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'The Secret Magdalene' by Ki Longfellow, Reviewed by Loretta Kemsley

The Secret Magdalene
Ki Longfellow
Eio Press
454 pages
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 with magic:

"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 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 Life.'"

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.

The Secret Magdalene” has her own website:

Read Ki Longefellow's "The Woman Who Knew the All" HERE.

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