Margaret Starbird’s wisdom on Mary Magdalene

The Archetypal Mandala of the Star of David

Imaging God as Partners

The Sacred Feminine an interview with Margaret Starbird

Margaret Starbird writes to the
MM-list on July 14, 2004:

[Here] is how the original Greek texts of the New Testament actually spelled Mary Magdalene’s name/epithet.

In the Gospels, almost always when we find “Mary Magdalene” mentioned, she is called “Maria h Magdalhnh”–her first name and “title” together: (Matt 27:56; 27:61; 28:1; Mark 15:40; 15:47; 16:1; (16:9 say ‘th’ Magdalhnh because of the case change). Luke 8:1 says “Maria h ….(who is called)…Magdalhnh” and Luke 24:10 says “h Magdalhnh Maria.” John 19:25; 20:1 and 20:18 all say “Maria h Magdalhnh.” From these Gospel texts, it is clear that this woman was called “Mary the Magdalene”– by everyone. It is her name/title. It is clear that this whole epithet “h Magdalhnh” was used intentionally in connection with Magdalene, giving her title the sum of “153.”

Since the practice of gematria relies on the actual spelling of the phrase (which results in a specific sum), and since this practice is in place throughout the

Magdalene's Lost Legacy by Margaret Starbird

New Testament (as discussed in my book, ”
Magdalene’s
Lost Legacy
” [Required reading in our Order of Mary Magdala’s Second Degree] and in John Michell’s “Dimensions of Paradise” and numerous other sources) it is a rational assumption that the title “h Magdalhnh” was NOT a “happy accident” but was intentional. They could have called her anything they wanted to, given her any “spin” they wanted, and they CHOSE (IMO) to identify her with the “153” identified with the Vesica Piscis, their symbol for the “creative matrix,” the “womb” and the “Bridal Chamber.”

The number “153” is repeated in John’s Gospel, chapter 21 when the disciples counted the fish they caught. It is a metaphor for the “Church” –“the Bride” (people!!) of the Way. The earliest Christians saw Mary Magdalene as the “prototype” of the faithful community, the “Bride” in her devotion and faithfulness to Christ, so her “153” is a metaphor for the “church of the fishes.”

Back to Order of Mary Magdala page

Starbird writes to MM-list on July 15, 2004

Water is a “feminine” element, and the letter “M” has strong associations in numerous different languages with the “Mother” (mater, matter, material, matrimony, mammal, mammary…etc. (discussed at length in Magdalene’s
Lost Legacy
)

The word “Mariam” (Hebrew) means “the bitter salt sea”– mother of life on our planet Earth!  Even the “great Abyss” is not “androgynous” but “feminine” (the creative matrix from which all proceeds).  It is the opposite of the phallic pillar.  The Washington monument comes to mind–and is “caught” in the reflection pool, it’s “partner”–

Back to Order of Mary Magdala page


The Archetypal Mandala of the Star of David


by Margaret Starbird
www.margaretstarbird.net
Reprinted here by permission from the author.

The mandala of the hexagram, also known as the “Star of David” is much older than Judaism, older even than history! As an archetypal symbol for the sacred union of the opposite energies, it is the “yin-yang” of western civilization. Formed by the intertwining of the “fire” and “water” triangles (the male “blade” and the female “chalice”) this symbol represents the masculine and feminine principles in perfect union, the “sacred marriage” or “hieros gamous” of the ancient world. In India the symbol represents the “cosmic dance” of Shiva and Shakti, and the Jewish Kaballah suggests that the Ark of the Covenant contains, in addition to the tables of the Ten Commandments, “a regular hexagram representing a man and woman in intimate embrace,”

Since “Sacred Union” is the source of all life on this planet, the six-pointed star uniting the archetypal male and female triangles has long been acknowledged as the model for balance and wholeness. Medieval Alchemists called the Star the “Philosopher’s stone,” adding a tiny dot on the upper right hand point to represent the presence of God and guidance of the Divine Spirit. In 1986 during a period of intense revelation and enlightenment, I was given the symbol of the six-pointed star with a dove brooding over it, wings outstretched, as a powerful sign for the New Age dawning. The star represented the entire living cosmos–“male and female,” “heaven and earth,” “spirit and matter,” “light and dark” and all living things–under the Dove of Peace, “with healing in her wings.” For years, I couldn’t really talk about this image, but finally wrote about the meaning of the Star in the final chapter of my book, THE WOMAN WITH THE ALABASTER JAR, (Bear and Co, 1993). The Star of David appears on every page of that book as its guiding mandala, and the contents have been described by some readers as the “missing link” between Christianity and Juadism. That missing link is the “sacred marriage.”

