the god
hair. Popular religious thought in the Middle Ages collapsed the 3 New Testament whom Christians were to inherit, the Almighty Father, creator of both heaven and
characters of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and Luke’s sinner into one earth — thereby relegating the female procreative role to an inferior position for
composite figure: Mary Magdalene the sinner, repentant whore, and penitent another two thousand years (53). She goes on to point out the total reversal of
recluse. The resonance of these 3-fold images leads me to look through religious mythic power from the former worship of a life-giving/taking goddess to the
iconography at Mary Magdalene as a post-Christian window into pre-Christian pagan creation myth in Genesis where God’s word commands the world into being.
goddess time. The sacred concept of 3 eventually became embedded in Christian Woman is now subject to man, she suffers in childbirth, her inferior status
hagiography where God himself took on a triple countenance with the miraculous mitigated only by her childbearing capacity (66).
conception of his son through the aide of the holy spirit to become the Trinity.
Susan Haskins argues that Mary Magdalene, through the gnostic figure of
Sophia, the Spouse of the Lord, is linked to a long, unbroken line (tradition) of Although none of the anointing scenes name Mary Magdalene as the one with the

“Most of us have been convinced female deities such as the Canaanite goddesses Anat and Asherah, spouse of alabaster jar, it nonetheless became her most recognizable symbol in Christian art.
since earliest childhood that God Yahweh in the golden age (44, 46). John Lamb Lash understands that “the In Luke and John Jesus’ feet are anointed while in Matthew and Mark his head is
is male, sadly warping the self- presence of the notorious harlot registers in the collective imagination as three, anointed. I extract the various mentions of the jar and spices from the gospels
image and psyches of fully half ever-deepening levels of impact: Level one, where an alternative story of Jesus with my emphases in bold type:
the human race.” emerges. Level two, where the hitherto unknown background of Jesus’ life,
MARGARET STARBIRD: GODDESS, 134 including Pagan and non-Christian factors, emerges. Level three, where the Passion MATTHEW 26:6-7;10-13
of Christ mutates into the passion of the Lovers, and archetypes clash like tectonic 6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper 7 a woman came

plates” (Burstein & De Keijzer,126). It is possibly in this role that her most enduring to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment and she poured it on his head as
“… a deity or mythological figure
legacy will manifest — she is goddess and spouse, not as wife or domestic partner she sat at the table. 10 But Jesus ... said to them, “Why do you trouble this woman?
She has performed a good service for me...” 12 “By pouring this ointment on my body
as the bloodline theorists would have it, but as spiritual and sacred equal. Margaret
represents an aspect of the “And it is because of the
she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is
Starbird, writing from her Christian roots, sees Magdalene as Jesus’ beloved and
human mind, and the story in chrism [consecrated oil]
proclaimed (Verily I say unto you, wherever this gospel shall be preached) in the
partner — the Goddess in the Gospels.
which he or she lives and suffers that “the Christ has his
or triumphs is a psychological whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
drama with timeless Diane Apostolos-Cappadona explains how both Mary Magdalene and Mary MARK 14:3-9 (tells the same story)

application.” of Nazareth were associated by European artists with the attributes and 3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a

MARINA WARNER: ALONE, 225 characteristics of previous goddesses. She calls this the “Magdalene Mosaic.” Isis woman came with an alabaster jar of costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the
mourned for her dead Osiris who subsequently returned from the dead. Similarly jar and poured the ointment on his head. 8 “She has done what she could; she has
Magdalene has connections with other goddesses of love, passion and female anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news
sexuality (Burstein & De Keijzer, 83). Many Christian churches in Europe and is proclaimed (Verily I say unto you, wherever this gospel shall be preached) throughout
20 21
the whole world, what she has done here will be told in remembrance of her.” spirit. Why, when the ancient Middle Eastern religions from Sumeria, Babylonia, “Whither is thy beloved gone,
LUKE 7:37-38 Assyria, Egypt, Canaan, Greece, and Turkey all embrace or design the theme of the O thou fairest among women?
37 And a woman in the city who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the
annually resurrected god, would this theme move from the mythological and whither is thy beloved turned
Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his spiritual to a man who, in his manness, paradoxically did not promote the life of the aside? that we may seek him
feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her
body but that of the spirit in a kingdom not of this world? It is ironic that the image
with thee. My beloved is gone
hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment.
of Christ, the man, instead of aligning humanity’s physicality with the sacred,
down into his garden, to the beds
JOHN 11:1-2
removed us from it by denying the body’s inherent creative sexuality. For centuries
of spices, to feed in the gardens,
1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, in the village of Mary and her sister, and to gather lilies. I am my
Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet people have mortified their flesh in the name of a philosophy that would not give beloved’s, and my beloved is
with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. the body, the container of all our faculties, both physical and spiritual, its rightful mine: he feedeth among the
place in the great scheme of things. lilies.”
Although this passage tells us it was Mary of Bethany who wiped his feet with SONG OF SOLOMON 6:1-3
her hair, it is a mystery why this Mary who was known to Jesus alongside her sister BELOVED MAGDALENE
Martha and her brother Lazarus, should be called “a woman from the city, who The archetypal image of the man and the woman in the garden resonate on a
was a sinner” in Luke. Were there several anointings by several different woman? deep psychic level. The garden of Eden is the enclosure at the beginning where “… the Magdalen represented a
How common was this kind of thing in first century Palestine? innocence had not yet been confronted by the hardships of life. The garden where wider range of meaning than
Magdalene goes to seek her beloved harks back to that Edenic beginning before penitence. Her figure also
JOHN 12:1-3,7 the biting of the apple sent off ripples of godly outrage! Up to the “resurrection” represented a longing for the
1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the house of Lazarus, whom he one can look for historical truth in the Christian story, but at the moment the
convergence of the erotic and
had raise from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. 3 Mary took a pound of “risen” Christ appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden, we are in the realm of
the spiritual.”
costly perfume made of pure nard, anointing Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. MARGARET MILES: A COMPLEX DELIGHT, 14
religious mythology. Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for the gardener as he
The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 7 Jesus said “Leave her alone. “returns from the underworld.” “The Gardener” was one of the most ancient titles
She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
of the Sumerian son-lover (Baring & Cashford, 632). In the hymn to Inanna of
Sumeria, she sings to her bridegroom, “As for me Inanna, who will plow my vulva?
The only reference in the scripture linking Mary Magdalene with the intention Who will plow my high field? Who will plow my wet ground?” The king, the
to anoint him, comes from Mark and Luke when the women proceed to the tomb gardener, responds, “Great lady, the king will plow your vulva, I, Dumuzi, the king,
with spices. will plow your vulva” (Wolkstein & Kramer, 37). Susan Haskins highlights the
parallel of Mary Magdalene having found Christ in the garden, as the New Eve. As
MARK 16:1
the old Eve had forfeited her right to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, Mary
1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and
Salome brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. Magdalene now clings passionately to Christ having found him, the Tree of Life, in
LUKE 23:55 & 24:1 & 10 the Easter Garden where life rises anew (62).
55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb Magdalene waiting and longing to find her beloved in the garden has been
where his body was laid. 1 At early dawn they came to the tomb, taking the spices seen by many Magdalene writers as an echo from the Song of Solomon. Cynthia
they had prepared. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Bourgeault recognizes how the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus is
James, and the other women with them… portrayed in terms openly erotic and spousal. She suggests that Mary Magdalene’s
BOTTOM: ALABASTRON, METROPOLITAN transformation after the resurrection took place in the domain of love, with
MUSEUM, NEW YORK These many stories were braided together to turn Magdalene into a transfigured Eros as its quicksilver, bringing a particular fragrance of sweetness to
repentant prostitute. Despite a lack of scriptural pedigree, Mary Magdalene’s this alchemical agape (218). This core of eroticism runs through the image of the
iconography traditionally pairs her with an ointment jar. This image echoes the role woman stooping to caress her beloved’s feet with her hair. Ingrid Maisch suggests
of the ancient Mesopotamian goddess who anoints her god before his annual that the intimate association of sensuality with divinity increases the allure of such
symbolic death. The significance of this role was pushed underground by the depictions (76). She quotes Reiner Maria Rilke’s translation of a seventeenth
Christianization of Europe and its insistence on affording only the male full sacred century French sermon, “Loose your hair, Magdalene, and so bind the feet of Jesus...
status. Margaret Starbird suggests that the anointing of the head (Matt 26:7) had How shall he disentangle his feet from the net of your hair?” (78). Actually,
erotic significance insofar as the head being symbolic of the phallus ‘anointed’ by whoever this woman was (she was never named Magdalene in the New
the woman for penetration during the physical consummation of marriage. The Testament) this was a pretty gutsy and sexy thing to do — to loosen her hair and
chosen bridegroom — Jesus — was anointed by the royal priestess, the surrogate perform this public adoration without shame! August Rodin created a powerful
of the goddess — Magdalene (Alabaster Jar, 36). Starbird argues for Mary of image of Magdalene and her crucified lord/lover clearly depicting the agony of love
Bethany being Mary Magdalene. Instead of unbraiding Gregory’s conflation, she lost and the underlying sexual energy of the two protagonists.
keeps this legendary tress intact. I use this thread of eroticism at times to depict an inner reconciliation
Barbara Walker’s research reveals Mari-Ishtar the Great Whore who anointed between body and spirit, sacred and profane. This reconciliation speaks to a greater
or christ-ened her doomed god when he went to the underworld, from whence potential for wholeness than any speculation about whether Jesus and Magdalene
he would arise again at her bidding. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the dying hero is told: were actually married and left a bloodline. Fascinating as this argument may be to
“The harlot who anointed you with fragrant oil laments for you now” (615). The those drawn to historic mysteries or conspiracy theories, I object to its literalness.
great tragedy is not that the year god had to die every year, a death and It robs the image of mythic import and turns these two enigmatic figures into Mr
resurrection that was symbolically enacted in pre-Christian times as a cyclic event and Mrs Jesus! However, I would like to believe that they were actually lovers — it
that heralded the resurrection of life in the fields and the livestock in the pastures would mitigate against the relentless, sexless masculinity of Christianity’s pantheon
at springtime, but that Christianity took the death of its young god for having and show Jesus, the man, as fully human. God the father without the mother, and
happened once and for all. Christ’s death on the cross became associated with his son the bridegroom without a bride/beloved is an absurdity that does not
redemption from sin, and his resurrection with eternal life. Gone were the fertility adequately reflect humanity in the divine sphere.
rites that aligned the ever renewing cycles of womb, and field with those of the In the Song of Solomon the woman who is looking for her beloved, is heard CHRIST AND MAGDALENE BY AUGUSTE RODIN, C .
22 23
saying, “I sought him, but found him not the sentinels found me, as they went about toward me. Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the
the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I passed them, villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether
when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go...” the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my
(3:2-4). love” (7:10-12).
And in the Gospel of John we read of Mary Magdalene answering the angels The pomegranate with its red juice and many seeds was a prime symbol of
at the tomb, “And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto uterine fertility. Pomegranates were eaten by souls in the underworld to bring
them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid about rebirth. Pomegranate — Rimmon — was a biblical name of the Goddess’s
him” (John 20:13). And when she finds Jesus/the gardener, he tells her not to touch genital shrine (2 Kings 5:18) from rim “to give birth” (Walker, 805). Kazantzakis’
him. In an article in The New Yorker, Joan Acocella poignantly writes about this Magdalene is heard saying, “... I shall fill my arms with pomegranates and place them
“It was not the man Jesus who

scene in the garden, “Then we hear the cruel words: “Don’t touch me.” He was at his feet. He will bend over, take one and refresh himself ” (328).
created the myth of the god-
man. It existed for many
centuries before his birth. He there; he called her name; she reached out to embrace him. Now she must stand Human sexuality was sanitized in the Western religious tradition and lost its
himself was seized by this back, let him go, and make her way alone” (Burstein & De Keijzer, 54). connectedness with the sacred. In my work I ask: can we, instead of tracing a
symbolic idea, which, as St Mark In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip (Nag Hammadi, 148) it is written of Mary bloodline, look to Magdalene and Christ as a promise of restoring the sacred
tells us, lifted him out of the Magdalene that Jesus loved her more than all the disciples and often kissed her on dimensions of sexuality, and find ourselves in the bridal chamber of the soul, healed
narrow life of the Nazarene her [ . . . ] There is a hole in the parchment, but this lacuna has popularly been and at ease? The lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s Light as a Breeze, written almost two
carpenter.” filled by the word “mouth.” Jesus said, “For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive millennia later, so poetically illuminates the healing power of the sacred delta:
C. G. JUNG: MAN AND HIS SYMBOLS, 78 and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another, we receive conception
from the grace which is one another” (Nag Hammadi, 145). I like the question She stands before you naked
Ester de Boer poses when she asks whether through kissing Mary Magdalene the you can see it, you can taste it,
“We are all children of a cultural Lord received the power of lady Wisdom and became pregnant by wisdom? (20) and she comes to you light as the breeze.
stream whose vision of human In this image I see reflected Magdalene’s Shakti activating Christ’s Shiva,11 an idea Now you can drink it or you can nurse it,
love has been shaped by the
that is confirmed by the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas: “Whoever drinks it don’t matter how you worship
from my mouth will become as I am, and I myself will become that person and as long as you’re
shadow side of celibate

things that are hidden will be revealed…” (Pagels: Satan, 72). Caitlin Matthews down on your knees.
“The loss of the Divine Feminine
argues that the ecstatic experience of human sexuality is one which readily carries So I knelt there at the delta, from consciousness is a wound
over into the symbology of the gods, for it is perhaps the most common — at the alpha and the omega, we all carry.”

“Whether washing Christ’s feet

indeed, often our only — experience of non-duality (Elements, 9). Jesus explains, at the cradle of the river and the seas. C AITLIN MATTHEWS: SOPHIA, 42

and drying them with her hair, “And none shall be able to escape [evil spirits] since they detain him if he does not And like a blessing come from heaven
throwing her body at the receive a male power and a female power, the bridegroom and the bride. One for something like a second
crucified Christ’s feet, or lovingly receives them from the mirrored bridal chamber” (de Boer: Cover-up, 15). I was healed and my heart
preparing him for burial, the In Trutz-Nachtigal Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld (1591-1635), who was a was at ease.
(composite) Magdalene loved critic of the witch hunts, concludes a series of love songs addressed by the spouse,
Christ with an almost embodied by Mary Magdalene, to Jesus the beloved. (Maisch, 85) Von Langenfeld VISIONARY MAGDALENE
embarrassing passion.” affirmed the right of women to spiritual instruction against the ecclesiastical In my reading on Mary Magdalene and her part in the biblical events of early
MARGARET R. MILES: A COMPLEX DELIGHT, tendencies of his time. He thought women capable of dealing with theological Christianity, it is the resurrection that erects, for me, a barrier when trying to sort
74 discussions when all the witch hunters knew for certain was that women were out fact from fiction from faith. What would the resurrection mean if we did not
stupid, wicked, and weak in faith. His Mary Magdalene, who goes her way out of believe that the physical body of Christ survived his death, but instead, understand
love, is the embodiment against all the disparagement of women in his time (88). the resurrection spiritually or symbolically? The early gnostics rejected the physical
“The most potent sources of Margaret Starbird laments that while Christianity has long recognized Jesus as the resurrection and instead espoused an understanding for a spiritual truth that
sexual conservatism are buried in
Sacred Bridegroom, how could it have failed to recognize the Bride? (Burstein & embraced the visionary’s visions as valid communication with the post-crucifixion
De Keijzer, 88) By envisioning Jesus as the celibate son of a Virgin Mother the Jesus (Pagels: Gnostic, 11). I therefore see the distinction between the following:
the dark, silent layers of our

