Twenty-five years after the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene still leads a double life as Jesu’s disciple and Susannah, the wealthy heir of an international import/export business in incense and perfume. But someone is watching, her two identities threaten to merge, and she must flee Jerusalem. Her journey begins with voices and visions that first drag her into the past and then propel her forward, through the temples of strange gods, across deserts and seas, to experience a near death experience, an unexpected initiation and a dangerous storm at sea. Her outer journey reflects the inner as Magdalene grapples with tradition and duty to discover what she most desires.
Part I: Pomegranates and Perfume In which Magdalene leaves Jerusalem bound for Petra, fabled rose-red city of the Nabateans. Her double life as Susannah, wealthy owner of a perfume import business, and Mary Magdalene, beloved disciple of the crucified Rabbi Jesu, is coming to an end. The journey leads her into unfamiliar territory – pagan temples, desert camps, Cleopatra’s perfumery, and a forbidden oasis. It will culminate in a pomegranate orchard, face to face with her past.
Part II: Gospel of a Mary In which Magdalene travels to Alexandria and finds sanctuary in the Temple of Isis in return for inscribing her memories of Jesu’s teachings. There she make friends, and incurs an enemy. A near-fatal attack from a sorceress shakes the foundations of her faith. She attempts a return to Israel but a storm at sea interferes. Set adrift in a small boat with a three companions, she is carried across the Mediterranean and cast ashore in Gaul.
Part III: Dance of the Seventh Veil In which Magdalene sets out alone by foot to continue her journey and find her calling. Along the way she encounters a crone and propositioned by three very different men. She resumes preaching in public and teaching in private. All the while, her lessons in consciousness continue. Eventually, she must find her own voice and choose her own destiny.
I am not unique in my fascination with Mary Magdalene. Interest in her has upsurged these last ten years or so. Dan Brown caught one of the first swells, but he did not initiate our fascination. In fact, curiosity about the Magdalene has been pretty consistent from the beginning, peaking and subsiding at intervals throughout the centuries. It is not surprising we are rediscovering her now, when women’s role in the church is changing radically. Mary Magdalene represents, more than any other figure, the reclamation of feminine presence and authority within the Christian church.
The most surprising thing about Magdalene is that she survived at all. The church fathers certainly tried their best to downplay her role and besmirch her reputation. Nevertheless, even when so many other things got cut from the canon, Magdalene’s story survived. Why?
There is really only one answer. She was integral to the story and everyone knew it. The new church couldn’t excise her memory and still retain integrity in the eyes of the audiences they hoped to reach. So in she stayed.
That tells me she was real, important and a force to be reckoned with. So what, I began to wonder, happened to her after the crucifixion and before men began organizing themselves into a hierarchy replete with dogma and rhetoric?
I began to ponder Magdalene’s life just as I started to notice what an extraordinary turn my own life was taking. I was writing more, teaching workshops, performing poetry, co-founding an annual women’s retreat, and deepening my relationships. At the same time I was releasing some old habits, affiliations and ideas that had lost their juice, exhausted me, or no longer served. A bunch of little phobias disappeared, my inhibitions seemed to melt away, and very little stuff warranted anxiety or upset. It felt like freedom. It felt like joy.
Finally, I realized I’d graduated! This wasn’t Life 101 anymore. In fact, all the life lessons I worked so hard to learn through introspection, error, discipline, duty, kindness and forgiveness were finally paying off.
Not just for me! Dozens of women I knew were experiencing the same thing. Have you read Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell? He says it takes 10,000 hours or ten years to master something, be it writing or planting a garden. I began to wonder if my friends and I, most of us well into our fifth or sixth decade , could possibly have mastered living? What would that mean? For a musician mastery means playing with joy, improvising with facility and staying fully present with the music; not having to think about what, when, how or why, because hands and fingers and feet already know.
My friends and I live that way. Sociologists and psychologists, even feminist theorists have barely noticed what has been happening with us. Instead, we are bombarded with palliatives to assuage our horrible fate (aging), or plied with drugs, creams and surgical procedures to slow or ignore the aging process. The liberation inherent to this third trimester of life is rarely mentioned. No one yet has even named this phase of life.
I wanted to write about it, but in story form. This is where Mary Magdalene re-enters the scene. She had long since moved into my imagination and refused to leave. In fact she was getting impatient. She agreed to illuminate my story with details from hers. Together we embarked on a journey based upon the hints and clues about her life found in Biblical, Apocryphal, and Gnostic texts, and medieval legends. She led, I followed. Magdalene A.D. is the result.