Recently someone wondered aloud why it was so important to clear the name of Mary Magdalene, why it is so important that the word ‘prostitute’ be removed from her reputation. The short answer is, I think, that it is important because there is no evidence of it being true. Saying that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute because the Bible says she was a ‘sinner’, is like saying your Uncle Henry is Ronald McDonald because Henry once grilled some hamburgers. It just doesn’t make sense.
Mary Magdalene, Mary of Magdala, known alternately as the Black Madonna, dusky and dark-skinned, and also said to have been a small woman with strawberry blonde hair, continues to be an enigma, as well as a source of healing for women after thousands of years of trauma suffered at the hands of Christianity and the Catholic Church.
She is known as the Bride of Christ and as a temptress and whore. She was at the foot of the cross with the women of Jesus’ family as he suffered and died. She was the first to see his resurrected form, the first person he spoke to after he left the tomb. And still, for two thousand years she has been named in way that is untrue, ‘whore’ rather than ‘bride’.
While I agree that sex workers should suffer no shame, no ostracization, no criminal prosecution for their work, we live in a world where these things do happen. Even in countries where sex work is legal, sex workers, especially and mostly women, suffer all sorts of social stigma as a result of their professions. The same thing was true when Mary Magdalene walked the Earth in human form. ‘Whore’, was the most filthy, most vile thing a woman could be called because this woman might be wielding her sexual power and benefitting from it, rather than surrendering it to male dominated social and religious structures.
The point in labeling the Magdalene with the title of ‘Whore,’ was to shame, disempower and discredit the Feminine aspect of God. Denying the Feminine aspect of God, in fact, so that men could claim a right to more power by virtue of an untrue story about God’s views on women. They then selected a series of strictly vetted stories about Jesus that did not tell the whole truth. This truth being that Jesus loved women, that he honored them, that he saw women as whole and equal and not as less-than.
Mary Magdalene was the First Apostle. She was primary among the thirteen who followed Jesus Christ. And, she was a woman.
Early on, The Church decided that women were not holy. This is the root of the reason why Mary Magdalene was named ‘whore’ without any evidence that it was true. If they admitted that she was the first among the Apostles, that she was the Beloved of the Christ, how then could they deny the holiness of the female, of Sacred Union and of sexuality itself? Mary Magdalene was symbolic of all wome, in the same way she is symbolic to many of us now. If she were openly spoken of as The Beloved, as Jesus’ Sacred Partner in ministry, they would have to admit that women are not less than men. For a variety of reasons accepting women as equal did not fit the prospectus of the rising Church.
The naming of Mary Magdalene as prostitute is a symbol of the unholiness directed at all women, not because prostitution is unholy, but because it is judged as such by the men who make the rules. It is a way to disempower women by turning our sexual power into a thing to be feared, shunned, sought out in secret. No matter what your personal thoughts on prostitution, the world was and still is a place where that profession is judged to be dirty, desperate and foul. As is sexual union itself. As are women, seen to be the daughters of Eve.
So in this time when Western women are working so diligently to reclaim the Feminine Face of God, to bring the Goddess back into the World in an accessible, identifiable way, we are Resurrecting Mary Magdalene and all that she truly represents: the clarity of pure love; union with the Divine Masculine; sacred sexuality as a path to goddess/god; the Female Face of God. She was a woman willing to kneel at the feet of her masculine counterpart, to bathe his feet with her tears, to anoint him with her sacred oils, and to dry his feet with her long, soft hair. She knew the value of ritual, of honoring, of surrender and she knew also how to carry the strength of a woman into a world that would disown and forget her for two thousand years, until the time came for her own Resurrection.