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'The Woman Who Knew It All' by Ki Longfellow


One of my greatest sorrows as a child was that the woman closest to Jesus was not his wife, or his lover; she was not even a disciple as were all his male followers, but was merely a “fallen woman.”

Over the years I’ve railed against the men who made her so: Fathers of the Church who denied her as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” priests and popes who made her nothing but a prostitute who regretted her “sins” and wept at the feet of her male “savior.”

And yet I was no Christian—therefore…why should it matter so to me? I was also, I believed, no feminist: why should I care what a religion made of the feminine?

The truth came to me slowly, slowly, over the years. I am a feminist. I am a feminist if by feminist I care about the feminine. How could I not care, when all Nature is feminine? How could I not care when I am female? I remain no Christian...but I care deeply about the universal yearning to understand reality and to feel there is meaning in Life. This yearning is the basis for all religions. If Jesus was a teacher and what he taught was sublime, then I wanted to know: what did he teach?

By asking this question I found Gnosticism. Not the complex and rather gloomy Gnosticism that developed over the long years since the time of the Magdalene and Jesus, and not the complex and still very gloomy Gnosticism of today. I found the teaching that began with no name except “secret” and was taught by many mystery religions: amongst them, that one led by Mariamne Magdal-eder, referred to in the recently discovered Gnostic gospels as “She who Knew the All”—the woman who came in time to be known as Mary Magdalene.

The Magdalene is both “real” and deeply symbolic. As a real woman her life is shrouded in myth. As myth, hersymbolic meaning is confused by the life of the real woman.

Detail of St. Mary Magdalene from the Fresco Cycle in Lower Church of Basilica of San Francesco

Detail of St. Mary Magdalene from the Fresco Cycle in Lower Church of Basilica of San Francesco
Ciol, Elio
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It’s through the development of Gnostic belief that I came finally to understand why the Magdalene is called a fallen woman, and why being called such a thing is neither slur nor lie—but is symbolically profound. (Although, not for one moment do I think the Church knew what it was doing when it “borrowed” Gnostic teaching as it applied to Mary Magdalene. As a sad matter of fact, I think as Christian literalists they thought they were putting her “in her place.” It’s odd how these things work. If we knew our myths, we would know our “truths.”)

The evolving cosmology of Gnosticism taught that from God (having neither gender nor being, but is rather the unknowable ineffable “All There Is”) emanated pairs of Aeons, or paired lesser beings. Together these Aeons made up the Pleroma, or “fullness of God.” The lowest of these pairs was Sophia, which is Greek for “Wisdom,” and Christ, which is Greek for “Savior.”

Sophia was the original female principal, the Goddess, who, discovering herself separated from God, became fearful and full of anguish. She felt exiled and lost in this lower, lesser, place…a “copy” of Heaven which Plato thought was benign, but which Gnostics thought hellish. Wandering through the world of matter created by her dreadful fear and confusion, Sophia was subject to all the pain and horror the world of matter can and does supply…and all those she met here treated her shamefully—most especially men. In both meanings of the term she became a “fallen woman.”

During her long exile Sophia endured tribulation after tribulation, always longing to return to All There Is. Until came the day her “other half,” her Platonic Double, was sent by God to help her once again “see the light.” As her paired Aeon and savior, Christ rescued her from the physical world…and allowed her to return to her home in the “Pleroma.”

There is more to this symbolic tale of the soul lost in matter and longing to “know” its home again. Sophia (under many names, including Mari, Queen of Heaven) gives birth to a son who turns on her, denies her, and considers himself the ultimate creator god. Early Gnostics thought of the Jewish Yahweh as just this son of Sophia, who denies and then forgets his mother. Because he is not really the ultimate Creator, and is therefore deluded, he causes all manner of havoc on earth. They named him “Sakla,” meaning fool. Meanwhile, his mother Sophia undergoes test after test, descending into abject sorrow and pain, as well as degradation, to find her home again in the Pleroma—a word based on the Greek for “breath.” Heaven is the breath of God.

To Gnostics, none of this is "true" as in literally factual. Sophia and her story is a parable for the plight of the lost human soul seeking Gnosis—or God consciousness. Sophia is the soul. Christ is that which enlightens the soul.

Mary Magdalene is the “Woman Who Knew the All.” She is Sophia, symbolic of our quest for Christ/God/Gnosis/Enlightenment/HOME. Yet, even now, she remains for so many a literal prostitute rescued by Jesus from her terrible sins of the flesh…though it heartens me to see that lately some of the tarnish falls from her beautiful face as she comes to be seen as the Beloved Disciple, or as the Bride of Jesus…or even as the Holy Grail.

It does appear that in our time, the feminine side of God is returning to us. Oh, wonderful irony—for if so, the Second Coming seems to be the return of Consciousness as Female.


Under the name "Pamela Longfellow," Ki Longfellow has published two novels, “China Blues” and “Chasing Women.” As Ki Longfellow, her third novel, “The Secret Magdalene” is available through or Her fourth novel, Houdini Heart is due out in the spring of 2006. Last year, the celebratory script of her "comic opera" was published by Sea Urchin Press. STINKFOOT, co-written with her husband, the late Vivian Stanshall, lead singer and songwriter of England's very beloved Bonzo Dog Band, was produced twice: once for Ki's Showboat in Bristol's Floating Harbour, England, and once for London's West End. The show garnered glowing national reviews in the Times, the Guardian, and the Independent. She's also written for Cream Magazine, Ms. Magazine, and Rolling Stone.

The Secret Magdalene” has her own website:

Read Loretta Kemsley's review of "The Secret Magdalene" HERE.

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