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The Magdalene Connection
Three

 

THE MYTH OF CHOICE

THIRD LEVEL: The Love Story

 

Christianity is a religion embraced by millions, but rarely chosen by anyone. It seems to have escaped notice that heresy comes from the Greek verb haireisthai, meaning able to choose. Where belief is concerned, we usually do not operate on informed consent. Few people in the world have the chance, either to inform themselves of the beliefs imposed on them, or to consider options to those beliefs. (They also may have neither the intelligence nor the desire to make such considerations, but that is another issue.) This is unacceptable in many areas of life, but perfectly normal in religion and spiritual matters. In modern times it is more important to be able to choose between eight kinds of toilet paper than to select your beliefs about God, love and immortality.

The shift from the crucifixion theme to the passion of soul-mates becomes visually explicit in Symbolist art. Jean Delville's "Soul Love" (1900) could be dismissed as mystical kitsch, but it illustrates an archetypal image that lives timelessly in the human psyche. When Magdalene is pictured at the cross with Jesus, this image is restored and the cross, the operative symbol of the victim archetype, loses its power.
The Message of MM

Heretics are by definition able to choose. So, what does Magdalene choose? As a heretic, she would not have chosen to be a mouthpiece for the teachings of Jesus as these are conventionally understood, for Gnostics opposed those teachings on the grounds that the ethics were corrupt and the ideology perverse. Christians present Jesus as a superhuman ideal, the supreme model for human morals, but Gnostics argued that belief in a superhuman savior is detrimental to our sense of humanity. They warned that rites and rules do not make us spiritual. They protested that faith in the name of a dead men (i.e., the false doctrine pf resurrection) would lead the entire world to be perversely overwhelmed. (For the Gnostic argument on these points, see my commencary on the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, and other texts in the Nag Hammadi Reading Plan.) One scholar, K.W. Troger, notes that the Nag Hammadi materials are at least one-third are vehemently anti-Christian. My estimate is closer to half or better.

Scholars like Karen King argue that Magdalene espoused the teachings of Jesus, but they can only do so by drawing selectively from the Gnostic materials. The Nag Hammadi materials are baffling because they present some aspects of the orthodox Jesus, and other aspects of Jesus the heretic who, as he hangs on the cross, looks down scornfully at the crowd and laughs at their lack of perception, knowing that they are born blind (NHC VII, 3: 83). This Jesus is a Gnostic master who ridicules the Biblical patriarchs as laughing stocks and dupes of the Archons. (According to Gnostics, Archons are alien-type entities who distort the human mind by telepathic intrusion). Rather than associate himself with the conventional story line, the Gnostic master repudiates it by rejecting the other characters: "Adam to Moses, and John the Baptist, none of them knew me, nor my brothers of the light" (VII, 2.62 ff.). He condemns those who call themselves bishops and deacons, as if they have received their authority from God as dry channels (Ibid., 79, 20-5). Rather than plead his own case as the mediator between humankind and the father god, he warns: "Perhaps you think that the Father is a lover of mankind, or that he can be won over by prayer, or that he grants remission to one on anothers behalf, or that he bears with one who asks? It is by so believing that the soul kills itself" (NHL I, 2: 11 12). Throughout many passages, the Gnostic protest against Christian doctrines is ruthless and rigorous. Over sixteen centuries, it has not lost its sting.

It may seem odd to imagine Magdalene espousing anti-Christian views, but this is the plot change that emerges at the second level of impact, as we have seen. In view of the backstory, the Pagan setting of Jesus' life, the characters take on a completely different look. At the third level of impact, the transformation of the main personae becomes even more pronounced. Imagined as a couple of spiritual teachers who try to bring a Gnostic message to the masses in the tumultuous shift of the Piscean Age, Jesus and Magdalene begin to morph before our eyes. Something totally unexpected now emerges. With their roles no longer limited to the familiar cameos of the Gospel narratives, they become defined in terms of another myth, a myth that carries a message entirely different from the "good news" of the New Testament.

