Magdalene Anointing Jesus during Easter Holy Week, Sacred Marriage

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Mary Magdalene and Jesus depicted in Sacred Marriage. Stained glass window in Scotland church

Joan Norton wrote about Sacred Marriage this week on our discussion forum:

Sacred marriage is a mechanism of enlightenment, in my view. It is the psychological principle by which growth of the mind and heart happens on our path with God… through intimacy between people and through an intimate relationship with one’s own psyche/soul/heart/mind. The soul speaks through dreams and the story metaphors used are based on nature’s processes of intimacy, birth, growth and death. In my experience, people grow towards God-realization through intimate encounter with other people or through their own inner life. That intimacy is what is sacred about partnership, sacred marriage. I don’t know how there could be an effective religion without a story of intimacy. There has to be a model for loving intricacy of care other than the mother-child model. I love all images of the archetypal mother but they are not psychologically the same as images of two people –or gods–in love and creating life together. If loving intimacy is seen only in the Madonna/child story it becomes incestuous. It sets up a longing for a kind of immersion in an unquestioning love that doesn’t always encourage growth. Mary Magdalene requests things of Jesus and she cries adult-woman tears that change his course of action.
     Everything I know about the historical likelihood of  sacred marriage being the very heart of our Christian story I have learned from Margaret Starbird’s books and some others; but the real strength of my convictions about it came from inside myself. I’ve met a number of woman who’ve told me that when they were little girls looking at the stained glass window stories of Christianity they just knew that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend. It’s like that.
In Their Name,
Margaret Starbird writes:
Thanks for your wonderful remarks about the importance of the Sacred Marriage in the psyche, Joan.  Carl Jung says that the “Self” is often “imaged as a Divine or Royal couple” … :  )

Although the canonical Gospels do not agree as to the date, all four evangelists tell the story of the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster jar, confirming that this event was one of great importance to the earliest Christians.  Why? There are only a handful of stories that occur in all four Gospels, and this is one of them.  The others are:

1) the Baptism of Jesus by his cousin John
2) mulitplication of loaves and fishes
3) overturning the money changers’ tables in the Temple
4) the Crucifixion.
That should give us some idea as to the importance of the “Anointing at Bethany.”
In researching the background for the anointing of the Messiah by a woman, I discovered that this anointing of Christ in the Gospels is reminiscent of an ancient marriage rite  of “Hieros gamos” in indigenous to fertility cults in the Middle East.  The royal bride chose her consort from among the available bachelors and anointed him ceremonially as a prefiguring of the “anointing” during the marriage act in the bridal chamber.  After the consummation of the marriage, the couple was feted with a nuptial banquet–sometimes lasting for days–and the joy from the “bridal chamber” spread out into their domain, blessing the crops and herds.
Later in the liturgical season, the Bridegroom King was arrested–tortured, mutilated and executed–and laid in a tomb.  On the third day, the Bride went to the tomb to mourn the death of her Bridegroom and was overjoyed to find him resurrected in the Garden!  The ancient cults of “hieros gamos” celebrate the eternal return of Life at the time of the spring equinox…  Even the name of our East er celebration hints of these ancient roots in the “sacred marriage” festival honoring Astarte (later “Oestare”),  “Bride of the Easter Mysteries” in Canaan.
This week, “a few days before the Passover,” we read the Gospel story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary, the sister of Lazarus (John 11:2 and 12:3-5).  When Judas complained about the wasted perfume, valued at a man’s year’s wage, Jesus said, “Let her keep it for the day of my burial.”  The Mary who is present in all four Gospels and both cross and tomb is Mary Magdalene, the Bride who embraces her Beloved in the Garden on Easter morning, re-enacting the ancient mythology of the “Sacred Marriage.”  I believe that Mary Magdalene and Jesus embody the “hieros gamos” of the archetypal “Holy Bride” and “Sacred Bridegroom” with which the peoples of the ancient Near East were well familiar.
The “fragrance of the Bride”–her “precious nard”–is mentioned in the Gospel narratives.  The only other place in the Hebrew Scriptures where “nard” is mentioned is in the “Song of Songs” (aka “Song of Solomon”) where the fragrance of the Bride wafts around the Bridegroom as he reclines at the banquet table. In John’s Gospel, her fragrance “fills the house.”
Here are lines from the Song of Songs, a poem known to have derived from an ancient liturgy celebrating the “sacred marriage” of Osiris and Isis:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine.
Your oils have a pleasing fragrance;
your name spoken is a spreading perfume.
While the king was at his table

the fragrance of my nard wafted around him.

