Mary As Goddess:
Mary Magdalen

The Penitent Magdalene
Georges de la Tour
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter. . . .
I am she whose wedding is great,
And I have not taken a husband. . . .
I am shameless;
I am ashamed. . . .
I am godless,
And I am one whose God is great.

Thunder, Perfect Mind
Gnostic Poem
(A, p. 55-6)

The Written Record

In seeking to unravel the mystery of the Marys in the New Testament, it is important to note at the outset that the Gospels were a later-recording of an oral history. In fact recent scholarship confirms that it is unlikely that any of the New Testament writers actually knew the historical Jesus (B,C,D *). The earliest New Testament records, Paul's Epistles, were written circa 51-57 CE, and the other books were written nearer to the end of the century. Many of the Biblical accounts of Mother Mary and Mary Magdalen were written 50 years or more after the death of Jesus of Nazareth (B,C,D *). In addition, it is quite clear that the existing Bible today underwent additions, deletions, and translation changes over the centuries. In fact, the Bible as we know it today was not even compiled until the 4th Century CE, and no known manuscripts of the New Testament are older than the 4th Century. What exist are copies of copies (B,C,D *). However, many other Gospels were written that were not included in the official CHURCH canon. Among them are the Gnostic Gospels. Surviving copies of the Gnostic Gospels predate the surviving Biblical manuscripts by 200 years (A,B,C,D *).

Why is it important to establish that the written record is based on oral history? What was once commonly understood as symbolic in the original version easily transmutes into the literal, and meanings are lost or change. While this is true of written records, it is especially true of oral histories (where it is impossible to examine the original version). It is important, therefore, to look to the cultural/historical context of the gospel stories when seeking to understand what the early Christians understood.

The Goddess in Jerusalem

Herod Antipas became ruler of the land through the ancient "Sacred Marriage" with the High Queen Mariamne, a priestess of the Triple Goddess Mari-Anna-Ishtar who was popularly worshiped at the time of Christ (B,C,D,E *). This Goddess was noted for her triple-towered temple or "magdala." It is important to note that much of the imagery in the Gospels, especially regarding the Marys, corresponds to the worship of this Goddess Mari-Anna-Ishtar (B,C,D,E *). This will be explored in more detail in the following sections.

Mother and Magdalen as One
Magdalen as Temple Priestess
Magdalen as the Bride of Christ
Worship of the Magdalen
The Black Madonna

Mother and Magdalen as One

"I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter."
(A, p. 55-6)

The Divine Mother and her Consort/Savior Son is a strong theme in World Goddess Myth, making Virgin Mary/Mary Magdalen a likely composite. As noted on the Virgin page, the title of Virgin was often bestowed upon sexually active Goddesses. Sacred Temple Prostitutes were often called Virgins (D). In addition, children of The Sacred Marriage, a ritual union of a temple priestess and a king willing to die for his people, were often called "virgin born" or "divine children," just as Christ was (C). As noted on the Virgin page, it is possible that Mother Mary was dedicated to a Goddess temple when she was a child. Perhaps Mother Mary was a temple priestess, thus making Jesus (or Yeshua) a divine child (E). There is even stronger evidence that Mary Magdalen was a temple priestess, so perhaps this is the true connection between Mother Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Some feel that Mary the Mother and Mary the Lover were split into two characters--one good, the other evil--because women's sexuality was demonized by the early orthodox church. (See Mother Mary as Bride)

Magdalen as Temple Priestess

Four pieces of Gospel evidence strongly point to Mary Magdalen as a temple priestess of the Goddess. The first is her title "Magdalen," almost identical to "Magdala," noted earlier to be the name of the triple-towered temple of the Goddess Mari-Anna-Ishtar (D). Literally, "Mary of the Magdala" signifies "Mary of the Goddess Temple." Christian tradition has said that Mary is of the town "Magdala" or "Migdal," which was known as "The Village of Doves," a place where sacred doves were bred for the Goddess temple (F). In either case, two threads of strong symbolism link the name Magdalen to contemporary Goddess worship.

Next, Mary is known as a prostitute, just as the Goddess priestesses were titled "Sacred Prostitutes," although a more recent and accurate translation titles them "Sacred Women" or "hierodulae" (B, p. 29). Such prostitutes were considered evil by Jewish leaders of the time. That Jesus/Yeshua would associate with such a woman would indeed invoke the scorn of his disciples, as is recorded in the New Testament.

