Magdalene Mysteries: The Left-Hand Path of the Feminine Christ, Seren Bertrand & Azra Bertrand, M.D.
Bear & Company, 978-1-59143-346-0, 525 pages, 2020
Magdalene Myserties: The Left-hand Path of the Feminine Christ by Seren Bertrand and Azra Bertrand is a deep dive into Mary Magdalene, viewing her from Biblical, historical, and mystical perspectives. This well-researched book invites the reader on a pilgrimage to the Rose by journeying through three portals: the Magdalene Chronicles, the Magdalene Codex, and the Magdalene Vision Quest. These portals form the basis of the sectioning of the book, with each portal offering in-depth exploration of the topic. The authors write that “a key to our journey into the Magdalene Mysteries is to understand the true left-hand path of the goddess; and that Mary Magdalene…was the lineage holder of this sacred tradition.”1
Before the reader enters the portals, the authors provide their “love letters,” each offering individual writings on their initiations/encounters with Mary Magdalene, with Sara writing of meeting Mary Magdalene and of the sacred masculine vision and Azra writing about the Holy Whore of Sophia. The book then proceeds to “explore a radical, forbidden version of Mary Magdalene as a priestess of the Womb mysteries.”2
I was drawn to this book to explore the multi-faceted Mary Magdalene. Having been raised a Catholic, I initially only knew of Mary Magdalene as the prostitute, carried into my teen years with watching Jesus Christ Superstar where she was again portrayed in this role. I later became an adjunct instructor of Art History, and again, my encounters with Mary Magdalene in painting and sculpture again had her portrayed as a prostitute. As I began reading sources other than the Catholic church (!) I was met by a powerful woman, a trusted apostle of Jesus. I needed to learn more, and this book provided a compendious accounting of Mary Magdalene.
Portal One, the Magdalene Chronicles, details Mary Magdalene’s lineage, starting with the “ancient mothers” in Sumeria. The chronology includes mermaids and the primeval water dragons, Inanna, and Asherah. It was illuminating to read of this lineage of the powerful woman, the vessel, the womb. The authors then transition to Mary Magdalene’ story of the Feminine Christ, looking at the feminist ministry of Christ, whether or not Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married, and her place at the crucifixion and resurrection. The first portal concludes with churches linked to the growth of churches in Europe linked to Mary Magdalene.
The main focus of Portal Two, the Magdalene Codex, is an in-depth study of the Ghent Altarpiece, created by Jan Van Eyck, from 1426 to 1432. The authors approach this work “as both a pilgrimage and Grail Quest.”3 I found this section fascinating. I was familiar with the Ghent Altarpiece and taught about it in my Art History classes from the typical perspective of the religious symbolism in the painting such as the lamb symbolizing the Lamb of God. I taught about perspective, the place of patrons present in the piece, the role of an altarpiece in a church, etc. The authors, however, offer a complex and compelling distillation of the altarpiece, focusing one’s attention on the positioning of images to create the “position of birthing and sacred sexuality.” (plate 15). I did need to sit a while with the intimation that Van Eyck inserted an heretical message in the work.
The authors turned next to Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper. I will admit that I never “bought” the explanation that the feminine figure to the side of Jesus was John the Evangelist. I am in agreement that, after having read about the important place of Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus, that this image was indeed that of Mary Magdalene. The authors write that da Vinci was also “connected to the underground streams of the feminine mysteries.” 4 I imagine that these artists kept the need of art patronage in the forefront as they created multi-dimensional works of art with levels of meaning.
The belief that Mary Magdalene was seen as a “dangerous figure” threatening to usurp masculine power, led to her portrayal as a “less than,” a whore, non-starter. The second portal closes with a return to the Ghent Altarpiece, where the authors write that Van Eyck “presents an entirely new, and at the same time ancient, vision in which the feminine is restored.” 5 I found the second portal so very fascinating, given my background in Art History. It’s given me a desire to develop an art history course on Mary Magdalene.
The Third Portal, Magdalene Vision Quest, focuses on the pilgrimage to the Rose through “stories, oracles, and personal rituals.” 6 In the chapter Honoring the Motherline, Mary Magdalene as the “spirit keeper of the womb” is investigated. Seren writes about her own opening up to the path of Mary Magdalene and the goddess path. A personal favorite of mine was her writing about her pilgrimage to Glastonbury in England, a place I was drawn to visit as well. It is hard to adequately describe the otherworldly feeling of Glastonbury, the multidimensional feeling of space and time. Sere writes about the chalice well and its red flowing water and Glastonbury Abbey built on the site of an ancient sacred site devoted to the divine feminine and “known in local lore as the ‘vagina of the birth goddess.’”7
Seren recounts how Magdalene directed her to visit Iona, a remote Scottish island in the Hebrides. I was beginning to feel a connection both to Magdalene and Seren as Iona is a place that I find myself constantly drawn to read about and to most definitely visit post-pandemic. She continues by writing about the ancestral wise witches and the death of her mother, the mother of her “birth womb.”8 She movingly describes the graveside service she led for her mother. “As my mother’s womb had birthed me into this world, now I midwived her back into the womb of Mother Earth, for her rebirth into the Spirit world.”9
The Third Portal section contains rituals that the reader can perform, such as a Rose Ritual or the Anointing of the Moon ritual, a Mermaid ritual, and a Black Rose rituals. The rituals all contain references to an element, a ministry (such as cleansing), archetypes (such as Aphrodite), colors, and sigils (like a chalice). I have not yet taken the time to participate in a ritual, though, but the moving descriptions accompanying each ritual will draw me in sooner rather than later.
The book concludes with an invitation to return to the “dynamic Wild Feminine” which is “not limited to the story of one person or priestess – it is a living, vibrant frequency within everyone, calling to be remembered and embodied.” 10 Seren’s prayers to Magdalene are the final pages of the book.
The book contains numerous images and illustrations to support the writings, including prehistoric clay tablets and sculptures, rich reproductions of pre-Renaissance and Renaissance tapestries, painting, and sculptures, and 20th century art including the image of a stained glass window in Sheffield, England in which Mary Magdalene is depicted as holding her hands in the “womb mudra position.” 11
Magdalene Mysteries offers a perfect combination of historic information across millennia along with the personal interactions of the authors with Mary Magdalene. It is a book to be read over time, allowing the information to seep in. It reads as a pilgrimage, and like all pilgrimages, time should be taken to allow the path to reveal itself to you, to allow yourself to open to revelations and notice the changes that occur as a result of the pilgrimage. The book is a pilgrimage to the Rose, and as such, invites the reader to open up slowly to Mary Magdalene, much like a rose itself that slowly opens, moving from a bud to a flower in full bloom, layers of beautiful petals. It is a comprehensive introduction to Mary Magdalene to those new to the subject and also a deep-dive for those wanting a deeper interaction with Mary Magdalene. I highly recommend this book and encourage the reader to walk the path of pilgrimage to the Rose with these highly informed and passionate authors.
Anne Greco is a non-fiction writer who writes about her life experiences and travels with humor, keen observations, and the hope that her words will remind us that “we’re all just walking each other home.” Her book, Serendipity: Chance Pilgrimages, tells the story of Anne encountering her places of power. As she reconnects with herself at each site, Anne also develops a deeper understanding and appreciation of her connection to both the seen and unseen worlds. Learn more about her work here: http://annegrecowriter.com.