The astonishing success of Dan Brown’s bestselling book, The Da Vinci Code, and the radical overreaction to it by orthodox and fundamental forms of Christianity is revealing; obviously its subject strikes a powerful chord in our psyche. Although Brown’s work is fictional, the subject of a sacred relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the inclusion of the Sacred Feminine, and the mystery of the Holy Grail all touch a deep part of usa place that intuits a greater and archetypal truth. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, when Dan Brown writes about secret societies preserving the inner and mystical tradition of original Christianity, and of secret knowledge being passed down from one generation to another concerning mysteries of hieros gamos, or the “sacred marriage,” he points directly to living traditions of Gnostic Christianity. The mysteries are only partially spoken in his book, and the context in which they are put may differ from the teachings of actual gnostic traditions. However, the basic ideas presented accord very well with the Sophia Tradition of Gnostic Christianity. Some four years ago, as I was writing the sections of The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas that discuss the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, I had no idea the subject would become so popular. Today, of course, I’m constantly being asked what Sophian Gnosticism teaches about this sacred relationship. And though the subject is approached in my book, there is certainly more that can be shared.
First, it must be said that nowhere in the New Testament does it state that Jesus was celibate. As a matter of fact, in Judaism an unmarried man is considered incomplete. Typically, all Jewish holy menteachers and prophets alikewere married. It would have been highly unusual for a recognized rabbi (teacher) to be single. Originally, Christianity was a Jewish spiritual movement, and Jesus taught Jewish individuals primarily. Bearing that in mind, it would have been easier for students to accept that Jesus was married than to accept a rabbi unwilling or unable to sustain a marriage. This is quite the opposite of the unnatural view we have been lead to believethat the union of Jesus with a wife and consort would somehow diminish his spiritual status. The truth is that it would have exalted him all the more, and this is precisely the Sophian view.
Jesus’s interactions with various women as recorded in the gospels prove very interesting when one understands the plight of women in ancient Palestine. At that time, Jewish women had no legal standing, could not own property in their own name, could not bear witness in court, and could not speak in their own defense. They could, however, be divorced on a whim by a man. They had little part in Jewish spirituality at the time, and certainly did not hold spiritual authority or have the right to be taught directly by a holy man. Yet, Jesus teaches a Samaritan woman at a well, and she goes into her town and brings others to him, bearing witness of him. He praises a poor widow who gives all that she has into his circle’s treasury. He delivers a woman from a death sentence for adultery, and he heals a woman considered unclean from a twelve-year illness. He even raises a young girl, the daughter of Jairus, from the dead. Again and again he appears relating directly with women. When male disciples attempt to keep children away from him, as though they were an inconvenience, he insists on seeing them and blessing them, in accordance with the wishes of the mothers who brought their children to him. In other words, he had a radically different view of the feminine than others in the time and place in which he lived. It would seem that he intended to bring about a balance between the masculine and feminine in the spirituality he taught.
In the gospels when Jesus sends his disciples out to teach and initiate he sends them in pairs, telling them two must go out together. In a letter to the Corinthians, there is an interesting hint as to what the disciples going out to minister in pairs might have actually meant. We have been lead to believe that it was the twelve male disciples sent out in pairs, yet it is written: “Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife, as do other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (I Corinthians 9:5) This seems to allude to a man and woman going out together to teach and initiate, not two men unaccompanied by women. Likewise, it reflects the idea that the balance between male and female was likely a strong part of the original Jesus movement.
Although the place of the Sacred Feminine and the sacred relationship between Jesus and Mary is never spoken outright in the canonical gospels, there certainly are some interesting hints.
For example: In addition to St. John, three women have the faith and courage to be present at the crucifixion. Meanwhile, all of the other men are in hiding, too afraid to show their faces. Interestingly enough, the image of three women brings to mind the three principles of the Sacred Feminine and the cycles of a woman’s lifethe maid, mother, and crone.
Women accompany Mary Magdalene to the tomb of Jesus, as if they were serving as an escort to a widow in mourning. And it is to Mary Magdalene that the Risen Savior first appears, as though to his most dearly beloved. In the Sophian Tradition, the woman who anoints the body of Jesus with costly perfume before the crucifixion, though unnamed, is said to be Mary Magdalene. This alludes to a priestess-queen preparing a priest-king for a rite of sacred sacrificea mythical event commonly associated with the pre-Christian mystery traditions of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. In other words, there are hints even in the canonized Scriptures of a deeper mystery transpiring in the Gospelone that included the Sacred Feminine and the supreme mystery of hieros gamos.