mandala of sacred partnership had been effectively scuttled (86). the first person to witness the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene, (which suggests
mental life. It is this burial that
keeps them potent.”
Although the identification of Mary Magdalene with Luke’s anonymous sinner, historical “fact”) as opposed to: Mary Magdalene was the first one to have a post-
would cling to her through the centuries, her epithet as prostitute was also, in part, crucifixion vision of Christ (which makes this event a symbolic truth). Was she a
(This submerged potency can also be a preservation of the sacred dimension of the union of male and female during witness or a visionary? Was she told “Do not touch me” because she saw an
ascribed to the sacred female — and times when the only way sex could be talked about was when it was illicit. The apparition who was no longer of this world?12 The most that can be said is that
serves as an understanding of the theme of symbolic sacred sexuality runs through much of my work and again finds she was a witness to the empty tomb — and let the void speak for itself. What
emergence, often out of the ground, of
the Black Madonnas that started
its place in my explorations and extrapolations on Mary Magdalene. I am drawn to resonates along time’s long corridors is the sorrow and the longing of the woman
appearing in the 1100s - 1200s.) the image of the Sacred Marriage, or hieros gamos, with its promise of gender for her beloved.
equity (wholeness), an idea absent from the Abrahamic traditions. Margaret The many artistic depictions of the noli me tangere (do not touch me) scene
Starbird suggests that when mandatory celibacy was enforced by the church after in the garden is of further interest, not because it is supposed to give credence to
1139 it appears to have concretized the erroneous assumption that Jesus was the resurrection of Christ according to belief, but because so many other readings
celibate (Legacy, 147). When we hear the distant echo for the dead Enkidu, the can be made of this mythic event. Susan Haskins relates this scene to the earlier
man for whom “the harlot” mourns in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, composed myth of the dying god by suggesting that as witness to the resurrection she is the
two thousand years before the advent of Christianity, we also hear Magdalene goddess who found the slain and resurrected god in the garden. As the witness to
lament her dead Christ (Malvern, 27). John Lamb Lash, thought-provokingly, his re-birth Mary Magdalene is his mythic second mother (44). Being the woman
suggests that “… the inclusion of Magdalene in the Jesus story presents a charged to tell the others of her post-crucifixion vision of Christ, she matters, she NOLI ME TANGERE BY TITIAN VECELLI
breathtaking option: to imagine Jesus Christ as Lover rather than Victim” (Burstein is Visionary, Witness, and Voice. Katherine Ludwig Jansen is convinced that as one (PIEVE DI C ADORE, 1490 - VENICE, 1576)
OIL ON CANVAS, 1511-1512
& De Keijzer, 133). of Jesus’ most faithful followers Mary Magdalene was among the women who NATIONAL GALLERY, LONDON, UK
In the Song of Solomon we hear a voice, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is
24 25
“Cleaning off the texts is an gathered in a room with the apostles in Acts 1:12-13 when they received the gift Catholic Shrines in France, likens Mary Magdalene’s sojourn in her cave to the lives
interesting task. It calls of tongues at pentecost (23). of female Buddhist practitioners in Tibet who traveled on their own and lived in
attention to the scrawling and caves and followed what they called “practices of the body of light.” These
the scrawlers of that word
HEALED MAGDALENE practices involved not eating or drinking for years (156) as Magdalene was
Pope Gregory’s famous conflation of two separate biblical women into the figure supposed to have done, save for the grace of angels who lifted her every day for
of Magdalene transformed Mary Magdalene’s demonic possession into a disease of heavenly sustenance. As an interesting aside, Fedele tells that the spikenard oil
the soul caused by sin. He allegorized her 7 demons as the 7 capital sins. (Ludwig used by the Gregorian Magdalene came from Tibet (156) in the Himalayan
Jansen, 147) I prefer the far more appealing idea of a spiritual, karmic, journey of mountains. I like this trans-cultural and trans-religious referencing. It makes for a
healing. The 7 chakras or energy centres in the subtle body form a cosmic ladder nuanced and textured symbolism that knits together threads from different
along which an initiate or yogi ascends to enlightenment. The opening of the disciplines and cultures into a satisfactorily comfortable garment.
chakras releases the negative states of fear, guilt, shame, grief, lies, illusion, and Jesus’ (c.2 BCE – c.33 CE) teachings only surfaced for a few years before he
attachment, and brings about survival, pleasure, courage, love, truth, insight, and was executed by the Romans, unlike the life and teachings of the Buddha, BUDDHA STATUE IN LOTUS POSITION -

energy. Could Mary Magdalene’s healing have been spiritual and her demons of Siddhārtha Gautama (c.563 – c.483 BCE), who walked the path of enlightenment

psychological origin? The double serpents of the rising kundalini passing through from the time of his renunciation of his family and life of luxury in his thirties, until
the 7 chakras simultaneously depict spiritual enlightenment as it vindicates the his death at eighty. Ironically Christ’s death on the cross became the leitmotif for
serpent in the garden from its contrived role as instigator of malice and restores its the Christian faith as images of the crucified man became the talisman for believers
ancient role as the wise guide. Ester de Boer asks whether the 7 demons expelled who understood his brutal death to have been willed by God as a sacrifice of his
from Mary Magdalene may not allude to her being an initiate as occurred in the Son for the sins of the world. This tenet of faith, to my mind, obscured Christ’s
Eastern culture of Jesus’ time (Cover-up, 21). After all, Jesus was absent for thirty teachings of inclusiveness, forgiveness, and love. Maybe if he had lived into his
years while he grew up and entered his adulthood. Where was he? What was he eighties, like the Buddha, Jesus’ teaching career would have had more impact and
doing? Studying? Training? With whom? Was he on his own spiritual quest? his death would have been merely a blip in the great wheel of life. Instead
Because the prime number 7 is indivisible by any other number with a whole corporeal suffering was embroidered into the faith with threads of blood.
remainder, it is known as the “virgin” number. Since antiquity the number 7 has Although Buddhism, like other religions, suffers from a “male bias,” the Buddha,
great mythic and symbolic resonance: 7 days in each week; 7x4 lunar periods when assaulted by Mara, the King of demons, put his right hand down and touched
indicate the phases of the moon; 7 observable planets; 7 wonders of the ancient the earth. He begged the divine Mother of Earth, Rani, to come to his aid. Hence
world; 7 seas; 7 colors of the rainbow; 7th day Sabbath; 7 lights in the minorah; 7 the Buddha is often depicted with the gesture (BHUMISPARSHA mudra) of calling
notes on the musical scale; forgive 7 times 27; 7 deadly sins; 7 headed beast in the Earth to witness his inner truth. The Buddha, unlike Christ, lived a long life
Revelations; 7 emblems of the Buddha; 7 chakras; 7 energy layers that surround the during which he was able to refine and deepen his teaching. Christ’s teachings KALI YANTRA
body; 7 pillars of wisdom; 7 Assyrian sages; 7 layered crown of Sumeria; 7 planetary were left to the disciples and apostles and the men of the church.
gods of Babylon were the spirits of the underworld known as the Annunaki (Baring
& Cashford, 592). Seven transformations are central to a sevenfold way of WILD MAGDALENE
initiation, the Vedante system of yoga, Gnostic, Hermetic and Jewish writings of the Before there were temples, religious rites took place in caves (Walker, 154). The
soul’s journey as it passes through 7 heavenly guards (de Boer: Cover-up, 23). cave in Paleolithic times was seen as the abundant womb of the great mother. To
Buddha took 7 steps towards each of the cardinal points. Voragine’s Golden Legend embody this point, our ancient forebears filled this cavity with paintings of the
tells of a sweet smelling odor emanating from Mary Magdalene’s body that herds and plants on which their lives depended for sustenance, clothing, and fuel.

remained for 7 days after she died in Provence. In Nikos Kazantzakis’ Last The Massif-de-la-Sainte-Baume in Southern France where the Golden Legend

Temptation of Christ, when Jesus calls Magdalene a whore, she shudders and, weeping, places Mary Magdalene in a cave as a penitent recluse is run today by Dominican
protests that it is not 7 devils but 7 wounds which plague her (90). monks. The rocky mountain is surrounded by an ancient forest. It is told how
Mary Magdalene spent the last thirty years of her life in penitential seclusion in her
BUDDHIST MAGDALENE grotto in the wilds clad only in her hair. This hairy hermit supposedly fasted all this
In Voragine’s Golden Legend, Mary Magdalene becomes a preacher in Southern time and was lifted up by angels every day to receive spiritual sustenance. Instead
France where she converts the pagans to Christianity. This leads me to look at of seeing the message of poverty, obedience, chastity and servitude that these
Eastern art and sculpture where the Buddha is identified by several hand gestures, images served to instill and uphold, I choose to look at the woman in the cave as
mudras,13 that are particular elements in Buddhist art. One of these is the mudra an echo of the Earth Goddess, Verdant Mother, Gaia, Mother Earth, Wild Woman.
of argument, debate or appeasement, VITARKA mudra. Another is the mudra of the She is familiar with the ley lines or wouivres that snake through the earth’s body —
first sermon, DHARMACHAKRA mudra. I use/borrow both these mudras in some of its telluric currents. Vindicating Mary Magdalene from her thirty years of penance “Woman’s body, since it was a
my depictions of Mary Magdalene, thus aligning her with a long tradition of and placing her in touch with the earth as she inhabits her grotto creates a sacred stark proclamation of sexuality,
esoteric teaching, wisdom, and knowledge and simultaneously marrying East and relationship to the earth itself. Anna Fedele reports how the humid cave was was not in the image of God; it
West. Ean Begg calls the preaching of the Gnostics, the Cathars, the Knights perceived by most of the Magdalene pilgrims she studied as the symbol of their represented rather the pull of
Templar, the Cult of the Holy Grail, and the Church of Mary Magdalene, “whore own mother’s womb, a place of nurturing and of birth (92). those forces that drew humanity
KUNDALINI RISING THROUGH THE SEVEN wisdom” meaning illegitimate in the eyes of the Church (Gadon, 216). The spring that flows in this grotto alludes to the source of life-giving and life- away from God.”
The yantras of India and Nepal that serve to focus the adept during sustaining water associated with so many pagan goddesses. According to Barbara KAREN JO TORJESEN, 211

meditation by visual means inspired me to employ this format in some of my Walker wells are passages to the underground womb (1067). At Sainte Baume,
codex folios. The Hindu and Buddhist practice of chanting a specific mantra or where she spent 3 legendary decades as a recluse in her cave, Mary Magdalene
repeating it silently during meditation practice appeals to me more than the became patron of wine growers. It is interesting to note that the companion of
Western way of prayer. The repetition of the mantra creates a vibration that aligns Jesus is associated with wine growers, as Jesus is symbolically called the Vine. On a
the human voice with the sounds of the universe. I like this. pilgrimage to Sainte Baume Cynthia Avens describes her realization at the grotto
One of the Magdalene pilgrimage leaders encountered by Anna Fedele in her of Mary Magdalene, “I could see both inside the cave and also the trees and the
study, Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage and Ritual Creativity at sky outside, I realized that in the cave within the mountain I was simultaneously in
26 27
the depths and the heights, in both the earth and the sky” ( The Mother-letter M (Ma), the ideogram for waves of water turns into
essays.html). She understood this particular cave as a place that unites the stylized images of the birthing mother found on the walls of the Paleolithic caves.
opposites of Earth and Heaven — the worlds of matter and spirit. M becomes a shorthand for her parted legs and pubic triangle and was used to
Elinor Gadon suggests that the cult of Mary Magdalene is linked to the Black mark water pots in the Neolithic Age. Most myths placed the primary impulse of
Virgin because both continue to hold the female principle sacred and divine (216). creation in the watery womb of chaos. Barbara Walker reminds us that when the
The Black Virgins possess the mana — power of the old goddess of life, death, and female principle is subjected to sustained attack, as it was from the medieval
re-birth — a powerful embodiment of all elemental forces that produce and Christian authorities, students of mythology find that it often quickly submerges
maintain the order of the universe (218). While Mary the Virgin represents the where it swims through the subconscious of the dominant male society,
light qualities in Christian thought of purity and mercy, it is Mary Magdalene who occasionally bobbing to the surface to offer glimpses of the rejected harmony
represents the dark female. This archetypal darkness contains wisdom as well as (1066). Water, like love, is essential to the lifeforces of fertility and creativity
the sexual, sensual, sacred female body. Like the Black Madonna, I see Mary without which the psychic world as well as the material world would be an arid
Magdalene as a hybrid figure that belongs to both Christianity and to the deeper desert — a wasteland. A water motif runs through many myths. Often a woman
layers of the pagan past. Today contemporary women who undertake alternative is found by a fountain or well where an important and fateful meeting takes place.
pilgrimages to her shrines in France, associate Mary Magdalene with the Earth In the Old Testament, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses all entered new lands or towns by
Goddess herself. These pilgrims, many of whom are from Catholic backgrounds, coming to a well where they meet a woman fetching water. In the New Testament
do not regard their faith as an obstacle to the creative and healing rituals they Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well (Thompson, 230). Isis sits weeping
perform (Fedele, 2013). They indulge in selective trans-religious borrowing that at a fountain for her lost Osiris, as does Demeter weep at the well for her lost TRACING MADE FROM MARIJA GIMBUTAS,

allows for innovative integration between the old and the new. Mary Magdalene, daughter, Persephone. It is at this well where Baubo creates levity by lifting her

like the Black Madonna, is associated with miraculous healing.14 Pilgrims at Sainte skirts and telling bawdy stories to make Demeter shed tears of laughter instead

Baume are confronted with statues and altars that reflect the Catholic Church’s of tears of sorrow.
version of Magdalene’s story; yet, those who venture into deeper understanding One of the most pervasive images of Mary Magdalene is that of the woman
can find the older layers of energy that belong to the Earth Mother and to crouching at Christ’s feet, weeping with her long, loose hair and her ointment jar.
“When people know Earth as Magdalene’s connection to her. The grotto and the soil in it and around the forest Human tears often refer to the world as a place of sorrow, “this vale of tears” and
their mother, the cave, the surrounding the grotto represent the dark fecund potential of Mother Earth. women’s tears, apart from showing sorrow, also mediate between a hard
opening in the Earth, was her Cynthia Avens suggests that the darkness of the cave that is associated with masculine world and the realm of compassion that soothes and comforts. Mary
vagina and womb, the Magdalene, can be understood to symbolize the unconscious, the visionary Magdalene’s tears of sorrow and tears of compassion all mingle to create an
passageway to the deepest imagination, or female wisdom ( enduring stream of living-water. Katherine Ludwig Jansen quotes Eudes de
mysteries, the secrets of birth
Caitlin Matthews states that the Black Goddess lies at the basis of spiritual Châtereauroux, “…that the Lord made blessed Mary Magdalen, as it were, an ever-
knowledge, which is why her image continually appears within many traditions as flowing fountain in the middle of the Church in which sinners are able to wash
and rebirth.”
the Veiled Goddess, the Black Virgin, the Outcast Daughter, the Wailing Widow, the away their sins” (210). While the notion of sin holds no sway with me, I am drawn
Dark Woman of Knowledge (6). Sylvia Brinton Perera in Descent to the Goddess to this image of Magdalene as a fountain of renewal and cleansing in the middle of
calls for a sacrifice of our identity as spiritual daughters of the patriarchy and a the church.
descent into the spirit of the goddess, because so much of the power and passion Mary Magdalene, when conflated with Luke’s sinner had her tears interpreted
of the female has been dormant in the underworld (Baring: Dream, 34). For me, it as those of shame and penance. However Mary Magdalene who searched for her BAUBO: FIGURINES KNOWN AS BAUBOS ARE
is this dark space of the submerged archetypal female that holds the mysteries of missing beloved at the empty tomb shed tears of compassion for the man who FOUND IN A NUMBER OF SETTINGS, USUALLY WITH

our forgotten connection to the sacred earth. Like Isis who is symbolized as the suffered such a brutal death. Her compassion aligns her with Green Tara, who GREEK CONNECTIONS. THEY WERE MASS-
throne on which king Osiris sat, so too, was the Black Virgin depicted, her lap the vowed to only manifest in a woman’s body until all the suffering in the world has FIGURE ALWAYS EXPOSES THE VULVA IN SOME WAY.

