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Magdalene - A Pagan Study Group



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Why did this come to be?


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It is in crossing our thresholds and entering into the liminality when we come face to face with ideas with which we disagree and people we would ignore that the chance for real magic occurs. Here is one such threshold: interfaith between pagans and christians.

But, I have to wonder, and will likely keep in mind: Just how far from the story of Magdalene can one go before it's about Magdalene in name only? And, what sense of responsibility do I have toward the tradition the story comes from to not go too far?

Mary Magdalene was one of the two finalist themes for BC Witchcamp '08, along with Persephone, at a recent visioning meeting I attended. Although Persephone was chosen (time to gather up all those Greek costuming links I researched!), there was a lot of energy around Magdalene.

I imagine that these resources will focus on looking for pagan interpretations of the story of Magdalene, somewhat like the story in "Moon Under Her Feet" by Kinstler, but also looking at the place of feminine divinity lost over the ages, such as is talked about in "In a Chariot Drawn By Lions" by Long or in "The Hebrew Goddess" by Patai. (N.B.: According to Valerie Walker [source], Patai's "Hebrew Goddess" was one volume in Victor Anderson's own library.)

Another, somewhat ambitious is to think about what a Witchcamp could look like themed around Magdalene, so that there will be members of the community that can help to clearly articulate that it's possible and attractive as a theme. Also, there is an even more ambitious goal, perhaps, of making steps toward a truly community developed camp by having a strong and broad base of experience with the theme.

Then, when it comes time to vision, there would be people that could really speak to the Magdalene theme and perhaps it will be selected, instead of being the runner-up like it was for '07 and '08.

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Lefebvre's 1876 Mary Magdalene In The Cave [via]

Unfiled Notes

the migdal - the tower
the pentacle of magda
the migdal pentacle

Asherah - the lost feminine of diety - the holy ghost - the tree in the temple - queen of heaven ~~ but, also, the gnostic notion of Sophia.

the five fold kiss replacing the five wounds of jesus ~~ iron pentacle?

the tower tarot card

the apostle of apostles - the pentacle of pearl - the passing of secrets, the gospel of magdalene - quakoralina

vitruvian woman ~~ iron pentacle?


A while ago, I went to a local Portland bookshop, New Renaissance, and picked up several resources, books and a DVD, on Magdalene. I've been reading Leloup's "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" and have enjoyed it so far. The introduction was a great primer on the topic and history. I read through the sadly brief translated gospel and have moved into the commentary.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this, but I wanted to share with you something that's been going on for me.

I've been thinking about Magdalene a great deal. I find that so much of the music I'm hearing now seems to speak in some way to her. In the last week or so, I've been listening to a whole lot of new music by local Portland people. I went to a Portland Cello Project show, and picked up a CD by an artist in the project named Anna Fritz. It's all been fantastic; but, oh, my, she's fantastic!

Anyhow, I wanted to include in this message a portion of the gospel and several bits of lyric that have been coming up for me, even if they are sometimes out of context, as if in answer to the gospel fragment. This fragment is Peter getting uptight about Magdalene, and the other lyrics seem to me to be a response to Peter.

This is especially interesting because the connection here, for me, isn't just in the words and my mind, because I have really strong emotional responses to these, even just reading them now, I feel a kind of welling up inside of emotion, sad and defiant and righteous.

Okay, enough of my blathering. Here's the quotes:

And Peter added:
"How is it possible that the Teacher talked
in this manner with a woman
about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant?
Must we change out customs,
and listen to this woman?
Did he really choose her, and prefer her to us?"
- Jean-Yves Leloup "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene"

"Hey creepo's ... I'm talking to you
I've got a message to give to you
You've got a problem... we know
But there's something you ought to know
Standing there across the thoroughfare
They stand and stare with that gormless air
So funny to see how dumb some grown men can be
An unwanted weed, a dying reed
Left to consider life as it passes by
Ignoring your calling, ignoring your taunting,
Ignoring your feelings of self hate and loathing
How empty and pointless your life must seem
Does what you won't understand scare and make you mad?
Resentful and envious, don't you disgust yourself?
So funny to see how pathetic some men can be
See them standing
See them staring
See them wearing that same stupid face
Ignore all their calling, ignore all their taunting,
Ignore all their faking, their self hate and loathing
Somebody should show them where to go."
- The Creatures "Standing There"

