If you want to be spiritual, ask uncomfortable questions,’ Goddess News, Spiritual Blog, Divine Feminine,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
My search for Mary Magdalene and her true identity (beyond the mainstream misconception of her as a prostitute) has launched me on a fascinating and exciting journey. One the first stopovers on this journey was Gnosticism with what are my favourite descriptions of Mary Magdalene as a wise woman, the disciple of Jesus and possibly his partner (see the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Thomas). This, in turn, led me to the Gnostic story of Sophia – the Divine Wisdom – as it became clearer for me that Mary Magdalene was nothing less than the expression of Divine Wisdom in Jesus’ life.
Now this idea is still largely resisted, both in mainstream and alternative circles. In mainstream culture this is because of attachment to prevailing traditions and also due to ubiquitous misogyny. In alternative circles there is often a general preference to focus on Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ consort or wife. I am not even vaguely inclined at the moment to give any more time to mainstream traditions and their inherent and implicit misogyny. As for the alternative traditions of Mary Magdalene as Jesus consort/wife, I believe this it is beautifully aligned with the Gnostic idea of Sophia and Divine Wisdom that interests me the most.
I have been fascinated by how two things have usually happened in the past in depictions of wise or educated women. One, they have been completely desexualised so as to lose their feminine or sexual ‘lore’ and made into overly dutiful ‘holy mother’ types, with the Virgin Mary as the classical example, although there are many other ancient and early Christian examples. Two, they have been overly sexualised and often called ‘prostitutes’ or hetairai (educated women who were sexually free who would entertain learned men as much in the art of philosophy as in the art of sexual performance).
It is my belief based on my research (as much as it is possible to research things that have been purposefully repressed through millennia) that both depictions are likely to be wrong. I do not doubt there were some highly educated prostitutes known as hetairai but I am convinced many other women-philosophers were put into this category out of contempt for women, especially for educated women, a concept considered indecent and scandalous. Since educated women or women-philosophers have nearly always been recorded as indecent and scandalous then, I have no doubt, by extension they were defined as ‘prostitutes’ because they ‘dared’ to excel in matters of mind, spirit and sexual enchantment. I believe Mary Magdalene fell into this category as well. It us also worthwhile mentioning that apart from ‘courtesans’ hetiaria also meant ‘companions’ and, for me, they can also bring to mind the idea of a tantric consort who is a bridge between the erotic, spiritual and wise.
Joan E Taylor in her book Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria (a book which I think is unnecessarily mistitled, as she discusses largely women-philosophers of the ancient world, including Greek, Jewish and women of other nationalities) refers to ‘paradigms’ of wise women, which I prefer to refer to as the archetypes of wise-women. I will focus here on some of her excellent distinctions, such as the ‘philosopher babe’, ‘one of the boys’ and women as carriers of spiritual wisdom in the ancient world.
For me at least it was a great treat to learn that there have been other women-philosophers, apart from Hypatia of Alexandria, a famous philosopher who in 415 CE/AD was murdered by a Christian mob in the most brutal way (I will spare you the horrific descriptions) on the orders of the new Bishop of Alexandria, Cyril. With typical misguided flare, the Church made Cyril into a saint.
l am glad that in my search for Mary Magdalene as wise woman I have come across so many other women-philosophers, in fact I have found enough to classify them into different archetypes. For example, Taylor quotes from a Greek philosopher (Chrysippus) who says that he frequently sat next to a female philosophy student in the Stoic school of Cleanthes. Much later (in the 17th century), Gilles Manage mentions 65 women-philosophers. There is more. Women- philosophers were most eminent in the Stoic, Cynics (the rebels), Pythagorean and Epicurean Schools.
The ones who interest me most are the Pythagoreans, who in mainstream philosophy are usually described as mathematicians but who were also very interested in esoteric spirituality. Taylor, through ancient sources, lists at least 17 famous Pythagorean women-philosophers. Among them, interestingly, is Pythagoras’ wife Theano. Theano was ‘an independent philosopher’ in her own right and in charge of the Pythagorean school after his death. Another wise woman in his life was Themistoclea, who was a Delphic oracle and priestess who once had Pythagoras as a student!
But back to my investigation regarding the connection between Mary Magdalene, Sophia – the Divine Wisdom – and the sexy and wise babe archetype. We know from established religions that Mary Magdalene, through complete historical error, was called a prostitute. I also discuss this in my video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwESV8oskrU, in my piece for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation https://www.abc.net.au/religion/something-about-mary-magdalene-recovering-a-central-figure-in-ea/10098428 and in my other blogs.
In the same way, Sophia, the Divine Wisdom of the Gnostics was also called the ‘lascivious one’. In the mythical rendition of her she falls into matter, forgets who she is and becomes a prostitute (a great metaphor for short-changing ourselves in our lives and forgetting our true greatness).
Could it be, I ask, that these depictions of both Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic Super-goddess Sophia have been influenced by the archetype of the sexy and wise babe of the ancient world? Taylor calls such a woman ‘the blend of erotic adviser’ and a woman of wisdom/philosopher who gives a ‘pillow talk’ – but I think this is an unfair description. The archetype of the philosopher-babe encompasses both wisdom and sexiness – something that people even today have difficulty imagining. Such women are beautiful, ‘immodest’ and wise. Taylor believes these women had and have not only sexual power but also intellectual and possibly spiritual power (especially in the Pythagorean school) which they exercise(d) freely without any regard for social taboos placed on women. This alone is probably the reason they have pretty much been called whores. In the same way as Mary Magdalene was challenged by some of the male disciples (Peter usually) in the Gnostic sources.
But let’s look at some examples of these magnificent women. According to Taylor, Thargelia of Miletus was ‘beautiful and wise’ and was the lover of Antiochus King of Thessally in the sixth century BCE. Then there was Cleaobulia, who possessed a great mind and participated in ‘the symposium of Seven Sages’ (also in the sixth century BC) with another woman philosopher called Melissa, who possessed spiritual knowledge. Let’s then continue with Aspasia (fifth century BC) who was a companion and adviser of Pericles, the ruler of Athens, and who, according to ancient sources, also possessed a great sexual allure. These are just some of my favourite of philosopher-babes.
Another archetype that interests me greatly in connection with Mary Magdalene is the archetype of woman as a ‘bearer of a secret knowledge’, as Taylor refers to them. Here we again have Themistoclea, whom I already mentioned was a Delphic priestess who had Pythagoras among her students. Another of my favourites was Diotima, who initiated Socrates into the secrets of sexual knowledge. She, through her Tantric practices, held that Eros is the source of ‘creation and can potentially be divine, a part in the condition of the mortal and the immortal’.
Another no less interesting but more common archetype also associated with some of the Gnostic descriptions of Mary Magdalene is that archetype which Taylor calls ‘the honorary male’. Hypatia of Alexandria, for example, was ‘one of the boys’. An exception was made for her wisdom – as long as she did not use her feminine ‘lure’. At the end of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus mentions that Mary Magdalene has become ‘male’.
I dedicate this blog to these magnificent women, whose names have been erased from mainstream history.
They are the rightful daughters of Inanna, Ishtar, Hathor and Isis. They are the archetypes of Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic Sophia. They are the rebels of the mind, soul and body.
They stand proud in the glory of the space where the mystery of Wisdom and Eros can be one.
What do you think, my friends?
I would love hear from you through your comments,
Dr Joanna Kujawa
Goddess News blog©Joanna Kujawa