throne on which the sacred child sits. The many statues of the Black Madonna of ended. In a long line of weeping goddesses Magdalene’s tears echo the many tears
the type “Virgin in Majesty” attest to her link to the Egyptian goddess — the shed by Demeter for Persephone, Isis for Osiris, Inanna for Dumuzi, Ishtar for
throne. The black earth itself becomes the ground from which the sacred rises. It Tammuz, Anat for Baal, Cybele for Attis, Mary for Christ — women who wept for a
is this dark earth at the grotto at Sainte Baume that irrevocably ties Magdalene to beloved who descended to the underworld who after a specific time, arose from it
the Dark Goddess. to restore new life on the earth above. In a Canaanite Poem Anat seeks and
At Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where legend places Magdalene’s arrival in mourns her beloved Baal, “Anat goes searching for him. Like the heart of a cow
France, a statue of Black Sainte Sarah is ritually carried to the shore just as statues for her calf, like the heart of a ewe for her lamb, so is the heart of Anat”
of the Hindu Goddess, Black Kali, are ritually carried to the sacred rivers of India. (Malvern,16). Ludwig Jansen reveals how, for medieval preachers, tears, and
Magdalene’s blackened skull in the crypt of the Basilica of Sainte Marie Madeleine especially Magdalene’s tears were a multi-vocal symbol that transformed vices into
“Loe! where a wounded heart

in Provence, echoes the countenance of Kali. It is said of Kali that just as all colors virtues; barrenness to fertility; obduracy to liquid tears (209). When Jane Schaberg
with bleeding eyes conspire. Is

are absorbed into black, so she contains all names and forms. Black is not no-color, suggests that “weeping replaces speaking” (Understood, 59), I understand this to
she a flaming fountain, or a
weeping fire?”
in fact it is all-color. Darkness is not empty, it is filled with mystery. give voice to Magdalene’s tears. She was not silent after all but spoke volumes RICHARD CRASHAW’S 17TH CENTURY POEM,
through her tears. Volumes we need to decipher and decode. Maybe with the THE WEEPERS
WEEPING MAGDALENE help of the Paleolithic weeping goddess and with Green Tara who was born from
In my extended family, and particularly at family gatherings, there was always the tears of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.
somewhere a woman crying. This is what women do, we weep for ourselves and “…Mary stood weeping…”
for the humanity of others. An image from Marija Gimbutas’ Language of the SISTERED MAGDALENE JOHN 20:11
Goddess, shows a 26,000 year old weeping goddess, her tears streaming from her Between Eve at the Tree of Life and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross,
eyes over her cheeks and onto her pendulous breasts (51). What did this mean to ecclesiastic minds spun a litany of sin that would keep women in their place and
people then? Was she weeping for a lost lover or child? Or were her tears those orphan the body from its sexual core. Eve was vilified for her choice to seek
WEEPING GODDESS 24,000 BCE of compassion and empathy for the sorrows of a life fatefully at the mercy of knowledge over ignorance by the writers of the Old Testament and named by the
elemental powers beyond our grasp or control? Church as the cause of so-called original sin. She was used to set the stage for an
28 29
“In their literal belief in the myth interpretation of her choice to eat the fruit and offer it to Adam that became eternity of slavish obedience! “The point of her story is that
of the Fall, generations of crucial to the central premise of Christianity: the death and blood of the Savior to The tree has had sacred and symbolic significance from the earliest times… she so loved Christ that she
theologians and priests taught wash away our sins. During the Renaissance and the Counter Reformation, the it is rooted in the earth and stretches up to the sky. In some parts of Africa repented of her past and came to
men and women that this world
notion that women had to suffer in childbirth because of the fatal judgment (the continent of my birth) pregnant mothers go into the hollow space inside the accept the mortality of flesh and
rendered on Eve, hung over pregnant and laboring women, and often stood in the baobab tree where they give birth. This practice highlights Africa, the mother
was a fallen one that could only immortality of the soul. Yet the

way of physicians’ ability to approach and treat women humanely. Mary Magdalene continent, as the original Garden of Eden — the home of the Tree of Life,
be redeemed by the sacrificial way the pictures are painted

was cast as a prostitute based on the passage in Luke that refers to a woman out the Baobab.
death of the Son of God. contradicts the essence of this
Secondly they warned men not to
of whom Jesus cast seven demons. To the minds of the men who formulated the
story. It is as though the
trust women and women not to transformation of her life
trust themselves or each other.” doctrine of the early Catholic Church these demons could only denote sexual sin. ICONOGRAPHIC MAGDALENE brought about by her repentance
ANNE BARING: DREAM, 152 Collapsing her into Luke’s sinner who washed and dried Christ’s feet with her tears For the past two thousand years Mary Magdalene has been kept alive by her ever- has not taken place. The method
and her hair further enforced ecclesiastic notions of female sin, sexuality, and changing image resulting from new and inventive techniques in paint and style, of painting is incapable of
prostitution. Yet on a symbolic level, the prostitute-saints (holy harlots) of medieval while popular ideas about women and ideals of beauty informed the content. By making the renunciation she is
legend, became the flip-side of the ancient Sumerian temple prostitute or the time of the great artists of the Renaissance, medieval preaching and devotion
“The Magdalene, like Eve, was
meant to have made. She is
hierodule. had vividly established the persona of the sinful Magdalene, the repentant
brought into existence by the
painted as being, before she is
powerful undertow of misogyny
in Christianity, which associates Both Eve and Magdalene were used as bookends for the church’s theories on prostitute, the wealthy convert, and the penitent hermit in art, plays, and sermons. anything else, a takeable and

women with the dangers and women’s sinful sexuality. Both women were NOT GUILTY. The introduction of She was turned into a muse of great versatility by the artists who used her face, desirable woman. She is still the

the notion of sin (original or otherwise) makes it someone’s fault as opposed to her body, and her hair to express their virtuosity in paint and sculpture (Burstein &
compliant object of the painting-
degradation of the flesh.”
the notion of ones nature that is destiny. SIN is not a basic human problem, De Keijzer, x).
method’s seduction.”
IGNORANCE is. The Church’s insistence on sin assured that ignorance could be Paradoxically the women who took Mary Magdalene for their patroness had
maintained and that inner knowledge would remain unattainable. The notion of sin to redeem themselves not once but twice: once for being sinners, and again for
“… the Magdalen, long used as a forced people to focus on what their bodies were doing or not doing relative to its being women (Jacques Dalarun: HOW-Middle Ages, 37). Donatello’s hairy hag
vessel for contradicting ideas, is “inherent” sinful nature, instead of what both their spirit and body called for to be serves simultaneously as a graphic depiction of the wages of female sin, as it
brimful of paradoxes.” whole. Baring and Cashford aver that the Genesis myth took the life-affirming depicts a crone whose sensual life of beauty has been consumed by thirty years of
MARJORY MALVERN: SACKCLOTH, 3 images of all myths before it - the garden, the four rivers, the Tree of Life, the solitary penance.
serpent and the world parents - and made of them an occasion not of joy and Katherine Ludwig Jansen argues that the medieval Magdalene’s nakedness,
wonder, but of fear, guilt, punishment, and blame (488). which simultaneously evoked both innocence and sexuality, was too alluring to
“By splitting off the functions of
It is interesting how the three gift-bearing women, Eve, Pandora, and discard even though it lacked historical pedigree (335). The sinful Eve and the
Magdalene, had their gifts misinterpreted or misrepresented. Pandora’ box of gifts sinful Magdalene would legitimize the female nude in Christian religious art. Mary
the body from the workings of

of diversity was vilified as evil and disease; Eve’s gift of knowledge was Magdalene’s nudity always relates to her femaleness and her sexuality. The many
the soul, the West has created a

misrepresented as guile; Mary Magdalene’s gift of costly nard, instead of being images of the naked or half-clad penitent sinner became not only fodder for the
fragmented, sometime
schizophrenic society. It has
created a Fall as devastating as understood as a gift of anointing the young god for his burial, became the sign of pious voyeur, but on a symbolic level can stand for the naked truth as nudity strips
the myth of Adam and Eve.” penance for her sinful life. As a bringer of gifts, I sister her with Pandora/Eve. As away illusion. This naked truth may be worth exploring; was she showing us her
C AITLIN MATTHEWS: SOPHIA, 45 mistress of her grotto in the wild, I sister her with the wild Artemis. As naked relationship to her ancient ancestress, the goddess, by appearing nature-clad? Did
woman clad only in her luxurious hair, I sister her with Venus/Aphrodite. As these images of sensual beauty allude to the goddess of love so despised by the
contemplative penitent, I align her with the Eastern and Gnostic traditions of inner church through its proscriptions on sexuality and the female body? Whatever
“Together, the Virgin and the knowledge. As feral hermit in her grotto, I sister her with the earth goddess, Gaia. these many truths may be, Mary Magdalene, surreptitiously, in the hands of the
Magdalene form a diptych of As black goddess in her earth cave, she is sistered with Black Kali and the Black great painters, retained the energy of creative sexuality. Karen King suggest that
Christian patriarchy’s idea of Madonna. The weeping Mary Magdalene’s tears at the tomb further sisters her there is something about Magdalene as a repentant prostitute which allows
women. There is no place in the with the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion, Tara. The weeping Magdalene is painters and artists to keep the voluptuousness and sensuality within the Christian
conceptual architecture of reflected in her sister-mourning-Goddesses Isis, Inanna, Ishtar, Anat, Cybele and tradition by making it repentant (Burstein & De Keijzer, 199). As a sexual object
Christian society for a single
Demeter. this saint became the grail in which the subject of sexuality was held captive.
The serpent and the goddess (now evil and Eve) were once bestowers not Magdalene’s portrayal as Vanity and Luxuria by preacher, playwright, and
woman who is neither virgin nor

of death but of life’s eternal cycles of renewal. Susan Haskins suggests how ideas painter alike served to highlight, and simultaneously denounce, female beauty,
a whore.”
about original sin and death, and Eve’s role as scapegoat for the Fall, were to have bodily adornment, hairdressing, make-up, dancing, and, of course, the pleasures of THE PENITENT MAGDALENE BY DONATELLO
direct bearing on the development of the figure of Mary Magdalene as the sexuality. In the many paintings of the penitent Mary Magdalene, replete with C . 1453-1455. THE MUSEO DELL’OPERA

“Second Eve” (67). The forgiveness of her sins (seven demons), and her thirty book, skull, cross and ointment jar — she stands for the temporality of earthly life. DEL DUOMO IN FLORENCE.

years of penitent contemplation now offers redemption to others of her sex. The image of the contemplative, penitent, repentant sinner-saint simultaneously
What a price for being female! The wise serpent in the garden who persuaded Eve evokes the allegory of Melancholy. Ingrid Maisch suggests that in her
and Adam to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge in defiance of their transformation into the figure of melancholy Magdalene has lost her halo and has
jealous hostile creator (Pagels: Adam, xxiv) begs for vindication from the hideous herself become a symbol of vanitas (75). She makes the important observation
legacy that turned it into the incarnation of Satan. And this goes for snakes in that Magdalene remains out of the picture and is completely obscured by the flood Émile Mâle declared that in
general, these beautiful sinuous creatures who live so close to the earth. Pagels of images she called forth. Maisch concludes that Mary Magdalene is a time-bound Donatello’s sculpture Magdalene
highlights how some Gnostic Christians suggested that the Genesis story of the symbol that endures only in partial aspects: the beautiful sinner as object of male “succeeded in exterminating the
snake in the garden was never meant to be taken literally but should be lust. The depictions of the naked penitent or the groveling sinner fit seamlessly flesh which caused her fall” —

understood as spiritual allegory — not so much history with a moral as myth with within the thought of the [baroque] period that feared woman as “witch” and at
thereby representing a body

meaning (64). I agree. And this makes me wonder how different our the same time reveled lasciviously in her perverse game of love (79). In the artistic
completely annihilated by the