"My freedom scares me
too much for one soul
there was a time, I think,
when we were whole.
I love the mystery
struggle for empathy
I will always be hungry and full."
- Anna Fritz "Burn Dry"

"I will walk into the flames with you
Yeah, I'll walk into the fire
and there I will dance ..."
- Anna Fritz "Not An Ending"

"But I know the world needs a woman
who cannot be chased away
and she's got so much heart
in the face of apathy
in the face of tyranny
she's got so much heart"
- Anna Fritz "Monica's Song"

Yeah, so Anna Fritz. I'd buy every one I know a copy of her CD if I could afford it.


The grief of Magdalene compares to the grief of the Shekhina at her separation from the King at the destruction of the Temple.

"Sweet Jesus, heart broken, wounded and dead, was abandonded by all his people except for the women. All the faith remains in a woman, and it is foolishness to speak ill of her, even if only out of respect for the Queen of heaven, in rememberance of her goodness so noble and so deserving that it entitled her to conceive the Son of God! God the Father gave great honor to woman when He wanted to make her His spouse and His Mother, the temple of God joined to the Trinity ..." - Christine de Pisan, Epître au dieu d’Amours (via Patai)


The beloved is a relationship explored in the Kabbalistic mythologems of marriage between the male and female, and this leads to a discussion of the holiness of sex and that the joining of male and female below is a mirror of, and also a participant in, and also a necessary fractal of, the union of the divine. This is explored in Patai.

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"Who is this flower above me?
And what is the work of this God?
I would know myself in all my parts."

Know thyself.

When talking about an anthropology suggested by the gospel of magda Leloup builds a case for talking of soma, psyche, nous, and pneuma (Leloup, 2002, pp 117-128). In other words, body, soul, spirit and holy spirit - this is the four-fold anthropology suggested by the gospel of madga. This seems to align very well with the notion of the triple soul in Feri and Reclaiming. The physical body is connected to the fetch, talker and divine self.

(A resource on this can be found, with exercises, at Lilith's Lantern: Vicia Exercises)

It seems to me that witchcraft, in many ways, is already grounded in the earth and the body. I think of this as the difference between an impulse to embody vs one to enlighten. For me, ceremonial magic and magick are about enlightenment whereas witchcraft, especially the ecstatic and group-oriented Relclaiming work is about embodiment.

However, I'm also realizing that there's a strong component of enlightenment within Feri, which for example includes the notion of self-possession as an analog to the magickal attempt to gain knowledge and conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel. These are both notions of awakening a connection to a divine self.

I remember reading the first part of Starhawk's The Earth Path as a strong exegesis of being embodied in the greater spirit of the Earth as a living process. I also find myself thinking about the Golden Dawn's first degree, symbolically in malkuth, the earth, on the tree of life. We seem to begin there. I find myself wondering whether we get stuck there or not.

Like the astrological groupings or like the suits of the tarot; the earth is represented in Malkuth as a circle with four colors: the earthy earth; airy earth; fiery earth, watery earth. I wonder about the spirit of earth, however; maybe that's the thread that leads onward, up toward the pillars of strength, mercy and beauty ...

So, to me the question is not just how can we ground our practice in the body and earth, but how can we keep that ground while being able and willing to go further.

In other words, how to be complex, but remain simple. ;)

There are so many systems and metaphors here. For examples, there's yoga, as a re-union; triple soul alignment; self-possession; knowledge and conversation with the HGA ... and sacred marriage or union of opposites, becoming the androgyne, hermaphrodite.

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Casting out the 7 demons - Like running energy, through chakras or the pentacles of iron and pearl. Casting out the demons is not only aligning the triple soul, but becoming kala. Purification of energy and self, aligning with the universe.

These seven demons could be thought of in terms of the seven classical planets, the 7 gates traveled by Inanna. This could then offer a way to interpret the meaning of each demon, and give a framework for creating a ritual of purification.

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As in the Sufi, or Rumi, the relationship with the Beloved, also in the song of songs ...

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Bearing witness, being the witness to destruction, not as victim nor as victimizer, but to see the loss of death or transition. This is the litany of Samhain.

but, also being a witness to miracle and being present to see the return and rise of divinity when no one else is there. hearing the secret, having noesis, in that private moment, and then taking that message to others.

