The Secret Magdalene
Reviewed by Loretta Kemsley
"It comes , at last, to this-I am changed from water to wine. I who
was dead, now live. I know my own name. I AM."
Mary Magdalene, born Mariamne, indeed lives on the pages of Ki
Longfellow's novel, The Secret Magdalene. From the opening words
above to the closing sentences, Magdalene walks these pages: alive,
full, interesting, revealed in complex passages that intertwine
Biblical events with her observations, thoughts and passions.
Written as deathbed memoirs, the story begins in Mariamne's tenth
year and immediately immerses the reader into her world. Salome,
cousin and dearest friend, lives with Mariamne and her father,
Josephus of the tribe of David. Mariamne's comments are by turns
intense and funny.
Mariamne and Salome are often left in the company
of Tata, their slave nursemaid, who subtly encourages them to play
"In Father's house, Salome and I go unregarded for weeks at a time.
We are too rich and too important to be seen other than rarely in the
markets or on the streets; as females we are not considered worthy of
an education, though in Father, we are more fortunate than other
daughters. Days pass, and we live in the country of our rooms, taking
our meals alone, avoiding even Tata. We might gaze into a bowl of
still water or into a mirror or a fir or into each other's eyes,
staring so long and intently our eyeballs cross or roll into the
backs of our heads. We go half blind for long moments at a time. We
stamp in circles and howl our words of power or the names of angels
until we fall on the floor writhing with splendid hysteria."
Used to entertaining themselves with visions of magical
interventions, the girls cannot stop, even when danger lurks near:
"In any case, here we are in the teeming bazaar between the inner
wall and outer wall where many of the poor of the city of Jerusalem
live, and I am eagerly buying a book of Egyptian hekau in Egyptian
heretic writing. There is in this book a magical spell, a talitha
kuom, which might help hold the shape in the mirror that still waxes
and wanes behind the shine of the metal surface. Struggling to come
or to go, we cannot tell which, but we have never been so curious
about anything in our lives, and have decide to 'capture' it.
Plucking our purchase from the hand of Hermes of Ephesus, Salome
turns her back on the buyers of fruits and vegetables, on the
bleating of penned sheep, on the hawkers of salted fish and fried
locusts, on the beggars and the thieves and the afflicted and the
incessant poor, on the loud and constant whine of haggling that goes
on all around us. She stands under the umbrella of the merchant of
magic and begins to read the spell aloud. She reads very fluently, for
as I have said, Salome is terribly clever, but I am in agony that
someone else but us might hear. What if a spy for Tiberius lingers
near? What if an educated slave of the wife of one of Father's
friends should overhear? But though I wink and I blink my distress,
she will not shut up."
Their magic discovered, they flee, beginning a quest that leads them
through the Wilderness to the streets of Alexandria:
"Alexander's Tomb, the Gymnasium where Mark Anthony once divided up
the world between each of the children he had had with Cleopatra...it
is now the Caesaruum for so soon as the lovers were dead, Augustus
Caesar had thrown out their statues and replaced them with his own.
The Temple Mound, the Palace of the Ptolemies...behind its walls lies
the Museum and in the Museum, Ptolemy the Savior's Library...They say
there is no manuscript in any library anywhere that is not in
Alexandria. Archimedes lived and invented here. Here, Euclid wrote
his Elements and his Optics and here Herophilus of Chalcedon came to
understand anatomy by dissection and vivisection. In this place,
Aristarchus of Samos explained how the Earth and the planets revolve
around the Sun."
Eventually, reluctantly, still enchanted with the philosophic life,
they retrace their steps into the wilderness and into the company of
a scattering of sects and believers, where even the parable of Adam
and Eve is questioned: " 'By this,' shrieks Joor, 'since the serpent
represents Wisdom, you are told that wisdom is bad, therefore
ignorance is good. But good for whom? Only priests and politicians
benefit from a people's ignorance.' "
Mariamne's journeys are exquisitely blended with the reader's own
quest for knowledge as page after page unfolds new mysteries and new
delights, comfortably set amid the the factions, the wars, the
fears, the hopes, the reality of the era. Women's every day llives are
highlighted alongside their inner desires.