understanding of women and ourselves would have been had the early record, Magdalene often assumed the image of saintly FLESH whereas her
soul — a tormented victim of a
radical split between the spirit
interpreters of scripture recognized Eve’s wise choice in the garden — she chose counterpart, the Virgin, stood for NO FLESH. Titian’s sensuously raptured and the flesh.
knowledge over ignorance. She opted for a finite life of wisdom rather than an Magdalene with her eyes orgasmically rolled back becomes the crowning glory of MARJORY MALVERN, 5
30 31
the sexualized romantic repentant sinner. Jane Schaberg and Johnson-Debaufre beloved disciple, the questioner, the teacher, the one who received secret teachings
argue that by focusing mostly on her body may have been a way of decapitating from Jesus that she then imparted to the disciples. Marina Warner describes her
Mary Magdalene, removing her mind, identity, and voice (43). An interesting as “supreme initiate” into Christ’s mysteries and teacher to the other apostles
analogy, this, when considering that a disembodied skull purportedly belonging to (299). In this sense she is the grail, not of holy blood, but of the lost teachings of
her is carried on her feast day, July 22, at Sainte Maximin in a golden reliquary Christ, of the knowledge the church did not want to incorporate in its canons
replete with cascading golden hair. because the bearer of that knowledge was a woman. Her iconic alabaster jar of
The many depictions of Magdalene at the feet of the crucified and dead ointment is mirrored by the jar in the desert that contained the Nag Hammadi
Christ, visually confirm Gregory’s conflation of Mary Magdalene with Luke’s sinner codices in 1945, that can be seen, too, as a grail preserving sacred knowledge
who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair. Over and over again, Mary against the ravages of time. It has been suggested that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’
Magdalene is painted in intimate and emotional contact with her beloved’s feet: in compliment or vessel to hold and pour forth his teachings (Lester, 247). This
the house of Simon, at the foot of the cross, and at the lamentation of the dead metaphor places her being in the service of wisdom’s truth. What would it mean
Christ. The many portraits of her holding an ointment jar pale by comparison to today to restore Mary Magdalene and Christ to their true relationship as
those that feature her hair and his feet. And it is this profusion of images that have complimentary beloveds and co-teachers? It would certainly mitigate against the
etched the characterization of Magdalene as repentant sinner into our collective relentless masculinity of Christianity and hopefully create a crack in its stance on
recollection. Yet, the eroticized images of her that blossomed with the realism of celibacy... or is this just wishful thinking on my part?
THE PALAzzO PITTI IN FLORENCE. the Renaissance, held together the parts of being human that the church tore
asunder. Margaret Miles insists that the Magdalene figure attracted because it RECLAIMED MAGDALENE
represented a human longing for the integration of the spiritual and the physical Karen Torjesen suggests that the whore is an important symbol whose negative
(Breast, 71). stereotype functions to underscore the values associated with female chastity.
Men, like Philo in the first century, denounced the whore who stood for the
antitype of the woman who preserved her sexual reputation (142). I find this
notion rather disingenuous. Without men’s sexual desire (lust) there would be no
whore. For centuries (and even today under restrictive patriarchal religious laws)
women had to be on guard, walking the tight-rope between the preferred chaste
virgin/wife and the despised whore/sexual woman. This notion leaves little or no
room for the woman whose sexuality, freely, and safely belongs to herself.
Monotheistic patriarchal thinking orphaned the body by denouncing it as
sinful and inferior to the soul or spirit or mind. This shattered our basic reality
(Pollack, 10). Without our bodies there can be no philosophy or theorizing about
higher or lower values. The body, as the basis of our perception of reality, houses
all our experience, all our thought, all our senses and sensations. The great “sin” of
the Western mind was the construct of sexual sin. Augustine’s doctrine15 not only
fractured our full participation with the sacred, but orphaned the body from its
creative/sexual core. People — men and women — have suffered needlessly, and “If evil is an element in the
CHRIST IN THE HOUSE OF SIMON BY DIERIC BOUTS THE CRUCIFIXION BY MASACCIO 1426. LAMENTATION OVER THE DEAD CHRIST BY SANDRO cruelly, from the many injunctions against the body that were upheld for centuries cosmic order, its power was
by priests and preachers. It is this whole notion of sexual sin that makes immeasurably increased by the
Magdalene’s figure in art such a compelling dichotomy. On the one hand her flesh,
BERLIN, GERMANY repression of sexuality and all
like Eve’s, is the cause of all evil, and on the other hand her nudity serves as a that resulted from it.”
CHALICED MAGDALENE delight to the pious voyeur. While the church denied sexuality and preached ANNE BARING: DREAM, 142
The medieval legend of Mary Magdalene who was the bearer of the “sangraal” to against the allure of the female body and its beauty, artists (and their patrons) did
France, has been interpreted in a latter-day theory as sangraal meaning not holy not shy from delighting in explicit renditions of the naked Eve and the naked “The prostitute and the virgin
grail, “san graal” but “sang raal”, blood royal which Mary Magdalene supposedly Magdalene. The irony of all this painted and sculpted flesh is that it did not align are both archetypal or archaic
carried in her womb as the blood/child of Christ. This is a cute bit of conceit that the female body with the sacred, but served instead to sever her body from it. images of the free woman, as
unfortunately concretizes Mary Magdalene as Mrs. Christ and robs her image of its From the beginning of patriarchal religion women’s sacred mirror was darkened opposed to the domesticated
symbolic fluidity while placing her as mere vessel in the hands of a powerful and eventually broken. Only men, who were supposedly created in God’s image, woman, the wife and helpmeet,
bloodline conspiracy theory. While I would dismiss the bloodline theories, there is, retained a shining reflection of themselves as gods on earth. whose life’s goal is union with the
however, poetic and mythic elegance in the idea of Mary Magdalene being the When the Gregorian Magdalene came into Simon’s house where Jesus was a male.”
container of a sacred seed. This, for me, becomes more like alchemy instead of dinner guest, she performed a radical act for a first century woman. She bodily NOR HALL, 11, 12
historic truth. It fits in with images of the beloveds in the Bridal Chamber and of penetrated a masculine space and proceeded to wash his feet with her tears and
the product of enlightenment that comes from integration of opposites in a dry them with her loosened hair. With her tears and kisses she anointed his feet.
dedicated and disciplined spiritual life. My idea of Mary Magdalene as Holy Grail is This was an act of great courage — and drama. Similarly, one of the Magdalene
more like a promise than a biological fact. Margaret Starbird writes that the stories pilgrims documented by Anna Fedele offered a tissue, on which she menstruated,
of the Holy Grail stir within us a poignant memory of something vastly precious, beside the altar at Sainte Baume where the Holy Sacrament was conserved (158).
but now lost. For the pilgrims in Anna Fedele’s study Mary Magdalene was This was no less a radical penetration of Catholic patriarchal space by a woman
experienced as the chalice into which women can pour their sexual wounding. offering of her “innermost essence to Mother Earth” (158). This, and other
This chalice simultaneously contains the orphaned carnal parts of both men and menstrual offerings evoked the connection between the sacred Earth and
women who have suffered the guilt imposed by the judgements of orthodox and women’s bodies — a ritual that counter-acts the body-orphaning of official Church
puritanical parents and society as it offers healing transformation. doctrine. Fedele comments, “By replacing the blood of Christ offered by a male
The Gnostic Gospels give us a different view into Mary Magdalene, as the priest during Eucharist with their own menstrual blood… these women
32 33
autonomously established the importance of their wombs and bodies and their I share my own story of sexual awakening, abortion, and miscarriage as a young
right to dialogue with the divine” (181). Fedele names the sacralizing of menstrual woman alongside my name, Maria Magdalena, and the societal banishments of
blood, a “revolution of the Christian world… and inversion of Christian symbols” pregnant “girls” in those days to the Magdalena Tehuis (Magdalene Home in Cape
(179). Town, South Africa) where young women would bide their pregnancies far away
The iconography of Magdalene’s body, while serving as a focus of penitential from the shame their families would not feel, to have their babies adopted. This
sin for the devout, simultaneously and surreptitiously painted a holy woman as a threat of banishment is the real thing that ties me to Mary Magdalene who was
sensuously fleshed woman. Like the Magdalene pilgrims who claimed her as the banished to the realms of prostitution or sexual sin by patriarchy’s mythographers.
chalice into which they can pour their sexual wounding, I claim and reclaim
Magdalene as an image of wholeness in which the body is not orphaned but SPOUSAL MAGDALENE
remains integral to our humanity. In September 2012 news broke that a fragment of Coptic papyrus contained the
“Mary Magdalene is the words, “Jesus said to them, “my wife …” Professor Karen King of Harvard Divinity
madwoman — angry mad — in LAUNDERED MAGDALENE School18 translated and explained the broken bits of text that were immediately
Christianity’s attic. She was With the rise of Abrahamic religion/patriarchy the Great Mother Goddess who declared a forgery by the Vatican. In April 2014 scientists and scholars declared
hidden there because of an open held the diversity of human potential within her, was banished from religion. This the papyrus, now named “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, authentic.19 Its authenticity will
and not fully appreciated secret, left God without a mitigating companion, and women without a mirror that could undoubtedly create a challenge to Christianity’s master narrative. While the
and its implications, at reflect us as complex, diverse and whole beings, both physical and spiritual. By the meaning of the broken lines is still discussed and debated, it may prove to become
Christianity’s core: that the male mid-1800s of the Victorian era, womanhood was split into two — the good a loose thread that, when pulled, can potentially unravel the Roman Catholic
disciples fled and the women did chaste/wife and the evil prostitute. A “fallen” woman, the antithesis of the virginal Church’s stance on celibacy.20 If Jesus was not celibate then the entire edifice
not.” madonna or chaste wife, became known as a “magdalene.” erected around priestly celibacy is in danger of tumbling. Would it not be a great
SCHABERG & JOHNSON-DEBAUFRE, 12 The now infamous Magdalene Laundries in Ireland took in unwed mothers advance for the church to allow women and married men into the priesthood?
or young women deemed simply too sexually attractive for their own good by Would the acknowledgement of sexuality as part and parcel of the divine and the
piously indoctrinated Catholic families. Becoming laundresses in the service of human mitigate against the sexual abuse of the innocents perpetrated by priests
God, these “fallen” women supposedly had the chance to wash away their sins. who themselves are shackled to enforced celibacy?
Many women thus incarcerated never lived a free life again. The scandal of these
laundries was discovered in the 1990s when a convent in Ireland sold part of its Translation
land on which a mass grave of “penitents” was discovered. According to a 2011 1 ] “not [to] me. My mother gave to me li[fe…”
article in The Guardian, “Over one-third of the deaths had never been certified.
The nuns did not even appear to know the names of several of the women, listing 2 ] .” The disciples said to Jesus, “.[
them as Magdalene of St Cecilia, Magdalene of Lourdes, and so on. The final 3 ] deny. Mary is (not?) worthy of it [
number so callously disturbed from their resting place was 155. All had died in the 4 ]…” Jesus said to them, “My wife . .[
service of the nuns, working long hours in their large commercial laundry for no
pay, locked away by a patriarchal church and society ruthlessly determined to 5 ]… she is able to be my disciple . . [
control women’s sexuality.”16 These unfortunate women who were given 6 ] . Let wicked people swell up … [
Magdalene’s name, lost their own names and identities when they were sanitized 7] . As for me, I am with her1 in order to . [
by self-righteous cultural mores. Lynn Picknett writes in her excellent chapter on
the laundries that when a young Magdalene went screaming into labour, she is 8 ] . an image … [
briskly told by the nun: ‘If you die it’s no more than you deserve’ (3). The nuns’
reign of terror inculcated a crippling sense of unworthiness in the women who MODERN MAGDALENE
slaved in the laundries (5). Picknett does however express a little twinge of Mary Magdalene, St |ˈmagdəliːn|
compassion for these nuns who themselves had grown up in an institution that (also Magdalen)
(in the New Testament) a woman of Magdala in Galilee. She was a follower of Jesus, who cured her of
made human love a disgusting sin that degraded the joys of female sexuality (9). evil spirits (Luke 8:2); she is also traditionally identified with the ‘sinner’ of Luke 7:37. Feast day, 22 July.
The last laundry closed in 1996. The lives of the last of the women imprisoned in
the Magdalene Laundries are portrayed in the 2002 film, The Magdalene Sisters. How can Mary Magdalene be understood? Is the definition above the final word
Another film, Philomena, made in 2013 is the touching story of one of these “fallen on her? Or can she be re-claimed to stand for more than “a woman from
women” who tries to trace her adult child that was adopted in early childhood. Magdala”?21 Today we find Mary Magdalene at the crossroads of history and
On February 19, 2013 the Irish Prime Minister, Edna Kenny, formally apologized on legend. Over time she was repeatedly re-created and re-imagined — century after
behalf of the state for its role in the Magdalene laundries.17 I am not sure whether century — to fit the needs of church and society bent on writing its moral code
the Roman Catholic Church did the same. on a female body. She still seems to travel with the times. She has starred in
On June 10, 2014 the New York Times reported on the discovery at Taum in movies and a musical, been the inspiration for complex bloodline theories,22
Ireland, of a mass grave that contained the bones of 796 children, mainly babies. became Mrs Jesus, formed a new anchor for women in the Christian church,
They died at the St. Mary’s Mother and Baby Home that closed on 1961. A local became the Goddess in the gospels, stands for the Lost Bride in an androcentric
historian could find a death certificate for only one child. A committee is raising religion, and became a symbol on which religious feminists can rightfully hang
funds for a commemorative plaque for the unnamed children born to un-wed women’s right to the ministry. Others claim to channel Mary Magdalene and write
mothers at a time when “a climate of stigma” did not afford protection or dignity about their revelations. The many books and webpages currently available on the
to these mothers and their children. One of the pilgrims interviewed by Anna subject of Mary Magdalene range from the scholarly to the absurd - and many
Fedele was adopted out of one of these Irish Catholic institutions. As the daughter shades in between - but they all testify to the enduring allure of the woman who
of a “magdalene” she found the sense of Magdalene at her shrines in France a walked close to the man called Jesus.
strong incentive to experience her own sexuality unbound by convention and to Is she a woman or an archetype? I am drawn to agree with Margaret
assert her right to have her own child outside of marriage (3). Following this essay Starbird that “…she is the mirror of the powerful archetype of the sacred female
34 35
— the lost bride so long denied in Christian mythology” (Bride, 2). Mary MY MAGDALENE
Magdalene carries the archetype, not of mother, but of the Goddess of Love, the As an artist and a lapsed Calvinist, my work questions the relentless hierarchical
Bride. Today’s feminist spiritual seekers view Mary Magdalene as the recovered structures of patriarchy’s monotheism. I threw religion out with the bath water of
fourth archetype in the maiden-mother-crone triad, the Lover, whereas the Virgin faith when, in my early twenties, I married an atheist. It was only later while I lived
Mary remains the archetype of the Mother. These two archetypes, Mother and in New York that the symbolism of my dreams and Jungian therapy opened me to
Lover, mitigate against the dichotomous virgin and whore. Mary Magdalene as the the realm of the goddess. From that time, almost thirty years ago, my work and
“Myth is what never was — yet Lover is the healing figure that bridges this split (Fedele, 72). Starbird asks, “How my reading would lead me to embrace a feminist revision of religious thinking, a
always is.” can Christ be whole without his beloved?” (3) And I ask, how can anyone be process that allowed for redressing patriarchy’s goddesslessness and the
JOSEPH C AMPBELL whole without the spiritual and psychic marriage of opposites, of mind and body, of marginalization of women. I do not practice any religion, yet my critique often
spirit and sexuality, of light and dark? Mary Magdalene can be experienced as a engages the religion of my upbringing, while my art silently argues for a change in
liminal figure that acts as a link between feminist spirituality and Christianity its iconography. Images have always been powerful tools for instilling a sense of
without fully belonging to either. reality to mythic, abstract, and religious ideas. While I am powerless to affect
The ever-changing understanding of Mary Magdalene now opens a window established dogmatic forms, I start, as an artist and image-maker, with the image
on women’s neglected and marginalized roles in the church. But why limit the where I feel a sense of agency by creating that which was absent from my spiritual
inspiration of her image to Christianity? Can the image of Mary Magdalene23 be landscape, such as the goddess, the bride, and the bridal chamber. In this process I
said to contain a distant echo of ancient goddess lore? Can she be seen as a post- also bring the body back from the margins and make it central to my
palimpsest |ˈpalɪm(p)sɛst|
Christian window into pre-Christian religious images of women? Can she be understanding of any relationship to the sacred. a manuscript or piece of writing material
sistered with the Tibetan Goddess of Compassion, Tara? Can her sojourn in the The early patriarchs insisted on virginity for their daughters and fidelity from
on which later writing has been
superimposed on effaced earlier writing.
grotto have an Eastern interpretation? Can the traditional roles assigned to her be their wives. Virginity ensured the value of their daughters to a potential spouse, • something reused or altered but still
undermined to reveal buried treasure? and chastity in a wife ensured the man would raise only the children he sired.
bearing visible traces of its earlier form:

Anthropologist Anna Fedele did extensive fieldwork and interviews with

Sutton Place is a palimpsest of the taste of
What was a simple practical matter in times when providing for a family was successive owners.
pilgrims who journeyed to sacred sites associated with Mary Magdalene in France. fraught with hardship in an arid land, became, under patriarchal Christianity, a tenet
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: via Latin from
Greek palimpsēstos, from palin ‘again’ +
THE MASSIF-DE-LA-SAINTE-BAUME IN SOUTHERN Magdalene is seen as wounded by a religious system that stigmatized her as a of faith and virginity became a sign of PURITY. The legend of Eve’s disobedience psēstos ‘rubbed smooth’.
FRANCE WHERE THE GOLDEN LEGEND PLACES MARY harlot and repentant sinner — and “… now that she has been restored to her was used to associate the female body with death and sin — and, in the era of the
own dignity and power, her example is used to heal similar wounds” (144).
patriarchs, virginity became an article of faith. Sex would be fucked up for
Through creative ritual some of the pilgrims offered their menstrual blood to the millennia. OBEDIENCE to husbands became a sign of being a chaste and good
Earth in a participation mystique between the Earth and the life-giving female body woman. This doctrine was drummed into the female psyche over and over again,
at the grotto of Sainte Baume where legend tells Magdalene spent the final thirty including my own. To be a good woman meant sexual repression and
years of her life (145). The women experienced the offering of their menstrual unquestioning obedience. This dictum was in full force when I reached puberty in
blood as an offering of their bodies to the sacred Earth. In their view the cave was the 1950s. Relationship on an equal footing between men and women did not
seen as the earth womb from which menstrual blood issues, and, in particular, exist then as it had not existed in the heavenly sphere for several millennia.
where Mary Magdalene is seen and experienced as a healer of sexual wounding. Schaberg and Johnson-Debaufre state that what they say about who Mary
Fedele clarifies that ritual creativity and religious criticism are two interrelated Magdalene was closely relates to what they say about what Christianity is and will
processes that are key to understanding the pilgrims’ spirituality. What resonates be (8). In my Magdalene work I do the opposite: I look through Mary Magdalene at
for me in Fedele’s study is the way in which the women relate body to earth to what Christianity is not (for me).
spirit to the sacred. There is a deep connection to an ancient energy where the Over the years I have searched for images and ideas of wholeness that would “... I’ve come to see Mary
woman’s body and the earth are one connected to the other. Not only does this reconcile body and spirit, male and female, god and man, goddess and woman and Magdalene dreams as a deep
offer a healing balm for so much body wounding suffered by women over thus make whole the many scars and contradictions left on my spirit by religious impulse toward reconciling
centuries, but it also re-connects contemporary thinking to the sacred earth and dogma and parental, societal, and familial judgement and even condemnation. difficult and apparently opposing
suggests a respectful way of relating to our planet. Accumulatively my Magdalene body of work is the evidence of that journey. I ideas: womanhood in the face of
Marjory Malvern suggests that incorporating into the person of Mary came to Mary Magdalene through my Christian name, Maria Magdalena, and religious misogyny, or love in the
Magdalene other women mentioned in the gospels, served to enlarge the through my body that was torn in half by patriarchy’s religion and misogyny’s presence of death.”
Magdalene, revealing efforts of early Christians to create a female counterpart to injunction that body is to be feared, sexuality is sin, and only the soul can rise LESA BELLEVIE: SECRETS OF, 323
their man-god (30). To my mind, Magdalene is a representative or avatar of the above both. In my dreams and imaginings, starting in childhood, I find myself
goddess, and therefore already contains within herself many forms and many becoming Magdalene in ways that would eventually shed the many restrictions
names. Malvern states, “ She is used to fulfill the desire to hang onto the old by imposed by outside authority. “Jung speaks of “big dreams”
uniting it with the new, to keep alive antique goddesses and Eastern dualistic ideas I am not interested in the sentimental Mary Magdalene, the penitent,
which at certain stages of

in the emerging Christianity” (31). During the centuries of Christian thought repentant prostitute, a characterization that has no biblical pedigree. This image
psychological development