What is the message that might be attibuted to Magdalene, once she is freed from the conventional story-line? Among those writing on Magdalene today, even the most daring have hardly begun to explore this question. In Mary Magdalene: Christianity's Hidden Goddess, Lynn Picknett notes: "Although it is usually assumed that the Magdalene's message was indistinguishable from that of the New Testament, there are as we shall see good reasons to believe that was not so" (p. 95). Despite the anticipation she sets up, Picknett does not deliver even a rough sketch of what the message of Magdalene might have been. Typically, Picknett ranges across the usual slew of clues, including Cathars, Templars, the John the Baptist enigma, the Mandaeans, the Priory of Sion, etc., before veering around to the hot issue, sacred sexuality in Pagan religion.

We are left supposing that Mary Magdalene taught the rites of sacramental sex, whatever that might mean.


The Mind of Love

All scholars agree that that Gnostic spirituality was sexually oriented, but the concomitant message, the aim and ethos of sacramental sex, if you will, has yet to be clarified. It is tempting to equate Gnostic rites of snake-worship with Kundalini yoga, and to envision Jesus and Magdalene as Tantric lovers adept at the practices of sexual mysticism known in Asia for millennia. Such parallels are helpful, and can be textually supported, but unless we assume that Magdalene had nothing to say that was not already known by the Asian schools of mystical eroticism, we are still left wondering what, if anything, she did have to say.

Yet something irresistible is erupting at the third level of impact: if Jesus and Magdalene can be imagined as Gnostic teachers who were also consorts in sacramental sex, the origins of Christianity become eroticized. We then face the possibility that a Pagan mystique of love competes with the Christian ideal of love, and possibly could supercede it? What are the implications of this wild-eyed prospect?

The Pagan Magdalene cannot entirely be defined by what she stood against, that is, by anti-Christian elements from the Gnostic corpus. The surviving Coptic texts, supplemented by other materials, present ample evidence of what Gnostics thought, above and beyond what they thought of Christianity. If they argued that the ideal of the god-man dehumanizes us, they did not stop there, for they had a sound basis for rejecting belief in a superhuman model of humanity. They had an option. They taught that there is the seed of a divine capacity in us, a potential to be awakened, comparable to Bodhi, the seed of the Buddha Nature. But if believing in the superhuman model is not the way to realize this divine potential, what is?

Gnostics proposed that humans are endowed with nous, the seed of divine intelligence endowed in humanity by the Pleroma, the gods of the central cosmos. We claim the divinity within us by cultivating this innate intelligence and allowing it to flower into gnosis, the intuitive knowing of the heart. Gnosis engenders "the mind of love," as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it. "When we recognize the endowment, the seeds of understanding and love that are buried within us, we become filled with bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, the mind of love" (Cultivating the Mind of Love, p. 3). The love so realized is a higher knowing that grows out of the human heart in two directions, toward Gaia (including all non-human species), and toward others of our own kind, fellow humans.

Thus two myths are implied in the experience of love as a cognitive force, the seed of enlightenment. One is the myth of humanity's co-evolution with Gaia, prefigured in the Gnostic scenario of the Fallen Goddess. This myth has been elaborated in European culture through the mythos of the Grail Quest. (The Gaia Mythos on this site is a reconstruction and extension of the Fallen Goddess scenario.)

The other is the myth of the Lovers, which has been elaborated in European culture through the Cult of Amor, historically defined in Southern France in the 12th Century. Both myths are intentional in the sense that we can only realize them by participation, by exploring and living them out deliberately, not merely by being unconscious channels for the emotive and imaginal forces packed into them. Myths are powerful aids to living, but they can also be blind fields of compulsion that lock us into delusional and destructive behavior.

In the myth of the Lovers, love for humanity as such plays no role, and the ideal of a divine/human hybrid that represents a perfect humanity is not only irrelevant, but deviant. In the Cult of Amor there is no superhuman being who brings love to earth, or empowers humans with love. Rather, personal and passional love between man and woman is regarded as the divine force working among us and through us. The romantic myth attributes the transcendent value of religious faith to the power of personal love. This is the emergent theme looming behind the figure of Mary Magdalene, now brought to focus in popular imagination by the novel of Dan Brown.

