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Magdalene: Formerly Appearing As…

December 4, 2014
Saint Mary Magdalene (detail) by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) Galleria Palatina, Florence, Italy

Saint Mary Magdalene (detail) by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) Galleria Palatina, Florence, Italy

Legend has it that, following the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene fled to southern France, spending the last years of her life in the sanctuary of Sainte Baume. Her relics are said to rest in a church in nearby Saint Maximin.

Whoever Mary Magdalene was in fact, whether she partnered with Jesus to birth a child, whatever her actual history, the idea of her heartens and strengthens me. For me, and perhaps for you too, she carries the energy of fierce compassion, fearless integrity. A woman interweaving spirit and matter, activating her body-centered power to manifest creation. A gutsy woman par excellence.

This sense of woman integrating heaven and earth, sheltering pro-creative power within her body’s center, may be as old as human consciousness.

Much of what we know about human origins comes to us from southern France, the prehistoric cave paintings and engravings discovered there. Our ancestors’ art, such as the Venus of Laussel, shows our original impulse to revere women and the center of women’s bodies.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Venus-de-Laussel-detail-bras.jpgSeventeen and one-half inches high, this ochre-stained limestone engraving dates back 25,000 years. Discovered in 1911 in the Dordogne, the engraving has been a central inspiration for The Woman’s Belly Book.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Venus-de-Laussel-detail-tete.jpgThe Venus of Laussel brings forth a full-figured woman. She rests her left hand on her belly, perhaps pointing to her navel. Her head turns over her right shoulder; she’s looking at the horn she’s holding up in her right hand. Thirteen lines scratch the horn’s surface.

Who knows what the sculptors had in mind and heart when they carved out this figure? Who knows what they meant their work to signify?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Venus-de-Laussel-detail-corne.jpgAs I see her, this figure is using her arms and hands to link her belly with the calculation, the calendar, which is the horn she is holding.

The horn’s crescent shape reprises a phase of the moon. With a count of thirteen marks on the horn, the engraving as a whole may be noting the year’s thirteen lunar months as well as women’s annual round of thirteen menstrual cycles.

In effect, this engraving presents the cycles implicit in a woman’s body in relation to the cycles marked by celestial bodies.

More precisely, it presents not only a relationship but also a directionality. With the figure’s head turned toward the horn as one hand remains on her belly, the engraving suggests a directional flow of attention and influence from belly to horn. In this way, it suggests that a generative force flows from the pro-creative power abiding within a woman’s belly to the measured process of time and space in the manifest world.

In southern France, figures such as the Venus of Laussel reveal our ancestors’ appreciation for the pro-creative potency of women’s bodies. Legends and sacred sites rooted there also give us ground for celebrating Mary Magdalene and the provocative inspiration she provides.

The Venus of Laussel, the presence of Mary Magdalene: is one so very different from the other?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2014 4:26 pm

    I just love this article you wrote, Lisa. You are right, one is not so very different from the other. Wishing now for a story about the woman who was the inspiration for the sculpture! What was her life like, who were her people? Does she speak to us in our dreams?


  2. December 5, 2014 8:57 pm

    Oh Merri, maybe you’re the one to write that story! I wonder, too, who made the engraving. A single person, or several? Woman, women, man, men?

    Your comment sparks me to remember a piece I wrote a while back, which might have some meaning for you as well. It’s “A New Cosmology: Women’s Bodies Encode What Humankind Needs To Know,” online at

    In any event, let’s dream something up together. Even if she’s not yet speaking to us in our dreams, we can speak to her in our musings!


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