For almost two thousand years, one woman has borne the emotional weight of man's primal fascination with Woman—and his fear.
Over time, the name Mary Magdalene has come to mean "fallen woman," or the "Bride of Christ," or "Apostle to the Apostles," or "Beloved Disciple," or—as we move close now to the dawn of her third millennium—the "Holy Grail."
And if not these, then She is symbol. The Magdalene is Sophia—meaning Wisdom. She is the Holy Spirit—disguised in Christianity as the Holy Ghost. She is the triple Goddess: maiden, matron, crone...and as such, She is all three Marys in the New Testament.
Yet surely there was a real woman under all this heady myth...someone who once lived and once breathed and once walked with The Christ? But how to know her? How to get at her through the veils of myth and desire? It's as if she began as a simple sketch...one as heart-breaking in line as a drawing by da Vinci—but is now so thoroughly painted over, so scribbled on, so laden with pigment, she sags with the weight of human color.
In the gospels, both canonical and Gnostic, the Magdalene steps out of the shadows for so brief a time—it's little wonder we catch only the glimmer of the woman's mortal shape.
In the novel, THE SECRET MAGDALENE, Mary Magdalene is not only the ultimate Gnostic symbol representing the quest for Gnosis (just as the Christ is Gnosis itself), she is flesh and blood: as teacher, philosopher, traveler, and companion to Jesus.
The word Gnosis is Greek for "knowledge"...but not any kind of knowledge: Gnosis is knowledge of the divine. In the East, divine knowing is called God-consciousness, Bliss, "Moksha"—or enlightenment. In the West, though such knowledge has long been discouraged—even worse, it has been denied—it too has a hallowed tradition. Here, it’s been called many things: Silent Intoxication, Cosmic Consciousness, Godsight. William Blake named it "Jerusalem." Walt Whitman: the “Body Electric.” By Emily Dickinson it was called...oh, by Emily as many names as she wrote poems—but mainly, I think, “Eternity.” And by Plato, when he spoke of Socrates, it was the “Rapt.” Plato wrote that Socrates would stand for hours, even days, in silent awe-struck Rapture.
Jesus himself called it "The Kingdom of God."
Once upon a time in the West (as seemingly always in the East), there were many secret societies whose members sought Gnosis, or Rapture. And almost all of them called themselves “chosen” or “select” or “initiates” or “saints“... and each of these Mystery Religions began in simplicity. Though none of them ended there.
Some of these Mystery Religions were as old as recorded time; many still existed two thousand years ago at the coming of the Christ, which was the dawn of the new Gnosticism. Each began with one man, or one woman, who had experienced Gnosis...one man or one woman who "knew," who had had direct, immediate, personal experience of the God Consciousness. This experience could stem from many things: shock, illness, drugs taken to alter consciousness, grief, sudden extreme joy, a lifetime of disciplined seeking. It made no difference how they came to Gnosis...all these emotional journeys resulted in the arrival at Rapture.
Rapture, then as now, is not so rare a thing...it was once common enough—it still is—and in those mystics, then and now, whose hearts seek God, it is all that they hunger for. Gnosis knows no Church, no Priest, no Pope, no sin, no guilt, no Hell, no Law. Gnosis is there for any and all at any time, for (as all mystics teach, very much including Christ) all are mystics if they would be. In a state of Rapture, a mystic is no longer blinded by "reality." The world is seen for what it was and is: playful creative illusion. In Rapture, a mystic can no longer believe God is male, or judgmental, or that He knows envy or anger or hate or fear, or even that He wants or needs something from humanity. In Rapture, a mystic knows God is ALL THAT IS, and that no one needs saving, for no one is lost.
The trouble comes when the mind of a mystic turns away from rapturous “Eternity” and towards, once again, the illusion of reality. In trying to explain where they've been (No where), in trying to describe what they've seen (No thing), and what they've understood (Everything and nothing), Western mystics were met with what they are always met with: at best, a lack of understanding, even ridicule and scorn, at worst, threat of banishment or death—no established religion lets loose its hold on authority over God easily. It's no wonder, then, that so many mystics have simply turned their backs on the world of men, seeking a return to Gnosis. These—even China's transcendent Lao Tzu—have lived out lives of solitude and Bliss.
But there were some who stubbornly sought to help others see what they had seen, feel what they had felt, "know" what they "knew."
Emily Dickinson, filled with Gnosis, chose a middle way: quietly writing her ecstatic poems for the world to find, if it would, after her death. But others, like the Gnostic Paul, sought to teach.
