The Divine Feminine:
Word & Photo Essay Based on Several Visits to Paris' Cluny Museum and two Parisian Cathedrals

With a PS Added 16 December 2006

Vesta, a goddess of antiquity

This statue of Vesta was located in ancient Paris long before it was Paris, and was installed into a building by Romans in the late first or early second century.  This statue is now on display in the basement of the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages, in Paris.  It is set in a location of a Roman bath whose foundations were built on in the Middle Ages, a beautiful place to feel history in cold building stones, as well as see history displayed on pedestals and in cabinets.













Mary, mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven

Early in Christian history statues of Mary and her baby Jesus became common and thereafter Mary's life became studied and revered until she became introduced into the presence of God and crowned to take her place beside Him.  It was in 1950, as the famed psychiatrist Carl Jung1 approvingly noted, that there was official recognition of the resurfacing of the long suppressed archetypal demand for the female in Deity that had been building for many hundreds of years. 

Jung felt that the Catholic announcement of the Assumption of Mary, in 1950, was "the most important religious event since the Reformation." (Storr 1983 p. 324)  This "bodily reception of the Virgin into heaven" (Ibid.) meant that "the heavenly bride was united with the bridegroom," (Ibid. p. 322) which union "signifies the hieros gamos." [the sacred marriage] (Ibid.) 

The moment of the Divine coronation of Mary is celebrated in many murals and ceilings and statuary.  This is an example from the cathedral at Reims where Joan of Arc brought Charles VII for his coronation.

 Acknowledging that the Assumption "is vouched for neither in scripture nor in the tradition of the first five centuries of the Christian Church," Jung observes that:  "The papal declaration made a reality of what had long been condoned.  This irrevocable step beyond the confines of historical Christianity is the strongest proof of the autonomy of archetypal images." (Storr 1983 p. 297)

 To Protestants who challenge the new dogma on historical grounds, the Protestant Jung (1933 p. 236) answers in part that  "the Protestant standpoint . . . is obviously out of touch with the tremendous archetypal happenings in the psyche of the individual and the masses, and with the symbols which are intended to compensate the truly apocalyptic world situation today." (Ibid. pp. 322-323)  Jung added: “Protestantism has obviously not given sufficient attention to the signs of the times which point to the equality of women.  But this equality requires to be metaphysically anchored in the figure of a 'divine' woman. . . .  The feminine, like the masculine, demands an equally personal representation.” (Ibid. p. 325)   Quotes from : Jung, C. G.  Modern Man in Search of a Soul.  Translated by W. S. Dell and C. F. Baynes. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, San Diego. (1933); and: Storr, Anthony (Ed.).  The Essential Jung. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (1983).

Just how personal these representations had already become long before 1950 is evident in these 14th and 15th century statues of Mary, mother of Jesus, Queen of Heaven, also located in Paris' Cluny Museum.



I closed in on the faces, in one case moving past the baby Jesus, because I thought these were all extraordinarily expressive and very human faces.  One I fell in love with, however, and in that one the momma is so proud and the baby is so happy it just brings a smile to my face everytime I look at them:

Another depiction that I like is from the church of St. Sulpice, in Paris,  where the entire church focuses on a cosmically descending Mary and Jesus, with Mary's feet on the world and on the serpent of Genesis.  It certainly suggests a prominent role for the feminine, together with the masculine, in bringing salvation to the world, at least in this salvation-oriented religious tradition.



(This third picture is a picture of a picture)


Mary Magdalene


Another woman widely featured in Medieval religious art was the woman called Mary Magdalene, portrayed in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip as Jesus' consort, whom he loved, and loved to kiss.  The Gospels of Thomas and of Mary also show the conflict between some of the apostles and Mary Magdalene, with Jesus defending her in Thomas. 

In the Gospel of Mary she is teaching the apostles after his death, at the request of some and over the protest of others, of what she had learned from him in her private moments with him. 

Although the Bible never described her this way, it made clear that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a special relationship: he cured her, she traveled with him and supported him, and finally after his death she was the first human to whom Jesus revealed himself as risen! 

The mixture of feminine appeal and piety that this relationship stirred in the minds and hearts of artists in the 14th and 15th centuries is evident in these statues, also on display in the Cluny Museum:


I read Margaret Starbird's book "The Woman With the Alabaster Jar."  Margaret's website (click on book title) says that she was shocked by the heresy about Jesus and Mary being married, and that "this Roman Catholic scholar set out to refute it, but instead discovered new and compelling evidence for the existence of the lost bride of Jesus -- the same Mary who anointed him with precious unguent of nard from her alabaster jar (John 12)."  Margaret has also written a book on the Divine Feminine in Christianity, also described on her web page.

