As eager as Old Christianity has been to paint Mary Magdalene as part of the oldest profession, New Christianity is equally eager to say that she’s totally legit.
I say the truth was probably somewhere in between. I doubt she was a street walker but could she have been a temple priestess who wasn’t hung up being chaste? Maybe. It would make the fact that she seemed to be pretty educated plausible. Plus the boys were probably jello that she was Jesus’ favorite so calling her a ho to take her down a peg isn’t exactly uncommon practice even in modern times.
What does Mary Magdalene have to do with a magical practice and a non-Christian spiritual practice? Um, she’s awesome. And we’ll get there.
Mary Magdalene is the only woman to have been named in all four of the gospels and has been said to have been Jesus’ favorite by Peter himself. In Jean-Yves Leloup’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Leloup says that all of the gospels agree that she was one of Christ’s female followers, she was present at the crucifixion, she was the witness of his resurrection, she was the first to be charged with the supreme ministry of proclaiming the Christian message.
That’s kind of a huge deal. She did more than the apostles which is why she’s sometimes called The Apostle to the Apostles. Yeah, they liked to fight with her and give her a hard time but they also tended to listen to her, even if listening to a chick lay down some serious spiritual truth was not their first impulse. After all, she was there for the resurrection while they were hiding and freaking out.
English Standard Version (ESV)
8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
English Standard Version (ESV)
10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles
English Standard Version (ESV)
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
That particular point is something that always brings my mom and I together around Easter. I get jazzed that Mary Magdalene’s faith was so hardcore that she is there the whole time which makes her a total badass in my book and my mom gets pumped about, you know, the resurrection as it’s sort of key to being a Catholic. Perhaps, I allegedly annually suggest that we spend Easter in a traditional fashion where in my mom, sister and I hang out in a cave (preferably where cheese lives) away from everything so that we get the truest Easter experience but I’m always shot down.
In The Gospel of Mary: Beyond a Gnostic and a Biblical Mary Magdalene by Esther De Boer, the bits of Mary’s Gospel that have been retained, we learn that UPG and whose UPG is the most accurate isn’t exactly a new problem for anyone. Apparently, Workers of whatever flavor of spirituality have been arguing about the same stuff we’ve been arguing about for the last two thousand years.
Peter said to Mary, ‘Sister, we know that the Saviour loved you more than the rest of women. Tell us the words of the Saviour which you remember, the things that you know and we do not, nor have we heard them.’ Mary answered and said, ‘What is hidden from you I shall tell you.’ And she began to say to them these words, ‘I have seen the Lord in a vision and I said to him, ‘Lord, I have seen you today in a vision’. He answered, he said to me, ‘Blessed are you, because you are not wavering when you see me. For where the mind is, there is the treasure’. I said to him, ‘Lord, now does he who sees the vision see it with the soul or with the spirit? The Saviour answered, he said, ‘He does not see with the soul nor with the spirit, but with the mind’
But Andrew answered and said to the brothers (and sisters), ‘Tell me, what do you say about what she has spoken? I at least do not believe that the Saviour said this. For these teachings seem to be according to another train of thought’. Peter answered and spoke about these same things, he reflected about the Saviour: ‘After all, he did not speak with a woman apart from us and not openly. Are we to turn and all listen to her? Has he chosen her above us?’
Then Mary wept, she said to Peter, ‘My brother Peter, what are you thinking? Do you suppose that I devised this, alone, in my heart, or that I am deceiving the Saviour?’ Levi answered, he said to Peter, ‘Peter you are always hot tempered. Now I see you arguing with the woman as these adversaries do. If the Saviour has made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely, the Saviour knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.’
All this is awesome stuff in its own right. But the most interesting thing is something I learned very recently in my research. Did you know there was a cult to the Magdalene in Provence in the 12th century? And that there’s a legend that she died in France? Because why not die in France?
According to The Life of Mary Magdalen, from the Legenda Aurea (13th century) by Jacopo di Voragine, the story goes something like this:
“Mary Magdalene desired meditation and went into the forest wilderness where she lived incognito for thirty years in a place prepared for her by the hands of angels. In this place there were neither fountains nor trees nor grass. This indicates that our Lord did not want to sustain her with earthly food but with heavenly nourishment. Every day she was led to the heavens by the angels-seven times for the seven hours of prayer-and with her own ears she heard the chants of the heavenly hosts. And every day she was taken back to earth with this sweet nourishment so that she never needed earthly food.”