And now we discover that the Star of David will be weaving in and out of the heavens in the orbits of planets in our solar system over the next several weeks. As above, so below! This “gift” should be setting our hair on fire!! Some where, some how this blessing was set in motion at the beginning of time! And we have been given the “eyes to see!” ! This is an amazing “consciousness raising” event–like the birth of Miracle, the white buffalo calf or even the “Star of Bethlehem.” The sign of the Star in the Heavens is a mighty clarion call to people everywhere!

I am spellbound when I contemplate the dates of the “conjunction” in the heavens. January 23rd–the “Birthday of the Trees” in Israel, “Nature’s birthday” or the day when living things receive their “cosmic energy” is a beautiful reminder of the “sacred union” that is the source of life on the planet! And in February, what Feast is a more obvious reminder of “sacred union” than that of St. Valentine’s Day? In the ancient world, the work of the Holy Spirit was known as “the net”–reflectng the belief that everything is interwoven and intermeshed!! The “synchronicity” of the Star rising in New York and Jerusalem at the same instant on the 23rd of January–at the FULL MOON–is too incredible for words!

The message of the Star of David in the heavens is undoubtedly “peace on earth.” But it is more than that. It is a reminder that we are not alone–that we are part of a whole and that the Living Force of the Cosmos is with us. Equality, mutuality, community and wisdom are all summed up in this beautiful mandala whose ultimate archetypal meaning is “harmony in diversity.” Its rising now to bless and enlighten us is truly a gift for all peoples!


 

Imaging God as Partners
© 2005 Margaret L. Starbird. All rights reserved. Abridged from “Imaging God as Partners,” © 1994 Margaret L. Starbird
by Margaret Starbird
www.margaretstarbird.net

Reprinted here by permission from the author.

One late autumn Sunday in 1987 I attended Mass in a Roman Catholic Church in the middle of Tennessee. Over the altar that day, probably created in anticipation of the upcoming feast of Christ the King, was a large black banner with a mosaic design in orange, yellow, and red. The banner depicted a church steeple silhouetted against the sunrise, and the bright orange letters proclaimed “Every day is SON day.”

Throughout the celebration of the Mass that morning, I was disturbed and distracted. I was thinking about the little girls in white stockings and shiny black shoes just beginning to learn to read, carefully picking out the letters on the banner, as children often do. I was deeply troubled. How would these little ones feel about the blunt and blatant message of the black and orange banner? How would their older sisters feel? And their mothers.

After Mass, I stopped to talk to the parish priest greeting his parishioners in the crisp October sunlight, wishing us all “good morning.” I told him how uncomfortable I was with the message on the banner, and he was truly astounded. It had never occurred to him that it might be offensive or even controversial. “It’s an historical fact,” he told me. “Everyone knows that God sent his Son. Maybe next time He will send a daughter.” Then he started to laugh.

I understood why he was laughing. Everyone knows that God does not have a daughter. The Christian creed says that Jesus is the “Only Begotten of the Father, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” HE is light from light, true God from true God. In orthodox doctrine there is no SHE. I turned away and sought my car parked across the sunny parking lot, barely seeing it through my tears. God sends daughters every day, I thought, just as God sends sons. Fully half of the kingdom of God is feminine. And yet, in Christian churches worldwide “every day is SON day.”

That SON day in Tennessee was a great awakening for me. I began to be ever more conscious of the way society teaches us from our birth to worship the Son. I found numerous promotions for Christian worship that played on the sun-pun—classics like “Sun worship here at 9:00 A.M.” posted in front of a church on Hillsborough Road and another that read “SONday Service at 10:30 A.M.” I became more and more appalled at the unbalance manifested in our fundamental worship experiences, for as we must begin to realize, what we worship, we become. That is why the Hebrew prophets insisted so emphatically that no image of God be made, for God is beyond images. God is the One, the Source, the I AM. Not in our likeness is God made, but we are made in the likeness of God, “male and female” as we are told in Genesis. One of the earliest words for God in the Hebrew Scriptures is Elohim—a plural noun, gender not specified, both male and female. Whenever the people of the Hebrew nation turned to worship created idols, they were firmly chastised by their leaders for their unfaithful, wanton behavior, prostituting themselves before false gods. Images of the Divine fashioned from wood or stone were anathema to the God of Israel.

