Georges de La Tour (1593-1652) was a French Baroque painter. He titled this painting The Penitent Magdalene, which is one of several he did on the same theme. It shows a female, who is ostensibly Mary Magdalene, seated with a skull on her lap.
Also, she is pregnant.
So this isn’t the standard-issue Mary Magdalene in the New Testament. If not, who is she?
To be blunt, she is the ancient, universal Goddess, personified as this woman.
ASIDE: With this metaphysical stuff, you have to get comfortable with metaphors and symbols, and let go of literal interpretations. Here, for example, de la Tour called this female figure “Magdalene,” but he painted an archetypal figure, even, perhaps, a principle, of which Mary Magdalene was in some sense an exemplar.
Okay, we know a female can be pregnant, but how can the Goddess be pregnant? Again, look at the pregnant woman as a visual metaphor. The Goddess is Creatrix, so “giving birth” represents an act of creation.
Obviously, a person is being created. Or recreated, since she is holding a skull on her lap. To see this, we have to see the whole story de la Tour has packed into his painting. At this point, I’d prefer to just blurt it out, and explain the finer points later.
The skull doesn’t represent something found in a med school anatomy lab—that’s the literal interpretation. Instead it represents someone who has “died” in a certain symbolic—yet real—way. She holds him or her—enfolds, if you will, in her lap. This “lap,” though, is another visual metaphor.
As Creatrix, she “holds” the person in her place of creation, i.e. her womb. The visual hint here is the juxtaposition of the skull and her very full womb. The same person is shown simultaneously in two different states, one as having just died, and the other awaiting imminent rebirth.
EXTRA CREDIT: What other famous figure had his birth and death confused in a set of circular metaphors? Why the figure of Jesus, of course. Oh no, I mean John the Baptist. No, Jesus was the one. No … (All this is explained in The Fool’s Secret Journey, so let’s move on.)
The Goddess of Transformation
The key point of this painting is to show the idea of a deep, personal transformation through and with the crucial assistance of a divine, feminine agency. The necessary steps are these:
- Prepare yourself by certain, specific kinds of cleansing so the Goddess will accept you into herself if you are a male, or so that you may merge with Her if you are female. This “cleansing” has to do with getting rid of negative emotions, attachments, judgments—that kind of thing.
- Separate, within yourself, that part that identifies with your current physical body, from that other part that belongs to something higher than anything in the human order. If you don’t know anything about this latter part, you must make it your business to find out about it, meaning specifically, acknowledge the experiences of it into your awareness, for everyone has them. This is all definitely a “learn by doing and experiencing” sort of thing.
- Grow this still feeble trans-individual awareness into something much stronger within the matrix of the Goddess, and above all, maintain a balance between it and your individual awareness so you don’t go crazy. (But don’t worry: there are practices for this.)
- Let the old ego die (that’s the skull in the painting), so the new, stronger, now fully alive your/She/He/It can be reborn into your physical body. That’s what’s waiting for rebirth inside the Goddess’s womb.
And that’s it. Four steps to total spiritual transformation. They’re not easy steps, but at least now you know such a thing is possible.
Incidentally (or not so incidentally, perhaps) this is exactly what alchemy was and still is all about.
It’s exactly what the ancient Mystery Schools at Delphi and elsewhere were all about.
It’s what the practices of Yoga and Tantra are all about. (Tantra is the science of consciousness and is the only system that is fully intact in the modern world.)
Finally, It’s what my modern retelling of this spiritual transformation, The Fool’s Secret Journey is all about. The web site is TheFoolsJourney.net. Which brings me to this one final bit of
EXTRA CREDIT. This painting of The Penitent Magdalene has exactly the same meaning as the Empress card in the Tarot. See if you can figure out why the Empress is also pregnant, although she is not drawn this way.
Born from Above
[The following is an excerpt from the book.]
The womb of the Empress/Goddess is the mystical cave in which rebirth, the final initiation, takes place. In the third chapter of John, speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus is pretty confused by this (as is everyone else, even today), and asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” That’s a natural question to have, but Jesus reiterates: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
There are several code words here. “Water” refers to the spiritual realms. “Spirit,” meaning the Christian Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost is what became of the Goddess during the early Christian’s total purge of her: exactly our Empress. The “kingdom of God” is just that divine, watery realm. The stumbling point, though, has always been that phrase “born anew,” which is often translated as “born again.” This was taken to mean anything involving a ritual baptism in or with water. The closest translation from the original Greek, however, is born from above. Even my Revised Standard Version offers from above in a footnote. So what is meant here is clearly not an ordinary water ritual.
Nor is there any hint that the womb of any actual female is meant. We are on a different ontological level of existence. [ … ] The mother holds the Fool’s consciousness inside her—she is pregnant with it. She is the matrix of life. What has died has already been prepared for rebirth, and it is via the Empress that this birth exists in readiness.