Two religious movements devolved from the heroic attempt of Saul of Tarsus ("Paul" on Roman tongues) to share his moment of Gnosis...an attempt that was deemed by the Apostle Paul himself as a failure. The first was Gnosticism. The second, splitting away from Gnosticism, was Christianity. Writing those of his letters which were authentic, trying to guide this new message to some safe harbor, Paul watched the messy birth of the first movement, but died before the second ever drew breath. Both became, in time, as distant from that first pure moment of Gnosis as a bone from a bee.
To understand why they moved so far from source, is to understand human nature. For if you yourself have not seen or felt or known, how then do you understand what the mystic tries to teach? A longing for the divine is not enough. Sincerity is not enough. If you have no eyes to see, or ears to hear—what do you make of the teaching of someone who does?
The simple (called Hylics by the Jewish philosopher Philo, meaning "unconscious matter") took such a teaching literally. A poetic attempt to explain the state of Rapture such as: "Unclothed heavenly splendor" became to the simple “bodily naked." "Ascending to the Godhead," or the raising of consciousness, for them became "floating up in body." "Raising the Dead," also meaning the raising of consciousness, was understood as an actual—and gruesome—"snatching dead flesh back from the grave." For centuries now, the misinterpreting of mystic teaching has spawned a legion of Literalists who expect at any moment to be called to their very human God, naked and taken up in body...this while the rest of the world suffers unspeakable torment. Of course, it's not merely misinterpreting that drives the simple to hope for salvation from this "evil world" while all those they see as "others" endure "God's Wrath"...but here we're entering the Kingdom of the Human Psyche—where Gods and Devils are born from human fear and rage and despair, all experienced as suffering and pain.
It's understanding human nature that allows us to understand human myth-making...so that as with the teaching of mystics in all lands and at all times, this too was the way of the growth of Gnosticism. In less than a hundred years—from the blinding moment of Paul's enraptured God-consciousness to a time of dozens of squabbling pre-Christian Gnostic sects—Gnosticism went from the simplicity of a mystic's initial God-Rapture to a dark and deeply complex system of thought that included "archons of evil," a sakla, or fool, of a lesser male God who did not know his Mother Sophia, a Platonic earth that was only a false copy of the higher World...detail piled on detail as each Gnostic teacher added his own thought to the growing Mountain of Gnostic Teaching.
In the West, the pure seeking for Direct Experience was lost. Symbols (all attempts to explain, teach, transmit, allow Gnosis) were taken literally. Here, Man was once again removed from God, and God from man. Earth became "fallen" from a state of Grace.
This was not the first time man would do this to a mystic teaching, and it will certainly not be the last—after all, it is his nature while in body to forget his divinity, and his need not to "know."
THE SECRET MAGDALENE is about this first pure Gnosis of Christ. It's about the simple rapturous beginnings...when Jesus the Nazorean walked with the Magdalene—in Glory and in Gnosis. Like all mystics, they sought to take us where they had gone, tried to tell us we already lived in The Kingdom of God. Like all mystics, it is not they who failed—it's we who have failed.
But there is no end to Gnosis, just as there is no end to those who "know," and those who would share what they "know." Even now, no matter the time or the place, Gnosis is available to all who have "ears to hear," and "eyes to see."
And while Ki Longfellow makes no claim to be worthy of any comparison to Emily Dickinson who summed it so:
The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
The only shows I see Tomorrow and Today
Perchance Eternity. The only One I meet
Is God—the only street
Existance; this traversed. If other news there be
Or admirabler show—I'll tell it you.
...THE SECRET MAGDALENE is her "poem kept in a drawer." It's new myth made of old myths. It's about the creation of the Christ through the feminine and
through magic. It's also a recreation of the Passion of Osiris which is The Passion of Christ.
Alexandria was the New York City of its day. In it were gathered men and women who loved Wisdom. They came from all over the Roman World. They came even from India and China. And while at the time of Mariamne Magdal-eder there were many, often hidden, centers of
Gnostic thought and teaching, in this city at the mouth of the Nile lived Gnostics on the order of the great Jewish philospher, Philo Judaeus. It is the reasoned contention of The Secret Magdalene that Philo hoped to bring Gnosticism to his fellow Jews in the outward form of the mythic ManGod, already embodied in at least sixteen existing ManGods, Mithras, Bacchus, Osirus, Dionysus, and Krishna among them. To this end, he, and a few other Gnostics like him, scattered from Tarsus to Ephesus to Thebes, performed "midrash"—which is the weaving together of mythic story in a new way. Together, they created the Christ myth.