One afternoon, a few months after my experience with the church banner, I was riding on highway I-65 south from Nashville where I was a student at the Vanderbilt Divinity School. I noticed the trash accumulated along the highway and was sad that respect for themselves and others did not restrain people from littering the landscape and the beloved planet Earth with their trash. I was aware that the car radio was on and I tuned in for a moment to hear report of a young mother who had that day tossed her newborn baby into the incinerator chute. Both angry and horrified, I remember asking aloud, “Where did we lose it? This is supposed to be a Christian nation and I am residing in the Bible Belt. Why are we trashing our neighborhoods and our children this way?” The newscast had gone off the air, and now a song was playing on a country music station: “When the sun always shines, there’s a desert below…”

I remember staring at the radio on the dashboard of my car, realizing that the answer to my question was coming to me on the air waves. The message was getting louder and clearer:  “It takes a little rain to make a garden grow.” When the “sun” or “masculine” principle is worshipped without its feminine counterpart, the wasteland ensues. Today we are more than ever aware of the ravaging of the planet and wasteful devastation of her resources. Where power and might are the highly honored attributes of the reigning deity, they become the most honored qualities of the society that worships them, for “as above, so below,” or, in the words of Jesus himself, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Having enthroned a celibate and male image of God and excluded any feminine counterpart for this image, we now reap the inevitable consequences of a society “burned out” under the influence of that unbalanced solar/power principle, oblivious perhaps to the inherent danger, for the ultimate result of sun worship is holocaust.

And yet, there is another way open to us.

A wonderful story is told of the priest and great friend of mysticism, Thomas Merton, who encountered a Buddhist monk at an ecumenical convention on world religions. The monk told Merton that he didn’t fully understand why Christians insisted on memorizing lengthy prayers and doctrines, often arguing about their meaning. Merton didn’t answer, but instead asked a question of his own, “Why? What do you Buddhists do?

“Oh. We dance!” replied the monk.

I always feel a tremendous uplifting of the spirit when I think of this enlightened response of the Buddhist, for indeed, it is the answer of the cosmos. The entire creation flowing from the Source is an incredible and fascinating interplay or “dance of the polarities,” summed up in the ancient symbol of sacred marriage, the  which represents the sacred marriage of the opposites, the heiros gamos of antiquity.

The entwined triangles of the represent the archetypes of masculine and feminine, sometimes called the “blade” and the “chalice.” In alchemy, they are called the “fire” and “water” triangles respectively, and correspond to the Yang and Yin of Oriental philosophy. This sacred symbol is found in ancient shrines in India where it represents the God Shiva and his consort Shakti, but it is also found in the sacred writings of scholars and mystics of Judaism, where it is known as the seal of Solomon. Remembering that it was King Solomon (died c. 922 B.C.E.) who was credited with having written the Song of Songs found in the Hebrew Scriptures, it is not difficult to imagine that the seal was understood to be the symbol of the sacred marriage in Israel as well as India. And, in fact, Jewish rabbinical tradition claims that the Ark of the Covenant found in the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem contained not only the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, but also “a man and woman locked in intimacy in the form of a hexagram.” It is this symbol that represents the hieros gamos, the “sacred marriage of the opposites” universally celebrated in ancient cultures. It is the archetypal symbol for “the Cosmic Dance.”

So ancient is the idea of the marriage or cosmic dance of the opposite energies that we find in ancient Sumer temples built in pairs to honor the god and goddess of the prevailing fertility cult. The Goddess is the Great Mother, the Earth and all creation, while her consort is most often the sun or fertility deity. In the ancient cultures of the Middle East, the position of royal priestess was a hereditary office passed down through a matrilineal kinship. The priestess typically chose the local warlord or strong man as her bridegroom and conferred kingship on him by virtue of their marriage, in rites usually celebrated at the new year. The word “anointing” occurs often in the liturgical poetry associated with the rites of hieros gamos, reflecting the mutual anointing of the lovers during the consummation of their nuptials. These rites are celebrated in songs and poems inscribed on cuneiform tablets throughout Mesopotamia and attest to the importance of this myth reenacted yearly to ensure the well-being of the people and the land. The Bridegroom/King is the mediator of fertility, prosperity and blessings to the people. After a period of one year (occasionally longer), most often at the Spring equinox, the king is ritually tortured, slain, then entombed. There, after a short period, usually of three days duration, his bereaved wife seeks his burial place to lament his death. Their reunion is celebrated with great joy when she finds him resurrected in the garden, for love is stronger than death! An annual festival celebrates the return of the god and his reunion with his feminine complement, representing the balance of masculine and feminine in the cosmos, the endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, and the power and “eternal return” of the Life Force.