How much more delightful is your love than wine
And the fragrance of your oils than all spices!
The Gospel of Philip (from the Nag Hammadi Gnostic library) mentions Jesus’ frequent kisses — which apparently made the Apostles jealous of Mary Magdalene. In that 2-3rd c. text, Mary is called the “koinonos” (“companion” or “consort”) of the Lord—
In memory of Her–
“The Woman with the Alabaster Jar”
For more on the esoteric meaning of Easter visit our Easter Cycle observances page

Is God rendered powerless by anatomy? – Women Priests

Just saw a young woman on the news who represents the Womens’ Ordination Conference. She is on her way to Rome to the Vatican. Geraldo Rivera’s brother Craig asked her if she is going to Rome “to send up a pink puff of smoke” during the Conclave to choose the new pope. She smiled and said well, sort of, but “The mission is to promote awareness that God calls women, too. And that God is not somehow rendered powerless by anatomy.”

I liked that last line… God is not rendered powerless by anatomy.

As a woman priest and bishop, (Independent Catholic — not recognized by Rome of course), I do know what she means — God calls women, too. There are thousands and thousands of female clergy in the world, their Call to service cannot be disputed. They are leading their congregations, their “flocks” just as male priests, pastors, ministers and rabbis do.

But there are no female clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, not even deacons.

As for married priests / clergy … In Judaism marriage is required to be a Rabbi. There are women Rabbis today. St Peter — the first “Pope” — was married because the Bible mentions his mother-in-law.

Also saw a news headline today that there’s a cardinal who proposes allowing women to become ordained deacons. Here’s a link to that article:

Cardinal Kasper Proposes Women Deacons

March 11, 2013From CNS, Staff and other sources

A diaconate for women should be considered as a new role for women in the church. Cardinal Walter Kasper made this proposal during a study day discussing how to involve more women in church life, convened as part of the spring assembly of the German Bishops Conference in the city of Trier, in western Germany, on Feb. 21. Kasper spoke of a “deaconess” role that would be different from the classic deacon but could include pastoral, charitable, catechetical and special liturgical functions. The deaconess would not be designated through the sacrament of orders, but by a blessing. Many women already perform the functions of a deacon, he argued, so as a practical matter the possibility cannot be ignored. Cardinal Kasper noted that the female diaconate was foreseen in the church in the third and fourth centuries. Regarding the ordination of women, however, the cardinal said, “I do not think you could change anything in the fact that women cannot be ordained priests; it is the unbroken tradition of the Eastern Church as well as the West.”

God-the-Mother, Asherah, Sophia, God’s Wife

One of our ordained ministers was asked to perform a wedding ceremony that honored the Divine Feminine (Mother-God) alongside God. He likes the idea of balance, likes the spiritual beauty of a God that goes beyond gender, but worries the wedding is already slightly unusual because it is already an interfaith wedding. A Rabbi and a minister will both be officiating (we ordain Rabbis too, but in this case just the ordained minister is from our seminary / church). Our new reverend fears the other clergy, the wedding guests, and maybe even the wedding party(!) may flip out if God’s Wife is written into the ceremony.

This reminded me of a recent forum discussion on Asherah, Sophia, God-the-Mother mentioned in the Bible. So I sent it to him – and decided to post it here.

Someone had asked the forum: Please correct me if I’m wrong – But wasn’t Asherah, in Jewish theology, God’s wife? In other words, depending on the theology, Sophia’s equivalent?

Poet, Sophiologist and Bishop Wynn Manners replied:
There might be a few (very radical!) contemporary Jewish theologians who may
take that view (it’d be great stuff to *share* here, if it exists!) — but it’s
really *archeology* that is proving that Asherah was considered Yahweh’s wife
for a period of time in Jewish history. Certainly the Yahwist *priests* didn’t
so-consider Her — nor the prophets & writers of the Old Testament (thus all
Jewish theology rooted in *those* writings wouldn’t consider Her to be God’s

From Raphael Patai’s *The Hebrew Goddess* page 41 (in the Avon paperback
edition, published August 1978, copyright 1967, 1968 by the author) —

“It is on this note that we take leave of the Biblical Asherah, this elusive yet
tenacious goddess to whom considerable segments of the Hebrew nation remained
devoted from the days of the conquest of Canaan down to the Babylonian exile, a
period of roughly six centuries. In the eyes of the Yahwists, to whom belonged
a few of the kings and all of the prophets, the worship of Asherah was an
abomination. It had to be, because it was a cult accepted by the Hebrews from
their Canaanite neighbors, and any and all manifestations of Canaanite religion
were for them anathema. How Asherah was served by the Hebrews we do not know,
apart from the one obscure and tantalizing detail of the women weaving ‘houses,’
perhaps clothes, for her in the Jerusalem Temple.

