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Image: The early Jesus movement (the Hebrew Christians or Ebionites) seem to have reinterpreted these images used around the Mediterranean world for the sun god and moon goddess, adopting them, transforming them into the earliest icons of their own faith: the sun of god Christ and his companion Mary of Magdala, surrounded by the Twelve Apostles (related to the twelve signs of the zodiac).
We don't have much information about "the Mary Magdalene community", if you will -- the spiritual group that once valued the GofMM as one of its scriptures, other than what can be observed in the contents of the book. It presents Mary as not only equal to her male counterparts as an apostolic leader in early Christianity, but also perhaps as the widow of Christ -- wife of the guru, and his primary spiritual successor with the most insight and understanding of Christ's message. Mary also described visions of the radiant form of her Master, the resurrected Christ.
The Gnostics, like other mystics, see the soul as being beyond gender. The physical, and subtle bodies: astral, causal, mental, etheric… have a gender or combination of genders, but the soul is beyond gender. Therefore the Gnostics of two thousand years ago were generally more open to the idea of the leadership roles of women, including as apostle, as in the case of Mary Magdalene, who is portrayed in the Gospel of Mary as a kind of spiritual successor to Yeshua (or wife of the master), and more enlightened than anyone else in the group. There is also some closeness between sayings of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mary and those in the Gospel of Thomas. Perhaps the same group in antiquity used both – interesting souls no doubt.
"Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you." (Gospel of Mary Magdalene)
"When Mary said this, she turned their hearts to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior." (Gospel of Mary Magdalene)
"Thou art blessed before all women on the earth, because thou shalt be the fullness of all fullnesses and the perfection of all perfections." (Yeshua to Mary Magdalene in the Book of Pistis Sophia/Faith Wisdom)
Several places in the book of Philip Mary Magdalene is described as “the companion” of Christ, saying that Yeshua loved Mary, was closer to Mary than the other disciples, and also records that Yeshua used to often kiss Mary on her mouth. Actually that last part: “often kiss Mary on the... [mouth]”, is a restoration of the text, is likely what it said according to Coptic scholars. On this page of Phillip in the original Coptic papyrus it reads: “used to kiss her often on her [......]”, then there is a lacuna or break in the text with the last word missing. Given the other comments from the disciples, who asked: “Why do you love her more than us”, and that Mary is “his companion”, I would say this is likely to be an accurate rendering. Also, the surrounding context in the Gospel of Philip is about marriage, the bridal chamber, and sexuality. Sacraments, in particular the sacrament of marriage, are a major theme in the Gospel of Philip, another early text similar to the Gospel of Mary.
Mary was an apostle or master who was a visionary, one who saw many visions of various inner planes or heavenly regions during her meditations, and the Radiant Form of her spiritual master. A beautiful passage from the Gospel of Mary about a soul Mary saw during one of her visions when she was exploring the Second Heaven. This soul was being questioned by a being or power given the name “Desire”:
"The soul answered saying, You did not see me nor did you know me. You mistook the garment I wore for my true self. And you did not recognize me."
There is a similar passage in one of the Aramaic Mandaean Gnostic texts from Iraq that goes something like:
"The soul says, 'I dwelt in your midst but you never recognized me, you never really knew me.'"
How easy it is to only see the surface, to in fact be wasting away whole lifetimes being a surface-dweller, neither knowing one’s self nor seeing the true identity of others as souls. In truth we are all particles of Light dwelling within bodies, we are Notes that make up a divine symphony:
“All beautiful forms and tones of this world are mere reflections of some aspect of that ultimate Love-Music of the Great Creative Word. Within the vast complex of creation, each individual spirit is himself/herself a spark of that Eternal Song of Love.” (George Arnsby Jones, initiate of Sant Kirpal Singh)
In Gnostic scriptures such as the Gospel of Mary, unenlightened human existence is portrayed as a kind of night of the living dead, souls living in a world of sleep caught up in dreams of illusion, trapped in spiritual ignorance somewhere in time, limited to only a couple of dimensions, tethered to material existence seemingly unable to become aware of anything more. One of my favorite passages from Mary is when a liberated soul exclaims:
“I was set loose from a world and from the chain of forgetfulness that exists in time!”
Another “Mary” further to the East by the name Mira Bai once said,
“My mind, birth after birth,
lost in slumber,
Awoke on hearing the Sound
my Master gave."
“When the Blessed One had said this, he greeted them all. ‘Peace be with you!’ he said. ‘Acquire my peace within yourselves. Be on your guard so that no one deceives you by saying, ‘Look over here!’ or ‘Look over there!’ For the Seed of True Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it.”
Some commentary found in a footnote of the same translation adds:
“The disciples must search within themselves, to find the Seed of True Humanity that is within each person. They must guard against those who try to lead them astray by requiring that a person conform to what is outside.” (The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller)
For the mystic-soul there is no need to construct outward temples made of wood and stone, as the human body itself is already a temple of the Spirit. I’m sure this “within you” message of the Gnostic or mystical gospels is one of the reasons why they were not politically useful to some in antiquity, and thus they were banned. The saying above reflects a theme found in the teachings of countless mystics and masters, that the focus is “within”, not elsewhere in the outer world of the five senses, the kingdoms of this world. Thus, contemplative meditation for mystics serves as a kind of heavenly “portal” or “doorway” to the Divine.
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