Magdalene is mortified by John the Baptist, an exciting yet distressing meeting:
"John, who is said to come from the world of Light—and how could I
now doubt it?—is talking not about magic or philosophy or profit or
Tata's 'love' or the Poor's fear and hatred, but about Salome and me.
About us. And he shines as he speaks. Yet what he says comes like a
blow to the heart. 'But even as you are Daughters of the Voice, you
are also females alone in this world. What else is there to say of
you? You are nothing.' I recoil. I thought him odd. I thought him
funny. Now I think him monstrous. The words that follow these words
are not blows, but chains; they weigh me down link on link. 'You have
no brothers or uncles or fathers to protect you, to give you value.
What man would marry you now? What man would take pride in calling
you wife? If you were no here, where would you be? Would would you do
with yourselves? There are those who would say you are not worthy of
Knowing the truth of this and needing disguise, Salome and Mariamne
begin life anew, as boys. Salome becomes Simon, Mariamne becomes
John. "We are kin to Seth, who is Maccabee." Seth guards the
vulnerable fugitives, educating them as they travel:
"Ignorance is all there is of Evil....the very thoughts of man and of
woman are the World, and if there is evil in it, it is our evil, and
if there is goodness, it is our goodness. I maintain there is no
battle between Good and Evil that is outside the self. There is only
mastery of the eidolon, or smaller self, that leads to Knowing. I
believe gnosis is the door to the Kingdom of God, which is the
immeasurable Age, or Aeon, of Truth—and is neither Good nor Evil,
but All things, and felt as Love."
And so it is as John that Mariamne finally meets Yehoshua. Drawn to
him, yet fearful of discovery, she maintains her deception amidst
ever harder circumstances, but cannot pull herself away:
"I hear Yeshu say again as on the day he and Jude together first
visited my secret place, 'These things are so because we allow them
to be so. The men of resignation have made all this.' By this, Yeshu
means it is not entirely the will of the strong that make what is so,
so. It is the compliance of the fearful, ignorant weak that make what
is so, so.
"Yehoshua of the inner Nazorean would ask a man to know he is
entirely free, that he is not beset with demons, nor is he a victim
of circumstance, nor even of the gods. He would ask a man to know he
is not a helpless child before a demanding father, that his life and
all it is made of is not a punishment, nor yet even a reward, but is
instead a thing of his own making; that he stands before the Father
as 'of the father'—a perfect reflection of Conscious Source"
Their path is set, their destinies entwined. The only question is if
she can ever dare reveal her true self to his luminous presence.
Longfellow allows the reader to share Marimne's fears, to ponder if
the revelation is worth the risk as the familiar story draws to its
inevitable, historical close-with a twist.
Those who seek beyond Biblical passages won't be disappointed. The
journey is never without a deep moving of the heart, a speaking to
the soul, a search for truth born in a tumultuous age and distilled
over the centuries. The reader is transformed alongside Mairamne as
she treads the precarious path toward his crucifixion and leaves
behind these words for us to ponder:
"But this the Daemon of Mariamne Magdal-eder knows, and this the
Daemon of Yehoshua the Nazorean taught: as he IS and will always BE:
We are all Consciousness. We are all eternal. There is no Death.
There is only Life."
Loretta Kemsley's spiritual quest leads her down many interesting
paths and to many interesting books which she likes to share with our
readers. Ms. Kemsley is an award-winning author who writes for many
publications. She is also the publisher of Moondance: Celebrating
Creative Women. http://lore.moondance.org/
“The Secret Magdalene” has her own website: www.thesecretmagdalene.com
Read Ki Longefellow's "The Woman Who Knew the All" HERE.