There are enormous dangers in this new mythic complex — dangers which I intend to address in a separate essay, "The Cult of Amor" — yet the power of romantic love is so vast that it may exceed and eclipse the Christian ideal of love, especially now that doctrinal faith is in its death throes.

Gnostics contested the belief that perfect humanity could be embodied in one person, either a man or woman. They maintained that the higher development of humanity depends upon a co-evolutionary connection with Sophia, whose name means wisdom. At the cosmic level, Sophia is an Aeon, a Goddess, whose intelligence far exceeds human bounds, but at the human level she is reflected in a woman, Magdalene. It is not easy to understand the connection between the Sophianic vision of the Mysteries and the Cult of Amor, but it exists, and it is deep and intimate. After many years of contemplating this connection, I am convinced that the vision that guides us to coevolution with non-human nature cannot be realized with a profound healing of the split in human nature, the gender rift. At least one Gnostic text, The Gospel of Philip, closely relates cosmology to reconciliation of the sexes.

Gnostics were rigorously critical of any beliefs or influences that might divert or sever humanity from the Sophianic connection. They revered Magdalene as she who knows the All because she represents the grounding of the cosmic wisdom connection in the human heart. The total nexus, reaching from cosmic source to human heart, may be called the Sophianic vision of humanity.


Sex and Spirituality

The Da Vinci Code is enciting many people to rethink the connection between personal love and spirituality. The book suggests that Magdalene's message is, after all, about love. Not love as we yet understand it within the context of Christian religion, but as we might come to understand it through the Sophianic vision. Magdalene is unique in the way she connects the two mythic structures, the Grail Quest and the Cult of Amor. In both these mythologies, charismatic women variously pictured as spiritual guides, witches and sex-goddesses play an crucial role in the hero's quest to heal humanity. The wound of Amfortas, the Fisher King of the Grail legend, is sexual. Although the Cult of Amor is not concerned with love for humanity as such, as already noted, healing the wounded spirit of humanity depends on an enlightened view of sexual experience — on sexual healing, as Marvin Gaye told us.

The message of Christianity is also about love, so we are lead to believe. As the debate around The Da Vinci Code continues, we approach a crucial question:

Is there another message about love, connected cosmically to Sophia but centered in humanity, that could compete with the Christian message, focussed in the superhuman figure of Jesus Christ?

The deepest impact of the Magdalene Connection is also potentially the most far-reaching. This is the impact in the popular imagination, but at the level of archetypes, mythic structures. The mass mind responds to myth even when it does not recognize how it does so. The message of love carried in the figure of Mary Magdalene differs from the message of love conventionally associated with Jesus because these two figures are embedded in conflicting mythic frames. Today we can understand this difference due to what depth psychology has taught us about mythological complexes and how they work.


The Divine Victim

The heretic protests of the Gnostics do not carry much force today. After all, that debate ended long ago, and the Gnostics lost. No one walking the planet now is going to get enmeshed in such arcane issues. Yet there is one heretical factor in the MM material that cannot be dismissed with theological debates of the 4rd century. It presents the ultimate challenge to Christianity and its related Salvationist religions, Judaism and Islam. This challenge resides in the difference between a genuine myth for love and a message about love that relies on a contrasting mythic complex, the scapegoat or divine victim.

Magdalene is a figure of high numinosity, undeniable spiritual power, because she represents the archetype of the Lover. The story of Jesus told with her included as his koinonos, intimate companion, morphs into a love story of mythic dimensions. Heresy, let's remember, is about having options, having the freedom to choose what one believes. If Magdalene chooses to believe in her love for Jesus, rather than in the salvation he might provide, then the entire meaning of Jesus' story, the drama of the divine victim, is changed. Magdalene herself is no victim. To Gnostics she was clearly the human reflection of the Divine Sophia. But the scapegoat syndrome, the mythic complex at the basis of salvationist religon, depends on glorification the divine victim, and blocks out Sophia in her human aspect. Yet through Magdalen it becomes possible to believe that human love, the heart-felt passion of one person for another, is a genuine path to salvation without victimization and the glorification of suffering.

If she is envisioned with Jesus according to the archetype of the Lovers, Mary Magdalene elevates the spiritual value of love over the redemptive value that Christian faith attributes to suffering, a value inherent to the victim syndrome.