According to this legend Mary Magdalene died in Aix in Southern France and was buried there by the Bishop Maximinus. Some of her remains later were taken to the French monastery of Vézelay, the church of which carried her name.
In Mary Magdalene and the Voice of the Silence by Carol N. Ward, she expands on how Mary Magdalene wound up with a cult of French fangirls:
In twelfth-century Europe, there was a strong appreciation of the feminine, especially in Provence, where women held fief and manor by right of inheritance as early as the tenth century. The cult of Mary Magdalene heralded her as the patron saint of gardens and vineyards, the mediatrix of fertility, beauty and the joy of life. She filled the role of the love goddess of antiquity.
But what brought me to the Magdalene isn’t anywhere nearly as scholarly. It’s three words. Jesus. Christ. Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Webber is beyond uncool at this point but he sang the songs of my people (love lorn teenaged girls) in oh so many formats. My mom dragged me to the 2000 production and I was all, God, Mom! What could possibly be cool about this? I’m totally into Rent now. But for the 2000 production they totes updated it so it looked like the cast of Rent (don’t complain, the original version of JCS was meant to look modern) and they made the crucifixion into a media circus and I was like OMG THIS IS AMAZING.
When I’m having a total full blown panic attack, Everything’s Alright is sometimes the only way I talk myself down. Frankly, that’s a kind of magic in and of itself if you know what a full blown panic attack feels like. When Jow and I bought our house and we were terrified that they would immediately foreclose on it and we’d lose it and have to live with my mom and never be able to own a house again and that we had gotten totally in over our heads in Adult Land, we would whisper sing it to each other in the dark when we were too freaked out to sleep, still smelling paint drying on the walls.
Try not to get worried/Try not to turn on to/ Problems that upset you/ Well, don’t you know/ Everything’s all right/ Yes, Everything’s fine. . .
My mom would tell me to ignore something if it was bothering me. And if you take that to a logical Don Draper compartmentalized conclusion, you wind up really fucked up. But I’ve found as a thirtysomething, there are things I have no answer or conclusion for. I have two loved ones in the hospital and both are really ill. I don’t know what will happen. Which starts me on I don’t know what will happen when I lose other loved ones, will I be able to stay married, will I be able to keep making enough money to support myself, will I write everything I need to write, will I create everything I need to create —
And it just goes deeper and darker down that rabbit hole. Sometimes, if there’s nothing you can do about something, you do need to ignore it to a certain extent. I will die one day. It doesn’t really matter how much or how little I stress about it, it will happen. I can’t completely ignore it or I won’t live my life the best way for me. But stressing about it all the time doesn’t help either. The world will continue to get scarier and scarier with natural disasters and the things that we do to each other as humans. I can’t completely ignore it, because I need to help the people I can help and not contribute to the problems as much as possible. But fixating on them won’t make it better either. Mary Magdalene really helps me get a handle on that.
Jesus knew terrible things were going to happen, but Mary Magdalene was all about trying to make the most out of whatever she had at the moment. She made her own destiny which was something that was incredibly hard to do in her lifetime. We still know her name.
She’s known as the patron saint of penitents and perfumers. Penitent is a word with a lot of baggage for a lot of people, myself included. But really, it just means you’ve made mistakes and you’ve done things you’ve regretted. And if you haven’t done anything you’ve ever regretted then you might be a serial killer and that’s a different issue all together. Mary Magdalene accepts you with all your flaws. If you’ve fucked up a situation recently, she may have a solution. She’s also known as the Myrrh Bearer which is a nod to her mystical prowess so if you’re looking into more esoteric answers to life, the universe and everything, she’s a good guide for that journey.
Offerings to her that she would like would include myrrh, candle light, water, flowers, dyed eggs and perfumes. She’s not hugely into offerings, she’s more about meditation and prayers however. She’s also one of those saints/spirits/deities who will likely shake up your ant farm if you work with her. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s lots of Beings who will do that (Odin, Loki, Kali, Ganesha, Inanna, Dionysus, etc.), it’s just something to be aware of.