A year living in Crete, filled with hiking and adventures and discoveries culminated in my debut novel, Dancing the Labyrinth. This was a story of a young troubled woman who shelters in a cave and discovers walls adorned with Minoan paintings. She learns about, and ultimately from, this ancient matriarchal culture that worshipped a Mother Goddess and was led by women.
Minoan Goddess - Heraklion Museum circa 2000 – 1450 BC
When I returned home to Woodend in regional Victoria, I learned I had received a significant redundancy. This unexpected payout was opportune, for after returning home from Crete, after drying the tears I shed for three weeks, after working in the garden and hanging out with my chooks and goats to connect back with the land, friends told me of a tour they were considering. South of France, they said. Mary Magdalene, they nodded. A 3-day workshop with Caroline Myss they rejoiced.
I turned to Bruce and said, "I have to do this."
Mary Magdalene intrigued me. Not in a biblical sense. While in Greece I was drawn to Byzantine images of The Last Supper, loudly proclaiming the person sitting to the right of Jesus was a woman- Mary Magdalene. During my travels, I sought out images and statues of the Black Madonna as much as the many images of a paler Mary.
So off I journeyed to the South of France to research folklore surrounding Mary Magdalene. For centuries the people of the Languedoc region have built their churches and cathedrals for Mary Magdalene and followed her teachings. I knew nothing of this.
The familiar mainstream story I knew of Mary Magdalene was compiled through writings approved in the 325 AD Roman canonised version of The Bible we read today. This version does not include other texts unearthed in relatively contemporary times: The Gospel of Mary (discovered in 1896 in Cairo) or the Nag Hammadi texts (similar to the Dead Sea scrolls). Mary Magdalene’s story in France is textured by a rich history collated from folklore, legend and independent rigorous academic study. Her legacy in the Languedoc region of Southern France bears testimony to a very different version of an amazing woman once scorned in our Scripture.
Circa 2017 research on the Christian thread to the narrative
I created a timeline to understand significant threads - so I would remember things like: the present edition of the Bible was re-written in the 4th Century. Which happens to be the beginning of the Dark Ages when those damn Franks, Visigoths, Celts, Huns and Norse swept through Europe.
But before then: Jesus dies (perhaps). Mary was a teacher in her own right. She was a disciple of Jesus, who apparently had liked to kiss her on the mouth and was his most favoured companion (see Gospel of Thomas and perhaps even Luke). She escapes to Egypt, possibly pregnant to Jesus. Note on Jesus, who may or may not have died (TBC). He was crucified. This was a Roman punishment for sedition. Sedition is "conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state (Rome) or monarch." That is, Jesus was a political prisoner, possibly perceived as a terrorist. His crime was not blasphemy, for that he would have been stoned.
Mary flees to Egypt because her partner was a political rebel. She births a daughter, then sails in 42 AD to the South of France.
In 66-74 AD there is a Jewish revolt against the Romans and the Christian community of Jerusalem is wiped out. There is no authoritative version of Christianity.
Jump to 277 AD and Saint Augustine, having had 31 years of debauchery, finally discovers God. There is also a group called the Manichean Heresy (Mani) who combine their power and perspective to create an awful misogynist culture. In this context, circa AD 325 the Council of Nicae proclaim that Jesus was the "only begotten son of the Father.” So begins the "Father, Son and the Holy Ghost" spiel that was decreed the orthodox creed with no variations being tolerated. This gave rise to the Arian Heresy who denied this doctrine of the Holy Trinity and divinity of Jesus, claiming he was in fact a human bloke. This was a belief widely held in the 5th - 6th C.
By 380 AD Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire. To encourage conversions many followers of other faith were persecuted and alternative teachings destroyed. Under Empire Constantine, the Bible’s New Testament was collated to be read aloud in churches throughout the Roman Empire with the aim of uniting the people.
By the 5th C Black Madonnas started appearing in places of worship throughout Europe. At this point the Christian Church does not revere Mary the mother of Jesus - that comes later. There is substantial research to suggest the Black Madonnas acknowledge, even venerate Mary Magdalene. Black symbolises her being hidden, "not recognised in the street."