The shift that happens at the third level of impact is from redemption by a transcendent power, the instrument of God's love, to redemption through the power of human love, enabling us to transcend ourselves. Here we witness the collision of two mythic complexes. In the Christian mythos, God's love uses the victim syndrome for its mythic frame, but the victim archetype is fundamentally, even violently at odds with the dynamics of the Lovers.

From its pre-Christian and even prehistoric origins, the myth of the Lovers undergoes many variations while remaining relatively stable in its structure. With the close of the Pagan world, the myth was repressed, but it re-emerges in the cult of romantic love, Amor courtois. In literary terms, the central figures of this cult were the Celtic lovers, Tristan and Isolde. (Illustration, Roman de Tristan, early 15th C.)

The Da Vinci Code has an extraordinary impact because it situates us at the dangerous place where two tectonic plates of mythology are colliding. The plates cannot merge. One is bound to slide over the other. The plate that overrides will define the future landscape of Western religious imagination.

So, with these considerations, it may be possible to see how the fracture opened by the debate around The Da Vinci Code expands into the mythic dimension, the realm of archetypes, as C. G. Jung designated it. On this level, Jesus and Magdalene incarnate the myth of the Lovers, a sensuously potent image. In the conventional story, Jesus advised people to love their enemies and to love one another, but in the Gnostic cameo of the Gospel of Philip, he walks the talk. There he is shown in an act of personal love, romantic involvement, carnal bonding. The paramount message of Mary Magdalene, and the archetypal impact of her story, is carried in her role as the woman Jesus loved, personally, and who loved Jesus in his manner. Magdalene is not a victim of anything or anyone, and by association with her, neither is Jesus. Her presence in his story displaces Jesus from the archetypal role of divine victim, the lamb of God, the scapegoat, innocent of all wrong, whose vicious, unjust and unmerited death releases magical redemptive power into the world. The Victim archetype commands great prestige, of course, but when it is situated optionally beside the Lovers archetype, its appeal may look rather less impressive.

To those who keep faith in Christian principles, it may come as an unpleasant surprize that Jesus Christ considered in archetypal terms is the divine victim. Savior is the preferred term, but the savior only saves because he is a victim. The essence of Judeo-Christian religion is glorification of the victim. Whoever identifies with the victim receives the effect of the victim's sacrifice. This is the oldest formula of moral compensation known to our species. Christianity did not invent the scapegoat mechanism. Mary Daly notes that in the "sadosymbolism" of Christianity, we see "the style and content of patriarchy's structures, including those antecedent to and outside christianity. Rather, Christianity, with its torture cross symbolism, has been one expression of this basic pattern" (Gyn/Ecology, p. 96). I would say it is not just one expression, but the supreme expression. The glorification of the divine victim generates an emotional complicity in which "both victims and victimizers both perform uncritically their pre-ordained roles." (Ibid., p. 109) This is potent and potentially lethal contract.

The victim syndrome is embedded in all three components of the Jesus story: the narrative wrapping, the ethics, and the ideology. In the narrative Jesus is portrayed as the helpless (perhaps willing) victim of the Jews and Romans. In his ethics Jesus exhorts us to resist not evil and assures the victims of evil that "blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake" — a perfect double-bind formula that gives carte blanche to the perpetrator and high moral ground to the victim. In the ideology of redemption, Jesus the man is elevated to a superhuman level, thus enforcing the belief that scapegoating is a divine principle, its efficacy underwritten by the Father God, rather than what it really is, a mere human measure of desperation. The act of cosmic love is enacted in a sadomasochistic drama. This twist is consistent with what Mary Daly calls Christian doublethink, typical of the schizoid double bind defined by Gregory Bateson and elucidated by R. D. Liang. Where the double bind operates, outrageous contradictions pass without comment. Thus, the religion that claims to bring a message of divine love takes a man tortured on a cross for its emblem.

And nobody blinks an eye in protest.

