This discovery has not happened of course. It’s something I like to imagine. But could Mary Magdalene have left behind such a personal memoir, that is, an eyewitness gospel?
If Mary Magdalene did write a gospel …
It is unlikely that she could read or write beyond the most basic level in a society that limited most women to functions around home life. But many of the male disciples too were Galilean fishermen and like the women unlikely to be fluent writers or readers. It’s generally understood that the stories about Jesus were passed on orally before anyone wrote them down. His teachings and the miraculous events of his life, death and resurrection would have been shared within the earliest Christian groups by followers who directly experienced them – and that would have included women. These stories spread quickly to many different places across the region.
In subsequent years, various accounts were written about those times. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) include many parables, the symbolic stories Jesus told to convey his message. John’s Gospel has shifted the focus to the impact of the mighty Logos incarnating in the man Jesus.
Gospels and teaching works were still being written, and copied, more than two hundred years after Golgotha. Some later writings did give prominence to the Magdalene, mostly within the alternate Gnostic Christian philosophy where she takes on a more symbolic role as Sophia, feminine counterpart of Christ the Logos. Gnosticism speaks of fallen Sophia who is redeemed by Christ and raised again to her primal status. For this reason, the Magdalene is portrayed as a guide with deeper gnosis than the ignorant disciples.
But none of Mary Magdalene’s actual words have come down to us.
The patriarchal God who vanishes into ‘heaven’
What we have inherited is by men who lived across the far-reaching Roman empire. Rome’s patriarchal structures profoundly influenced how these men viewed women in the developing Christian church – not at all favourably and excluded from the hierarchy of bishops, priests and so on.
Mainstream Greek philosophy would also permeate Christian scholarship. Its male writers knew their philosophy, an aspect of which included the idea of a distinction between reason and the experiences of the senses, and a contrast between the sense world we imperfect creatures inhabit and the ‘higher’ world of spirit.
This mindset would have a radical impact on people’s relationships with the divine. Slowly and inexorably God was removed to a place ‘out there’. Access was via the increasingly powerful priesthood. Today this separation consciousness has become so embedded in our culture that we fail to recognise how strange it is, or how it has led us to believe we are disconnected from a congruent whole, with each part, whether people, nature or the cosmos, an island in a meaningless sea. As for divine powers, although some people still claim authority to access them on behalf of others and to dictate rules to live by, that thinking is in retreat. Denying the existence of what cannot be physically measured and observed is commmonplace. And atheism has become the new secular religion for an age of self-centred materialism.
This was not the Magdalene’s world view
Mary Magdalene would not have experienced the world like that. For her the physical and spiritual were woven together in a colourful tapestry. This had been the human way for aeons, with different languages and names to describe the harmonious interweaving. In her culture, it was the fingers of Yahweh and the angelic beings always active in a world permeated by Hokhmah, the Wisdom goddess of creation. And in recognition she marked the shifting seasons with festivals and offerings.
An enduring image of the Wisdom goddess of creation, in the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall, UK
Mary Magdalene would have responded to the parables Jesus told. Drawn from nature, they worked well for a society living within the earth’s rhythms. Yet surely she must have longed for the freedom available to men – to come and go as she pleased, not tied to a predetermined woman’s role, and that she had a hunger to reach beyond her outer and inner limitations to a deeper reality she felt but could not discover through forms and doctrines.
That’s why when Jesus came along, speaking out in the open to all who would listen and welcoming men and women equally, she responded with all her heart. I would love to read her gospel giving expression to a distinctively Magdalene Christianity.
I think her gospel would be her lyrical heart song imbued with the glorious blending harmonies of heaven and earth. And I can imagine her love song embracing the whole of creation.
O, let us now tell of the Mother’s fine offering;
Of bright sunlight dancing on blossoms she kissed,
Of the time of the turning and cool weaving mist,
Of seeds windward flying,
And snow deeply lying.
Then hear in the birth pangs, in each newborn crying,
In lovers’ sweet speaking and whisper soft sighing,
And on the last breath when a dear friend lies dying,
The echoes that ring,
The mysteries they bring
Of the life and the love flowing forth from the light of the Word.
The Grail Bearer
As it is, internal evidence points to John’s Gospel as a likely eyewitness account of events around Jesus. That means the author gives us genuine information about the living Mary Magdalene. I drew much of her story in Marriages of the Magdalene from this gospel in which she is revealed as the courageous woman who became the apostle to the apostles. I think this evangelist respected and valued the Magdalene enormously. He wrote of the cosmic I AM that can also be discovered as a seed within the individual. My intuition is that the wedding at Cana was her marriage to the gospel author and this began their path to the mystical inner marriage with the Christ spirit called the Word and I AM.
And then there’s John’s account of Mary Magdalene discovering the empty tomb (John 20) and becoming the first person to encounter Jesus the Christ (that is she experienced the physical man of matter transformed by the mighty spirit fully incarnated in him). From such a profound awakening to real human potential, the way opened for her to discover the transforming spirit of Christ within her. No wonder legends grew around Mary Magdalene. Her inspiration lives on still despite the machinations of the patriarchal church to limit her. She was the gospel of love and she would have opened hearts by her very presence.
How her relevance continues
The powerful symbols of the divine feminine can be more than image or idea. In the Christianity of Mary Magdalene, they would be revealed through an embodied spirituality, in her real-life drama of transformation and initiation. That’s the significance of the living woman.
And there’s more. I believe her experiences are especially relevant today as we undergo a seismic shift towards a new age. Our mechanistic, materialistic, egocentric culture is crumbling, potentially to be replaced by a holistic, unifying world view reconnecting us with ancient unity, but without losing our hard-won individuality. This involves a revolution in consciousness that integrates the spiritual with the physical again, which can inspire us to live in harmony with the world. But it requires us to live through an unfolding spiritual ‘I’, a truly free individuality, able to lovingly embrace all that is ‘other’.
Our finest aspirations mark the spirit in us. When we stand as true individuals in the freedom such knowing brings, no longer defined by roles the world allocates – gender, race, beliefs, position in a social hierarchy – each one of us becomes a co-creator with the spiritual cosmos. It’s a way that necessarily embraces universal love.
This is what I see expressed in the snippets of genuine information about Mary Magdalene. Really, she lives even without her written words if we are open and hear her wonderful voice down the ages. But what a gospel she would have written!