Mary Magdalen’s Feast Day: Celebrating Goddess Incarnate by Elizabeth Cunningham

I believe the current resurgence of interest in Mary Magdalen does reflect a collective desire for the divine incarnate in a woman’s body. 

July 22nd. In the Village of St Maximin in the South of France, a (real) blackened skull with topped with  gold hair (that looks a bit like a battle helmet) is being lovingly paraded through the streets in celebration of Mary Magdalen’s feast day. Except for this annual airing, the skull resides atop a gold bust of the saint in a glass case in the crypt of the basilica. Just under where her heart would be is a small glass cylinder reputed to contain a shred of tissue from Mary Magdalen’s breast bone, the place where Jesus touched her on Resurrection morning warning her: Noli me tangere. Don’t touch me.  Not yet.

Incarnation is all about touch. Though most of us no longer venerate—or battle over—the relics of saints, there is something touching about our longing for the divine made tangible, vulnerable, human.

I am the descendant of nine generations of Episcopal Priests and briefly considered becoming the tenth because the ordination of women was still illegal when I graduated from college. When it passed in 1976, I felt liberated from this cause and went back to what I really wanted to do: write novels.  I eventually left the Episcopal Church to become a member of The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). In silent worship, new images of the divine emerged, and I began a quest in life and in writing for the divine feminine which eventually led me out of Quaker Meeting into pagan circles and interfaith ministry.

I was drawn to the concept of the goddess as immanent, present in all things. I reveled in her many names and the vast lore that exists in all cultures if you look back far enough.  Though I could no longer call myself Christian, I still felt connected to Jesus, specifically to his feet that walked the earth, got dusty and needed to be washed—sometimes with tears!   I felt a longing for more than the immortal goddess, giving birth to and/or destroying the universe, mourning and resurrecting sons and lovers, seeking the odd lost daughter or sister.

I wanted that goddess made flesh, a goddess who could have a bad hair day or a blister on her foot, who loved and suffered and made mistakes like the rest of us. A mortal woman, who, despite or because of her faults, could transcend herself in acts of courage and compassion. A woman who could be at once human and divine. Just like Jesus.  Just like us.

Enter Maeve, my Celtic Mary Magdalen, with whom I’ve spent twenty years, telling a story, which includes all the above and then some, in what grew to be four novels.  Though my take is a little different (my Magdalen is no one’s disciple and never converts) I believe the current resurgence of interest in Mary Magdalen does reflect a collective desire for the divine incarnate in a woman’s body.  As I grew older (way older) than Jesus’s thirty-three earthly years, I found I also wanted a deity who had anguished over a teenaged child and taken on the care of an aging mother-in-law. If that weren’t enough, in her last volume, Maeve sets out on a heartbreaking quest through her war-torn homeland even as she faces her own old age and death. As a novelist, I spared Maeve nothing. She goes with us all the way.

It would be fun to go to Southern France to celebrate Mary Magdalen in terrain where her lore and veneration abound. But wherever we are we can ponder the mystery of incarnation, its joys, terrors, sorrows, its profound yet simple sensual delights. My martial arts teacher once said to me: We are here to be in bodies. What a strange and beautiful mystery! Today let’s celebrate. I’ll close with a poem I wrote last year on Mary Magdalen’s Feast Day.

Mary Magdalen’s Feast Day

I wonder why your feast

day dawns in deep July?

Does the wild thyme

and lavender bloom

in southern France as it does

in my garden here?

Do you like the scent of it

under your bare feet

lingering on your fingers

when you brush it with your hand?

Sensuous one, cat in the sun,

ripe fruit bursting on the tongue,

tonight I will sing your songs

as I know them

I will call you Maeve

I will call my friends to your feast.

There will be figs!

