Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen is described as Jesus Christ’s beloved companion. But what does that mean? Volumes have been filled attempting to answer that question. Passionate debate rages with no sign of abatement:

• Was she among Christ’s most dedicated disciples?

• Was she among the women who raised funds to support Jesus and his disciples?

• Was she a repentant sinner?

• Was she a prostitute and, if so, what kind? Secular or temple priestess?

• Was she Jesus’ wife?

Whoever she was, she is an extremely significant character in the New Testament. Mary Magdalen is the only woman mentioned who is never identified in relation to a man: she is not identified as anyone’s wife, sister, or daughter. (Unless you believe her to be the same woman as Mary of Bethany, in which case she is the sister of Lazarus.) She is also the first person to witness the resurrected Christ.

Part of the problem resolving Mary Magdalen’s identity is the popularity of the name Mary. It seems that virtually every other woman in first century Judea was named Mary. There are so many Marys in the New Testament that their identities become confused. In the Church’s early years, the identities of these women were left ambiguous.

In Hebrew, the word Migdal, from which Magdalen derives, means a “tower,” “castle,” “fortress,” or “raised-up place.” Her name may be interpreted as Mary from the fortress or Mary who is the fortress. The name is also evocative of the “high places” associated with worship of the Hebrew goddess Asherah.

In Eastern Christianity, Mary Magdalen, Mary of Bethany, and the unnamed woman of Luke 7:37–50 “who was a sinner” are considered three distinct individuals. In Roman Catholicism, Pope Gregory the Great (540–604 CE), a great devotee of the Virgin Mary, declared these three women to be one and the same. Eventually a fourth, “the woman taken in adultery” from John 8:3–11, was also included. Mary Magdalen is also often confused and conflated with self-avowed, repentant harlot Saint Mary of Egypt.

Many are offended by the suggestion that Mary Magdalen was Jesus’ wife. However, these suggestions were not invented by Dan Brown, author of the 2003 bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, nor by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln’s 1982 study, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. These rumors date back to the early days of Christianity and stem mainly from Gnostic sources. The Magdalen is a pervasive presence in Gnostic texts. The Gospel of Mary, estimated written in the early second century is sometimes attributed to her. (Less than eight pages of original text are available.)

The Gospel of Philip refers to Mary Magdalen as Jesus’ “companion,” using a Greek word indicating “partner” and “consort.” Philip the Apostle was a devotee of John the Baptist before he became a disciple of Jesus. The Gospel of Philip, attributed to him and believed written in the late second century although possibly based on earlier sources, describes three women who “always walked with the master. Mary his mother, sister and Mary Magdalen called his companion. For ‘Mary’ is the name of his sister, his mother and his companion.”

The Magdalena is a comic-book heroine (Top Cow Comics) descended from Mary Magdalen and Saint Sara and secretly employed by the Vatican. She wields the Spear of Destiny and battles vampires.

Mary Magdalen is the secret keeper. She is the repository of sacred mysteries. Her modern identity may depend upon the eyes of her beholders. Mary Magdalen is venerated by Christians, Jews, and Pagans alike. Mary Magdalen is a Christian saint. Her official hagiography says she traveled to France as a missionary. Others insist that she is the founder of an alternative and now secret spiritual tradition. This theory, the basis for The Da Vinci Code, is also based on Gnostic texts such as the Pistis Sophia, which portrays Mary Magdalen in conflict with Peter, considered the first pope and founder of the Church. Still other people perceive that Mary and Jesus were adepts in secret spiritual traditions devoted to Isis or Asherah of the Sea. Alternatively Mary Magdalen was a priestess of Atargatis, whose symbols are doves and fish. Some consider her an avatar of any or all of these goddesses.

In the 21st century, Mary Magdalen has emerged as an independent goddess, venerated by goddess devotees around the world. Whether as saint or goddess, Mary Mag dalen is invoked for miracles of love, romance, safety, and fertility. She may be asked to protect those who are burdened or threatened by secrets. Mary Magdalen is a constant presence in classical art and popular culture.


Mary Magdalene; Maria Magdalena


22 July


Beauticians, hairdressers, aroMatherapists, perfumers, pharmacists, lovers


She is sometimes described as having naturally red or henna-reddened hair.


An alabaster jar or box of perfumed unguent or solid perfume, a skull, an egg


Spikenard (Nardostachys grandiflora)


Mary Magdalen is identified with the constellation Virgo, interpreted as resembling a lone woman holding the divine child.


The cave at Sainte-Baume, near Marseilles, where one legend says she lived for thirty years.


Candles, Galilean or French wine, sugar skulls, alabaster or other ornamental eggs (give her Fabergé eggs for a true miracle and if you can afford it); burn myrrh incense in her honor


  • Asherah of the Sea, Lady
  • Atargatis
  • Black Madonna
  • Helen of Troy
  • Isis
  • Macarena, La
  • Malinche
  • Mari (2)
  • Maries de la Mer
  • Sara la Kali


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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