Magdalene’s image absorbed older images of the sacred female from out of the
function as did ancient religious
perpetuates the contrived rift between women’s goodness (read subservience)
deep ground of mythic thinking. Today the process is reversed as we are able to
rituals, to move one toward
and women’s agency (read sexual license). When myth and metaphor are snagged personal wholeness.”
dig beneath this ground, layer by layer, to re-discover the chthonic legacy of by believers into evidence of the physical and historical facts of their religion, all NANCY QUALLS-CORBETT, 73
Magdalene’s ancestry. The landscape of the spirit/soul/psyche is rich and un-own- breath and blood (the life force) is squeezed out of it. Deep down in the layers of
able. It comes and goes and its ground often does not adhere to gravity as it shifts the psyche there are wells bubbling with life-giving waters. I mine the layers of my
with the psychic need of the times. While bearing in mind the long shadow of the dreams, memories, and active imaginings to open new windows on old pictures.
pagan goddess that has fallen on religious imagery over time, I like to break open
the image of Mary Magdalene and let all ideas associated with her tumble out —
like Pandora’s box filled with secrets, treasures, contradictions, and even promises...
36 37
The sacred mountain: celebration of sacred, sensual sexuality. Finding the goddess in her shrine built of
While in Primary School, a classmate would occasionally come home to the natural materials echoes my own spiritual journey of replacing the grandiose
farm to stay over the weekend. Around age ten we had recently learned masculine face of god with that of an earthy goddess.
about Japan and its sacred mount Fuji. My friend and I would dress in two of
my mother’s dressing gowns that served as our kimonos. Thus attired we Carmina Burana dream:
would take our little baskets of flowers and leaves to the rockery on the Soon after starting Jungian therapy in New York I had this dream: I am
edge of my mother’s garden where we knelt down in front of “Mount Fuji” walking in an ancient city at dusk as the streetlights are being lit. People are
with our offerings. It did not matter that the rockery was only about a foot in a festive mood. I hear the chorus from Carl Orff ’s Carmina Burana being
and a half high, to us it was an imposing mountain, and we were in a far away sung and come upon a procession of singers as they move along the streets.
land where a mountain could be sacred! Life in the Free State of my I follow this ambling choir into a temple built of stone with a floor plan laid
childhood was flat and held nothing sacred other than the words between out on an equilateral cross. There is a dais in the centre of the candle-lit
the two covers of the Bible, certainly not the earth or the animals or the space and people are gathering and sitting on small wooden chairs facing the
plants, nor our bodies… centre. In the warm light I can see a woman wearing many robes reclining on
the dais where she is eye level with the audience around her. She slowly and
The priestess in the NG Kerk: ceremoniously peels away her robes until her naked body becomes visible
The 1950s introduced me to Hollywood movies and movie stars. As a among the many folds of fabric. She opens her legs and slowly and
twelve year old I was enamored with the goddesses of the silver screen like, sensuously exposes her vulva with its moist red interior. The room is warm
Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Anita Eckberg, Joan Fontaine, Virginia and filled with an awesome intimacy.
Mayo, Arlene Dahl, and Grace Kelly, who awakened me to my first images of
adult womanhood that were not housewives. Their glamorous, larger-than- I have often pondered this dream/revelation and now, as I reconnect with my
life images fired the imagination of a girl who was growing up on a desolate explorations of the Magdalene, I have come to see the woman in the dream as
farm in the Free State. On Saturday afternoons, we were allowed an outing Mary Magdalene, as a priestess who guides the initiates into the mysteries of the
from the boarding school to attend a matinee at one of the two movie body’s eternal link to the sacred. Mary Magdalene carried, in her sexualized
theaters in town. On Sunday mornings and evenings we walked in a images, the very life-giving sexual energy the church and puritan alike sought to
disciplined rank to the NG Kerk to attend mandatory services. It was here expunge. This energy cannot be destroyed, it can only go underground to survive,
that my attention would wander from the message of fire and brimstone that or it embeds itself in symbolic language. In the Paleolithic caves where signs for the
was droned down from the black-robed bald man on the pulpit. I would vulva were found engraved or painted on the walls, this symbol/part stood for the
often lose focus and start to day-dream, imagining my grown-up self standing whole: the goddess, the sacred female. This makes the final revelation in the dream
below the pulpit behind the communion table dressed in a body-hugging an act of great sacred import in which the place/face of goddess is revealed.
purple velvet gown with a long draped skirt and plunging neckline This also conjures up Baubo, the bawdy, irreverent goddess of Greek
emphasizing my rounded breasts, my arms held aloft in a gesture not made mythology who lifted her skirts to expose her vulva while telling raucous jokes to
by the man droning on about sin and punishment above me… cause the mourning Demeter to laugh. There is something very goddessy about a
bunch of women telling dirty stories to each other and laughing obscenely deep
I did not know in those days about the goddess or about priestesses from their bellies! The laughter that comes from such a gathering is ancient and
but something in my spirit insisted on creating a counterpart to the stern male chthonic. Baubo exposing her genitals in this way is not as much an erotic act as it
preacher. This fantasy brought me into a delicious idea of adulthood that the places emphasis on the power of the vulva — its menstrual bleeding, its birthing
judgement of the preacher could not touch. When I look back at this day-dream I bleeding, its life-giving energy, as well as its erotic potency.
am struck by my young self knowing the importance of standing on the ground, Carmina Burana, Carl Orff ’s 1936 musical opus set to the poems from a 13th
not elevated on a pulpit, and the idea of the sacred priestess adorned to century manuscript, sings of the anticipation and consummation of love in the
emphasize her sensual nature rather than the proscribed white-washed virgin of Springtime, “The God of love flies everywhere and is seized by desire. Young men
the church. and young women are rightly joined together.” After the lovers yield to the
inevitable rites of Spring, the chorus sings in celebration, “Hail to thee, most
Corcovado’s Goddess: beautiful, most precious gem, hail pride of virgins, most glorious virgin. Hail, light of
Many years later, when I lived in New York, I dreamt I was in Rio de Janeiro: the world, hail rose of the world. Blanziflor and Helena, Venus generosa!”
I am climbing the mountain on which Jesus the Redeemer is standing. The In these songs virginity is prized, not as the antithesis to sexuality, but as the
promise of its consummation. The sensual paganism of Carmina Burana has always
journey is long and arduous as I clamber over rocks and through dense BAVARIAN STATE LIBRARY, MUNICH
vegetation. By the time I approach the summit daylight is fading. I must have resonated with me. Carl Orff places his famous oratorio under the auspices of
been climbing all day. As I near the top, instead of seeing the large statue of FORTUNA — Goddess of Fate, empress of the world. I have long ago rejected
Jesus stretching his arms over the city below, I realize I was climbing a twin religion that fills me with fear; instead, I am drawn to any images that contain
mountain where I come upon a small humble house built of reeds and balance between body and soul and radiate warmth, love, and life. My Mary
thatch. As I approach its entrance, an older woman comes out to greet me. Magdalene became the path out of the narrow confines of my childhood religion
I bow to her and offer her the large coco de mer I have cupped in both my and into the broad and expansive potential she came to symbolize for me.
hands. She leans forward and kisses the vulva-like fruit. As she does this I am The Gospel of Philip describes the temple in Jerusalem as having three
transported in orgasmic bliss. chambers to which one can bring an offering. One opens to the West called the
Holy Place. The second opens to the South and is called the Holy of the Holies.
This dream confirms the change away from male monotheism and The third opens to the East, which is the Holiest of all where only the High Priest
domination towards reverence and re-membering of the divine female and may enter... The Holiest Place is the Bridal Chamber (Bourgeault,131). This image
brings me back to the temple in my dream. North is not named by Philip but its
COCO DE MER absence nonetheless suggests the square, the equilateral cross, the mandala —
38 39
symbol of balanced unity. In the Bridal Chamber male and female become integral Die jong meisie in die perdestal: The young woman in the stable:
opposites rather than binary opposites.24 The equilateral cross on which the Marietjie, Matoekoe — onskuld en skaamte — die klein Marietjie, Matoekoe — shy and innocent — a little flame
temple plan is built is a symbol that comes from a pre-Christian pagan time vlammetjie wat lek-lek tussen haar bobene maak haar lapping between her thighs slowly awakens her innocence
denoting the perfect balance between above and below. This indicates that the onskuld lek-lek wakker — maak die deur oop na ‘n — opening the door to a dangerous and unpredictable
dream temple is not a place of hierarchy, but of equality and balance. The gevaarlike en onvoorspelbare wêreld — ook ‘n wêreld world — also a world
formation of a mandala in the centre of the equilateral temple harks to yet vol swye en gehieme en weggesteekte volwasse doene full of silences and secret, hidden, grown-up goings-on
another symbol of balanced unity, the circle in the square. The chairs, too, on en late in die perdestal teen die muur terwyl Sieraad in the stable against its stone wall while Sieraad
which the audience are seated are small and affords a humbling posture while stadig sy hooi kou — die metaal klanke van sy gebit hou calmly chews his hay — the metallic sounds of his bit
making eye-level contact with the revelation in the centre of the sacred space. This tyd met die knars van sy perdetande — skaam in die half- keeping time with his gnashing teeth — shy in the
revelation alludes to the dance of the seven veils, seven stages/chakras of donker van die stal beur haar behoefte teen die jong man semi-darkness of the stable her need bears against the
enlightenment, seven steps to wisdom. se begeerte wat haar lewensdrang wakker maak. young man whose desire awakens her life-force.
By “accusing” Magdalene of being sexually generous and naming her a Maar hoe? Hoe doen mens dit in die donker sonder But how? How does one do this in the dark without
prostitute Gregory I in 591CE unknowingly held the tension, through Mary woorde, skuldig, geheimsinning sonder ma of pa se wete words, guilty, secretive without ma or pa’s knowledge or
Magdalene, between the sex act and the heart of creation. Linking her to sexuality of raad of advies of bekommernis — of toestemming — guidance or advice or concern — or permission — in
also retained the unbroken link between her and the ancient goddess of love. And so in die leemte tussen kindwees en volwasse lyf — so this void between childhood and a grown-up body —
recently it delighted me to discover that part of the collection of medieval songs in sonder padkaart met net die geklop van ‘n pols wat haar just like that without a road-map and only the beating of
the Codex Buranus contains a passion play starring Mary Magdalene. The voice of liggaam vorentoe beur om by syne aan te sluit. a pulse that urges her body forward to join his.
the young woman in Orff ’s production who calls to the young men to look at her Magdalena, die kind in die vrou vir altyd uitgewis — haar Magdalena the child in the woman forever gone — her
beauty and to find her pleasing, is actually the voice of Magdalene from the vroë meisiedrome tap bloed-waterig tussen haar dye af early girlhood dreams dripping watery-bloody between
medieval passion play. We hear her singing, “Make love, good men and gracious — alles is nou oopgevlek en terselfde tyd onbekend — her thighs — everything now split apart and
women, love will ennoble you.” Well, this just clinched it for me. Where I had gevaarlik, onstabiel — die veiligheid van ‘n ma se skoot of simultaneously unknown — dangerous, unstable — the
thought I was projecting Magdalene onto my Carmina Burana dream, I discover ‘n pa se liefkosende hand op haar hare afgesweer vir die safety of a mother’s lap or a father’s caressing hand on
that she was always there, at the centre all along. Mary Magdalene’s presence in geheime ontmoetings en ‘n nuwe droom sonder horison, her hair sworn off for the secretive meetings and a new
the centre as sacred prostitute, hierodule, holy harlot, echoes back to a pre- sonder ‘n duidelike plan, sommer net blindelings agter dream without a horizon, without a defined plan, just
Christian time when young women served in the temple to initiate pilgrims into haar liggaam se drange en begeertes aan onderworpe blindly following her body’s urges and desires
the mysteries of sexual union with the divine. Unlike Mary Magdalene in the aan die wette van die natuur wat gevoelloes, sonder subjected to the laws of nature that manifest
original Passion Play from the Benediktbeuern Monastery who is admonished to simpatie, manifesteer. Maria Magdalena se kleine embrio indifferently and without sympathy. Maria
leave her wordly lovers and follow Jesus, the Magdalene of my dream invites one afgedryf — ‘n donker kneusplek hoog teen haar Magdalena’s little embryo aborted — a deep
into the mysteries of sexuality itself — she beckons one to return to the source. binnebeen — pienk bloederige water die enigste bewys bruise high inside her thigh — pink bloody water
This dream is simultaneously, for me, a revelation of a great mystery as it is a van wat verwyder is. En sy pak die herinnering weg — the only sign of what was taken away.
healing dream image. Calvinism’s accent on sin and the sinful sexual body left a geen voltermyn, geen aanneming, geen groot skeurende And she puts away this memory — no full-term, no
tear in my soul. The dream brings together all the split-off parts to form a new verlies, geen nege maande vonnis uitgedien in die adoption, no wrenching loss, no nine months’
integrated whole where no part is inferior or baser or less worthy and where the Magdalena Tehuis vir Ongehude Moeders nie. sentence served in the Magdalene Tehuis for un-wed
sacred female is celebrated in a temple consecrated to her. Now that I have Geen skuld, gevaarlik, verlig tot mothers. No guilt or danger, relief only until
passed my seventieth year, my body and face are marked by the passage of time die tweede keer toe die eiersakkie vanself bloedrooi, the second time when the bloodied egg-sack cramped
and my chest bears the scars of a double mastectomy, yet my work on Mary pynigend, krampend diep in die nag wegbloei — sy is vry and painfully bled away deep in the night — she is freed
Magdalene has brought about a deep and satisfying sense of wholeness. en ma en pa weet niks hiervan. Magdalena stoot hierdie and ma and pa knew none of this. Magdalene pushes this
I would like to create a palimpsest… erase the master narrative of a kennis tot ver in die agtergrond van haar wete met knowledge far into the background of her mind with
masculinist Christianity… allow ancient, ever-present Magdalene images to seep dankbaarheid. Twee keer het sy in ‘n strik beland en gratitude. Twice she landed in a snare and thankfully
through… overlay it with images of my own that are devoid of the doctrine of sin dankbaar ontsnap — sy voel beskerm veral toe sy in die escaped — she feels protected particularly when in her
and judgement or a man having to die for my sins… I would like to return to the vroë jare van haar volwassenheid geboorte gee aan die early adult years she gave birth to the children she would
scene in the garden when the weeping Magdalene speaks to the gardener who kinders wat sy sou grootmaak — hulle met hulle pienk en raise — the ones with their pink and golden bodies
calls her by her name, “Mary,” and then instead of him admonishing her not to goue lyfies wat in die sonskyn hardloop en lag… running and laughing in the sun-shine …
touch him, he embraces her… he tells her that her tears of love and compassion nie die saadjies waarmee haar baarmoeder ontluik was not the little seeds that opened her womb — the two
brought him back from the underworld, and that, together, they will go and tell the — die twee klein gekrimpte vormpies opgerol onder die shriveled forms curled up beneath the
good news… “Take my hand… Walk with me… “ varings… ferns…

July 22, 2015

“Real liberation becomes

possible for me only when I have
done all that I was able to do,
when I have completely devoted
myself to a thing and
participated in it to the utmost.”
40 41

1 My Magdalene momentum was interrupted when the huge popularity of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code
threatened to turn myth and legend into historic fact in his best-selling page-turner. This bothered,
annoyed and irritated me, and I put my Magdalene notes away while turning my attention to the Black
Madonnas, the Goddess, and the European Witch Persecutions. In 2013 after completing ROLL CALL I
returned to my explorations and started to transcribe my notes to CODEX MAGDALENE.
2 I am not qualified to decide what role Mary Magdalene could play to promote leadership for women
in the Church. The many women and feminists who advocate in both church and the academy for
women’s ordination are the voices that will affect this change. It could be said that she is a pivotal figure
for any transformation of the Christian myth, because through her Christ can be viewed without the
edifice of the church standing in the way.
3 In the mid-1990s I was reading several books that had a lasting effect on my thinking and art-making:
Merlin Stone’s When God was a Woman; Marina Warner’s Alone of All Her Sex; Susan Haskins’ Mary
Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor; Marija Gimbutas’ Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe; Anne Baring and
Jules Cashford’s The Myth of the Goddess; Evolution of an Image.
4 In astrological time we have been in the Age of Pisces from 0 CE to the present . For the next 2000
years we will be in the Aquarian Age. We have been in the transition from the Piscean Age to the
Aquarian Age for the last 50 years. The official beginning of the Aquarian Age is November 11, 2011 or
5 Most Magdalene writers refer to her as an active agent in her own story. While this confuses the
difference between the historic, the legendary, and the symbolic Magdalene, I continue with this in my
essay thereby giving agency and voice to all figures representing her.
6 ALTER IMAGES I & II, 2009. ROLL CALL, 2013. See
7 In the Eastern Church, however, Mary Magdalene stood for herself and was honored as a witness to
the resurrection and called “apostle to the apostles”.
8 Nikos Kazantzakis’1953 novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, which was made into the 1988 Martin
Scorsese film.
9 The Codex Buranus consists of 112 vellum leaves (25X17cm).http://medieval_literature. The single folios (of approximately
10 The Fates are old and predate the gods, and it is possible they determine the fate of the gods as 23cm x 33cm on Nideggan and
well. The three Fates are: Clotho, the spinner; Lachesis, the measurer; Atropos, she who cannot be
turned, who at death cuts the thread of life. Khadi papers) that comprise the
11 In yogic belief and practice SHIVA symbolises consciousness, the masculine principle. SHAKTI CODEX are extracted from my
symbolises the feminine principle, the activating power and energy. Whenever a power becomes active, many notes and readings on Mary
and wherever energy exists, Shakti is working. Other terms for these primal principles are PURUSHA Magdalene over the past twenty
and PRAKRITI; Purusha is consciousness and Prakriti is nature.
yoga-principles/22-shiva-and-shakti years. They borrow stylistically from
12 Or had Jesus recovered from a physical ordeal that left him swollen and bruised and unrecognizable Medieval art, illuminated manuscripts,
and in too much pain to be touched? Buddhist yantras, and tantric art.
13 In Sanskrit mantra literally means ‘instrument of thought’; yantra literally means ‘device for holding or These folios form part of a re-
fastening’; mudra means ‘sign or token.’
14 I like that ordinary worshipers have gone beyond the harlot and hold up Magdalene’s healing by imaging and re-visioning of many of
Jesus as her potency to heal others. the aspects, symbolism and legends
15 Jesse Couenhoven: of Mary Magdalene in which I use
16 marginalia to enrich, explain, expand,
17 February 19 is my birthday.
18 “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’” A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus by Karen L. King with contributions and even contradict the image/idea.
by AnneMarie Luijendijk. Available at,, www.
20 The struggle to impose celibacy on the clergy culminated with Pope Innocent III’s decree of 1139
that all marriages after ordination were invalid. Priests were forced to cast off their wives as
concubines, thereby demonizing sexuality and elevating celibacy.
21 Margaret Starbird is convinced that Mary Magdalene was not “of Magdala” because the town now
called Magdala was called Taricheae in biblical times. Taricheae was destroyed in 67CE and the town
that was rebuilt on the old site on the shores of the Sea of Galilee was named Magdala Numayah
(Aramaic for “Tower of the Fishes”) (Burstein & De Keizer, 88).
22 In my opinion, Dan Brown did not positively add to the Magdalene legacy. In fact, he side-tracks
scholars and others by their subsequent task of having to explain, refute, and/or defend his fiction. His
fanciful misrepresentation of Leonardo's art does not benefit any exploration of Mary Magdalene.
23 Alongside Mary Magdalene is Mary the Virgin who stands as final vestige of the ancient goddess in
so many Christian churches dedicated to “Our Mother” – Notre Dame.
24 This image of the bridal chamber contains symbolism that is not exclusive to heterosexuality, but
belongs to all lovers. While my focus is on iconographic gender symmetry, the subtext honors sacred
sexuality — partnering. Whether sexuality engenders offspring or not, its very essence aligns it with the
life force and as such includes homosexuality.