I heard about a tour that involved research about Mary Magdalene.
I was enthralled and inspired.
Another book? I questioned.
Yes. I decided.
Seen from the eyes of a girl. There was a sense of looking up at the towering figure of Mary.
I called her Sara.
Then I learnt that Mary's child was called Sarah-Tamar.
Oh dear. I didn't want to write from the perspective of a 'real' person.
So I decided on a companion, Sophia.
Only to learn that Sophia means Wisdom. Sophia is also integral to the Gnostic's myth of the fall and restoration of Pistis Sophia. The story emerges to include stories of the Cathars, Knights of the Templar, as well as Saint Sara, the Gypsy Queen.
I never imagined there was a link between Mary Magdalene and her teachings of the Mysteries with the Eleusian Mysteries that honour Demeter and Persephone. Not that the Labyrinth was a feature for both. Thanks to the charm and persuasive ways of Nina our host of Dancing Spirit Tours, I was fortunate to walk the stone labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France. Nothing short of inspirational.
The labyrinth reflects life. Both the Church and experience say this
This piece was written from my experience and found itself (somewhat amended) in the novel.
Her shoes are off. She wants to feel the stone beneath her feet. Stone laid in honour of Maria Negre. She wants the coolness to penetrate, permeate her skin, cell, blood. Pure. Like clarity itself. She takes her place in a line to approach the entrance to the labyrinth. On the cold stone pathway, she practices. Every step to be considered mindfully. Slowly maintained movement in a steady smooth flow. Zen-like. She had been taught this. A technique. In a theatre workshop? Perhaps circus? Tolerance, patience, quiet dignity, curves, turns, pacing oneself.
Walking toward the centre is identified as the stage of release. The meditative pace feels right. It seems appropriate.
She takes her first step, naked to the touch. She enters. Den of antiquity? Anticipation? Expectation? She does not pause or hesitate. Mind cleared of thought, focusing only on each step. One foot laid down, heel, flat, ball, toes, up and over carried through space, as the other is placed and rolled in rhythm. Slow, calculating, balanced. Each foot holding the space for the other. Contact, lift, placement. She stays focused on the meeting between skin and stone, and follows the path in its journey in front of her. Sandy coloured stone lined with smaller inlaid black. The path is clearly set and she maintains a strong presence of breath and movement. Turning corners offer a smooth transition from one direction to another. Facing this way, then that.
A song accompanies her along one track, gently inspired by the infused light shining though stained-glass windows. Glowing shades of yellow and red and blue and green:
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when clouds are grey,
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away.
Her father's face smiles into her thoughts as a tear trickles down. Awash with love at the vision and memory. She forgives him for what she has recently perceived as a series of transgressions against an ideology of social equity and justice. Her sob is intimate and quiet and opens her heart into a wider space of gentle beauty.
It is a shared path and there are people before her. They walk and pause. She considers her options but does not want to break her flow, so she walks past one and then another. Manoeuvring carefully not to obstruct, push past or disturb their privacy of the moment. True to self, she smiles. She becomes aware of other women, walking within the twists and turns of the labyrinth. She cannot tell if they walk before her or after her, only around her. Some she acknowledges, smiling that spills the happiness leaking from her. Eyes, mouths, hearts.
No busy thought intrudes. None. Step, then another, step, then another, Rolling like lapping waves upon the shores of eternity. Step, following without intention. Purpose only existing to move forward as the path leads her, finally to the centre.
Her silent prayer.
Please guide me
Help me be in my power
The answer comes without hesitation
The thought-word releases a hidden weight. She almost giggles.
Then she hears voices. Not of spirit but of Priest. An instruction. Time is short. There is a need for haste, to leave. To gather together at the altar.
No. I will finish the labyrinth as I entered. To be reborn.
She no longer feels the need for quiet reflection. She realises she could happily skip, as a child, carefree along the path. Alight from the earthy steps of stone connection to dance lightly with breath and spirit.