St. Mary Magdalen
The Papess II
Tarot of the Saints

Thirdly, Mary Magdalen is identified in Mark and Luke as the woman who was possessed by seven demons, which Yeshua cast out of her. The seven demons were a symbolic part of a temple ritual known as "The Descent of Inanna," one of the most ancient ceremonies known, recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh (G). This ritual was known to be practiced in the Jerusalem temple of Mari-Anna-Ishtar (D,E,F *).

The last, and perhaps strongest, piece of evidence is the anointing of Yeshua with the sacred oil, an event which (uncharacteristically) was recorded in all four New Testament Gospels, pointing to its significance. The anointing of the Jesus' head with oil (as described in Mark 14:3-4) is an unmistakable symbol of The Sacred Marriage, a ceremony performed by temple priestesses (B).

Magdalen as the Bride of Christ

Mary Magdalen was said to have been the Bride of Christ. Many of the Gnostic Gospels (revered early on in the Christian Church and later thrown out of the cannon) portray Mary Magdalen as Christ's Most Beloved Disciple, reporting that Jesus often kissed her on the mouth and called her "Woman Who Knows All." Other disciples went to her for Christ's teachings after he died (A). She is portrayed as sitting at Jesus' feet to listen to his teachings (Luke 10:38-42) and also as anointing his feet with oil and drying them with her hair (John 11:2, 12:3). Three of the New Testament Gospels report that Mary Magdalen was at the foot of the cross, and all four Gospels note she was present at the tomb. The Gospel of John notes that after the resurrection, Christ appeared to Mary Magdalen first. Mary Magdalen is mentioned in the New Testament more often by far that Mother Mary.

In The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, Starbird presents a very strong case that Mary Magdalen was perceived by many Christians (up until the 14th or 15th Century) to be the Bride of Christ, who later bore his child. Just as the High Queen Mariamne was known to be a temple priestess, Starbird presents evidence that Mary Magdalen was a princess of Bethany. This Mary of Bethany (sister to Lazarus and Martha) was of the line of Benjamin. She was wedded to Yeshua, of the line of David, in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy that a Son of David would rule Jerusalem and a long period of peace would follow.

Banner of the Flagellants of Borgo San Sepolcro Banner of the Flagellants
of Borgo San Sepolcro
14th C -- Spinello Aretino
New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
Many scholars have documented the fact that Jesus was supported by political zealots who wished to overthrow the Romans and put a Son of David on the throne in Jerusalem. (Numerous Biblical passages also suggest this.) In fact, it is much more likely that Jesus was crucified, not for blasphemy (which was no offense to the Romans), but for sedition. Crucification was the common punishment for insurrectionists, hence the title over his cross, "Jesus Christ, King of the Jews" (B,F *).

If indeed a strong faction of zealots wished to see Yeshua on the throne, he certainly would have been married to a suitable bride. Starbird suggests that the Wedding of Canna, where Jesus turned the water into wine, was actually the symbolic story of his own marriage to Mary of Bethany. "Cana" is the root for "zealot," and the water into wine may represent the new covenant for the people of Jerusalem. (B)

Others believe that Yeshua himself took part in the Sacred Marriage with Mary Magdalen, as the anointing foretold. The Sacred Marriage was a ceremony to renew the land, at times was followed by the death of the redeemer/king who was called upon to sacrifice his blood for the people. (See G) "Mari-Ishtar . . . anointed--or christened--her doomed god when he went into the underworld, whence he would rise again at her bidding. That is, she made him a Christ. Her priestess raised the lament for him when he died. . . . In the Epic of Gilgamesh, victims were told She 'who anointed you with fragrant oil laments for you now' " (D, p. 615).

Anointing the head with oil had Biblical precedent in announcing kingship and was well known to be symbolic of the Sacred Marriage ceremony (B,D *). When Mary anointed Yeshua's head with sacred oil, he foretold his own death: "She has come beforehand to anoint my body for burial. . . . What this woman has done will be told as a memorial to her" (Mark 14:8-9). Immediately afterwards, Judas Iscariot (whose name means "zealot") went out to betray him, for he understood that Jesus was going to sacrifice his life, not rule as king (B).