"In the hour of adversity, Miriam of Magdala proves herself to have the most strength, faith, endurance, resolution, and hope in her suffering of the crucifixion of their master and friend" (Leloup, 2002, p94).

Leloup further suggests some unfortunately gender-based ideas about this ... but, there's a special kind of strength necessary to be the witness to something over which one has no power to change. If I read Leloup as talking about aspects of all humans, the masculine and the feminine in all of us, this is slightly easier to read as more than an apology for gender stereotypes:

"Yet it is worth noting that it is often mostly women who are present in great moments of life such as this, at deathbed and at birth. Husbands and fathers are more often absent. Surely this should not be seen as desertion (of which they are sometimes accused), but rather as an indication of the great difficulty that the masculine mind (and some feminine minds as well) experience when it feels powerless in the face of a suffering that it can neither combat nor alleviate. If there were only something to do, some action to be taken, some arms or tools to be used, the masculine mind could tell itself that man was more useful and effective.

The feminine mind (and again, this includes some men as well) surely has an advantage wen it comes to dealing with this feeling of powerlessness and useless in the face of certain kinds of suffering. It is more capable of simply being present and bearing witness in patience and compassion -- for this is a different kind of usefulness and power, one that is closer to the wolrd of Pneuma [holy spirit] of which Yeshua himself was the Witness" (Leloup, 2002, p94).

If I read this as talking about aspects of all humans, the unification of these aspects of humanity seems to be the sacred marriage of opposites, to become the hermaphrodite or androgyne. I'm uncomfortable saying that experiencing powerlessness and uselessness are "feminine" traits. That idea makes me mad. But, if we're talking about what it means to be a witness, or the archetype of the Witness, then there's something important to this.

Almost as an aside, in folkloric interpretation, when one character disappears and another appears the two can be the same. I wonder if the "disappearance" of Yeshua from the story might mark the point at which the sacred marriage is complete and Magda becomes the androgyne ... it could be when Magda becomes christic herself, so to speak, through having born witness to grief with strength and faith, etc ...

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As in Oriah's "Invitation" there is a desire to share the burden of living, but the burden has to be taken up alone. The other is in transition and cannot take part. the burden of carrying on, of living, of going forward was for Magdalene alone to carry.

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The word was "outlaw" not "prostitute" so she's one that doesn't follow the rules. That's activism. That's speaking truth to power. That's also being a witch, an essentially counter-cultural thing to be. Here's a chance to talk about an "engaged" paganism, like Hahn's engaged buddhism, which is actively in the world.

Magdalene was a radical and she deserves to be recognized for that.

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There is a notion of "the hero pattern" and one can analyze the life of Jesus as conforming to this pattern in many respects. The work of Dundes seems inadequate in several regards, so it's worth looking at again because Jesus conforms very closely to the pattern, far more closely than previously suggested. For example, Dundes fails to recognize that if Jesus is in the line of the Davidic Kings, then he is indeed the King's son. Dundes does speak about the notion that Magdalene could be wife, but fails to include this in his analysis.

There is also a notion of the hero pattern for a female hero. I want to look at Magdalene from this framework and see what comes of that.

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Sacred marriage; The union of the divine; a yoga. The sacred marriage between the dying king and the living queen, which ushers in the infinite cycle of rebirth.

But, also the union of opposites in the self; the alchemical wedding that produces the hermaphrodite.

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When I started to think about sources where I've gotten ideas about Madgalene, there's books and movies. Two movies that I strongly remember are The last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal. Thinking about these two made me wonder what a passion play about Magdalene would look like, which stages of her life would be stations for the play.

I also thought about ritual movements, like a kind of partner yoga, perhaps, that could represent the stations. For example, the most obvious one, perhaps, is that of the weeping Magdalene on Golgotha, which I saw as one person doing child's pose and another doing tree. Maybe that's too arch or literal, but it's a start.

On the topic if theatre, I've definitely found myself wondering about a passion play for Magda. In the back of my head, it is at the same time both serious and also is to the canonical Christ story as "Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead" is to Hamlet. That could be something amazing to create!

