“she[Wisdom] is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.”
Wisdom of Solomon 7:26
Among her other attributes Mary Magdalene is often pictured with a book. It’s one of the reasons Mary Magdalene as portrayed in my novel, “Magdalene A.D.” is literate. She can read and write Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin. Later on she also learns to speak and read Egyptian Demotic .
One assumes that painters are depicting the Bible when they show Magdalene reading, but it seems odd to me that she’s often depicted as enjoying her reading while lounging around half-dressed – more like the way I read a novel.
None of the Bible stories mention her reading though Gnostic accounts picture her as intelligent and eager to study and learn. I think these painters linked Magdalene with a book because of her long-standing association with Sophia (Wisdom) who plays such an important part in Gnostic myth.
Gnosticism is a group of ideas subscribed to by varying theologians and philosophers who were all grouped together as heretical by early church heresy hounds under the name “Gnostics.” Creation myths and their interpretations are often long and complicated and vary greatly from group to group. Boiled down, they depict Sophia (Wisdom) as trapped and enmired in the base matter of our world. Jesus hears her lamentations and frees her. The two are named as consorts and as such components of a Hieros Gamos or sacred marriage.
Sacred Marriage may refer to a ritual sexual act performed for spiritual purposes in the context of a sacred rite. More esoterically it refers to the meeting of soul mates who mesh in perfect balance and harmony. Sex may or may not take place, but, if it does, the act is a mutual joining of all components of each being done in total presence and complete consciousness of their connection to and oneness with the totality of the universe. The sexual act culminates in a moment of enlightenment as all elements of matter and spirit fuse into one.
Sacred marriage can also be considered as an internal marriage of all one’s disparate inner functions, including the masculine and feminine attributes inherent to each psyche. Again, the fusion of all parts of oneself into one whole being equals enlightenment.
Mary Magdalene and the human Jesus Christ may well have been seen as representing the mythic Christ and Sophia in some early Gnostic Jewish and Christian circles. So much of the theological history of that time has been lost we may never be able to reconstruct it or know for a fact what people believed. However, it is easy to trace the threads of Gnosticism as they wind through Judeo-Christian theology. The idea of personal, immediate, and experiential knowledge of God (gnosis) is a Gnostic concept that remained present in Christian thought and eventually sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Though we don’t know how to interpret them, scholars are well aware the literary and pictorial works that survive from times past into our own age contain all sorts of symbols and allusions, which we can no longer interpret, but which were perfectly intelligible to everyone when first written or painted. Who knows what other strands survived, orally transmitted through stories, songs, riddles and aphorisms. The association of Magdalene with Sophia may well be one of those remnants, forgotten by historians and scholars, but still alive in the imagination, tradition and consciousness of common folk.
At any rate, my Magdalene is an avid reader. Curiosity is one of her main characteristics and makes her eager to learn. During the long journey from Jerusalem, through Petra, Ein Gedi, Alexandria and Marseille to a cave in the wilds of southern Gaul she becomes privy to several libraries. She hangs on to precious scrolls even through a disastrous storm at sea and while fleeing from Roman soldiers. The Temple of Isis at Pharos invites her to write a book of her own, and she spends months in the scriptorium composing her own gospel. All these images and imaginations derive from hints I garnered in my studies, the extant remnants of the “Gospel of Mary“, and the half-forgotten lore manifesting in literal and pictorial portrayals from her day to ours.
Magdalene’s journey as depicted in “Magdalene A.D.” takes its meaning from Magdalene’s increasing ability to spin wisdom from knowledge. As she navigates her inner and outer landscape, approaching the bridal chamber of the sacred marriage, step-by-step she grows in wisdom by incorporating what she learns into the matrix of herself.
As I wrote the story, Magdalene became alive for me precisely because of her ability to incrementally grow and change as she learned. In accompanying her I have come to appreciate the meaning of Sophia as an archetypal figure to be wooed and cultivated in my own consciousness. By recognizing Magdalene as an avatar of Sophia, we restore her to her rightful place as guide and mentor in service to all those seeking their own wisdom.