Mary Magdalene and the Anatomy of the Soul

Mary Magdalene and the Anatomy of the Soul

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Mary Magdalene and the Anatomy of the Soul

Just as Mary Magdalene is for me – and so many others – one of the most favourite of archetypical figures, she is also a starting point for my reflection on the anatomy of the soul. Before I proceed, I would like to add that my own reflections are heavily based on the knowledge of Jean-Yves Leloup, a French scholar, translator and commentator (and an ex-priest) of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. As a brief reminder, I must also mention that the Gospel of Mary Magdalene was rediscovered in Egypt in 1896 by a British adventurer after it had been banned and considered ‘heretical’ from around the fourth century.

Most people, especially in the Western world, know the story of the Resurrection. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, however, gives a different account and interpretation of this event. But let’s set the background scene with the mainstream, traditional account first. On the third day, Mary Magdalene and other women disciples (I do not like the distinction between ‘disciples’ and women ‘followers’,  which in itself is misleading at best; there is no reason why we need to adhere to that interpretation) visit the tomb.

They see that it is empty and all the women (I am simplifying the story here) run away in fear, although Mary Magdalene returns and sees a man in the garden whom she at first does not recognise. When she finally realises that it is her Teacher, she wants to reach out to him but he, rather brutally, says, ‘Don’t touch me!’ Traditionally, this was taken as a sign that she was not worthy. Except, of course, that interpretation does not make sense. We now know that Mary Magdalene was never a prostitute. Indeed, she was not considered to be a prostitute until the sixth century (see my piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Davis Tresemer (PhD) and Laura-Lea Cannon, in their foreword to the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, explain that the Latin words Noli me tangere (Don’t touch me) are a convenient mistranslation of an earlier Greek version of the Teacher’s words Me mou aptou, which translates as ‘Do not hold on to me’ or ‘Do not cling to me’. Along with the sentence which follows ‘Because I have not ascended to Father yet’,  the full line reads, ‘Do not hold on to me because I have not ascended to Father yet.’

Now why would the Teacher say this?

Interestingly, according to The Urantia Book Jesus was in a state of transmutation between the physical and the spiritual. He did not want Mary to interrupt the process by physically holding on to him. The Urantia Book uses the term ‘morontia’ to describe the space between the physical and the spiritual, while the Ancient Celts used the term ‘Elphame’ to designate, more or less, the same space between what is visible and what is the world of the spirit.

In the Gospel of Mary Magdalene the story is different, as Jesus appears to Mary in a vision, not in physical reality. In this vision he gives her his final teachings to convey to the rest of the disciples.

Leloup, in his commentary on the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, calls this space of the meeting between them the ‘imaginal’ – something which is real but not physical. When Mary Magdalene asks Jesus how it is that she can see him, he explains in rather technical terms that this is neither a hallucination nor the world of the spirit but rather a space in between.

And here comes the second part of this blog: What is the anatomy of the soul?

Leloup explains that the Gnostics have a complex understanding of the human soul. Roughly, they believe that the soul is made of three different parts: the psyche, nous and the pneuma. These parts are in a hierarchical relationship with each other.

The psyche is what we might call our psychic energies (including our tendencies, emotions, etc) that the Hindu Vedanta, for example, says we carry from life to life. I will share with you a very personal example which supports the possibility that our psyche carries energies. Recently I went for a hypnotherapy session to help me with a certain fear that I had been experiencing since I can remember. I had an idea of how this fear might have been created by a couple of events in my childhood, so the therapist took me back to the moment when I first experienced the fear … except that instead of finding myself in my early childhood in this lifetime, I had regressed to a childhood in a past life. I found myself as a little girl but in  a different historical period (not the one you would like to live in – to put it mildly).

If Vedanta and the belief in reincarnation are right then I had regressed to a past life which I did not remember under normal circumstances. This is an example of the psyche carrying certain feelings and energies from all our experiences on our journey(s) through life. Either way, it was some stored energy from whatever life.

Pneuma is what we might call the world of the Pure Spirit, or our complete and ultimate merging with the Source to which all returns.

Nous (and this is where the Teacher told Mary Magdalene that he met with her after his ascension)  is that space between the physical and the Spirit.  It is also called the ‘tip of the soul’, the part which can connect with the Source and the Silence of God.

Many of the greatest philosophers of all traditions have looked into this and discussed it in similar terms.

In Islamic tradition, the great Avicenna, a Muslim physician and the most famous and influential of the philosopher-scientists of the medieval Islamic world, believed that our soul has an individual existence after death (roughly as nous). Another great philosopher, Averroes, believed that our soul loses its individuality after death and we merge with the Source (he sides then with the pneuma).

But perhaps they are both right. The end of all our journeys is probably complete immersion with the Source, a place where we do not crave or need our individuality anymore. In the meantime, we have the responsibility to clear our psyches (the energies we carry with us) so we can be lighter in every sense. And we also have nous, the great intermediary from which all our spiritual guidance comes, and through which we can commune with our Great Teachers and gain glimpses, however brief, of the Source to which we will all eventually return.

My favourite Irish philosopher, John Scotus Eriugena, argues that even Satan will be saved at the end in a great return to the Source. This is a Grand Journey for all of us and there is guidance and Gnosis all the way.

As always I would love to connect with you via your comments and discuss this fascinating topic.

Much love, Dr Joanna Kujawa

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5 Responses to Mary Magdalene and the Anatomy of the Soul

  1. Brendan says:

    I have no idea why I chanced upon this but I enjoyed reading it and had a similar experience recently though my past life experience was one that was before I was even human and the space in between seemed like a long series of lives lived and that in this place the longing at the heart of us or deeply encoded in our spirit is one for a home where we are that which is. It seems like we come into this world to witness something or bring something. Words like yours go some ways towards breaking open the mystery again and letting more of us into this world as words in particular arrangements are a forceful barrier to penetrating reality, whatever that may be. Go raibh mile maith agat.

    • sundari says:

      Brendan, thank you so much for your comment and beautiful words in Gaelic. Celtic culture has so much to offer spiritually to the world. Yes, I, too, believe, that the line between worlds is very fine and there are some structures and they probably are just our habitual thinking and verbalisation of reality in limited ways – that temporarily block us from a deeper reality. That is why some languages which are spiritual by nature, such as Gaelic, can open that gate for us. Much love, Joanna

      • Brendan says:

        Thanks Joanna. We’ve a good place here off the coast of everywhere on the Atlantic. You’ve a beautiful site and I might pop in now again for a read. Much love back to you. Brendan

  2. Isa Vasanti says:

    I understand the Nous as the Inner Knowing, that ability to know within the heart… a knowing that bypasses the thinking mind. It is per se empty yet can be filled with the knowledge of the now. The Psyche is filled with material of the past; Pneuma is emptiness, vastness…
    Thanks for your writings Dr Joanna Kujawa!

    • sundari says:

      Thank you Isa for your insightful comment. You summarised it perfectly, better than I did actually ?. The Nous is the connection with the heart and Penuma is the vastness, the ‘Silence of God’ or the ‘Void’ depending on a tradition. Beautifully put, thank you.

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