The Da Vinci Code phenomenon continues to be amazing, now coupled with all of the sensationalism surrounding the publication of the Gospel of Judas. The idea that St. Mary Magdalene might have been a most significant disciple of Jesus, or that they might have been married and had children, is relatively new to many people and has captured their attention, stirring their imagination. From the perspective of a Gnostic who has spent most of his life studying and practicing a tradition of Christian Gnosticism that honors Mary Magdalene and having been introduced to such ideas as a little boy, quite naturally reading The Da Vinci Code did not have the same impactaside from the context into which the grand revelation about Mary Magdalene was put, there was really nothing new at all. In truth, it only scratched the surface of Gnostic thoughts concerning St. Mary Magdalene as the Holy Bride and did not actually convey the spiritual depth of the concepts presented. Of course, that wasn’t the point of Dan Brown’s book. After all, it was written as a fictional novel, one cast in the form of a murder mystery, coupled with an action/adventure. It is intended to remain on the surface and to be entertaining, and it has certainly succeeded in its intention, astonishingly so!
I’m often asked in interviews by reporters why I believe Dan Brown’s book has captured so much attention, and likewise, as a Gnostic in a tradition that honors St. Mary Magdalene, is there is anything in The Da Vinci Code I would “believe or defend.” I can only answer that this tale strikes into something archetypal in our psyche, and seems to reflect our deep yearning for the balance of the Divine Masculine with the Divine Feminine in our spirituality, as well as reflecting the sentiments of many of us regarding the oppressive and dogmatic quality of “orthodox” and fundamental religion. As for belief or defense of anything written in a fictional novel, I have to admit I would not be inclined to debate over ideas presented in a novel, but I can see how it might send many individuals on a sacred quest of their own, seeking to sound out what they believe and, perhaps, seeking their own spiritual experience of the Holy Bride, St. Mary Magdalene. This is, perhaps, the greatest virtue that I see in The Da Vinci Code phenomenonintroducing some Gnostic and Pagan ideas, it may send many readers and viewers on a sacred quest of their own in search of the spiritual ideal of the Holy Grail. As a natural result, many individuals are inquiring into ancient Gnostic scriptures and looking into Gnostic traditions, both ancient and modern, going beyond The Da Vinci Code to find and experience the spiritual current of which it is speaking; for as it turns out, there are Gnostic traditions that honor the Divine and Sacred Feminine, and that have faith in Mary Magdalene as the Holy Bride. Whether Dan Brown was conscious of it or not at the time, he did point towards alternative views that have existed since the early formation of Christianity, and which have roots in ancient spiritual traditions that predate both Judaism and Christianity.
If a person wonders if there is any evidence for alternative views of St. Mary Magdalene and the role she might have played in the Gospel within Original Christianity, they merely need to look into Gnostic scriptures that appear in the Nag Hammadi library. In the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, for example, there are clear statements about the intimacy that existed between Jesus and Mary on more than one occasion. Likewise, though sorely fragmentary, there is a Gospel of Mary that appears in the Nag Hammadi, which clearly places her as a close disciple. However, there is another source work of ancient Christian Gnosticism found long before the Nag Hammadi library, which has come to be called the Pistis Sophia (Faith Wisdom). This Gnostic gospel was found prior to 1785 and was translated into several languages in the nineteenth century, appearing in English in 1921, thanks to G. R. S. Mead. In this gospel the Divine and Sacred Feminine is central to the Christ revelation, and of the 131 times that the disciples initiate discourse or share insights into spiritual mysteries, Mary Magdalene does so on eighty-three occasionsvirtually twice that of all other disciples combined! It depicts her as the inmost disciple and as the one who draws out the teachings and revelation of the Christ, facilitating the spiritual transmission to the larger circle of the disciples. Thus, alternative views of St. Mary Magdalene’s role in the Christ revelation are not new, but have their root in schools of thought within the early Christian movement.
The tradition of honoring the Magdalene has continued in various forms throughout the history of Christianity, albeit typically in secret on account of the dawn of “orthodoxy” and its patriarchal rejection of the Divine and Sacred Feminine, and the oppression and persecution of alternative beliefs it has enacted for nearly sixteen hundred years. Some expressions of this tradition have arisen and continued for some time, only to eventually vanish, while others have arisen and continued to make their way into the twenty-first century. Generally speaking, they have manifest as relatively small private groups or “secret societies,” whose teachings have been preserved as oral traditions. One example of this is the work of Tau Rosamonde Miller and Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum, which traces its roots back to an old lineage in France. Another is the lineage of Sophian Gnosticism represented by Sophia Fellowship (O.S.G.) and Ecclesia Pistis Sophia, which also traces its known roots back to Europe, emerging from the shadows some time in the mid eighteenth century or late period of the seventeenth century in France and Germany. As I record in my book, St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride, the lineage of Sophian Gnostics has developed a very rich oral tradition of legends of the Magdalene, along with teachings attributed to her, which place her in a central role in divine revelation of Christ.