I review Margaret's 'Alabaster Jar' book on this site under the title "Ladies, Unicorns, Sacred Marriages, and a Good Book."  I have added (in June of 2000) some photos to that discussion, showing the prominent place that Mary Magdalene still fills in the artwork of Catholicism, art very suggestive of there having been a very special relationship between this Mary and Jesus.

If you want to see some very bold artwork related to Mary Magdalene, go the the Madeleine church in Paris and see this magnificent Mary, on her knees on a straw container being borne aloft into heaven by some equally magnificent angels:

There are two murals above this statuary group, in one Mary is the person on her knees, the closest to Christ on his right (our left), and if the photo were sharper we would be able to more easily see that her alabaster jar is with her:

And above that mural is an even higher one (too dark for my camera) where she is being welcomed by Christ into his presence as the first among the apostles.  With permission of David Henry, I am posting his photo of this painting here, below.  It is a painting by  Jules-Clause Ziegler (entitled the History of Christianity).  In it you can see Mary Magdalene being borne into the presence of Christ and the apostles in heaven by three angels bearing her on a cloud with a label saying "she has loved much."   [The history of Christianity part is in the lower portions, with key individuals from Eastern Christianity on one sde and from Western Chrisitianity on the other side, and Napoleon in the middle!]

[Please click here to see the source of this excellent 2006 photo of this painting.  On this website, David Henry  has terrific photos of Paris as well as other places in the world.]  

The point, to me, is that the three works of art in this curch all pay homage to Mary Magdalene's special relationship to Christ, whatever that relationship may have been.  In a way Ziegler's depiction of Jesus and Mary M. is a mirror image of the second photo, above, showing Mother Mary with her crown of glory in heaven next to the Father: they are the Queen and King of Heaven.


Back to Mary, mother of Jesus, and archtypes once more

The final picture in this essay is one that is more symbol than portrayal.  It is Mary, mother of Jesus with a Jesus-child, holding the globe of authority on Earth just as such a globe is beneath her feet in the above carving of her coronation.  But in her, symbolically, lies prefigured the entire salvation drama, God and his Christ crucified, whom believing humans may adore within her, and reach through her.

This is a 15th century piece, and the Queen-of-Heaven coronation scene on the Reims cathedral (second photo on this page) predates it significantly.  This dramatizes Jung's assertion that the 1950 Annunciation came a long, long time after that notion had already become deeply rooted into popular belief and piety. 

This is the archetype of the Divine Feminine, one of the basic truths built into the very depth of our being, according to Jung.  In the Catholic world she again surfaces, as best she can, into yet another female-limiting, patriarchal world.  Vesta, pictured in the first photo above, was also revered as a representation of the Divine Feminine in a(n even more extremely) patriarchal world, the world of the Pater Familias where the man was expected to be revered by wife, child and slave, and was undisputed ruler over his household, by virtue of his maleness.  Roman society was a strongly man- centered social system wherein women lived to serve, and please,  and in order to thrive in this environment emerging Christianity largely emulated and adopted/adapted Rome's 'family values' with vestiges quite evident still in all modern societies. 

Depictions of the two Marys as the mother and the intimate friend of Jesus, and as being received into Heaven to take a prominent place there beside the God-symbols of Christianity, are refreshing antidotes to this sometimes deadening male-centeredness in society, and especially in religion.

1PS: A 2006 book on the subject of Mary Magdalene & more insights from Jung.

An excellent collection of essays on Mary Magdalene has been compiled into the book "Secrets of Mary Magdalene, The Untold Story of History's Most Misunderstood Woman," Edited by Dan Burstein and Arne J. De Keijzer, Introduction by Elaine Pagels (CDS Books, 2006).   

In addition to Elaine Pagels, one of my favorite authors, there are also essays by or interviews with Karen L. King, Margaret Starbird, Kathleen McGowan, and a host of others whose works I have read, and in a few cases, reviewed.  I liked this book for its range of treatments, from the factual/historical to the intuitive/fanciful, but all in a voice of respect, some in a voice of veneration.

I was pleased that in the portions by Margaret Starbird (pages 83 and 87), and by Kathleen McGowan (page288) (whose books I have liked and reviewed on this website), each related the legacy of Mary Magdalene to movements in Southern France that have been among my favorite writing subjects.  Going beyond Southern France, Starbird also links the Magdalene tradition to the British Isles when she writes of the Pre-Raphaelites and their “glorious images” of, and poems honoring, Mary Magdalene.  Then she relates the Jesus-Mary Magdalene relationship to the “hieros gamos” or “sacred marriage” symbolism that can be traced from the very ancient Fertile Crescent to the times of the prophets of the Old Testament.  Other chapters in this book trace this same thread back into the depths of antiquity as well: chapters by Merlin Stone, Tori Amos, Nancy Qualls Corbett and Diane Apostolos-Cappadona.  