Gnostic Scriptures are significantly more straightforward with regard to the sacred relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene; the inclusion of the Sacred Feminine; and the mystery of hieros gamos in the Christ revelation. In the Gospel of St. Thomasalbeit in a somewhat awkward fashionthe final saying clearly cites the equality of men and women by putting forth a statement of Jesus saying he will make Mary Magdalene “male” like the men who are his disciples. In saying this of Mary, he says this of all womenthat in Spirit they are equal to men. The Gospel of St. Philip goes even further, clearly stating that Mary Magdalene was the wife and consort of Jesus, and that he taught her more than any of his male disciples. This gospel even alludes to her as Jesus’s equal and co-preacher of the Gospel. In the Gnostic Gospel entitled Pistis Sophia (“Faith-Wisdom”), Mary Magdalene is portrayed as his inmost disciple and serves in a capacity much like that of a divine muse; inspiring and facilitating the outpouring of secret knowledge from the Risen Savior.
The sacred texts of Gnosticism found in the Nag Hammadi library get even more explicit if one understands the language of initiates of ancient Mystery Schools. According to Gnostic Scriptures, there are five sacred rites: baptism, chrism, wedding feast, ransom, and the bridal chamber. The term “wedding feast” is what Christian Gnostics call the Eucharist of bread and wine, while the term “bridal chamber” connotes the mystery of hieros gamos (the sacred marriage). Although the exoteric idea of redemption from sin may play of role in the rite of the holy eucharist as performed in some traditions of Gnostic Christianity, the true nature of “salvation” is, in fact, quite different. The idea is not so much a salvation from “original sin,” but salvation by restoration to the original blessing, which occurs in the unification of male and female. Accordingly, the bread represents the Logos and the wine represents the Sophia, the male and female aspects of the Christos. Thus the Eucharist is a ceremony celebrating their mystical union or sacred marriagethe union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine through which all creation transpires, as well as redemption through divine illumination.
This original blessing is reflected in Genesis in the story of the creation of the First Adam (literally, the first human being). At the outset, Adam is both male and female and therefore in a state of hieros gamos. It is only when there is a division between male and femaleAdam and Evethat cosmic ignorance enters into play and the “fall” from a state of grace transpires. Thus, from a Sophian perspective, it is through the dynamic balance and unification of the masculine and feminine that “redemption” through divine illumination occurs. The male and female are actualized and made complete in one another. And, in their union, the great creative power of Divine Being flows through them. This state of restoration to unity of the male and female is called the Second Adam, the Great Seth, or the Image of the Bridal Chamber in Sophian Gnosticism.
This alludes to a very different meaning in the symbol of the cross as it is understood in some schools of Christian Gnosticism. Like the symbol of the lingam-yoni in Eastern Tantric Traditions, which represents the union of the Divine Male and Female energy, the holy cross bears the same meaning in Gnosticism: the vertical axis is the Divine Masculine, Christ the Logos, and the horizontal axis is the Divine Feminine, Christ the Sophia. These two cosmic principles are personified by Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic Gospel as taught in the Sophian Tradition.
In Sophian teachings, first and foremost this union of masculine and feminine principles is understood inwardly, within oneselfa “sacred marriage” of the male and female aspects of ourselves on psychic and spiritual levels. On a psychic level (or mental-emotional level), this means the union of the male and female aspects of our psyche through which our personality and life-display are brought into a full and harmonious manifestation and our true intelligence and creativity becomes expressed. On a spiritual level, it is the union of the heavenly and earthly aspects of our soul of Light through which we experience various states of higher consciousness or divine illumination.
Yet, in the Sophian teachings, this union is not exclusive to the spiritual and psychic levels. It is also spoken of in terms of physical uniona sensual and sexual mysticism that views love-play as a holy sacrament that embodies the Light of the original blessing in which we were conceived, both above and below. In other words, the Sophian teachings propose a dynamic balance between heaven and earth in our lives. They consider our bodies and lives as sacred expressions of our souls of Light. The body and soul are equally holy from a Sophian point of view.
If the idea of Jesus as married seems strange or offensive, or the idea of the inclusion of our bodies and sexuality in our spirituality sounds outrageous, then there is certainly something within us in dire need of being acknowledged and healed. Quite frankly, the idea that our bodies and sexuality must be excluded from our spiritual life and practice, or are in some way opposed to enlightenment or God, is a strange and unnatural idea that makes very little sense (at least from a Sophian perspective). After all, our bodies and lives are part of God’s creation. So is the drive of creatures to the joy of procreation, and our own recreation in our human experience of love and sexuality. If this is true, then the whole of ourselves and our lives is inherently sacred and holy, assuming we open ourselves to embody something of the Divine within them. Isn’t this the true message of the myth of the Divine Incarnation central to the Gospel: that the human being is meant to embody something of Divine Being? Such embodiment of Divine Being implies a complete integration of the Divine into all aspects of ourselves and our lives. This must necessarily include our body and sexuality also; hence the celebration of hieros gamos on all levels.