Rodin's image of Christ and the Magdalene presents the option for what might be called Erotic Christianity. This image prompts us to re-imagine the Jesus story as a lover's tale without transcendent guarantees from beyond the human realm, a story that attests to the transcendental power of love itself. We have barely begun to imagine how human and personal love may carry transcendent powers, how it may incorporate supernatural elements. The love story of Jesus and Magdalene presents a mythic image that could generate a new vision of love — that is, love that has the power previously attributed by faith to God Almighty.


Transcendent Love

The genuinely Gnostic elements in the corrupt Coptic texts that survive indicate that sensual pleasure is an aspect of human love and carries a transcendent value. "Spiritual love is all fragrance and wine," says the Gospel of Philip. In Pagan terms, love has an erotic element. It is charged with pleasure. This again illustrates the striking contrast between the two mythic frames: the Victim archetype with its glorification of suffering, and the Lovers archetype for whom love is a pleasure, and even has sacramental value. In the myth of the Lovers, pleasure, not suffering, is the sacred element.

In Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler argues that in the legitimation of suffering and the glorification of pain as proof of God's election, hallmarks of Christian faith, "the split between body and spirit and between man and woman reaches its apex" (p. 154) This represents "a truly aberrated view of spirituality." Eisler cites "prehistoric Goddess-worshipping societies" to indicate how we might "see woman's body as both the immanent and transcendent symbol of thepower to give life, love and pleasure—a symbol that must be reclaimed if both women and men are to achieve spiritual healing" (p. 285). This, indeed, is the kind of symbol Magdalene represents.

The issues raised in Eisler's book resonate closely with the topics discussed in the forum on this site.

As carnal lovers, Jesus and Magdalene celebrate a sacramental bond redolent of "fragrance and wine," pleasure and passion. At the third and deepest level of impact, we are shifted from the redemptive magic of suffering, the trump card of Salvationist religion, toward another kind of magic: sexual-emotional chemistry, the melt and tremor of Erotic fusion. Christianity diabolized Eros and turned Pan, the orgiastic nature god, into the Devil. It might seem that, given the choice between a myth that glorifies pain and suffering and one that celebrates pleasure, humans would choose the latter. But they don't, largely because the option is not presented, but also because the pathology of suffering demands that people justify and glorify any pain that they can neither accept nor transcend. The genuine, body-based sense of Erotic spirituality was suppressed and destroyed in Europe over many centuries.

The mythos of the divine victim has a powerful appeal, as just noted. Much of the suffering we endure in life, and see others endure, is deemed unbearable, so we need a belief to help us accept it and keep faith with the positive things in life. Because suffering and loss at the personal level are so overwhelming, we look to a power beyond our personal lives to comfort us in our pain, and support us in bearing up to it. The Jesus story answers to this need, but not in a healthy way. It merely provides a solution to what appears to be an impossible situation. Many people today admit that their Christian faith is neither strong or well-defined (in the sense that they have a clear idea of what they believe), but the promise and example of resurrection embodied in Jesus are still convincing, and they cling to it (so many people have admitted to me) for the assurance it gives of being reunited with their loved ones after death.

But what if union with the loved one beyond death could be assured in another way? With the mythos of the Lovers, there is another way to face the anguish of separation by death. But for this other way to be accessible, faith has to shift from love for God and God's love for us to faith in human love, one to one.

Could the power of personal love really be strong enough to sustain us against the impact of suffering and loss, separation and death? It could be argued that we turn to the myth of suffering, and look for comfort in the image of the divine victim, because the power of human love fails us. But what if it did not fail? What if it were to grow into a transcendent force, to become a power in our hearts fully as strong as the force we gain (or believe we gain) in religious faith?

A wild idea, perhaps, but not original to this author by any means. The love story of Jesus and Magdalene is but one of many variations on the myth of the Lovers. I would not argue that personal and carnal love offers an option to religious faith, if there were not some kind of evidence to support that view. Magdalene is part of that evidence. As lovers united in carnal and spiritual union by a bond that transforms suffering and outlives death, Jesus and Magdalene embody a mythic image that lives timelessly in the human psyche.

And with the current resurgence of interest in Magdalene, that potent image is making a comeback.