Elizabeth Cunningham is best known for The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award-winning novels featuring the feisty Celtic Magdalen who is nobody’s disciple. An ordained interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also the director of the Center at High Valley where she celebrates the Celtic Cross Quarter Days. She lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley. For more: and

Categories: Female Saints, Film, General, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Women Mystics

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22 replies

  1. There seems to be a dance with the Grail. Of course it is present wherever we seek it. Sometimes it seems to be just around the corner. Sometimes it is lost. Sometimes we are lost, or realize we had forgotten there was a quest. Sometimes we damn the quest. Then, in the midst of any of these there comes a shift, and in plain daylight the Grail is there in our hands, to be used, to be in our heart and voice and among us.

    There are only miracles, there is only magic, if we can manage to see. And be.


  2. Brava! I hope everyone will read Elizabeth’s Maeve novels. They’re wonderful.


  3. How marvelous Elizabeth! You have expressed precisely why I believe her mythology is creatively exploding, emerging, resurrecting before our eyes. We–women and men–are so hungry for new paradigms. Each re-imagining of the Magdalene is a gift. And thank you for bringing us Maeve!


  4. I am so grateful for the heartening vision of the divine feminine that springs to life in the Maeve chronicles. Bless you Elizabeth for these life changing novels!


  5. I am so grateful for the heartening and powerful story of Maeve. These novels are truly life changing! It makes a palpable difference to bring the divine feminine to life in the world of body and feeling that we we inhabit.


  6. “Going All the Way” is the yoohooing of such Transcendentals known and identified by their markings and are named in particular, The Blister-Sisters.
    LBIAW~~~Always. Happy Feast Day, Maeve and All


  7. Love your blog, Mary Magdalene was certainly an important figure in the early church. I wonder how you feel about feminists adopting the legends constructed at the time of Charlemagne or later alleging that Mary and Jesus had a child–with the intention of proving the divine rights of “kings.” I am all for folklore when it arises from the “folk,” Black Madonnas and probably all Madonnas being an example of this. But for me legends asserting that certain kings are divinely born are neither folk nor proto-feminist legends. What do you think?


    • Carol, it is a pleasure to meet you here as I have long been a fan of your work. I am totally with you on this one. Maeve has some choice things to say on the subject. Her experience (in my totally fictional rendition) of being sold into slavery and having to survive by making common cause with all kinds of people informs her own answer to Jesus’s question: who is my brother/sister/mother? Maeve does have a daughter by Jesus in my story, but so far as I know my Black Sarah does not found a dynasty in any conventional sense, as she grows up to be a lesbian pirate! You would have to read The Maeve Chronicles to see how this makes (at least mytho-poetic) sense.


    • Carol, continuing, as I ran out of space. As a novelist, I love lore and legend. But I do not see the need to make fact of things we can only speculate on. I have trouble with literalism and fundamentalism wherever it shows up–new or old age. Thanks again for your comment and question!


  8. Thank you for the wonderful poem and for the opportunity to celebrate the feast day of the Magdalene with you.. There were cool plump black figs, indeed!


  9. Elizabeth —

    Your post brought tears to my eyes, something I think happened with one of your _Tikkun Daily_ posts when you and I were the two Wiccan bloggers there. I LOVE Goddess mythology, and now I understand more profoundly another reason for this predilection (only a poet could bring about this emotional resonance for me, I think). In Goddess myths, the Goddess often functions like a woman, she brings our stories alive in a bigger-than-life way (that’s why I especially love the Demeter/Persephone myth). Although my thealogy tends toward the ever-present, immanent Goddess who undergirds all things, the story of Maiden-Mother-Crone-Maiden has never spoken to me very deeply.

    I, too, have longed for “that goddess made flesh, a goddess who could have a bad hair day or a blister on her foot, who loved and suffered and made mistakes like the rest of us. A mortal woman, who, despite or because of her faults, could transcend herself in acts of courage and compassion. A woman who could be at once human and divine. Just like Jesus. Just like us.” Thank you so much for the healing tears in my eyes, the heart-opening understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to be divine. I know now that my next novels will be the Maeve Chronicles. I can’t wait.


  10. Lovely piece on Magdalene. She lives and breathes for me too.



  1. Goddess Myth – Resources & Links for Connecting with Mary Magdalene (Feast Day July 22) | The Motherhouse of the Goddess

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