To the Gnostic Christian, the belief that Mary Magdalene was the wife and divine consort of Jesus does not diminish him as the Christ-bearer. Rather, this Gnostic view includes her as Christ-bearer also, so that in the sacred marriage of Jesus and Magdalene we have an image of Christed manhood and Christed womanhoodsupernal or Messianic consciousness embodied in male and female form. To speak of the enlightenment and liberation of all human beings, but to reject the idea of an enlightened woman does not seem to make much sense. How would Christ-consciousness be different whether embodied by a man or a woman? Why would women be isolated from it? These are certainly questions Sophians would ask, and questions that are integral to the Sophian view of the Gospel.
There is a plethora of myths and legends in the oral tradition of Sophian Gnosticism, including various myths concerning the Holy Grail. In the Sophian Gospel, this holy relic is not created by Joseph of Arimathea, but by St. Mary Magdalene. While some stories speak of the Grail as an actual cup in which Mary caught some of the blood and water flowing from the side of the Savior, others clearly speak of Mary herself as the Holy Grail. This idea plays out in a number of different ways.
There certainly are teachings that tell us Jesus and Mary conceived a child through their sacred marriage, and that tell us about the mystery of the Sangreal as the lineage of the royal blood-line that followed. One can only wonder at the kind of soul such parents might draw into incarnation while enacting the mystery of the hieros gamos. Truly, it would seem a soul of a very high grade would be drawn into such a sacred and holy union. Indeed! This is reflected by the name given to the child in Sophian legends, St. Michael, a name literally meaning “one who is like unto God.” Other legends speak of a daughter named Sarah, which is the name of the “Mother of the True Faith.”
The idea of Mary Magdalene as the Holy Grail goes beyond this, however. As the divine consort of Jesus, the Sophian teachings propose that the full Supernal Light of the Messiah pours into her. They speak of her as the inmost disciple of Jesus to whom he imparted all teachings; the outer, inner, and secret teachings, along with their corresponding initiations. Likewise, as the first to receive the gnosis of the Risen Savior, she is the First Apostle, and bearing the full teachings of the Gospel, she is the Apostle of the apostlesthe foundation of the True Church, from a Sophian perspective. Essentially, all streams of the apostolic succession flow out through her, as though she is a Holy Grail overflowing with secret knowledge and wisdom that “feeds the hungry, gives drink to the thirsty, and heals the sick.” Thus, she is the embodiment of Christ the Sophia, just as Yeshua is the embodiment of Christ the Logos in the Sophian Gospel. Through their union the full Light of the Messiah shines forth; hence the metaphor of the Holy Child called “St. Michael.”
These ideas are not exclusive or necessarily original to Gnostic Christianity. But, as I mentioned above, they reflect the influence of the gnosis within the ancient pagan Mystery Schools of the Middle East, along with the influence of Jewish gnosis taught in Merkavah Mysticism and the Kabbalah. They have existed in human consciousness for a very long time, and no doubt will continue to echo and resurface in various forms. By nature, these ideas are archetypal and are innate to our human experience. They are integral to who and what we are as human beings. So it is not surprising that a fictional book based upon them will strike a very deep cord in us and attract a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Something in us feels there is some truth to what Dan Brown is writing about, and that part of us is correctthere is some truth to it, on some level. Indeed! There always have been individuals who believed Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, from the very outset of Christianity, and who believed she played an essential role in the Christ revelation. Likewise, there have been and are now secret societies or esoteric orders that preserve oral traditions surrounding these beliefs, some of which, perhaps, are becoming a bit more open with their views and teachings in modern times and, thus, a bit less secretive.
There is certainly much more than can be said on these mysteries. Ihe oral tradition among Sophians, there is a wealth of myth and legend concerning Mary Magdalene and her flight to what has come to be known as Southern France. In The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas, as well as my forthcoming books, more of the oral tradition among Sophians about the Holy Bride, St. Mary Magdalene, will be disclosed, along with other Gnostic teachings.
If I were to share something practical here it would be this: If one simply opens one’s mind and heart to the idea of the sacred marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdaleneand specifically to St. Mary Magdalene herselfand one contemplates her and meditates upon her, one will find her presence quite healing and might experience an amazing transformation in one’s consciousness and life. She tends to have that effect on women and men alike! This is enough to invoke a spiritual or mystical experience of Mary Magdalene if one desires to know her. It is said that her presence is swift to come to those who believe in her and who seek hershe is always very near! Perhaps this is also part of the power of The Da Vinci Code and other books being published in which Mary Magdalene plays a partthey naturally invoke the presence of the Sacred Feminine, of which she is a powerful personification.
References: The verse quoted is from the NRSV of the Bible.