The Cult of Amor 

The divine lovers appear in many scenarios, in many cultures and ages: Enkidu and the harlot in Gilgamesh, Tammuz and Ishtar, Adonis and Aphrodite, Amor and Psyche, and many, many other variants from Pagan cultural legacies. These mythical figures incarnate in an exemplary historical pair, the Gnostic lovers, Simon and Helen, exact counterparts to Jesus and Magdalene. With the rise of the Judeo-Christian doctrine of redemption based on the divine victim, the image of the divine lovers was shattered and suppressed. The Victim archetype only gained power in the collective psyche as the Lovers were smeared, slandered, and consigned to oblivion, if not condemned to hell. But with the re-emergence of Mary Magdalene, the Lovers return, the timeless archetype is revived and re-embodied. The impact of this revival, registered in the mythic dimension but lived out in cultural and personal terms, is likely to generate the most enduring and far-reaching repercussions of the debate around The Da Vinci Code.

The myth of the lovers has great antiquity, stretching back millennia before the time of Jesus. It also permutes ahead in time, after Jesus. In European history, about 1000 years after the life of Jesus, there was a resurgence of the Lovers archetype. This produced the astonishing phenomena of courtly love—not to be confused with Courtney Love, who, bless her wounded heart, might represent in adolescent terms a trashy, tormented reflection of Magdalene—a phenomenon that exploded in the Languedoc, Southern France, in the 12th Century. Above I suggested that two myths are generated from the human experience of love as a cognitive force: the Grail Quest and the Cult of Amor. Both contain numinous female figures in leading roles, and both recount many different kinds of love stories. But looming above all the variants is the paramount love story of European culture, the tale of Tristan and Isolde, best known through the version of Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210 CE).

In a visual shift that suggests the transition from a vertical to a horizontal mythos, Symbolist Jean Delville brings the "Soul Mates" down to earth. In his "Tristan and Isolde," Delville has the lovers fall into a swoon after drinking the love potion (read: sexual chemistry) that attracts them irresistably to each other. Part of this story concerns what they make of love when the potion wears off. The Erotic bond morphs into a spiritual connection that links the lovers immortally in the liebestod, love-death.

The prologue to Gottfried's Tristan contains a remarkable statement of what might be called the theology of romantic love. In several lines of verse, the author expresses his belief that telling the love of Tristan and Isolde is the equivalent of a religious experience:

This is bread to noble hearts.
With this their death lives on in us.
We read their life, we read their death,
And to us, this is as sweet as bread.

Their life, their death, these are our bread.
Thus lives their life, thus lives their death.
Thus they still live and yet are dead,
And their death is the bread of the living.

(Tristan, translated by A. T. Hatto, p. 44)

The poetic allusions are crystal-clear: Gottfried compares the passion of Tristan and Isolde to the Christian sacrament. He claims that for those who cherish the story of these lovers, passion becomes a sacrament. The bread and wine of romantic love replace the flesh and blood of the Redeemer. The myth of the Lovers supercedes the myth of the Victim.

Medieval versions of the two great mythic structures, the Grail Quest and the Cult of Amor, are called Romances, because they are written in dialects of Latin that eventually produced the family of Romance languages. The European Romances always concern exceptional people, knights and ladies, aristocrats and nobles. The word nobility comes from the same root as gnosis: hence, gnobility. True nobility, the mark of spiritual aristocracy, was seen in Gottfried's society in the willingness to learn through love, and to practice the arts of love. The euphemism for this profound engagement was "courtly manners," a romantic ethos involving a code of elegant behavior. The nobility conferred by Amor was not an option for the masses, because the conditions required for pursuing love and pleasure were not generally available, and anyway, such pursuits were forbidden by the Church.

Nobility grows where the intelligence of the heart is evolving. All great lovers are noble. They represent and enact the cognitive power of love—"cognition" also being derived from the gno- of gnosis. In Tristan, the Lovers enact a passion that is truly transcendental, a passion that completes itself in death but does not end in death. In the Romantic view of life, the power of human love to transcend death is captured in a single word from the Old High German of Gottfried: liebestod, "love-death." Tristan and Isolde are united, not in death or after death, but in the love-death. "Thus they still live and yet are dead," the poet affirms. This means that something akin to resurrection after death results from from the passion of the Lovers, while they are still living. They do not die to be reunited later. In the liebestod they are living and dead at the same time.

