Reviewed by Miriam Raven
14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene cleverly combines theory with practical steps, such as meditations, questions and prayers to invite the sacred feminine into women's everyday lives. So if you want to know how to really make contact with Mary Magdalene, this might be the book for you.
In some respects a second volume to Joan Norton's The Mary Magdalene Within (reviewed in Goddess Pages Autumn 2008), this book is really hands on: it opens with experiences from the Los Angeles Mary Magdalene Circle encouraging women to create their own space of sharing and celebration. Then it presents 14 lessons to experience Mary Magdalene's wisdom. Each lesson opens with an insightful essay by Margaret Starbird and is followed by "Reflections and Sharing" - full of ideas to discuss with other women or to reflect on in solitude. After that, a short meditation complements the intellectual insights and gives gentle guidance on how to open to the divine feminine, which is followed by more comprehensive journal questions. Each of the lessons is devoted to another aspect in Mary Magdalene's story, such as reclaiming the bride, the real meaning of her name, the story of her (and women's) devaluation in Gnosticism, the symbolism of the divine vessel, the kiss as sharing breath, as well as her journey to France with her daughter. Personally, I was especially drawn to the chapter "Symbols from a Dark Time" that traces the unicorn symbolism of the Middle Ages back to the suppressed history – the "Grail heresy" – linking medieval watermarks, Tarot symbolism and mythology, which I found very enlightening. The "darker" wisdom of Mary Magdalene, her compassion and grief, also spoke to me (particularly in the thoughtful meditation on the value of tears), as well as her descent to the tomb, which is prefigured by much older mythology, such as the myths of Tammuz and Ishtar, Isis and Osiris, Aphrodite and Adonis.
The book begins with a note of gratitude to Margaret Starbird for her work on the sacred feminine (for example The Woman with the Alabaster Jar or The Goddess in the Gospels) that many women – including me – certainly share. However, since I've got the feeling that Starbird's scholarly approach and Norton's practical wisdom as a psychotherapist and as the founder of the Los Angeles Mary Magdalene Circle perfectly complement each other, I was a bit disappointed that there is not more of a dialogue between the two authors. Norton takes Starbird's theses as a springboard for personal experience, which is absolutely fine, but I was curious about what Starbird would say if she'd joined this circle and how she would react to the offered exercises. Starbird's essays, of course, are inspiring, in fact so inspiring that I sometimes felt dissatisfied just because I was craving for more! I found most of them too short, but then of course there are Starbird's books. Apart from that, 14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine itself offers a list of resources for those with Mary Magdalene fever – and if you're not used to envisioning divine marriage as at the root of Christianity you might well feel a bit hot – including books, but also internet groups, websites and artists, which I found very helpful.
The second part of the book comprises prayers and poems to complement the lessons, drawn from very diverse sources and cultures. The reader will find Christian prayers, extracts from Inanna's love declaration to Dumuzi, A Navajo Prayer of Reverence for Women, and also poems and prayers by members of the Mary Magdalene Circle (especially by Susan Kehoe-Jergens) that I liked very much.
For Christian women, this book shows an ideal way to envision holy marriage as complementing the feminine and the masculine in their faith. For all other spiritual women, however, why not work with earlier Goddesses who influenced the Biblical stories, such as Inanna or Isis? Norton and Starbird themselves draw attention to the fact that that hieros gamos and the "Song of Songs" are not original to Christianity and Judaism, but that the tradition of holy marriage goes back to the ancient Middle East and its rich polytheistic heritage in which powerful Goddesses present inspiring images for modern women, too. So for a revaluation of the body and of sexual pleasure I would not recommend reading the "Song of Songs" first, but the whole original text of the Hymns to Inanna (Wolkstein/Kramer: Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth). For a reflection on the missing female side in Christianity I would also turn to Ashera who had once been worshipped as Yahweh's consort in the Jerusalem Temple.
Norton herself puts the problem of monotheism into simple and clear words: "A celibate God never made sense and has certainly caused terrible distortions in religious life". Yet, although feminist theologians and women on a spiritual path have reclaimed much of the missing divine feminine, in "official" Christianity it is still not recognised, let alone celebrated. For this reason I can only hope that Jean Shinoda Bolen, whom Norton quotes, is right when she claims that women's circles have a revolutionary potential – and for Christianity it would be Mary Magdalene Circles in particular.
Mary Magdalene and no end… and this is, in fact, a good thing. This book offers an important way to spread the word and – more importantly – spread the experience of how it feels when women again reclaim the place that has always been theirs.
14 Steps to Awaken the Sacred Feminine: Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene is published by Bear & Company and is available online at their website: http://www.innertraditions.com/
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