According to Dan Brown’s book, Mary Magdalene is the Holy Bride, Mother of the Royal Blood, or Holy Grail because she was the wife of Jesus and bore him children, taking the mystery of the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) in the most literal and physical context. While, indeed, perhaps Jesus and Mary did have actual children together, and this idea does occur in oral traditions of the Magdalene, among Christian Gnostics the meaning of Mary as the Mother of the Holy Blood or as the Holy Grail, along with the mystery of hieros gamos, runs much deeper, having far greater spiritual significance in Sophian Gnosticism. She is the wife and divine consort of Jesus, and plays the role of his inmost disciple. Yet she is also spoken of as his soul mate and is understood as an embodiment of Sophia, coequal with Jesus and co-preacher of the Gospel with him. As the inmost disciple the Divine Light in Jesus is poured out fully into her, and as the embodiment of Christ the Sophia, in her union with Jesus (who embodies Christ the Logos), the divine fullness of the Christos is made manifestthe image of the Human One of Light, male and female. In other words, the actual meaning of these Gnostic teachings is more revolutionary and stunning than Dan Brown imagined, for Mary Magdalene is recognized among Sophian Gnostics as a powerful spiritual mastera Christed woman.
Of course, to understand this we must venture further into Gnostic philosophy and cosmology. As we look into the ancient Gnostic scriptures we find that most, if not all, place the divine and cosmic figure of Sophia as central to the creation story, and communicate a story of the “fall and redemption of Sophia,” which represents an involution and evolution process in creation. Here, for our purposes, we may take a look into one such story as told in a Gnostic gospel previously mentionthe Pistis Sophia.
This is perhaps one of the most remarkable and magnificent Gnostic scriptures that have been found. Essentially, it depicts a story of secret teachings and spiritual transmission imparted by the Risen Christ on the Mount of Olives to his circle of disciples, including knowledge of his heavenly ministry following the resurrection and full disclosure of the metaphysical dimensions behind the Christ revelation. This gospel acquires its name because it is founded upon the story of the fall and redemption of Pistis Sophia, which is how the Christ is brought forth in creation. According to this Gnostic gospel, at the outset of creation all that existed was the luminous and eternal realm, the Pleroma of Light, fill with various luminous emanations and entities, which are the radiant glory of the Most High, the True Light. Outside of this eternal realm, mysteriously, there was void and chaos, inhabited by shades and shadowsthe demiurge (half-maker) and archons (rulers). This void and chaos, and the shades and shadows in it, represent the potential for creation as we experience it; a realm of impermanence or realm of becoming, called the Entirety.
Before the creation of the realms and worlds of this universe, Pistis Sophia dwelt in the Thirteenth Aeon, which represents the outmost boundary of the Pleroma of Light, the threshold between the eternal realm and the realm of impermanence. According to this gospel, Pistis Sophia adored the Divine Most High, the True Light, and longed for union with the True Light; specifically in the form of her divine consort, the Human One of Light, the Christ. As the story goes, the demiurge and archons become jealous and angry with Sophia because, in her love of the True Light, she will not pay any attention to them or participate in the activity of creation with them. Thus, they devise a plot to trick her and to steal her light-power or life-power. Essentially, they cause a false light to shine below in the darkness of matter and chaos, and mistaking this false light for the True Light above, in her love for the Divine Light she descends. When she goes out into the dominion of the demiurge and archons they attack her and bind her, and steal her light-power, and with it they enact the inferior creation, generating this realm of impermanence and death.
Pistis Sophia recognizes her bondage and the error, and she initiates thirteen cycles of “repentance,” which are understood as thirteen stages of reintegration into the Divine Lightshe invokes her consort to join with her, and to empower and uplift her. Thus, on account of Sophia, the Christ enters into creation to gather in the divine sparks of her light-power, which are bound up as souls and spirits of creatures in the dominion of the demiurge (cosmic ignorance). Through the descent of her divine consort and their union, she is restored to her former station in the Thirteenth Aeon and her desire for union with the True Light is fulfilled. This represents the true mystery of hieros gamos among Gnostic Christians; hence, the union of Christ and Sophia through which the fullness of the Human One of Light is revealed and all creation is “redeemed” and made complete.
Quite naturally, from a Gnostic Christian point of view, this mystery of the hieros gamos must occurs on all levels of creation, including both the metaphysical and material dimensions; thus, just as Christ the Logos and Christ the Sophia unite in the inner dimensions, so also must they unite on the human level within the world through a divine incarnationhence, the hieros gamos of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
Of course, this is a story of our own process of Self-realization in Christ, the story of the enlightenment and liberation of our soul; hence, from a Gnostic perspective it is an ongoing drama of divine revelation, for as much as cosmic principles, Christ and Sophia represent spiritual principles of our True Being or Divine Self. Thus, something of the hieros gamos must take place within each and every one of usthe union of the masculine and feminine aspects of our mind, consciousness or soul. Essentially, Sophia (Wisdom) is the very nature of our soul and the Logos (Word) is the power through which that divine nature is recognized and realized, their “union” representing the Christos or fullness of the Human One of LightEnlightened Being. This, quite obviously, is a very different understanding of the Christ revelation than what is put forth by “orthodox” forms of Christianity, for rather than Jesus coming down as the “one and only begotten Son of God” to make an “atonement for the sins of humanity,” he is understood as a Gnostic Revealer, which is to say a teacher of the path to enlightenment. Basically speaking, he comes to dispel our ignorance, which is the cause of whatever might be spoken of as “sin” or “negative karma.” As the Christos is a state of Divine Illumination, quite naturally others around the Master also embody something of the Christos, most notably St. Mary Magdalene. Although in the outer and unspiritual church of “orthodoxy” the apostolic succession has come to resemble the Sadducees and Pharisees who challenged the teachings of Master Jesus, representing something akin to the blind leading the blind, in the Gnostic tradition the apostolic succession is understood in a very different way. It is a succession of spiritual adepts and masters who embody something of the higher consciousness of which Jesus spoke; hence the Self-realization of Christ Consciousness.