Because Sumerian texts found on cuneiform tablets have so much similarity with the Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon or Canticles) many Bible scholars believe that the Song is an adaptation of the ancient poetry honoring the union of Inanna and Dumuzi. Because of the commingling of mythologies and deities in the Mediterranean lands, the ritual poetry of other cults, including that of Isis and Osiris in Egypt, has a very similar tone and quality, as seen in a liturgical poem in their honor called The Burden of Isis. The liturgical sequence in that poem and in the Song of Songs is really a dramatic dialogue spoken by the Bride and Bridegroom telling of their passionate love, their separation, and their reunion. The verses of both are full of erotic imagery and tenderness. The Song of Songs was so popular in Jerusalem in the second century that the rabbis deplored the fact that it was being sung in the streets and taverns of Jerusalem by the profane. This sacred love song of the Archetypal Bride and Bridegroom held a place of special honor in the hearts of the Jewish people at the beginning of the current era.

The recurring motif of a marriage covenant is of fundamental importance in Hebrew Scripture. Like a vine spreading its tendrils through the sacred writings, God’s relationship to the chosen community is often expressed in the metaphor of a bridegroom with his bride. In the Book of Ezekiel, God finds Israel like an abandoned child, naked and neglected. He clothes her and protects her, awaiting the time when she will be of marriageable age, but she becomes wanton and abandons their relationship. Later the prophet Hosea is instructed to marry the harlot Gomer as a metaphor for Yahweh’s passionate love for his unfaithful people. As Hosea is faithful to Gomer in spite of her infidelities, Yahweh is always willing to forgive his people and to take them back into his covenant. Yahweh’s love is constant, but over and over the community turns to follow false gods, scorning and breaking her marriage covenant with God.

And yet, throughout the Bible, the hope remains that the idolatrous community shall again be reconciled to God and that all will be well: “Then the voice of the Bridegroom and the voice of the Bride will again be heard in the land.” This poignant promise recurs in the writings of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, promising a time of healing and blessing for the nation. Like the fairytales of all cultures, the marriage of the royal pair brings about an era of peace and bliss, “and everyone lived happily ever after.” And so, the cosmic dance of the opposites and their harmonious union retain their power to bless us with hope. The marriage union is a metaphor throughout mystical writings of all ages because it expresses ecstasy and intimacy in a way that no other metaphor can! And precisely for this reason, the archetype of the bridal couple–Bride and Bridegroom–is a consummate image of God as Wholeness, the paradigm of Partnership. Both lovers give, both receive; both love passionately and both are tenderly cherished. Their union is the epitome of the Cosmic Dance illustrated in the sacred mandala.

We see that the divine Bridegroom is a powerful image in the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah promises that the Lord will rejoice over Israel with singing, as a Bridegroom rejoices over his Bride. And the understanding of a god as bridegroom is not confined to the sacred books of Israel. The Sumerian god Marduk is called in an ancient text “the Bridegroom of my well-being.” These images of the archetypal Bridegroom are also used by the authors of the Greek New Testament. The Apocalypse contains a stunning reference to the city of New Jerusalem as the Bride of “the Lamb,” Jesus the Christ. And the image of the Bridegroom occurs over and over in the four Gospels of the Christian canon, where it is often a reference to Jesus, couched in a parable. Jesus reminds his friends that while the Bridegroom is with them, they should rejoice. There will be time for fasting after the Bridegroom is taken away. John the Baptist affirms that Jesus is the Bridegroom: “I am not the Christos but have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices exceedingly at the voice of the bridegroom. This my joy, therefore, is made full” (John 3:28b-29). The Greek word Christos means “the anointed one.”

These recurring references to Jesus as the Bridegroom and the “Christos” are not idle or accidental. I believe that they are so prevalent because “the Bridegroom” was the prevailing image of the Faithful son and the Shepherd/King ubiquitous in the lands of the Middle East. David himself was a “Shepherd King.” The name of the Sumerian fertility god Dumuzi literally means “faithful son.” It is these very same epithets that are applied to Jesus throughout the four canonical Gospels and early Christian teachings. Perhaps the most significant of these epithets is the Hebrew word “messiah,” meaning “the anointed one,” for it is this title that most explicitly equates Jesus with the anointed and sacrificed Bridegroom/King of the ancient pagan cults–the pagan gods Dumuzi (Tammuz), Adonis and Baal, Osiris and Dionysus. In the light of this prevalent myth, the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster jar takes on momentous significance. For if he has any true counterpart, a “Sister-Bride” in the Gospels, it is surely the woman who anointed him with her fragrant nard, lavishly pouring it over his head and feet as attested in the story. “She has anointed me in advance for my burial,” Jesus said of her passionate act of love. “Wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be told in memory of her”–lest we forget that her act mirrored that of a royal priestess/bride anointing her bridegroom for his marriage and his death!

