“Why do most people know her as the reformed prostitute, rather than as what seems more likely —
a ministering priestess with a deep understanding of thresholds of the spirit world?”
— Laura-Lea Cannon
As an independent researched on Mary Magdalene and devotee (I did pick up my entire life to move from NYC to Provence to study her life and presence in Southern France, after all!), I have come across many books and resources on the life of the Apostolic leader.
For yes, she was an apostolic leader. From the traditional gospels, we learn that she had a singular relationship with Jesus the Christ and that she was also his benefactor.
While there are endless theories on the expression of Mary Magdalene’s relationship with the Christ, I am of the opinion that such risky assumptions belong within the realm of personal faith and revelation.
These books will offer you a strong foundation in the study of the Magdalene. Yet, the most important bridge remains the personal relationship you may wish to develop with her personally.
I am presenting the books from the most academically sound to fictional works. These are my personal favorite — not the absolute authorities on Mary Magdalene for everyone!
Jean Schaberg, professor of women’s studies and religious studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, provides an authoritative and scholarly understanding of the fascinating figure that is Mary Magdalene. The author wrote a book to undo the distortions of who Mary Magdalene was and restore a more accurate image of the saint through the legends across the ages, archeology, and biblical/apocryphal/gnostic texts. She uses Virginia Woolf’s insights to bring a feminist eye to the story of the Magdalene.
Schaberg brings the reader to Migdal, the town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee generally identified as the original town of Mary Magdalene, examines the opposition of the male disciples against her, and even proposes the audacious idea that Mary was, in fact, the true successor to Jesus in his spiritual tradition.
Choice quote: “She is the liminal and strange woman, silent, dominated by the great image of Jesus crucified, resurrected. She symbolizes the belief that women are made only deficiently in the image of God, and are ultimately a symbol of evil and of dependent, sinful humanity. We trace here how through the centuries she is variously ignored, labeled harlot/demoniac, patroness, replaced, appropriated and left behind, conflated, diminished, openly opposed; how she is utilized, unsilenced, rediscovered, resurrected.”
Check it out here:
This is the most scholarly translation of the Gospel of Mary. It appears to be have been written early in the second century CE. Unfortunately, only about eight pages of the papyrus text survived: pages 1 to 6 and pages 11 to 14 are missing.
Harvard Divinity Scholar Karen King presents the story of the only existing gospel written in the name of a woman. On the antiquities market of Cairo, Egypt, a manuscript dealer offered a papyrus book for sale to a German Scholar, Dr. Carl Reinhardt, who bought it and took it to Berlin. The fifth-century manuscript was written in Coptic and contained the Gospel of Mary, the Apocryphon of John, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, and the Act of Peter. The dealer told Dr. Reinhardt that a peasant had found the book inside the niche of a wall. But no book could have survived 1500 years in the open air in such a well-preserved state. The book, renamed as the Berlin Codex, would not appear in modern translation until 1955, in German. In 1983, another copy of the Gospel of Mary was discovered along the nile river, this time in Greek.
The Karen King translation is the most literal translation of the Gospel of Mary. She also offers a commentary and a concise history of Christianity that every Christian/Gnostic should read in my opinion. Dr. King provides a thorough history of the manuscript and background material.
I love this translation so much personally. I really appreciate how Jean-Yves Leloup consistently places the sacred feminine on the forefront of this gospel and the internal alchemy that must occur to become a complete human being. This version of Mary’s is definitely a bit less scholarly, more esoteric and still accurate as Jean-Yves Leloup is a theologian, an orthodox priest, and the founder of the Institute of Other Civilization Studies and the International College of Therapists. Fr. Leloup provides a line-by-line commentary, restoring the Divine Feminine on the front lines of the original Christianity.
Ultimately, Mary shows the apostles how we can all have spiritual sight and receive visions through the rising of the soul and an empty mind.
Choice quote: Her path emphasizes inner preparation, introspection, and inner transformation. Perhaps, in addition, she also represents the feeling world; she carries the sensitivity of sensuality, in the truest meaning of the word, finding the divinity in the senses.”
Theologian and modern-day mystic Cynthia Bourgeault revisions Mary Magdalene through the Bible, legends, and church traditions. Rev. Bougeault presents Mary through three different lenses: Mary Magdalene as Apostle, Beloved, and as Unitive Wisdom. She dives deeply into ecclesiastical tradition to reclaim Mary’s role as an apostle and teacher. This book follows the traditional tenet of Christianity while also challenging the patriarchal system within the Christian tradition and the distortions around Mary Magdalene. Through Biblical research and pulling from other forgotten Gospels, Cynthia Bourgeault gently yet skillfully reconstructs the towering figure that is Mary Magdalene as the intimate friend of Christ, an extraordinary teacher, and conduit of sacred wisdom. She gathers these three roles and proposes that we cannot separate them from each other if we want a sincere, comprehensive Christian practice.
She paints a bold, enlightened portrait of Mary while restoring her status as a visionary leader and apostle.
In this scholarly masterpiece, Susan Haskins presents the personality aspects of Mary through the literature, art, and history. She manages to resurrect a multi-dimensional Magdalene through an intensive presentation of Mary through delightful paintings, poems, films, and iconographies. Haskins walks us through the biases of each era in question and manages to rescue the Magdalene from the false myth of the promiscuous, fallen woman. I flip through this book whenever I want some artistic inspiration that is derived from the Magdalene world.