In the dynamic of the Lovers archetype, the love between woman and man carries equal force in presence and in absence. The assurance that the lovers will be reunited after death is unnecessary, for in their passional bond the divisive power of death is already dissolved. In Buddhist terms, Tristan and Isolde are united as "Form and Void." Considering that there is precious little reference to love bonds in Buddhism, except perhaps to condemn them as samsaric shackles, it is remarkable that Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh speaks at length of his personal love for a Vietnamese nun. Even through a lifetime of separation, this love never died or waned. Thich Nhat Hanh's Cultivating the Mind of Love resonates to the mystique of the liebestod, even while it propounds Buddhist teachings on impermanence, non-self, and nirvana. The intimate disclosure of the teacher's love life is completely unique in Buddhist teaching, as far as I know.

The experience of love described by Thich Nhat Hanh recalls the amor de loin of the troubadours, the distant, unconsummated love so often celebrated in Romantic legends. For more on Cultivating the Mind of Love, see Current Reading.)

According to the Cult of Amor, the bond between two noble lovers does not remain confined to their lives, but inspires and enfills the lives of others. "With this their death lives on in us." This means that the mystique of the love-death is transferable, as the redemptive power of Christ is believed to be transferable through the sacrament of the Host. In short, all the magical force attributed to resurrection and the sacrament of holy communion inheres in the liebestod, but in a transmuted form. 'Their life, their death, these are our bread./ Thus lives their life, thus lives their death.'

Love survives death, just as Magdalene survives Jesus. Death lives in transcendent love, bonding one human heart to another, even though it takes separation to consummate the bond.

If there is any message more potent than the promise of resurrection in Christian terms, it might be this: to overcome death, we use our love to make an eternal bond. We do this by loving each other as we are now, here and now, and as we are then, dead and gone. One way to heighten the love you feel for the person you are with is to imagine at moments that they are already dead. To practice love in Form and Void.

The story of Tristan and Isolde is a mythic transmutation of the Jesus story, not in the sense that it repeats the characters and incidents of Jesus life, or re-echoes the plot, but in the deeper sense that the passion of the Lovers replaces the sacramental value attributed to Christ's Passion.


Conclusion: The Myth of Choice

At the archetypal level, and perhaps also at the physical level, we all live and die by the myth of choice. But without options, we have no choice of myths. If the bond of carnal, personal love holds a power that can match the power of divine redemption, there is a real choice to be considered, an option to the vicarious salvation of the Divine Victim. Humanity relies heavily on that archetype, and evidence of the power of the scapegoating mechanism is all around us, but it is possible to transcend this vicious syndrome, and go beyond the Jesus story in which it is scripted.

In the love story of Jesus and Magdalene, personal love is a spiritual attainment. Their intimacy is merely an example of what we may all achieve by the healing of gender conflict, a process that involves all variations of gender. The Romantic model of heterosexual love is only a special case—but the paramount case, artistically and historically speaking—of the love that reconciles sexuality and spirituality.

And romantic love has its pathological and deviant aspects, of course but to discuss these goes beyond the limits of this three-part essay.

To conclude: Christianity, a set of doctrines and practices based on the life of Jesus, does not represent the myth of choice on this planet. Rather, it is the myth of conquest and conversion. The Jesus story fits the agenda of patriarchy, for which is was probably written in the first plase. Patriarchy depends on the religious dogma of monotheism to mandate its political program of domination. The Victim archetype gains power in the collective psyche only by asserting its exclusivity, using the monotheistic ploy: "There is no God but this one." We are, perhaps, reaching the end of a long, declining trajectory with this ploy, but we are still caught in the murky undertwo of a millennial pathology. Today, with the re-emergence of Mary Magdalene, the mythical Lovers return, and a timeless archetype is revived and re-embodied. The impact of this revival, registered in the mythic dimension but lived out in cultural and personal terms, is likely to generate the most enduring and far-reaching repercussions of the debate around The Da Vinci Code.

Back to Level Two: The Backstory

Back to Level One: The Alternative Story

JL: July 2004 Revised August 2005

 

 

 

 


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.