A few months ago, I was excited to receive a review copy of local author Ki Longfellow’s new book The Secret Magdalene. I’ve long been intrigued by the character of Mary Magdalene in the Bible, and had heard inklings that her story was more extensive than the few brief mentions in the New Testatment would indicate. Indeed, judging from this novel, her story is vastly more extensive and strikingly different from the Biblical portrayal.
The Mary Magdalene in the novel is very much a flesh and blood young girl for much of it, but one not so interested in things of the flesh. This Mary Magdalene is a philosopher and possesses the gift of prophecy. When she meets ‘the Nazorene,’ she knows at once that there is something special about him, and in time, becomes a member of his inner circle. It is through her eyes that we experience the events of Jesus’s life, his slow realization of his destiny, his entry into the wider world, and his torturous final days.
For anyone interested in the life of Christ, Biblical history, women’s spirituality or simply an engrossing read, I highly recommend The Secret Magdalene. And now, the star of our show, author Ki Longfellow, with this interview.
Who is Mariamne Magdal-eder and what led you to write a book about the life of Christ from her perspective?
"She's the semi-fictional character I developed in my novel, based on 7 or 8 years of scholarly and historical research. She's my Mary Magdalene and I wanted to hear her voice speaking of what I believe were Christ's true teachings."
Although many of the names in this book are familiar from The Gospels, the details of their lives seem, in some cases, radically different. Was there anything in your research that led you to interpret these historical characters the way you did?
"Oh yes. I read everything, from all traditions. And as anyone who has ever read The New Testament knows, each of the four canonical gospels differs in the telling, sometimes radically. My interpretation is no more radical. But a long long time has passed and what is needed now spiritually is not what was needed then. My myth-making is meant for those of us, now---struggling to find Christ in ourselves."
Is there a Gospel of Mary Magdalene?
"There certainly is. It was discovered in a small town in Egypt in 1945. A farmer out working his fields found it secreted away in a cave. It, and other writings like it, had been hidden there for at least sixteen hundred years. It's part of the Nag Hammadi codices and is the basis of excited debate in the world of Biblical Scholarship. It's rapidly become one of the cornerstones of the new and powerful Gnostic movement that grows in this country as well as Europe."
The only Seth I've ever heard of is the channeled entity of 'Seth Speaks.' Is the Seth in your book a historical figure?
"No. But oddly enough I too have heard of the channeled entity of Seth. Seth or Set is also the brother of Osiris, the Egyptian mangod whose myth is very very close to the "story" of Jesus Christ. On top of this, there was a whole branch of Gnosticism (and still is, I believe) taught by, or at least called, Sethian Gnosticism."
I was confused by the Salome character at first, thinking she was Salome of the Seven Veils. But she ceases to be sexy very quickly. Who is your Salome?
"My very own. Based on ancient references to a Gnostic sect begun by "certain Salome." The name Salome was as common as the name Tiffany is now."
You've said of this book that you wanted to write a novel about gnosis. What does gnosis mean to you, and do you feel you succeeded in doing what you wanted with that theme?
"Gnosis is not a teaching. Gnosticism is...based on the experience of Gnosis. Gnosis is the direct experience of Cosmic Consciousness, of the GodHead, of the Christ Within. It's a Greek word for such an experience and is fairly close in meaning to the East's "Enlightenment." But for Westerners, Enlightenment carries so much baggage, and so much misunderstanding. It does not well up from our own world and our own experience. Gnosis does. Which is why, at this moment, there is a groundswell of Gnosticism all over this country. It's rather exciting. As for the last part of your question...did I succeed? I did the best I could. My reviews tell me my good was good. I am as content as any artist about their work - which is not content at all. I always hope to do better.
Given everything you know, do you think that Jesus Christ (Yehoshua or Yesh'u in the novel) offered a better deal for women? If so, what happened?
"Oh lord, yes. What happened? Reactionary males happened. The usual. Much too complex a subject to answer here. But basically over three hundred years the Literalists, meaning those who took the gospels as literal truth, beat out those who taught the gospels were beautiful myths full of symbols meant to bring Gnosis to each and every one of us. No Church can be built on individuals having access to God. Churches are all about middlemen...with an emphasis on "men." Only through a priest, and a cardinal, and a pope, could anyone hope to reach the ear of God. It's been a disaster for women. As well as men. As well as the whole human race. "
You make it clear in the novel that the Gnostics were just another sect active in the region at the time of Christ. Did the historical Jesus cross paths with them? Do you think their teachings shaped his?
"I hoped I made it clear that the teaching of Gnosis was in its infancy then...although known since the beginning of time by this mystic and that. And yes, it was just another teaching in the din of the times. I am convinced Jesus was a Gnostic. He began as a Jewish zealot and ended up as a devout Gnostic. But it was Paul who began the first Christian Gnostic movement."
The Secret Magdalene shares many elements with what are known as 'classic coming-of-age' stories. Do you expect and are you courting younger readers?
"I admit I hadn't thought of that. I'd love younger readers."
What else have you written? How does The Secret Magdalene fit into your oeuvre?
"I've worked with historical novels that were exercises in How To Write. I have no oeuvre. I write what comes into my head."
"This follows along nicely with the last question. I might actually find an oeuvre if my Magdalene is as successful as she looks like becoming. Perhaps her long long life after the death of Jesus. Perhaps a book about the Cathars...Gnostics who sprang up in the South of France almost a thousand years ago and were cut down by the Catholic Pope by an army he formed just for them. He called it The Inquisition. "
Where can discerning readers obtain their own copies of The Secret Magdalene?
"Collected Works Book Store on High Street in Brattleboro have been kind enough to carry the book. There's a copy in the library but I note it's always checked out. Then there's my publisher's website www.eiobooks.com, as well as my own website www.thesecretmagdalene.com Eiobooks makes is very easy to buy the book. And of course, there's amazon.com"
Thanks for taking time with iBrattleboro!
You're very very welcome.