Annointing Jesus' feet; Peter Paul Rubens

And yet, for centuries we have called this woman “prostitute” instead of “spouse.” There seems to be several possible reasons for this terrible misunderstanding of the woman who anointed Jesus with her precious unguent. The Greek word for the consecrated priestess of the temples was hierodule–a sacred woman. But because of her activities as a conduit for the gifts and blessings of the Goddess, this word was later translated and became identified with the pejorative term “prostitute,” making no distinction between the calling of the temple priestess and that of a profane woman of the street. This has become the prevailing view of the woman with the alabaster jar–that she was “a sinner of the town,” because her anointing of Jesus was perceived to be the “goddess” activity of a pagan priestess, an anathema to the Jewish community.

But there is another deeply intuited rationale for this woman’s having been identified as “the repentant harlot.” For throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, “prostitute” is the metaphor used for community of Israel–the Bride of Yahweh–who is often chastened for her unfaithfulness. If Jesus represents Yahweh as the archetypal Bridegroom, then the woman who anointed him was surely the “carrier” of the archetype of the Bride. They are partners in the myth of the “dying and rising god” and its reenactment in an actual historical moment. This man and woman were “vessels” of the mythic energies–earthen vessels filled with charisms of the Spirit, incarnations of the Divine as Archetypal Bride and Bridegroom.

When I first began to research the cult of the sacred marriage and the god/goddess partnerships of the Near East, I was intrigued by the similarity between the ancient rites and the scene of the anointing of Jesus in the town of Bethany located on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the ancient walls of Jerusalem. Her pure “nard” is a precious unguent and very expensive. The woman with the alabaster jar of nard poured about a pound of precious unguent on the head of Jesus, perfume valued at about a year’s wage! The contents of her alabaster jar was her entire dowry perfume; used a little at a time, it was enough to last her lifetime. The only other time that nard is mentioned in Scripture is in the Song of Songs: “For the King’s banquet, my nard gives forth its fragrance,” announces the bride of Canticles. My Bible’s footnote declares that the nard is a symbol for the bride herself!

There is another area of interpretation of the anointing of Jesus that is relevant. King Solomon, son of King David and the lineal ancestor of Jesus, sought Wisdom as his Bride. Wisdom herself is a “Goddess” who reveals a feminine face of the Divine. She is the Sophia of the Greeks, whose “philosophers” were “lovers of Sophia.” She embodies all the aspects of the feminine principle and is variously described as “the spotless mirror of God’s activity,” and “the spouse of the Lord” in ancient texts. In “Thunder, Perfect Mind,” a Gnostic test, Wisdom declares: “I am the harlot and the holy one.” A study of the Sophia yields a rich harvest of epithets of this kind, and it may be that the story of the anointing of Jesus by the woman in Bethany was deliberately included in the New Testament writings in order to identify her as the Sister-Bride of Jesus, the incarnate representative of Sophia, the “Goddess” in the Gospels. Of the bride in the Song of Solomon it is said that she is dark, swarthy from her labor in her brothers’ vineyards, burned by the relentless sun. I believe this darkness of the bride explains the numerous shrines, ostensibly Christian, of the Black Madonna, images that recall the Egyptian depictions of Isis and Horus. Since Isis is the wife (not the mother) in her relationship to Osiris as the “sacrificed god,” it seems plausible that the earliest Christian examples of the “mother and child” archetype originally represented not the mother of Jesus, but the “dark” or devalued Mary, his Beloved.

Often through the years I have asked priests and ministers of various Christian denominations if they could tell me the identity of the woman with the alabaster jar who anointed Jesus. Almost invariably I have been informed that no one knows her name–that she was just a sinner—a prostitute off the street. And yet, in the fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, it clearly states in two places that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary, the sister of Lazarus (John 11:2, 12:3). Was the author of the Gospel wrong? Did he just make this up? Or is it “Gospel”? In several of my books I have offered reasons for believing that this Mary was the woman called “the Magdalene,” an epithet that means “tower” or “stronghold/citadel/fortress” in Aramaic (Hebrew migdol). It was like calling her “Mary the Great” or “the magnificent” or “elevated.” She was First Lady and is mentioned first in six of seven lists of women followers of Jesus. The Coptic Gospel of Philip states that Mary Magdalene was the consort of Jesus, and the word has conjugal implications of intimate partnership. The woman who anointed Jesus, Mary of Bethany, was almost surely his wife. Together they embodied the sacred archetypes of divinity manifested as Bride and Bridegroom, providing a powerful partnership model for the early church. “The Magdalene” was an epithet given to her to identify her elevated status: “Mary the Tower, Mary the Great.”