The Tresemers, who wrote the preface to Leloup's book and are the focus of a DVD I picked up, produced a performance piece called "My Magdalene". In an e-mail conversation with the Tresemers, the only segments available in video form are those used in the DVD already. Apparently there were some issues with the captured video, so not all of it was usable. But, portions are there as an example.

But, ritual drama is a cool idea no matter what. I mean, the work that we've been doing in Olympia for the last several Samhain spiral dances has been really amazing, especially our work in '06. But, bringing some of that to ritual is powerful.

When talking about this, I also think about the movie "Jesus of Montreal" which was a story in an allegory about a group that gets together to create a passion play. That's definitely work checking out.

Also, I find myself thinking about the ritual dance of Thorn. She produced a DVD with ritual dance moves associated with the elements and the pentacles; and that makes me think about ritual theatre in relation to the stations or passion of Magda too. What would that look like? What would a ritual dance or series of yoga postures be that relate to the story.

One of the most difficult images for me when I first started to look for graphics was that of the weeping Mary. I didn't want to use that image. It had for me a submissive, gender-role feel to it that I found distasteful. However, when I started to think about what it would look like to physically, the first images that came to mind were of a partner yoga pairing child's pose with tree pose as an essential image of opposites, from weeping Mary and the crucifixion. Further thinking about this has led me to see the opposition of the two positions as signs for important things: life and death, grief and ascention, masculine and feminine, yin and yang, enlightenment and embodiment, above and below, etc ...

Another aspect of this sign comes from a few amazing panels in Alan Moore's Promethea series, a graphic novel, which talk about the relationship between the crucifixion and the tree of life. In one image, there are two aspect of Promethea looking up, weeping at the crucifixion, which strongly reminded me of Magdalene's experience.

detail from Alan Moore's Promethea #17 [larger, [source]

In one panel, a character points out, "Our highest point. The best of us. The gold. And it's nailed writhing on the cross of the world. That's us up there ..."

This image of the weeping Mary at the base of the cross is also the image of the wife mourning the loss of vitality of the husband. The cross can be seen as a phallic symbol and the crucifixion as a form of castration (Dundes). This is the failure of the masculine principle to be vital. It's a loss of our passion for life under a crushing defeat by the world.

It is exactly here with Magdalene weeping over the dying, castrated god that connects to the story of Isis and Osirus as well.

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detail of Mary Magdalene [via]


Angels and saints in every hamlet mourned!
Oh! if the old idologtry be spurned
Let not your radiant shapes desert the land!
... weeping Magdalene,
Who in the penitential desert met
Gales sweet as those that over Eden blew!

– Wordsworth [via]

The weeping Mary is actually the image I resisted most when I started looking at resources. When I looked at pictures to put on this page, I rejected pictures of Magdalene weaping at the base of the cross. I didn't want that to be part of it, had trouble seeing this as part of her story that was essential.

But, there's grief in life, as well as joy. Passing through grief, in a healthy way, is such an important part of being alive. How can one not grieve at the loss of the Beloved, at being a witness to destruction?

So, what does this story, this station of Magdalene, tell us about grief?

I've personally been dealing with grief a lot lately, and I've begun to wonder if grief might not be a kind of "rusted" energy on the pentacle of life, through the rites of passage. It seems that grief may be a dissolution energy and joy may be a coagulation energy. The dance between them then, perhaps, is the transformation that happens along the paths of the pentacle of life: spirit, birth, adolescence, marriage, death ... and back to spirit.

This notion of the dance comes to me from both alchemy and Empedocles. In alchemy a famous motto is "solve et coagula" and implicit in this is the interplay between combining and breaking apart that results in the transformation of things. In Empedocles, one of the early Greek dead guys, he wrote that change comes from the action of love (Aphrodite) and hate (Ares) on the four elements; meaning the coming together and the breaking apart of the elements, each of which were also archetyped by one deity or another.

So, maybe grief in this sense is as necessary as joy in order to generate transformation. Without both grief and joy, transformation doesn't occur?

But, grief has to move. That's where I'm at right now. There have been times when I've been really sick and throwing up moves it out of my system so that I feel immediately better; I've been trying to keep my grief moving through me, instead of getting stuck somewhere inside solidified.

I've been trying to move my grief, and it's been like riding waves and tides. The tide rises and I find a private place to weep; the tide recedes and I breathe in the hope for joy to come; and the cycle continues. This for me is also a kind of yoga because it is a cycle of stress and relax.