“Yet whatever her origin and whatever her cult, there can be no doubt about the
psychological importance that the belief in, and service of, Asherah had for the
Hebrews. One cannot belittle the emotional gratification with which she must
have rewarded her servants who saw in her the loving, motherly consort of
Yahweh-Baal and for whom she was the great mother-goddess, giver of fertility,
that greatest of all blessings. The Hebrew people, by and large, clung to her
for six centuries in spite of the increasing vigor of Yahwist monotheism. From
the vantage point of our own troubled age, in which monotheism has long laid the
ghosts of paganism, idolatry, and polytheism, only to be threatened by the much
more formidable enemy of materialistic atheism, we can permit ourselves to look
back, no longer with scorn but with sympathy, at the goddess who had her hour
and whose motherly touch softened the human heart just about to open to greater

Personally i view Asherah, Inanna, Isis, Shekinah, Eloah, etc., as all being
aspects of, faces of Sophia — partial revelations of Her into time, within the
context of the degree that those *seeking* Her were able to understand Her —
within the parameters of their cultures, beliefs, perceptions & expectations (as
with visions of the Virgin Mary). Obviously those who made of Her an
“abomination” had the *least* understanding!

Clearly the ancient Jews — in the time span mentioned by Raphael Patai, didn’t
know *Her* as “Sophia” (a Greek word, not a Jewish word). i believe that belief
in Asherah brought many ancient Jews to the degree of understanding that they
*had* (about the one some of *us* call Sophia) at that time — Her qualities of
fruitfulness, motherliness, & mother-love, for starters — & *maybe* much-much
*more* — if writings of the Asherah believers survived (probably highly
unlikely) & should ever surface.

Personally i *praise* the Divine Wisdom of Solomon in his service to Goddess —
standing *against* the blasphemies & abominations of the Yahwist priests against
Goddess, in his *supporting* the presence of an image of Asherah in the
Jerusalem Temple to *help* people make connection with Her Divine Spirit —
which existed from *before* the Beginning of Earth and the Heavens!

And personally i think the Yahwist priests’ *own* idolatry of an abstract mental
*conception* of the Divine (as with too many Christian & Islamic idolators) has
wrought *far* more evil against farfar more people than worshipers of idols of
stone & wood & metal have ever wrought across all of human history!


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Margaret Starbird shared her Sophia (her wisdom!, in other words) as follows:

“Sophia” is the Greek word for Wisdom. According to Peter Kingsley’s
analysis in “The Dark Places of Wisdom,” the Greek philosophers
Plato and his followers decided that it was took too much time and
trouble to “incubate”–meditate, dream, inspiriation (body wisdom)–the Divine
Sophia, so they decided to use “Logos” (reason and rational thought
as their guiding principle. The didn’t bother to change their name
(philosopher=”lover of Sophia”) when they made this switch to a
preference for masculine modes of thinking and being, but they abandoned “Sophia,”
denigrating the “feminine” (intuition, inspiration through dream and

The timing of this switch is very important. In the next generation,
Alexander the Great, a pupil of Plato’s disciple Aristotle, conquered the whole
known world – all the way to India – including Israel. The Greeks superimposed
their culture on the Jews, who had a strong “Wisdom” tradition (Ashera/
Astarte) indigenous to their land. Thousands of little figurines of Ashera have
been found buried in Israel, attesting to her prominence and popularity

The “wisdom books” and apocrypha of the Hebrew Scriptures attest to
the Jews’ love for Sophia, but gradually, under the influences of Greek
mores and culture superimposed on their nation, their strong
connection to her was weakened.

I think Jesus’ ministry was, in part, an attempt to reclaim and embrace
the denigrated (abandoned) Sophia (embodied in his relationship with
Mary Magdalene)…and that their union was the cornerstone of the
Christian movement, reclaiming the connection of Israel (as Bride) with
Yahweh (eternal Bridegroom of Israel. Jesus and Mary Magdalene were
seen as the “incarnation” of this principle of “sacred partnership.”

One passage of Scripture in particular comes to mind: Sirach 24 extols
“Sophia”–her gifts and treasures. A copy of this book survived the
siege at Masada, the last out-post of the Zealot movement, attesting to
their inclination to venerate “Sophia”/Wisdom–even as they took up
arms to defend their nation against the foreign tyranny and brutality of

In any case, I agree with Raphael Patai that “Ashera” was one of the many
goddesses who embodied the “Sacred Feminine” aspect of Wisdom,
called “Sophia” in Greek and in Hebrew texts translated into Koiné Greek
in the late second century BCE.

peace and well-being,
“The Woman with the Alabaster Jar”

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Professor Mary Ann Beavis posted to the forum as follows:

Sophia is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Hochmah (Divine Wisdom), often personified as a woman in the Jewish Wisdom Literature (both Hebrew and Greek). Asherah was a Canaanite-Hebrew Goddess worshipped by both Israelites and non-Israelites. To my knowledge, the cult of Asherah (wife of YHWH) was erased by post-exilic times, and the figure of Lady Wisdom in the Jewish scriptures is a re-emergence of the Goddess in another form—one of many Goddess figures associated with Wisdom (Athena, Isis, Sarasvati …).

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