So what happened? How did we lose this most precious “pearl of great price”–the bride of the Messiah Jesus? My theory, articulated in a short piece of fiction in the prologue of The Woman with the Alabaster Jar, is that she was secretly taken away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus to protect her from possible arrest and execution. Since the crucifixion is now widely understood as a Roman punishment for sedition, many scholars conclude that Jesus was executed because he was proclaimed to be of royal lineage, “Son of David,” and had a large following among the populace of Jerusalem, providing a significant threat to the peace and order of the Roman province of Palestine. The wife of Jesus and his immediate family would have been in immediate danger from the Roman authorities in the aftermath of the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. Any friends of Jesus worthy of that name would have tried to provide protection and safety for his wife and any child or children of their union.

While there is no written proof of this theory in the form of a birth or marriage certificate, it is my firm conviction, based in part on later legends of Mary Magdalene. For of her it is claimed that she brought the Sangraal to the southern coast of France, arriving with her brother and sister and an entourage of friends, political refugees from persecutions in Palestine. And the word Sangraal, while translated “Holy Grail,” could with equal justification be translated “blood royal” by breaking the word after the letter g (“sang raal”) rather than before (“san graal”). With this alternative interpretation of the word, the legend now says that the Mary called the Magdalene brought the blood royal to the coast of France. One does not generally carry the blood royal around in a container with a lid. The blood royal, then and now, is best carried in an “earthen vessel”–a child. And this metaphor is very common in the Hebrew Scriptures, whose prophets describe God as a potter, and the descendants of King Eliakim as “dishes, bowls and jugs” (Isa. 22:20).

So the mysterious Grail of legend may not be an artifact after all. Perhaps, instead, the Grail is an “earthen vessel”–a woman. Perhaps she was the legitimate wife of the Lord Jesus, the wife who was lost because the friends of her husband were trying so hard to save her. What irony! The legend says that the king is wounded and the land wasted because the Grail cannot be found, but that when it is restored, all will be well. Perhaps the real symbol of the “age to come” was to have been the, the symbol of the sacred marriage. And perhaps when the patriarchs of the Christian churches hear the good news, that the Bride has been found at last, they will declare a feast day in her honor and celebrate the royal nuptials with singing and dancing as of old. Perhaps all the churches in Christendom will ring out the glad tidings! Perhaps even the Father will dance as on a day of joy! Then the celestial model for the Holy will be manifested as the Beloved–a bridal couple united in intimacy, in ecstasy, in passion and tenderness for all time! It is time for the Nuptials of the Lamb.

The knowledge that the reign of God is like the hieros gamos, the sacred and harmonious union of a bridal couple, brings blessing to my life. It could bring blessing to Christianity and to the whole world. Then the prayer of our hearts, that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” would be found summed up in the, the sacred star of wholeness and partnership. That ancient symbol for the Cosmic Dance represents peace and well-being. Like the pearl of great price and the Holy Grail, it is greatly to be sought, greatly cherished!

______________

Selected Bibliography

Kramer, Samuel. The Sacred Marriage Rite. Bloomington, In: the Indiana University Press, 1969.

Malvern, Marjorie.  Venus in Sackcloth. Edwardsville, Il. Southern Illinois University Press, 1975.

Ringgren, Helmer. Religions of the Ancient Near East. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963.

Starbird, Margaret. The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail. Santa Fe: Bear and Company, 1993.

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The sacred feminine is that other face of God that has not been honored over the two millennia of Christianity–at least not as a fully equal partner. — Margaret Starbird

As readers of the The Da Vinci Code will recall, almost on arrival in the middle of the night at Leigh Teabing’s Château Villette, Sophie Neveu finds herself immersed in explanations and theoretical pyrotechnics from Teabing and Langdon about the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the sacred feminine. Langdon tells Sophie: The Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess…The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male Church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean. … When Christianity came along, the old pagan religions did not die easily. Legends of chivalric quests for the lost Grail were in fact stories of forbidden quests to find the lost sacred feminine. Knights who claimed to be searching for the chalice were speaking in code as a way to protect themselves from a church that had subjugated women, banished the Goddess, burned nonbelievers, and forbidden the pagan reverence for the sacred feminine.