Sources on page 116 1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
42 43

8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
44 45

26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43
46 47

44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61
48 49

62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79
50 51

80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97
52 53

98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115
54 55

116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133
56 57

134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151
58 59
by Dr Megan Lewis, Department of Theater, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Mary Magdalene, as a cultural icon spanning the course of two millennia, has been weeper, sister, wounded woman, patron saint, reliquaried remains, bride to Christ's Sources cited:
the subject of many plays and performances. The most famous historical iteration groom, Pistis Sofia, Sakti to Christ's Siva, myrrhophore, menstruating modern Earth
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. (New York:
would be the late fifteenth century Digby Play of Mary Magdalene, a medieval saints Goddess, bride in exile, beloved bride, and unravished bride to god descending Hill and Wang, 1972.)
play written in Middle English about the conversion of Magdalene. This story into manhood. These many roles and costumes also function as masks that Butler, Judith. "Performative Acts and
involves her temptation, fall into sin, and her redemption into sainthood. She is also conceal the historic woman who has become virtually obliterated by the many Gender Constitution: An Essay in
featured in the Carmina Burana, a vernacular collection of poems and dramatic parts she has played in art, legend, and modern oblivion. She cannot be pin- Phenomenology and Feminist Theory."
texts mostly from the 11th and 12th century, as a sinner seeking absolution. More pointed with any certainty as her symbolism grows with a diversity of Theatre Journal 40:4 (Dec 1988), 519-
recent versions include Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1910 symbolist Mary Magdalene and understandings.”
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in
which Mary features as one of Jesus’ disciples who falls in love with him. Bredell’s personifications focus tangibly on the physical body. A body marked by
Magdalene’s anthem to unrequited love, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” was the multiple narratives projected onto her: the mythic imaginings of patriarchy,
popularized by Helen Reddy. Nikos Kazantzakis’ (1953) novel was the source for Christianity, and medieval thinkers that cast her as prostitute, penitent sinner, and
Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which featured Barbara wounded woman as well as countermythic feminist reclamations of Magdalene.
Hershey as Jesus’ wife in his last visionary swooning on the cross. This Magdalene Performance Studies as a field places emphasis on embodiment, considering the
is depicted as sexual temptation personified. In 2011, a musical called The manners in which bodies function as physiological and psychological, as well as
Magdalene premiered at Theatre At Saint Clement's in New York. Richard Burk’s sociocultural and political, players on the stages of history. Bredell’s canvases
production focused on how a powerful female figure was downgraded just as the become stages on which re-imagined scenarios are depicted and play out in the
Christian church was being formed and focused on the sexuality in the story of space of imagining between the image on canvas and the audience viewing the
Mary Magdalene and Jesus that historically has been expunged from Biblical work of art. In this negotiating space of interpretation and encounter, viewers
accounts. And in 2013, Mark Adamo adapted the story for the San Francisco draw upon what they know or believe about Magdalene and are invited to think
Opera, in which he made Mary’s sexual, even marital, relationship with Jesus about her place on the stages of history in re-envisioned ways.
February 14, 2016
Rather than focus on plays about Mary Magdalene, my remarks here focus on
what Majak Bredell’s renderings of her suggest about the multiple roles this figure –
or character – has played at different moments in history. As a Performance
Studies scholar, I am interested in how culture and identity are created through
performance, what Judith Butler calls a stylized repetition of acts. Bredell’s artistic
reinterpretations of the multiple roles placed upon – and embodied through – the
figure of Magdalene offer alternative, countermythic acts in a long legacy of
depictions of this Biblical and historical woman. Citing common themes and
attributes associated with Magdalene over the centuries, Bredell's own stylized
embodiments then offer up critical re-imaginings of this historical figure.

At various stages in her long history, Magdalene has been staged in different roles:
the penitent sinner, the prostitute, the washer of Christ’s feet, the hermit in the WILLEM DAFOE AS JESUS AND BARBARA
grotto. Each of these representations enacts a way of imagining her. These mythic HERSHEY AS MARY MAGDALENE
narratives, in Roland Barthes’ sense, become stories cultures tell themselves about
themselves. Over time, Magdalene became a canvas onto which European
patriarchs and cultures projected their fears and anxieties about women; as a
character she was made into an example to support patriarchy and her story
became a cautionary tale leveraged by Christianity to indoctrinate followers, shame
female sexuality, and discourage female agency

Bredell’s work embodies countermythic alternatives to the mythic roles Magdalene

has been made to perform across history. Each of her large drawings – The
Magdalene Monuments – enacts an alternate, feminist imagining of this figure. And
all of them attend to her physical body, often drawn in the nude. She becomes a
menstruating woman, a marked woman, a literate orator, a teacher.

Bredell says: “In my works, Many Magdalenes (p61-69), I deliberately cast

Magdalene as a character of many costumes and many roles. In the ongoing
drama of this saint I unveil her while simultaneously assigning separate roles to the
figure that remains constant (like a paper cut-out doll) throughout the series of
images where she plays her part as Venus in Sackcloth, Aphrodite, mourning STAGE PRODUCTION OF TIME RICE AND ANDREW
60 61

In the works on the following nine pages,
I de-compose the composite Mary Magdalene
and then re-compose her figure, thereby
adding and creating levels and layers of
meaning in a long tradition of the iconography
of her complex figure in which her layered
story does not remain static...


2015 2015
68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM
26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67"
62 63

2015 2015 2015 2015
68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM
26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67"
64 65

2015 2015 2015 2015
68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM
26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67"
66 67

2015 2015 2015 2015
68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM
26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67"
68 69

2016 2016 2016 2016
68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM 68CM X 170CM
26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67" 26.75" X 67"
70 71
Leo Steinberg in his extensive study, The Sexuality of
Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion,

concludes that the many artworks pointing to the
penis of babe, crucified man, and dead Christ,
demonstrate “that physiological potency without
which the chastity of the man would count for
nought.” (78)
Celibacy guarantees the perpetual warring
between body, sexuality, and humanity. This is just so
perverse. Not all religious thought denied sexuality
fo their god. In the myth of Osiris his body is
dismembered after his murder by his brother Seth.
His sister/bride, Isis, reassembles the scattered parts
and remade the unretrieved phallus on which she
conceives Horus. Osiris’ penis thus became an
object of special worship and his cult came to be
identified with the phallic rites of Dionysus-Bacchus
Unlike Osiris who, after his resurrection, is
characterized “with his restored member out like a
leveled lance’ (83), I image a god descending into
manhood fully potent, “complete in all the parts of a
BELOVED FOOT PETER’S FOOT man” (133), thereby deliberately transgressing the
2016 2016 puritanical ethos that denied the incarnated god’s full
63.5CM X 91CM
25" X 36
63.5CM X 91CM
25" X 36"
humanity. Christ’s celibacy has never been proven
question while suggesting that our bodies are a
perfect reflection of the sacred. None of its
functions are shameful and none of its parts are
sinful. Christ is depicted here simultaneously as
divine spouse and as resplendent manhood.
The inset to the left of the descending figure is
of Holbein’s painting (below) that shows the
madonna’s hand framing the child’s genitals while his
little hand fingers the slit cut in the pomegranate. I
find this image to be a powerful promise of the
sexual nature of the child/man. This image, to me,
contradicts the Augustinian notion of original sin and
challenges the belief in a pre-lapsarian innocence.


2016 2016
25" X 36 26.75" X 67" HANS HOLBEIN THE ELDER, C . 1510-12.
72 73

In the 13th century painting by the
Master of the Magdalene, the hairy hermit
is depicted holding a scroll that reads:
“Do not despair those of you who are
accustomed to sin, and in keeping with my
example, return yourselves to God”

In my reworking of this image on the

right, the inscription reads:
“An act of great unction performed by a
first-century woman placed me eternally at
a man’s feet — no wonder Kiki Smith
sculpted me wearing an ankle chain, my
own foot tethered to history’s many
omissions and legends — as these grew and
scripture ceased to be the source of my
stories, I shed my clothes to the brush and
chisel of the great artists — ART made of
me a consummate mourner whether beside
the cross or as the red-cloaked figure who
literally became the very foot of the cross —
or as the woman caressing the feet of my
dead beloved — or as the hermit in abject
penance in my grotto in the wilderness —
comatose, I was placed in the hands of the
angels — voicelessness pushing me silently
to the margins. I stand here — in the
center — my right hand in VITARKA
MUDRA — the mudra of discussion,
reasoning, and teaching — thereby
8 SCENES FROM HER LIFE reclaiming my voice as central to my being”.


120CM X 240CM
47.25" X 94.5"
74 75

In this image I pay to homage
to the women who were
incarcerated in the laundries
named for Mary Magdalene.

2015 2015
120CM X 180CM 120CM X 180CM
47.25" X 71" 47.25" X 71"
76 77

name is
Mary Magdalene.
I was the companion and beloved of
the man called Jesus from whom
I received special teachings.
I even wrote my own gospel.
Yet, the church of Peter,
the Rock, pushed me
to the margins while
Gregory’s homily of 591 CE
collapsed me with two other
women into the trope of
the repentant whore.
Thus I was stripped of
my identity, agency, and voice.
During the great ages
of artistic innovation
may body became fodder
for the pious voyeur.
I was held captive in my cave,
the perpetual penitent,
or decoratively posed for an
opulent portrait holding my
grail of ointment.
Like my ansister, Eve, our
unclad bodies were exposed
to reinforce patriarchal fear and
control of female sexuality.
We were placed, alongside all
women, in opposition
to our bodyselves.
I step out of my legendary shroud
of hair to reclaim my
body by erasing the
slate and reinscribe
it with my
own voice.


120CM X 180CM
47.24" X 71"
78 79


33.5CM X 50.5CM
13.25" X 20"

sin 1 |sɪn|
an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law: a sin in the eyes of God | [ mass
noun ] : the human capacity for sin.
• an act regarded as a serious or regrettable fault, offence, or omission: he committed the unforgivable sin
of refusing to give interviews.
verb ( sins, sinning, sinned ) [ no obj. ]
commit a sin: I sinned and brought shame down on us.
• (sin against) offend against (God, a person, or a principle): Lord, we have sinned against you.


2009 2009
60CM X 180CM 60CM X 180CM
23.75" X 71" 23.75" X 71"
80 81

2009 2016
120CM X 180CM 100CM X 180CM
47.25" X 71" 39.25" X 71"
82 83

The Magdalene monuments catalogued on the following twenty six pages mark
the onset and exploration of my Magdalene work in 1996 when I was living in
New York.

These works grew from a larger body of work, Post-Christian Alter Images, and
many of them were only recently completed, my subject having threaded herself
through the continuum of my work. Post-Christian Alter Images is a feminist re-
thinking of the relationship of the female body to the sacred. In many of the
images I focus on the torso and allow the head, that exalted residence of the mind,
to recede out of the picture. This is not an essentialist move that equates body
with destiny, but a counter move in which the female body insists on being
reckoned with.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum with its extensive collections of ancient and
sacred art, became a home from home for me. The full-frontal symmetry of so
many images of gods and goddesses of Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, Buddhist, and
Medieval Christian art have always drawn me with their strength and quietude.
They left a lasting impression on me.

100CM X 180CM
39.25" X 71"
84 85

Pandora’s gifts to the world were distorted by The woman who anointed the year god for his
patriarchal mythologists into evils and disease. burial was named a harlot and a sinner.
Eve’s gift of knowledge was turned into the sin of Her gift of precious nard was not understood or
disobedience that doomed the creative powers of valued by those who witnessed her unction.
sexuality to become the curse of original sin. Only Jesus knew that she was performing
Women’s inquisitive quest for knowledge was an ancient rite.
turned against them through forced obedience.


1997/2013 1997/2013 77CM X 107.5CM
77CM X 112CM 77CM X 112CM 30" X 42.5"
86 87

spikenard |ˈspʌɪknɑːd|
1 [ mass noun ] historical a costly perfumed ointment much valued in ancient times.
2 the Himalayan plant of the valerian family that produces the rhizome from which spikenard was prepared.
•Nardostachys grandiflora, family Valerianaceae.
ORIGIN Middle English: from medieval Latin spica nardi (see spike2,nard), translating Greek nardostakhus.

myr·rho·phore |ˈmirəˌfō(ə)r| -s
Etymology: modification (influenced by myrrh ) of Late Greek myrophoros, from Greek, feminine of myrophoros bearing
unguent, from myron unguent + -phoros -phore — more at smear
: one of the women bearing spices to the sepulcher of Christ
modif. (influenced by myrrh) of LGk myrophoros, fr. Gk, fem. of myrophoros bearing unguent, fr. myron unguent + -phoros

anoint |əˈnɔɪnt|
verb [ with obj. ]
smear or rub with oil, typically as part of a religious ceremony: high priests were anointed with oil | bodies were anointed after
death for burial.
• (anoint something with) smear or rub something with (any other substance): Kuna Indians anoint the tips of their arrows
with poison. ceremonially confer divine or holy office upon (a priest or monarch) by smearing or rubbing with oil: [ with
obj. and complement ] : Samuel anointed him king.
• nominate or choose (someone) as successor to or leading candidate for a position: (as adj.anointed) : his officially
anointed heir.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French enoint ‘anointed’, past participle of enoindre, from Latin inungere, from in- ‘upon’ +
ungere ‘anoint, smear with oil’.

grail |greɪl|
1 ( the Grail or the Holy Grail )(in medieval legend) the cup or platter used by Christ at the Last Supper, and in which
Joseph of Arimathea received Christ's blood at the Cross. Quests for it undertaken by medieval knights are described in
versions of the Arthurian legends written from the early 13th century onward.
2 a thing which is eagerly pursued or sought after: the enterprise society where profit at any cost has become the holy grail.
ORIGIN from Old French graal, from medieval Latin gradalis ‘dish’.

unction |ˈʌŋ(k)ʃ(ə)n|
noun [ mass noun ]
1 formal the action of anointing someone with oil or ointment as a religious rite or as a symbol of investiture as a
• short for extreme unction.
2 archaic treatment with a medicinal oil or ointment.
• [ count noun ] an ointment: mercury in the form of unctions.
3 a fervent manner of expression apparently arising from deep emotion, especially when assumed: the headlines gloated
with the kind of effusive unction only the English press can muster.
ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin unction(n-), from unguere ‘anoint’. Sense 3 arises from the link between religious
fervour and ‘anointing’ with the Holy Spirit.

rite |rʌɪt|
a religious or other solemn ceremony or act.
MYRRHOPHORE I, II, III • a body of customary observances characteristic of a Church or a part of it: the Byzantine rite.
1997/2013 • a social custom, practice, or conventional act: the British family Christmas rite.
30" X 44" rite of passage a ceremony or event marking an important stage in someone's life, especially birth, the transition from
GESSO, & GRAPHITE childhood to adulthood, marriage, and death.
ON STONEHENGE PAPER ORIGIN Middle English: from Latin ritus ‘(religious) usage’.
88 89

suppliant |ˈsʌplɪənt|
a person making a humble or earnest
plea to someone in power or authority.
ORIGIN late Middle English (as a noun): from French, ‘beseeching’, present participle of supplier, from
Latin supplicare.

labyrinth |ˈlab(ə)rɪnθ|
1 a complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze:
you lose yourself in a labyrinth of little streets.
• an intricate and confusing arrangement: a labyrinth of conflicting laws and regulations.

