In 1988, when Martin Scorsese directed The Last Temptation of Christ, he sparked a lot of controversy. Even though many people who got up in arms about it never saw the movie, the copious amount of “blasphemy” was just too much for American religious folks. For one, Mary Magdalene appears naked in the film. Yes, naked. But the thing I remember (I was 16 at the time) was the preacher at my church being incredibly offended that Mary was depicted with tattoos. When I finally got to see the thing, I was shocked that She wasn’t, as I had been told, “covered in tattoos”, but only lightly marked on Her forehead (as some prostitutes of the time certainly were). Still, the concept fascinated me.
As I engaged in the life of research and Practice that led me to Cyprianism, I learned that many followers of Mary Magdalene (our Miriam), both contemporary and ancient, had legends that contained details of Her being heavily inked. One of my favorites – which has been passed down through Paphian (Cyprian) tradition – is below in a very liberal paraphrase:
“Miriam was the Grand Priestess of a Paphian temple located in the top floor of a three story brothel-tower in Her native Sidon. As Grand Priestess, She possessed the power of divination and Her ‘oracle’ was highly sought after by royalty from around the Fertile Crescent. For it was that Miriam had developed a unique and exclusive manner in which to divine the fortunes and futures of Her companions. At the age of 22, upon the day She was raised to the priesthood, She contracted a sacred artist from Cyprus to tattoo Her with the mystical symbols of Her faith. He undertook to ornament Her neck, breasts and abdomen with many such symbols. Seven days he spent working on his masterpiece and under the full moon of the night that he finished, Miriam took him as a lover in payment. As Her artist-lover pushed hard into Her, She pitched and bucked, bringing him near to orgasm but keeping him just short. She spoke to him as he sank in and withdrew, transfixing him with Her words, begging him to look deeply into Her eyes. Just before Her lover spent, She pulled free of him and directed his spray across Her newly tattooed flesh. As he slackened between Her thighs She began to finger the serum and puzzle over it. Here, a cool strand, one of the first, was long and thin, covering a few emblems of the Artist’s Tools. There, dappled along the Shekhinha’s column, were several hot smudges. Elsewhere, similar stains dotted and ran across Her masterpiece. These She contemplated for some time, discomfiting her dazed lover. She gazed into a glass at the moon’s fullness, became possessed of Paphia Herself and told the artist of his future. She foretold that he would be commissioned to design temples and brothels for a Paphian resort in Italy which would later be destroyed by volcano and buried in ash. Upset at his presumed future, he asked if there was anything he could do to prevent his works from being lost forever. Fingering the bit of juice which had completely covered the symbol of the apple run through with a dagger which floated on Her left breast, just above the nipple, Miriam placed Her stained fingers to Her lips and told him, ‘Lover, We have taken care of it. The city will be preserved in ash, left just as you designed it. Our Paphian secrets will be kept there for future generations to discover upon the dawning of a new end, the setting of a new sun.'”
Legends like this one are part of the reason that modern Christians have passed down the concept of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, albeit a repentant one (naturally). But Cyprian tradition informs us that She was more than that, She was a Grande Madame of Cyprianism in an early sense of the phrase. She passed to us a tradition of consulting the “oracle”, not so much as a way of telling the future, but as a way of connecting and resonating with the Beauty of the Current, the underlying architecture of the universe. As generations passed, Paphian “fortune tellers” were known to construct “divining boards” for such a purpose, drawing intricate symbols and designs on beautiful planks upon which their companions would either spend their semen or, in a later iteration which allowed for women to use the boards as well, roll a pair of dice.
- The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion; Sir James Frazer
- “Was Mary Magdalene a Temple Priestess?”, Clysta Kinstler
- The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,
- Mary Magdalene: The Illuminator, William Henry
- “Sacred Prostitution: The Whore and the Holy One”, Cunningham, E.
- The Moon Under Her Feet: The Story of Mari Magdalene in the Service of the Great Mother, Clysta Kinstler
- Oral Paphian (Cyprian) tradition