The Case for the Sacred Feminine

The case for the sacred feminine/suppressed goddess/Mary Magdalene analysis that Langdon and Teabing lay out for Sophie in the book raises some of the most intellectually fascinating questions. To be sure, it is implausible in many respects, especially the way this set of mysteries has been wrapped into the enigmas of the plot. But it is profoundly interesting. In making his late-night case, the fictional Langdon draws heavily on Margaret Starbird, Elaine Pagels, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Riane Eisler, and others.

These experts put forward their own arguments about the role of the sacred feminine in the development of Western culture, thought, politics, philosophy, and religion. They recall the goddess-worshipping cults in Egypt, Greece, Crete, and Rome, and gender roles in the context of the Judeo-Christian biblical era. They sift through the Christian experience of the early and medieval church. And they examine spirituality, myths, legends, and traditions that associate special sacred significance with women in general, and with Mary Magdalene in particular.

God Does Not Look Like a Man

An Interview with Margaret Starbird

Two of Margaret Starbird’s real-life books are specifically mentioned in The Da Vinci Code when they attract Sophie Neveu’s interest on Leigh Teabing’s library shelves in Château Villette: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail and The Goddess in the Gospels: Reclaiming the Sacred Feminine. In the interview below for this book, Starbird briefly explains her view of the sacred feminine. She also declares that characterizing Mary Magdalene as an apostle, equal to Peter, or perhaps even more important than Peter, does not go nearly far enough. Our interview presents an introduction to Starbird’s thinking.

How does the concept of the sacred feminine differ from the way most religions seem to assume the primacy of male deities?

More and more, we are becoming aware that the Divine we call God does not really look like the patriarch on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. For two millennia Christians have been attributing exclusively masculine images to God, using masculine pronouns when speaking of the Creator. But intellectually, we realize that God is not male. God is beyond gender, the weaver beyond the veil and beyond our ability to conceive God. So we limit God by ascribing attributes to Him. God is neither male nor female, which is why the Jews were always told never to make images of God. But Christians dropped this idea, and ascribed to God and Jesus the epithets Father and Son. When the Greek words for Holy Spirit were translated into Latin, they became masculine: Spiritus Sanctus. The entire trinity was characterized as masculine from the fifth century onward in Western Europe.

The sacred feminine is that other face of God that has not been honored over the two millennia of Christianity–at least, not as a fully equal partner. The Virgin Mary certainly embodies one aspect of God as feminine: the Blessed Mother, our advocate at the throne of her Son. But in Christianity, the paradigm of partnership, the life-giving principle on planet earth, has not been celebrated or even acknowledged.

I believe we need to reclaim the lost feminine at all levels: physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. We have been gravely impoverished by the loss of the bride and the mandala of sacred partnership that was to have been the birthright of Christians. We have suffered the loss of Eros/relationship and deep connection with the feminine–the body, the emotions, the intuitive, the kinship of all the living, the blessings of the beautiful and bountiful planet.

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Was Mary Magdalene really the wife of Jesus? How does this change current religious perspectives and beliefs?

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Who is the lost bride of the Christian tradition? How does she tie in with the concept of the sacred feminine?

Isis

There is only one model for life on planet earth–and that model is sacred union. In ancient cultures, this fundamental reality was honored in cults that celebrated the mutuality and symbiosis of the masculine and feminine as intimate partners. Examples are Tammuz/Ishtar, Baal/Astarte, Adonis/Venus, Osiris/Isis. In these cultures, the joy from their bridal chambers spread out into the crops and herds, and into the people of their realm. Similar rites were acknowledged in various liturgies throughout the Near East. The Song of Songs is a redaction of ancient liturgical poetry from the hieros gamos rites of Isis and Osiris. Invariably the king is executed and his bride seeks him, mourning his death, and is eventually reunited with him. In The Song of Songs, the fragrance of the bride is nard [spikenard, an eastern perfume or ointment] which wafts around the bridegroom at the banquet table. And in the Gospel, again it is nard with which Mary anoints Jesus, and the fragrance filled the house (John 12:3).

On seven of eight lists of women who accompanied Jesus, Mary Magdalene is mentioned first, and yet, her status as first lady was later denied. It suited the church fathers of the fourth century to officially elevate the mother of Jesus as Theotokos (God-bearer, Mother of God) but to ignore his bride/beloved. The result has been a distortion of the most basic model for life on our planet–the sacred union of devoted partners.