Contrary to the dictionary’s explanation above, one cannot get lost in a labyrinth. A Labyrinth has
one circuitous path towards its centre, and the pilgrim travels along the same path back out again. A
maze, on the other hand, is as the dictionary describes above. But a maze and a labyrinth are not

devotee |ˌdɛvə(ʊ)ˈtiː|
a person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about someone or something: a devotee of Lewis
• a strong believer in a particular religion or god: devotees of Krishna.

The Buddha is often depicted with his right hand in the earth-touching mudra (BHUMISPARSHA
mudra). This gesture calls the earth as witness to his enlightenment. I like this concept of the earth
as witness. Here I place Mary Magdalene in intimate contact with the earth, her constant witness
for the thirty years of her legendary sojourn in the cave at Ste Baume.


77CM X 112CM
30" X 44"
90 91

contemplative |kənˈtɛmplətɪv|
expressing or involving prolonged thought: she regarded me with a contemplative eye.
• involving or given to deep silent prayer or religious meditation: contemplative knowledge of God.
a person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, especially in a monastery or convent.

yoni |ˈjəʊni|
noun ( pl. yonis ) Hinduism
the vulva, especially as a symbol of divine procreative energy conventionally represented by a
circular stone. Compare with lingam.
ORIGIN Sanskrit, literally ‘source, womb, female genitals’.

vesica piscis |ˌvɛsɪkə ˈpɪskɪs, ˈviː-|

noun ( pl. vesicae piscis |ˈvɛsɪki:, ˈvi:-| )
a pointed oval figure used as an architectural feature and as an aureole enclosing figures such as
Christ or the Virgin Mary in medieval art. Also called mandorla.
ORIGIN Latin, literally ‘fish's bladder’.

mandorla |manˈdɔːlə|
another term for vesica piscis.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from Italian, literally ‘almond’.


77CM X 107CM
30" X 42"
ON STONEHENGE PAPER 011_06_01_archive.html
92 93

feral |ˈfɛr(ə)l, ˈfɪə-|
(especially of an animal) in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication: a feral cat.
• resembling or characteristic of a wild animal: a feral snarl | feral youths.
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin fera ‘wild animal’ (from ferus ‘wild’) + -al.

the earth path
Wouivre means a snake that slides through the landscape.
The magnetic serpent energy can also be connected to underground water currents or veins of gold, copper or silver.

telluric |tɛˈljʊərɪk|
of the earth as a planet.
• of the soil.
ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from Latin tellus, tellur- ‘earth’ + -ic.

ley 2 |leɪ, liː|(also ley line )

a supposed straight line connecting three or more prehistoric or ancient sites, sometimes regarded as the line of a former
track and associated by some with lines of energy and other paranormal phenomena.

undermine |ʌndəˈmʌɪn|
verb [ with obj. ]
1 erode the base or foundation of (a rock formation).
• dig or excavate beneath (a building or fortification) so as to make it collapse.

1998/2013 1998/2013 1998/2013 1998/2015
77CM X 112CM 77CM X 112CM 77CM X 112CM 76CM X 112CM
30" X 44" 30" X 44" 30" X 44" 30" X 44"
94 95

76CM X 112CM & 76CM X 127CM
30" X 44" & 30" X 50"
96 97

I place Eve and Magdalene touching, thus collapsing the time-gap of sin that has served to control Artemis: Goddess of untamed nature. She of the moon tree.
women and hold us in opposition to the nature of our bodies for centuries. They flank the sacred Magdalene: Christianity’s mythographers sent her to the wilderness clad in only in her long hair. This
tree whose interlacing, curving stems create the mandorla, vesica pisces, yoni, life source, in the made of her a wild woman, a feral woman, which aligned her with Artemis, goddess of untamed
negative spaces. VESICA PISCES — vessel of the fish — old pagan ideogram of sexual union that nature.The mythology of both women place them at Ephesus.
became Christ’s symbol (Walker, 1045)
untamed |ʌnˈteɪmd|
kundalini |ˈkʊndəˌlɪni| adjective
noun [ mass noun ] not domesticated or otherwise controlled.
(in yoga) latent female energy believed to lie coiled at the base of the spine.
• (also kundalini yoga )a system of meditation directed towards the release of kundalini energy. Ephesus |ˈɛfɪsəs|
ORIGIN Sanskrit, literally ‘snake’. an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Asia Minor, in present-day Turkey, site of the temple of
Diana, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was an important centre of early Christianity; St
ve·si·ca pis·cis |ˌvɛsɪkə ˈpɪskɪs, ˈviː-| Paul preached there and St John is traditionally said to have lived there.
noun: vesica piscis; plural noun: vesicae piscis
another term for mandorla.
ORIGIN Latin, literally ‘fish's bladder.’

man·dor·la |manˈdɔːlə|
noun: mandorla; plural noun: mandorlas; noun: Mandorla; plural noun: Mandorlas
a pointed oval figure used as an architectural feature and as an aureole enclosing figures such as Jesus
Christ or the Virgin Mary in medieval art.
ORIGIN late 19th century: from Italian, literally ‘almond.’


120CM X 111.5CM 2000
47.25" X 44" 116.5CM X 97CM
2001/2013 46" X 38"
98 99

weep |wiːp|
verb ( past and past participle wept |wɛpt| ) [ no obj. ]
1 shed tears: a grieving mother wept over the body of her daughter | [ with obj. ] : he wept bitter tears at
her cruelty | (as adj.weeping) : the weeping figure of a woman.
• utter or express with tears: [ with direct speech ] : ‘No!’ she wept.
• [ with obj. ] archaic mourn for; shed tears over: a young widow weeping her lost lord.
2 (as adj.weeping) used in names of tree and shrub varieties with drooping branches, e.g. weeping
3 exude liquid: she rubbed the sore, making it weep.
noun [ in sing. ]
a fit or period of weeping.
weepingly adverb
ORIGIN Old English wēpan (verb), of Germanic origin, probably imitative.

legacy |ˈlɛgəsi|
noun ( pl. legacies )
an amount of money or property left to someone in a will.
• something left or handed down by a predecessor: the legacy of centuries of neglect.
adjective Computing
denoting or relating to software or hardware that has been superseded but is difficult to replace
because of its wide use.
ORIGIN late Middle English (also denoting the function or office of a deputy, especially a papal legate):
from Old French legacie, from medieval Latin legatia ‘legateship’, from legatus ‘person delegated’ (see

tear 2 |tɛː|
a drop of clear salty liquid secreted from glands in a person's eye when they cry or when the eye is

97CM X 90CM
38” X 35.5”
100 101
gnosis |ˈnəʊsɪs|
noun [ mass noun ]

knowledge of spiritual mysteries.
ORIGIN late 16th cent.:
from Greek gnōsis ‘knowledge’ (related to gignōskein ‘know’).

mirror |ˈmɪrə|
a surface, typically of glass coated with a metal amalgam, which reflects a clear image.
• a thing regarded as accurately representing something else: the stage is supposed to be the mirror of Hair in biblical scripture denotes strength, beauty or chastity. Samson’s hair gave him strength and
life. power but a chaste women was directed to have her hair covered in public, and uncovered for the
• (also mirror site )Computing a site on a network which stores the contents copied from another pleasure of her husband only. A woman with loose hair was a loose woman. However, the covering
site. of female hair gave it a secret power, invested it with a hidden numinosity. I adorn both Eve and
verb [ with obj. ] Magdalene with long tresses and braid this iconic long hair into the serpent of wisdom. I suggest
(of a surface) show a reflection of: the clear water mirrored the sky. hereby that women’s symbolic, long, un-cut hair imparts to both Eve and Magdalene the power of
• correspond to: his own views mirrored those of his followers. gnosis, a power that out-weighs the legacy of sin with which their images have been blighted.
• Computing keep a copy of the contents of (a network site) at another site, typically in order to
improve accessibility. The serpent with its shedding skin is an ancient symbol of wisdom, rejuvenation, resurrection, and
• (usu. as nounmirroring) Computing store copies of data in (two or more hard disks) for renewal, yet, in many depictions of the encounter with the serpent in the garden, Eve and the
protection. serpent are mirror images of each other as in Michaelangelo’s image from the ceiling of the Sistine
DERIVATIVES Chapel. Instead of this mirroring enforcing the woman’s weakness and the serpent’s guile, I see here
mirrored adjective an ancient goddess imparting wisdom to the “first” woman.
ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French mirour, based on Latin mirare ‘look at’. Early senses also
included ‘a crystal used in magic’ and ‘a person deserving imitation’.


1996 1997/2014 1997/2014
77CM X 109.5CM 77CM X 112CM 77CM X 112CM
30” X 43” 30" X 44" 30" X 44"
102 103

2001 2001/2014
122CM X 127CM 122CM X 127CM
48" X 50" 48" X 50"
104 105

106 107
compassion |kəmˈpaʃ(ə)n| om tare tuttare ture soha
noun [ mass noun ] means “I prostrate to the Liberator, Mother of all the Victorious Ones.”

sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: the victims should be treated
with compassion.
ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer


1999/2014 97CM X 127CM
77CM X 140CM 38" X 50"
30.5" X 55" 2000/2014
108 109

97CM X 127CM
38" X 50"


97CM X 127CM 1998/2014
38" X 50" 76CM X 112CM
2000/2014 30" X 44"
110 111



8.25" X 12" 10.5" X 15"
112 113




8" X 11.5"

5" X 6.5"

6.5" X 9.5"


6.75" X 10"