Choice quote: “The true Mary Magdalene has much to offer when freed from the restrictions which gender bias has imposed upon her. Symbolism has done her an injustice; modern scholarship has made restitution possible. If there is still need for symbolism, would not the true Mary Magdalen, the disciple by the cross and herald of the New Life, no beautiful than her mythical persona, and far more edifying as a figure of independence, courage, action, faith and love, serve women better as a symbol for today?”
The Woman with the Alabaster Jar became popular when Dan Brown used a lot of its content for his stellar best-seller, The Da Vinci Code. Although Starbird’s best-selling book does not quite fit into the rigorous scholarly box, it is a well-research book the ever so popular correlation between Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail. I have found it to be a helpful guide in terms of symbols that relate to Mary. The book is a vault of study of mythology, art, history, and symbolism through which we journey to retrieve the Mary Magdalene concealed by church authorities as an attempt to undermine her authority as a leader and, per Starbird, the Bride of the Sacred Marriage. The writer touches on intriguing subtopics such as hieros gamos, grail symbolism and medieval alchemy, tarot cards, the lost bridge in Western culture, the age of Pisces and the restoration of the Divine Feminine.
Choice quote: “The loss of the feminine has had a disastrous impact on our culture. Both male and female are deeplu wounded as the second millenium of Christianity draws to a close. The gifts of the feminine have not been fully accepted or appreciated. This book is an exploration of the heresy of the Holy Grail and an argument for the restoration of the wife of Jesus based on important circumstantial evidence.”
“Mary Magdalene Revealed: The First Apostle, Her Feminist Gospel & the Christianity We Haven’t Tried Yet” by Meggan Watterson
This sumptuous book is a pilgrimage and a devotional. A lost facet of Christianity and a theological homage to Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene revealed demystifies the Gospel of Mary and takes the reader to the pilgrimage sites devoted to Mary Magdalene across France. From the depths of Mary’s heartful voice, Meggan reminds us that true love, as Mary taught, means no longer waiting for the love to arrive: the deepest love we could ever experience is the “love that is love that is love”. From instructions on how to have a spiritual vision, to the story of the Saint who baptized herself, passing by a very sacred prayer of the heart that has been practiced since the 4th century, Mary Magdalene revealed is an atomic constellation of revelations straight from her heart of Mary Magdalene. Meggan is a Harvard-trained scholar of the divine feminine and she has studied Mary Magdalene for over a decade.
I must have read this book at least ten times. Once upon a time when I was still fresh in my Magdalene studies, there would be strange times when I would *miss* the presence of the Magdalene…especially after I left Provence. And so I would find solace in Wencke’s magnificent historical novel. When I interviewed Wencke for Philofem about her work on Mary Magdalene for the past 30 years, she shared with me that she was like a “fly on the wall observing the life of Mary Magdalene and Jesus as she was writing her novel. It is long, full of actual wisdom and ancient rites. It portrays Mary Magdalene as a wise, highly-trained healer, motherly, and strong-willed Jewish woman.
Choice quote: “Their marriage had been kept hidden. Announcing the existence of a King and Queen would ask for opposition, so her true status had been unknown to most of their surroundings.”
“Her surgical tools were laid out next to her, and some herbs and oils were at her side. The elaborately decorated jar had been opened and giving out its remarkable fragrance. Myrrh, Albion knew what it was intended for. This man was a King, he understood that now. Again, Mariam started the incantations. The words this time were to prepare Yeshua’s body for what would happene, and again ask his spirit to confirm that this was his wish.”
“Those priest were were descendants of Aaron and Melchizidek, Mariam said to herself. Their bodies knew the knowledge taught through generations. By destroying the people who carry the blood, the wisdom only reachable through intuition, will be lost. It cannot be written down or taught. It can only exist as a hovering entity of knowledge attached to the memory in the body.”
This fictional prowess tells the story of journalist Maureen Paschal who finds herself in the woes of bloodline drama in mystical Southwestern France. Going to France to conduct research for her next book, Maureen finds herself caught on a mystical journey that will lead her to the scrolls of a gospel Mary Magdalene hid in the Pyrenees mountains two thousand years ago: the gospel accounts written by Jesus himself. A great thriller that I could not put down!! Thankfully, it is part of a trilogy that weaves unexpected wisdom that could very well be straight from Mary the Magdalene.
Choice quote: “They would believe that Peter despised me and we fought for the attention of Easa at every turn. And there are those who would call Peter a hater of women — but this is an accusation that can be applied to no one who followed Easa. Let it be known that no man who followed Easa did ever belittle a woman or underestimate her value in God’s plan. Any man who does so and claims Easa as teacher speaks a lie.”
The O Manuscript is part novel part memoir and it tells the story of pop-star turned mystic Lars Muhl through his different encounters with a Seer, the Holy Grail, and Mary Magdalene. It is a trilogy and you can purchases each book individually as well. In the first part of the gnostic trilogy, Lars is initiated into the mysteries of the Cathars. In the volume II of the trilogy, Lars discovers new material on the singular relationship between the Magdalene and Jesus. Through personal visions, he witnesses important episodes in the life of Mary Magdalene. He is guided through the veil as a door to his own divine feminine journey and describes the ritual of priestesses lighting up incense thuribles at an Ishatar temple and chanting in Aramaic.
For another perspective on Mary Magdalene and what she would probably want us to know today, compliment your reading with this interview with Wencke Braathen.
The list will continue to evolve as my studies expand.