You just referred to hieros gamos, which is mentioned in The Da Vinci Code and is understood to be a translation from the Greek of sacred marriage. But what does it really mean? And how is it connected to Jesus?

I believe that Jesus embodied the archetype of the sacred bridegroom and that he and his bride together manifested the mythology of hieros gamos. Their union was, in my opinion, the cornerstone of the early Christian community, a radical new way of living a partnership. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul mentions that the brothers of Jesus and the other apostles travel around with their sister-wives, a phrase that is often translated as Christian sisters. But it actually says sister-wives. What is a sister-wife? There is another place in Scripture where sister and wife occur together and that is in the Song of Songs. There, the bridegroom calls his beloved my sister, my bride. This phrase speaks of an intimate relationship that is beyond that of an arranged marriage. It is a relationship of mutual interest, affection, and special kinship. According to Paul, these apostles were traveling as missionary couples, not as pairs of men as we have been inclined to believe. I firmly believe the model for this relationship was Jesus traveling with his own beloved. It is this intimacy to which the Gospel of Philip alludes when it states: There were three Marys who walked with Jesus. His mother, his sister, and his consort were each a Mary, and goes on to say that Jesus used to kiss Mary Magdalene and the other disciples were jealous.

What is the significance of the chalice–or grail–symbolism?

Chalice

The chalice or vessel is ubiquitous as a symbol for the feminine container. I have a picture of a pitcher with breasts from about 6000 b.c.e. It represents the feminine as nurturer. Marija Gimbutas [pioneering archaeologist and commentator on goddess symbols and goddess-worshipping cultures of pre-historic Europe and the Near East] noted examples of the letter V on cave walls dating from prehistoric times. The downward-pointing triangle is universally understood as the female pubic triangle, and the hexagram is a very ancient symbol for the cosmic dance of the chalice and the blade, the male and female triangles representing the deities Shiva and Shakti in India.

What role did women play in the earliest days of the Christian church?

Before the Gospels were ever written, women were apparently very much involved in the leadership of the early Christian communities. In his epistles, written in the 50s c.e., Paul mentions various women, including Phoebe, a deaconess, Prisca, and Junia, who exercised leadership in early Christian communities. In the epistle to the Romans (16:6,12), Paul commends several women–Mary, Persis, Tryphosa, and Tryphena–for their hard work. Wealthy women supported Jesus ministry from the beginning, and were faithful to him until the end, standing at the foot of the cross while the male apostles cowered in hiding. Women opened their homes as meeting places and communal living space in the early community, and some served as deaconesses and even priests in the early days of the church. Dr. Dorothy Irvin has discovered and published numerous murals and mosaics from early Christian communities depicting women in priestly robes and regalia. Following the guidelines found in the epistle 1 Timothy, the hierarchy later denied women the right to teach and prophecy in the assembly.

How do you feel about efforts by modern feminist scholars to recast Mary Magdalene as the preeminent apostle?

Although I’m very much in sympathy with research establishing Mary Magdalene as the most faithful of all those who accompanied Jesus during his ministry, I don’t think that styling her as an apostle, equal to Peter, or perhaps even more important than Peter, goes nearly far enough. There is no doubt that Mary Magdalene shows total devotion and faithfulness to Christ. But the Gospel also tells a different story. In the earliest Christian texts, Mary Magdalene is not merely equal in status to Peter. She is identified as the archetypal bride of the eternal bridegroom and provides the model for the quest and desire of the human soul (and the entire human community) for union with the Divine. She models the way of eros relatedness, the way of the heart, and together with her bridegroom, provides the paradigm for imaging the Divine as partners. Her role of apostle or emissary fades in comparison.

Some people, taking this argument too literally, seem to feel that styling Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus somehow demeans her. The argument seems to be that it defines her in terms of her relationship with a man which somehow diminishes her own stature. I believe this is far too narrow a view. One needs to realize that the sacred marriage we are discussing here is not merely about a first-century Jewish rabbi and his wife. It is really about the archetypal pattern for wholeness, the harmony of the polarities and the syzygy of logos/sophia (reason/wisdom) representing the Divine as a union of opposites.

  • Throughout the Gospels Jesus is presented as bridegroom, but it is now widely claimed that he had no bride. In the ancient rites of hieros gamos, the royal bride proclaimed and even conferred kingship by her anointing of the bridegroom. Clearly the woman with the alabaster jar who anointed Jesus embodies that ancient archetype, immediately recognized in every corner of the Roman Empire. There was nothing subservient in the mythic act of recognition and endorsement Mary performed in anointing Jesus in the rite of hieros gamos.

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