Worship of the Magdalen

A French legend recorded in the 4th Century CE says that Mary Magdalen (along with Lazarus and Martha) fled to the South of France (via Egypt) bearing "the earthen vessel that held the blood of Christ." While legends of the Holy Grail took on a life of their own centuries later, merging with other legends, many believe that Mary Magdalen was herself the earthen vessel bearing Christ's child, the sacred bloodline of David. Starbird provides convincing evidence that this was indeed what many early Christians, including the Cathars, believed. In the South of France, the Cult of the Magdalen flourished until it was all but wiped out in the Albigensian campaigns by the Roman Catholic church in the late 13th Century. (B,D,E,F *)

The Song of Songs, the most popular love poem at the time of Christ and for centuries afterwards, was strongly associated with Mary Magdalen, believed to be the bride in the poem, and Yeshua the bridegroom. Attributed to Solomon, the Song of Songs has remained part of the official cannon, despite its unmistakably erotic imagery. The Roman Catholic church traditionally reads from the Song of Songs on Mary Magdalen's feast day (B).

There is strong evidence that Mary Magdalen was worshiped (somewhat secretly) right along side the Virgin Mary up until the Albigensian campaigns. Afterwards her worship was forced even further underground (B). In 1781, the last temple dedicated to her was destroyed (D). Numerous landmarks attest to her cult in the South of France. Among many other examples, "a Christian magic ring, now in the London museum, bears the legend, 'Holy Mary Magdalen pray for me' " (D, p. 615).

Of the many cathedrals dedicated to Our Lady, Notre Dame, in the middle ages, it is unclear which "Our Lady" they were dedicated to, especially since many of the cathedrals were funded by the Knights Templar, champions of Mary Magdalen (B). In the 14th Century, the church made a concerted effort to clarify that the only Our Lady was Mother Mary. In doing so, they made Mother Mary "The Bride of Christ," although they emphasized it was a spiritual union only (B,C).

MM as Hermit
8 scenes from her life
by the Magdalene Master c. 1280
Florence Galleria dell'Accademia
The Black Madonna

The Cult of the Magdalen, forced underground, is linked to the Cult of the Black Madonna, which thrived in France and elsewhere in Europe. There has been much speculation as to the origin of the Madonna's blackness. One link is to Sarah "The Black Queen," believed to be the child of Mary Magdalen, brought out of Egypt. The town of Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in southern France still celebrates her festival (B). Other links are scriptural, such as to the bride in the Song of Songs: "I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem" (Song of Solomon 1:5, B,C *), or to the deposed Davidic princes of Jerusalem: "now their appearance is blacker than soot, they are unrecognized in the streets" (Lamentations 4:8, B). One of Mary Magdalen's most prominent shrines, at Chartres, centered around a statue named "Our Lady Under The Earth" (B, p. 79). This also emphasizes her hidden aspect.

Some of the Black Madonnas were originally statues of Isis, such as The Black Virgin of Notre Dame du Puy, whose replica is shown here (H). Indeed Mary Magdalen is linked to Isis in other ways, such as mourning the dead god Osiris. The cult of Isis was very popular at the time of Christ (B,D *). In Catholic countries, black is associated with magic. "Black Madonnas are considered especially wonder-working, as the possessors of hermetic knowledge and power" (C, p.275).

Some have suggested that black represents a face of the universal Goddess not positively acknowledged in Christianity: the face of the Crone, the Death Mother, the Shadow Self. Some Black Madonnas are also seen as "wounded," such as Our Lady of Czestochowa with the scars on her cheek (H). There has been a revival of interest in the Black Madonna. One modern devotee has this to say about her:
"Through the Black Madonna's interaction in my life, I am finally able to say, 'Enough pain, enough wounding. It's over, the hurting is over. I am perfect the way I am, and that doesn't mean I don't make mistakes. It means that in my humanity, even my mistakes are perfect.' "

Carla Curio
(I, p. 102)

(Also see Our Lady of Sorrows)

Books about Mary Magdalene


(A) The Gnostic Gospels
By Elaine Pagels

(B) The Woman with the Alabaster Jar
by Margaret Starbird

(C) Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary
By Marina Warner

(D) The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
By Barbara Walker

(E) The Moon Under Her Feet: The Story of Mari Magdalene in the Service of the Great Mother
By Clysta Kinstler

(F) Holy Blood, Holy Grail
by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln

(G) Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth
by Diane Wolkstein

(H) The Once and Future Goddess
By Elinor Gadon

(I) Gifts of Grace
by Lone Jensen

( * ) And numerous other sources

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