PAGE SIzES 15.5CM X 21.5CM
6" X 8.5"
114 115



116 117
SOURCES & READING LIST Freke, Timothy & Gandy, Peter 2001. Jesus and the Lost Goddess: the
Secret Teachings of the Original Christians. Three Rivers Press, USA.
Symbolism. Bollingen Paperback Edition, USA. 1976. Symbols of
Transformation. Princeton/Bollingen Paperback, USA.
in Western Civilization.
Hoeller, Stephan 1989. Jung and the Lost Gospels: Insights into the Kazantzakis, Nikos 2015 (1960). The Last Temptation of Christ. Simon Wolkstein, Diana and Kramer, Samuel Noah 1983. Inanna: Queen of
MAGDALENE STUDIES: Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library. Quest Books, USA. & Schuster paperbacks, USA. Heaven and Earth: her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Harper & Row,
Antunes, Joana 2013. The Late-Medieval Mary Magdalene: Sacredness, King, Karen 2003. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Kern, Hermann 2000. Through the labyrinth: Designs and meanings NY.
Otherness, and Wildness. Woman Apostle. Polebridge Press, USA. over 5,000 Years. Prestel, Verlag. Munich. Woodman, Marion & Dickson, Elinor 1997. Dancing in the Flames: The
Late-Medieval_Mary_Magdalene_Sacredness_Otherness_and Leloup, Jean-Yves 2002. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Inner Kinsler, Clysta 1991. The Moon Under Her Feet: the story of Mari Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness. Shambala,
_Wildness Traditions, USA. Magdalen in the service of the Great Mother. HarperSanFrancisco, Boston.
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane 2002. In Search of Mary Magdalene: Marjanen, Antti 1996. The Woman Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the USA.
Images and Traditions. (Exhibition catalogue) American Bible Society, Nag Hammadi Library and related documents. Nag Hammadi & Lubell, Winifred Milius 1994. The Metamorphosis of BAUBO: myths of PRE- & POST-DA VINCI CODE HYPE:
USA. Manichaean Studies XL. E.J. Brill. woman’s sexual energy. Vanderbilt University Press. USA. Baigent, Michael; Leigh, Richard; Lincoln, Henry 1982. Holy Blood, Holy
Baring, Anne, & Cashford, Jules 1991. The Myth of the Goddess: Mead, G. R. S. 2005. Pistis Sophia: The Gnostic Tradition of Mary Markale, Jean 1989/2004. The Church of Mary Magdalene: The Sacred Grail. Dell Publishing, USA.
evolution of an image. Arkana – Penguin Books, UK. Magdalene, Jesus, and His disciples. Dover Publications, USA.. 2009. Feminine and the Treasure of Rennes-le Château. Inner traditions, USA. Bellevie, Lesa 2005. Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene. Alpha –
Begg, Ean 1985. The Cult of the Black Virgin. Arkana, Penguin Books, Pistis Sophia: a Gnostic Text. Wilder Publications, USA. Matthews, Caitlin 1989. The Elements of the Goddess. Element Penguin Group, USA.
UK. Meyer, Marvin with De Boer, Esther 2004. The Gospels of Mary: The Books, UK. 2001. Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God. Quest Burstein, Dan (Ed.) 2006. Secrets of the Code. CDS Books, USA.
Bourgeault, Cynthia 2010. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Secret Tradition of Mary Magdalene, the Companion of Jesus. Books, USA. Burstein, Dan & De Keijzer, Arne J. (Eds.) 2006. Secrets of Mary
Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Shambala, Boston HarperOne, USA McColman, Carl 2001. Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: a Radical Magdalene. CDS Books, USA.
& London. Pagels, Elaine 1979. The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage Books, USA. Call for Spiritual Sanity. Fair Winds, USA. Chilton, Bruce 2005. Mary Magdalene: A biography. Doubleday, USA.
Coletti, Theresa 2004. Mary Magdalene and the Drama of Saints: Robinson, James (Ed.) 1978. The Nag Hammadi Library in English. Mccully, Laura E. 1914. Mary Magdalene. The MacMillan Company Duchane, Sangeet 2005. Beyond the Da Vinci Code: from the rose line
Theater, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval England. University of HarperSanFrancisco, USA. of Canada. to the blood line. Barnes & Noble Books, USA.
Pennsylvania Press, USA. Miles, Margaret R. 1985. Image as Insight: Visual Understanding in Gardner, Laurence 1996, 2006. Bloodline of the Holy Grail: the Hidden
De Boer, Esther 1997. Mary Magdalene: Beyond the Myth. Trinity OTHER SOURCES & INSPIRATION: Western Christianity and Secular Culture. Beacon Press, Boston. 1989. Lineage of Jesus revealed. Barnes & Noble Books, USA. 2005. The
Press, USA. Amendola, Gloria 2013. Mary Magdalene: Revelations from a First Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Magdalene Legacy: The Jesus and Mary Bloodline Conspiracy. Element,
2006, 2007. The Mary Magdalene Cover-up: The Sources Behind the Century Avatar. Grave Distractions Publications, USA. Christian West. Beacon Press, Boston. 2012. Augustine and the USA.
Myth. T & T Clark, UK. Armstrong, Karen 1987. The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity’s Fundamentalist’s Daughter. The Lutterworth Press, UK. Lahr, Jane (ed) 2006. Searching for Mary Magdalene: A Journal through
Fedele, Anna 2013. Looking for Mary Magdalene: Alternative Pilgrimage Creation of the Sex War in the West. Anchor Books, Doubleday, USA. Mookerjee, Ajit and Khanna, Maghu 1977. The Tantric Way: Art. Art and Literature. Welcome Books, USA.
and Ritual Creativity at Catholic Shrines in France. Oxford University Baring, Anne 2013. The Dream of the Cosmos: A Quest for the Soul. Science. Ritual. New York Graphic Society, USA. Lester, Meera 2006. The Everything Mary Magdalene Book: the life and
Press, USA. Archive Publishing, UK. Mookerjee, Ajit 1986. Kundalini: the Arousal of the Inner Energy. legacy of Jesus' most misunderstood disciple. Adams media, USA.
Haskins, Susan 1993. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. Riverhead Baring, Anne, & Harvey, Andrew 1996. The Divine Feminine: Exploring Destiny Books, USA. 1988. Kali: The Feminine Force. Destiny Books, Miller, Ruth L. 2007. Notre Dame: Mary Magdalene & the Divine
Books, NY. 1993. Mary Magdalen: The Essential History. Pimlico, UK. the Feminine Face of God throughout the World. Godsfield Press, UK. USA. 1998. Ritual Art of India. Inner Traditions, USA. Feminine in Our Lives & Culture. Wise Woman Press, USA.
(Same text as above with different pagination.) Berger, John 1972. Ways of Seeing. BBC & Penguin Books, UK. Olson, Scott 2006. The Golden Section: Nature’s Greatest Secret. Welborn, Amy 2006. Decoding Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legend and
Jansen, Katherine Ludwig 2000. The Making of the Magdalene: Bishop, Clifford 1996. Sex and Spirit: Ecstasy and Transcendence, Ritual Walker & Company, New York. Lies. Our Sunday Visitor, USA.
Preaching and Popular Devotion in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton and Taboo, the Undivided Self. MacMillan. UK. Owen, Lara 1993. Her Blood is Gold: Celebrating the Power of
University Press, USA. Campbell, Joseph 1973. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Bollingen Menstruation. HarperSanFrancisco, USA. ART BOOKS CONSULTED:
Lacordaire, Henri 1859. (Translated from the French 2006). Life of Series, Princeton University Press, USA. Pagels, Elaine 1988. Adam, Eve and the Serpent. Vintage Books, USA. Bellosi, Luciano 1981. GIOTTO: Complete Works. Scala/Riverside,
Mary Magdalene. Cannon, Lila & Tresemer, David 2005. Rediscovering Mary Magdalene. 1995. The Origin of Satan. Random House, USA. Milan.1998. CIMABUE. Abbeville Publishing Group, Italy. DVD, TheStarHouse, Boulder, Colorado. Pawson, Marke 2004. GEMATRIA: The Numbers of Infinity. Green Carli, Enzo (undated). ITALIAN PRIMITIVES: Panel Painting of the Twelfth
Maisch, Ingrid 1998. Mary Magdalene: The Image of a Woman through Cashford, Jules 2002. The Moon: Myth and Image. Four Walls Eight Magic, UK. and Thirteenth Centuries. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York.
the centuries. The Liturgical Press, USA. Windows, New York. Perera, Sylvia Brinton 1981. Descent to the Goddess: : A Way of Christiansen, Keith and Mann, Judith W. 2001. Orazio and Artemisia
Malvern, Marjory M. 1975. Venus in Sackcloth: the Magdalene's origins Charpentier, Louis 1972. The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral. Rilko Initiation for Women. Inner City Books, Toronto. Gentileschi. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
and metamorphoses. Southern Illinois University Press, USA. Books, UK. Philips, Graham 1996, 2004. The Chalice of Magdalene: the Search for Consibee, Philip 1996. GEORGE DE LA TOUR and His World. Yale
Miles, Margaret R. 2008. A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Christ, Carol P. 1987. Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Cup that Held the Blood of Christ. Bear & Company, USA. University Press, New Haven and London.
Breast, 1350-1750. Berkeley: University of California Press, USA. the Goddess. Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco. 1995. Pollack, Rachel 1997. The Body of the Goddess: Sacred Wisdom in Constantino, Maria 1993. LEONARDO: Artist, Inventor and Scientist.
Noireau, Christiane 1999. Marie-Madeleine. Editions du Regard, Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete. Continuum. New Myth, Landscape and Culture. Element Books, Inc. USA. Crescent Books, USA.
France. York. Qualls-Corbett, Nancy 1988. The Scared Prostitute, Eternal Aspects of Dackerman, Susan 2002. PAINTED PRINTS: The Revelation of Color.
Picknett, Lynn 2003. Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess. De Voragine, Jacobus c. 1229-1298. Golden Legend: Lives of the the Feminine. Inner City Books, Toronto. The Pennsylvania State University Press, USA.
Robinson, UK. Saints. Rameijer, Jaap 2013. Mary Magdalene in France. Self published, De Santillana, Giorgio (compiled by) 1996. Leonardo Da Vinci. Istituto
Rouanet, Marie and Lacau St Guily, Agnés 2003. Célébration de l’ www:// Netherlands. Geografico De Agostini, Italy (for Barnes & Noble).
Amour: Regards sur Marie-Madeleine. Albin Michel, France. magdalen/ Rawson, Philip 1973. Tantra: the Indian Cult of Ecstasy. Thames and Engberg, Siri and others 2005 KIKI SMITH: A Gathering. Walker Art
Ricci, Carla 1994. Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women who DeConick, April D. 2011. Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Hudson, UK. Center, Minneapolis, USA.
followed Jesus. Fortress Press, USA. Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter. Continuum, USA. Redmond, Layne 2000. Chanting the Chakras: Roots of Awakening. Girardi, Enzo and others 1996. The Complete Works of
Schaberg, Jane 2002. The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Dinnerstein, Dorothy 1976. The Mermaid and The Minotaur: Sexual (CD) Sounds True, Boulder, Co., USA. MICHELANGELO. Istituto Geografico De Agostini, Italy (for Barnes &
Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament. Continuum, USA. Arrangements and Human Malaise. Harper Perennial, USA. Rinpoche, Bokar 1999. TARA: The Feminine Divine. Clearpoint Press, Noble)..
Schaberg, Jane with Johnson-Debaufre, M. 2006. Mary Magdalene Fredricksson, Marianne 1999. According to Mary Magdalene. San Francisco, California. Herpin, Hughes et al 2002. The Little Book of Rodin. Flammarion,
Understood. Continuum, USA. Hampton Roads, USA. Roberts, Michele 1984, 2007. The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene. France.
Shaw, Judith 2015. Mary Magdalene – A Woman of Power and Vision. Gadon, Elinor W. 1989. The Once and Future Goddess: A Sweeping Pegasus, New York. Janelle, Cecilia 1991. DUCCIO DE BUONISEGNA. Scala/Riverside, Italy. Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Steinberg, Leo 1983, 1995. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art Neret, Gilles 2007. RODIN: Sculpture and Drawings. Taschen, USA.
woman-of-power-and-vision-by-judith-shaw/ Cultural Mythology of Our Time. HarperSanFrancisco, USA. and in Modern Oblivion. The University of Chicago Press, USA. Posner, Helaine 2005. KIKI SMITH. The Monacelli Press, USA.
Starbird, Margaret 1993. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Galland, China 1990. Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black THE HOLY BIBLE 1989. New Revised Standard Version. Oxford Santi, Bruno. 1976. BOTTICELLI. Becocci Editore, Firenze.
Magdalene and the Holy Grail. Bear & Company, USA. 1998. The Madonna. Penguin Arkana, USA. University Press, New York. 1991. King James Version. Ivy Books, New Testori, Giovanni 1972. L’opera complete di Grunewald. Rizzoli
Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Scared Feminine. Bear & George, Margaret 2002. Mary called Magdalene. Mc Millan, UK. York. Editore, Milano.
Company, USA. 2003. Magdalene's Lost legacy: Symbolic Numbers Guillot de Suduirant, Sophie 1997. Gregor Erhart: Sainte Marie- Thompson, William, Irwin 1981, 1996. The Time Falling Bodies Take To Walter, Ingo F. and Wolf, Norbert 2005. Master Pieces of Illumination.
and the Sacred Union in Christianity. Bear & Company, USA. 2005. Madelène. Louvre Service Culturel, France. Light. St. Martin’s Griffin, New York. Taschen, USA.
Mary Magdalene, Bride in Exile. Bear & Company, USA. Hall, Nor 1980. The Moon & the Virgin: Reflections on the Archetypal Torjesen, Karen Jo 1993. When Women Were Priests: Women’s lson-Smith, Timothy 1998 CARAVAGGIO. Phaidon, USA.
Ward, Benedicta S. L. G. 1987. Harlots in the Desert: A Study of Feminine. (with illustrations by Ellen Kennedy) Harpers & Row, Leadership in the Early Church & the Scandal of their Subordination in Wolf, Norbert 2006. GIOTTO. Taschen, USA.
Repentance in Early Monastic Sources. Cistercian Publications, USA. Publishers, New York. the Rise of Christianity. Harper One, USA. zollner, Frank 2003. Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and
Warner, Marina 1976. Alone of all her sex: the myth and the cult of the Haustein-Bartsch 2008. ICONS. Taschen, Germany. Walker, Barbara B. 1983. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Drawings. Taschen, USA.
Virgin Mary. Vintage Books, USA. Houston, Siobhan 2006. Invoking Mary Magdalene: Accessing the Secrets. Harper & Row Publishers, New York. 1988. The Women's
Wisdom of the Divine Feminine. Sounds True, USA. Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. Harper & Row Publishers,
COPTIC STUDIES: Jung, Carl Gustav 1964. Man and His Symbols. Laurel, USA. 1965. San Francisco.
De Boer, Esther 2004. The Gospel of Mary: Listening to the Beloved Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage Books, USA. 1973. Mandala Whyte, Lesa 2002. Brides in Exile: A Primordial Religious Impulse Latent
Disciple. T & T Clark International, UK.
118 119

1945 — Born in Kroonstad, South Africa. 1996 — Artist’s books: Song of the Spinners / Lied van die 2009 — “ALTER IMAGES I” at The Association of Art
1962 — Matriculated from The Kroonstad Technical College, Spinners and Time’s Sentinels / Tyds Bewakers. Gallery in Pretoria, South Africa. Solo exhibition.
in Art and Design. Started wall-sized drawings from life for “Post-Christian “ALTER IMAGES II” at The University of Johannesburg Art
1963-65 — Studied at The Johannesburg Art School. Alter Images”. Gallery, South Africa. Solo exhibition with catalogue, “2
1966 — Worked as a Graphic Designer and Fashion “Artists’ books in the Ginsberg Collection” at The EXHIBITIONS”.
Illustrator in Johannesburg until 1977. Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa. Group invitational 2010 — “Bodies in Transition” at Fried Contemporary,
1967 — Got married. exhibition. Pretoria. Group invitational exhibition.
1968 — Daughter born. 1997 — “Artists from the National Academy Workshop” at “Every Secret Thing” at Polokwane Art Museum. Group
1971 — Son born. The Pakistani Embassy, New York.Group invitational invitational exhibition with catalogue.
1972 — Studied Dress Design at The Madeleine Minich exhibition. “L’origine du monde-This is not a porn song-” at Aardklop.
D’Erney Academy, Johannesburg. 1998 — “Post-Christian Alter Images”. Suite of softground Group exhibition.
1977 — After a trip to Europe and America, started etchings. completed with a Grant from The Faculty Research and beginning “Roll Call”, a 20 meter long scroll
working seriously as a painter. Studied the figure and Development Fund, Pratt Institute. dedicated to the men and women who were tortured and
painting at The George Boys Studio, Braamfontein. “Artists from the National Academy Workshop” at The executed during the many centuries of the European witch
1978 — First exhibited as part of a group exhibition at The Pakistani Embassy, New York. Group invitational exhibition. persecutions.
George Boys Studio. Later that year exhibited in a group 1999 — “CONVERSATIONS: Printmaking and the Artist’s 2011 — “Stations of the Cross” at The Association of Art
show at The Association of Art Gallery, Pretoria. Book” at The Abrons Arts Center, New York. Invitational, Gallery in Pretoria. Group invitational exhibition.
1980 — Egon’s Atelier’77, Johannesburg. Solo invitational Group invitational exhibition. “ALTER IMAGES” at the Polokwane Art Museum. Solo
exhibition under married name, Majak Lewis The Jane Voorhees zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers State exhibition with 2009 catalogue “2 Exhibitions”.
1981 — The Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg. Solo University, New Jersey, permanent collection. “Rendezvous Focus Painting” travelling exhibitions starting at
exhibition with two purchases for permanent collection. 2000 — “Print” at the Atlantic Gallery, New York. Group Aardklop. Group invitational exhibition.
Purchase by The Bloemfontein National Gallery for invitational exhibition. 2012 — “Make! Make!” White River Art Gallery. Group
permanent collection. “Naked in Soho” at the Atlantic Gallery, New York. Group invitational exhibition.
The Association of Art Gallery, Pretoria. Solo invitational invitational exhibition. 2013 — “ROLL CALL” Solo travelling exhibition with
exhibition. Completed illustrated manuscript for Sacred Scars: Why the catalogue. Opening at University of Johannesburg Art
Represented South Africa at “Interart’81”, The Equitable gender of God has done injury to women’s bodies and sense of Gallery in March, the Association of Arts, Pretoria in May,
Gallery, New York. self, (Unpublished) and the White River Gallery in August.
Emigrated to America. Started keeping journals and writing 2001 — Pratt Manhattan Gallery, AOS Faculty exhibition. “ADVOCACY for Human Rights” Group invitational
poetry in Afrikaans. Promoted to Adjunct Associate Professor at Pratt Institute. exhibition at the White River Gallery.
1982 — Separated from husband. 2002 — Mother died. “Redefining Erotica” group exhibition at the Longstreet Art
1983 — Continued working with the figure from life. Resigned from full time art directing & teaching the Lovers, Pretoria.
Resumed use of maiden name, Majak Bredell. following year. “South African Women Artists” Group invitational exhibition
1984 — Began printmaking with George Nama at The Later that year, Father died. at the National Art Gallery of Namibia, Windhoek.
National Academy Printmaking Workshop, New York. Studied book binding at The Center for Book Arts, New Double mastectomy for breast cancer.
1985 — Purchase by The Mobil Corporation, Cape Town York with Susan Mills and Barbara Mauriello. 2014 — “Deconstructing Dogma” Group invitational
for permanent collection. 2003 — First grandson born in RSA. exhibition curated by Karen von Veh, with catalogue, at the
1986 — “Monotypes” at The National Academy Museum of 2004 — Returned to live in my homeland, South Africa, in University of Johannesburg Art Gallery.
Art, New York. Invitational, group exhibition. the house where my parents lived. Built a studio. 2015 — “TERRA” Group invitational exhibition with
1987 — Started teaching Drawing at Pratt Institute, and Second grandson born in USA. catalogue curated by Elfrieda Dreyer at Oliewenhuis Gallery,
working as Graphic Designer for Pharmaceutical Advertising. Third grandson born in RSA. Bloemfontein.
1988 — Divorce finalized. 2006 — Teaching at studio in Kampersrus until 2009. “ALTER IMAGES” at the White River Gallery. Solo
Writing poetry in Afrikaans with own English translations. “Ceremonial Gestures” Suite of transfer monoprints exhibition with 2009 catalogue “2 Exhibitions”.
1989 — ”Figures in Attendance” at The Ombondi Gallery, commissioned by De Hoek in Magaliesburg. “INNIBOS” Arts Festival, Nelspruit. Invitational, fringe.
New York. Solo invitational exhibition. 2007 — “Flesh!” at KKNK (Klein Karroo Nationale Kunsfees), 2016 — “CODEX MAGDALENE & MONUMENTS”
1993 — Started Southern Cross Press (Suiderkruis Pers) South Africa. Group exhibition. Towards a new iconography and re-imaging the mythology
with the publication of Mother Passage / Moederdeur, limited “2 DECADES +” at Fried Contemporary in Pretoria. Solo and legends of Mary Magdalene. Solo exhibition with
edition artist’s book with own poems. exhibition with catalogue. catalogue. The Association of Arts, Pretoria, May; University
“Contemporary South African Artists”, The South African Granddaughter born in RSA. of Johannesburg Art Gallery, August; White River Gallery,
Consulate, New York. Group invitational exhibition. 2008 — Developed suite of etchings, “Black Madonna”, at April 2017.
1994 — ”Contemporary South African Artists”, The The Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York.
National Arts Club, New York. Participated in
Became an American citizen.


Dan Burstein, in recent times, perpetuated the

questionable attribution by Carlo Pedretti of a
supposedly 16th century painting of Mary Magdalene
to the hand of Leonardo. A pupil of Leonardo (1452
-1549), Marco d’Oggiono (1475-1549) painted
“Lucretia” stabbing herself with a dagger held in her
right hand. The same posture and gesture, sans
dagger, was copied in the painting that both Pedretti
and Burstein attribute to Leonardo. Leonardo would
no more have copied another man’s work and simply
removed the dagger from the woman’s hand that now
looks like a balled fist! This work could be from the LUCRETIA BY MARCO D’OGGIONO
(1475-1549) C . 1515
brush of Giampietrino (1492-1549) or some other
artist, but it is not by Leonardo. Leonardo was a master
with hands and the dynamics of the contrapposto
stance of so much Renaissance art. Both qualities are
absent in this banal “pin-up”. The figure that was
copied from d’Oggiono’s Lucretia has the drape of her
garment falling over her right hip, making the figure
look static because the rising right hip and energy of
the original contrapposto posture is obscured. Absent
also is the deep fold beneath the right breast of
Lucretia that is formed by the lowered shoulder above
the rising right hip. As can be seen in the details
below, Leonardo used a subtle shadow on the side of
the nose facing the viewer, not a deep shadow behind
the nose! There seems to be such a desperate desire
to extract a Mary Magdalene out of Leonardo’s brush
that all ability to look and judge have fallen away.
Burstein even used the image on the cover of his
book, The Secrets of Mary Magdalene, while this image

and its spurious attribution appears in other books

and web-pages. This so annoys me that I feel
compelled to post my objection here.