Getting back to Southern France, Starbird writes of the troubadours praising the virtues of their “Dompma”(or Lady, inspired by Mary Magdalene according to her).  This is a similar claim to that made by McGowan who claims that the Cathars of Southern France were “ancient followers of Mary Magdalene.”  In addition, John Lamb Lash, "an independent, eclectic scholar” who has written several books and maintains a website similarly says on page 133 that Southern France’s “cult of romantic love,” its “Cult of Amor,” was celebrated through troubadour poetry dedicated to “a mysterious pious woman, the Lady addressed as Domna, a shortening of the Latin domina, feminine form of ‘lord, master.’” He also claims that the romances of this tradition, especially “Tristan” – allegorically celebrated the love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

I also liked the fact that several contributors brought the idea of the sacred garden into this mix of ancient and/or mystical concepts (pages 54 and 294-295 for two instances).

Do I believe the connections being made between the Mary Magdalene/Jesus relationship and ancient sacred marriages; Medieval Cathars, troubadours, and courtly love; and nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelites, all reflect historical reality?  No, not all. For example there are several statements in this book in chapters by scholars that either state outright or hint strongly that the myth of Mary Magdalene in Southern France is a Medieval invention and not a historical fact (you will have to read the book to find and evaluate this claim by me for yourself).

But even if there is no historical connection, there is definitely a connection to be made.  It is an a-historical connection.  The Mary Magdalene-Jesus mythmaking has common themes with the sacred marriage rites of the ancient world in that an intimate relationship is suggested between a god and his consort.  The new materials on Mary now available stem from the same Gnostic tradition that inspired the Cathars.  Those devoted to courtly love, the troubadours, were devoted to an unreachable feminine ideal personified by a living lady, but as we saw, some feel these living women were symbols that stood for the real object of their adoration, the Lady Mary Magdalene.  

Getting back to Jung, on pages 74-80 of the Mary Magdalene book I am drawing from for this lengthy PS, there is a chapter on the Jungian views of the Divine Feminine writ large. The discussion stretches from the sacred prostitution in ancient temples, which are celebrations of the sacred marriage or hieros gamos leading to blessings from the goddess/ priestess (supervise your children: this link is quite explicit), to the current "intense interest" in Mary Magdalene.  The chapter is by a Jungian analyst, Nancy Qualls- Corbett.  She asserts there are negative personal and societal effects that come from suppressing the feminine in the Divine.  I found it interesting that these were essentially the same negative personal and societal effects that devotees of the Goddess Sekhmet are seeking to heal, according to their description of why they choose to believe as they do (see my page on their shrine in Nevada, or bypass my views and  go directly to their page).

This surprising similarity in a web page devoted to an ancient goddess and a Jungian's modern interpretation of the ill effects that come from rejecting the role of the feminine principle in what is considered Divine reinforces for me that there is no need for the historically continuous threads that people claim must have existed for the transmission of the ideas and ideals that swirl around the Divine Feminine.  Perhaps the connection lies in our collective unconscious, and simply reflects the resurfacing at different times and places of the same suppressed archetypes with which all humanity has been born since the beginning of our species!  

Jung may have been correct in his explanation of why the Coronation of Mary had to happen sooner or later.  Similarly, it may be argued, the present-day phenomenon of the resurrection of Mary Magdalene as a subject for reflection, contemplation, imagination and adoration, across the Christian- influenced part of the world which decisively suppressed the Divine Feminine for millennia, is a phenomenon attributable to our archetypal needs grabbing on to a convenient mythic ideal that fulfills this need quite well:  Mary Magdalene being Jesus' consort in history, and eternally, balances Jesus just as his mother Mary becoming Queen of Heaven next to her King balances that portion of what formerly was an all male concept of Deity.  The Divine is now more balanced than it was, in terms of having both male and a female components.  

Is any of this to be taken literally?  Do we need to believe in physical beings, gods and goddesses, sitting on their thrones hand in hand, looking adoringly at each other, even kissing?  Delightful imagery to be sure, but no, I don't think it is necessary to make things that physical in our heads and hearts for the beneficial harmonizing effect to be there. Such physicality of beings in the heavens is certainly not reflecting my personal belief.

Projecting idealized human male-female relationships into the heavens need not be taken literally at all, in my opinion.  Just seeing them there as symbols of a greater umbrella of natural reality within we ought to operate (given our archetypal makeup), will allow healing within and between us. Nature apparently intends harmony between the sexes. Symbolic representations, in my estimation, are sufficient to satisfy the archetypal need within, and bring us into closer harmony with Nature, and thus with our own human nature, which --we sometimes forget-- is derivative of, and hence a part of, that larger Nature.

A final, final note: until I read some of the above-mentioned books on Mary Magdalene I would have never realized that this delightful smiling person reading and holding a skull was supposed to be Mary Magdalene.  She reads and smiles in a small monument in the heart of Baden, Austria.

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