Aside from the various cosmic and metaphysical implications of the inclusion of the Divine and Sacred Feminine in our spirituality, the inclusion of Mary Magdalene in the Sophian Gospel and the coequality of her spiritual realization bear an even more important message: This realization is possible for each and every one of us, both men and women alike. Essentially, in Jesus and Mary we have an image of our enlightenment and liberation, whether we are a man or woman. This enlightenment experience is the true meaning of Divine Gnosis and is the noble ideal of Gnostic Christians. It does not come through faith alone, but rather through a spiritual life and practice that seeks direct spiritual and mystical experience of the Risen Christ and Holy Bride, Sophia (the fullness of the Christos). From the Gnostic perspective, if we are to speak of a sacred quest for the Holy Grail, it is this, for St. Mary Magdalene is understood as the Holy Grail because she embodies this Divine Gnosis, just as Jesus did, and after the ascension of Jesus she continued to teach the path of this sacred quest, representing the foundation of the Gnostic Apostolic Succession. It is for this reason that she is called the Mother of the Royal Blood (Melchizedek), the Mother of Divine Gnosis, among Sophian Gnostics.
If we are to speak of a literal physical interpretation of hieros gamos, in which Jesus and Mary had sexual relations and bore children, then the message from a Gnostic perspective is an inclusiveness of the whole of life and all activities in the spiritual patha spirituality that includes the whole of ourselves on every level and transforms all movements of life into a vehicle of enlightenment. This, in essence, is the Sophian view of the body and material world, and of this life: it is a vehicle of conscious evolution towards Self-realization in Christ, and everything in our experience can be used to facilitate our reintegration into the Divine Light.
Having spoken of Christian Gnosticism as a form of spirituality focused on direct spiritual and mystical experience, in closing I’d like to share with you a spiritual practice through which you might enter into an experience of the Holy Bride. After all, there is nothing that compares to the knowledge and understanding that is derived from one’s own experience, and the power of the Grail is only experienced when one drinks from it oneself.
A Sophian Meditation of the Holy Bride, St. Mary Magdalene
You may wish to light a candle and some incense at the outset of the meditation; likewise at the end you might wish to anoint yourself with actual oil, in remembrance of your union with the Holy Bride (spikenard is traditionally used for this with the Bride). At the conclusion of the practice you may find yourself dancing or you may find yourself in deep contemplation of a teaching received; go with whatever transpires, all according to your own inspiration.
- Sit where you will not be disturbed, and let yourself settle.
- Let your body breath in a natural way, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, resting your awareness on your breath for a while.
- When you are ready, envision a spiritual sun in the place of your heart, a radiant and beautiful golden sphere.
- Then, envision the image of the Holy Bride magically appearing in the space before you, her feet not touching the ground, as she dances in the air. She appears robed in crimson red, with a red shawl over her head, with a hint of a robe of white brilliance beneath; her hair is dark and long, her eyes are emerald green and her skin is an olive complexion, radiant with glory. Surrounding her is a brilliant rainbow aura (the red nearest her body, the violet the outer most). She holds in one hand the alabaster jar, and in the other a crystal skull. See her smiling upon you, and feel her peace and joy. (The image is formed of translucent light, like a rainbow.)
- Open your heart and mind to her, and with conscious intention invite her into your life and invoke her blessing. As she dances envision that she pours luminous oil upon your head and envision streams of rainbow light come forth from the crystal skull, blessing you. As she dances, and anoints and blesses you, envision the light of the spiritual sun in your heart shining brighter and brighter, filling your body with light and transforming your body into light.
- Take up the chant of the Anointed Bride: Kallah Messiah (Kal-Ah-Ma-See-Ah, all of the “a” sounds are short vowels in this chant).
- As you are chanting and she is dancing, envision her image dissolving into fluid light and that the light pours down through the top of your head into the sanctuary of your heart, the rainbow of her glory surrounding the spiritual sun, so that rainbow rays stream forth from your body of light. When you fall silent, abide in union with her; your mind, heart and life becoming hers, she is yours and you are hers.
- In closing, pray for the very same blessing to rest upon all beings.
St. Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride, Llewellyn, 2006
Living Gnosis: A Practical Guide to Gnostic Christianity, Llewellyn, 2005
Pistis Sophia, G. R. S. Mead, Garber Communications, 1984
The Gnostic Bible, Barnstone & Meyer, Shambhala, 2003