The key though is that, like in Chinese Medicine, the energy must flow. When the energy is stuck is where problems begin. Since I have a person history with depression, I know I have got a tendency to store that grief energy. I've been using tools to deal with my depression and anxiety, like tapping on medians, but started to feel that I was merely holding that energy down, not letting it flow. So, in the last couple of weeks, I've been letting my grief run, and trying to purge it. I've also been running the Iron Pentacle energy as part of my daily morning yoga and meditation routine.

(As a reminder to us all, here's a nice page about Iron from Storm Faerywolf, a luminary of the Feri tradition: "The Iron Pentacle: Understanding the Harmonics of Consciousness"; Also, there's a very interesting discussion about Iron Pentacle meditation by Rhea Shemazi: Meditations and Movements: An Exploration of the Iron Pentacle)

So, grief requires non-attachment, perhaps. That's a hard discipline, for me at least. Grief requires skills at moving energy. Grief also requires Joy in order that together they can create transformation, so skills at Joy are necessary. I'm sure that's not all.

It is apparent to me that grief requiring non-attachment is a paradoxical idea, since grief is an emotion about loss ... ha! tricksy! There's magic there.

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DaVinci's Mary Magdalene


Books and Media

Kinstler, C. (). The Moon Under Her Feet: The Story of Mari Magdalene in the Service of the Great Mother.
Starbird, M. (). The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail.

Long, A. P. (). In a Chariot Drawn by Lions.
Grove, (). Mystery Teaching of the Bible.

Patai, The Hebrew Goddess. (N.B.: According to Valerie Walker [source], Patai's "Hebrew Goddess" was one volume in Victor Anderson's own library.)
Pagels, E. (). The Gnostic Gospels.

diZerega, G. (2001). Pagans & Christians: The Personal Spiritual Experience. Minneapolis, MN: Llewellyn.
This is an book about Christian and Pagan interfaith, recommended by Macha for teachers in the reclaiming tradition, and may be useful for the pagan study group to have read while engaged with the topic of Magdalene.

There are two books by Thich Nhat Hanh about interfaith between Buddhism and Christianity, which may be also interesting: Living Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. Although, maybe not, since they aren't about Magdalene, really.

In the book and movie "The Last Temptation of Christ" there is a representation of the relationship between Jesus and Magdalene. I recommend the introduction to the book in conjunction with the movie, because the introduction really plays out the struggle between spirit and flesh in the story and movie. Oh, and the soundtrack to the movie is phenomenal.
Kazantzakis, N. (). The Last Temptation of Christ.
Scorsese, M. (1988). The Last Temptation of Christ. [IMBD]

"The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams.

There's a Joules Graves song [Website]

Haskins, S. (). Mary Magdalene, Myth and Metaphor.

Arcand, D. (1989). Jesus of Montreal. [DVD] [IMDB]

Tresemer, D., & Tresemer, L. (). ReDiscovering Mary Magdalene. [DVD] [Source]

Tresemer, D., & Tresemer, L. (2006). My Magdalene.

Tresemer, D., & Tresemer, L. (). Research Foundations for My Magdalene.

Tresemer, D., & Tresemer, L. (). My Magdalene: Synopsis.

LeLoup, J-Y. (). The Gospel of Mary Magdelene.

The character Mary Magdalene [IMDB]

Knowledge about Mary Magdalene [Wikipedia]

JGB's links tagged Magdalene [Links]

Delasanta, R. (2005). "Gardens of Good and Evil." in First Things: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life. [via]

Moore, A. (2003). Promethea (Book 3). [source]

Coyle, T. T. (). Devotional Dance: Sacred Movements for Meditation and Transformation. [DVD] [Source]

Segal, R. A. (). In Quest of the Hero.

Rank, O. (). The Myth of the Birth of the Hero.
in Segal, R. A. (). In Quest of the Hero.

Raglan, L. (). The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama, Part II.
in Segal, R. A. (). In Quest of the Hero.

Dundes, A. (). The Hero Pattern and the Life of Jesus.
in Segal, R. A. (). In Quest of the Hero.

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John Griogair Bell - Arlecchino Malbenvolio

“Clown with a Bad Attitude”

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