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Make a religion kit
on November 25, 2006
I can't help but feel, after reading this, that there must be a fair number of people, particularly women, who feel alienated by or at least out of sync with traditional religion. That is probably unsurprising since most of the more traditional religions, particularly the three key relatives: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are very paternalistic, male dominated, almost outright misogynistic, and exclusivist. I'm not quite sure a make-a-religion kit is quite the answer, however, and that is what my impression of the book was.
"Invoking Mary Magdalene" presents the reader with an introduction that is very tantalizing, because it presents the theme that literary texts and traditions associated with Jesus and Mary Magdalene have been suppressed through time by the powers-that-be in the Roman Catholic Church and also by the more jealous of the disciples of Jesus. This is very topical now, since the book and film "The De Vinci Code," which dealt with this same topic, appeared on the scene to raise public consciousness about alternative religion.
Unfortunately, Ms Houston does not stick to the literary documents and information about the subject but wanders from these facts into discussions about the divine feminine, Hecate, Sekhmet, Isis, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Aphrodite, etc. It struck me as a feminist's attempt to creat a religon by for and managed by women. But with this she has gone beyond the concept of the historic relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene to an archaic pantheon that is well past its shelf date and was ultimately passed over by the ancients themselves as unfulfilling.
I was particularly put off by the borrowed and rewritten prayers and meditations, like the Lord's Prayer and the Nicean Creed among others. Prayers and meditations arise from the spirituality of the writer and the community the reader feels with that spirituality. If it doesn't matter where they come from, one might as well recite King Akhenaton's Hymn to the Aton or solar disk.
While I could believe that a mystery religion of the type Ms Houston suggests may well have existed at the time of Christ, I'm not sure that resurrecting it will in any way improve ones spiritual life today. Certainly there were a number of mystery religions that arose to fill the needs of the civilized world during the period of the 1st century BC and that of the 1 century AD: The rituals of Demeter and Persephone for women, of Artemis of Ephesus probably also for women, those of Mithraism for military men, of Zorothustra for both genders, and probably others of which I am not even aware. All of these and Christianity as well, arose as the growth of civilization--and of education--spread more widely and left the individual of the time with a sense that both the pantheon of deities and the large body of philosophical traditions failed to meet the psychological and emotional needs--let alone the quest for answers to eternal questions like "why are we here," and "what is the meaning of life"--at the time. As one of my classics professors once said, it was a time where, if a man named Jesus Christ had not existed, a man like Jesus Christ would have arisen. The time was just right.
Maybe this could be said of Mary Magdalene and our own time, but I don't think that inner peace or answers to philosophical questions can occur just by saying the right formula of words or performing a set of rituals selected ad hoc from a book. It takes reading and contemplation, probably things the author has herself done in order to write the book. But so far as I'm aware, there is no way to achieve spirituality but by hard work and personal growth. If this book helps you do that, fine, go for it. It didn't do anything for me.