By John Plummer
Originally printed in the NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Plummer, John. "Speaking of Sophia & the Magdalene: Interview with Tau Malachi." Quest 94.5 (NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2006):230-231, 233.
Wheaton Illinois, May 25, 2006
For the last thirty-five years, Tau Malachi has been a lineage-holder of a living oral tradition of Gnostic Christianity that honors St. Mary Magdalene as Christ the Sophia. He is the author of St. Mary Magdalene: the Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride as well as other books on Gnosticism. In May 2006, Tau Malachi visited Olcott and spoke about the Gnostic tradition of the Holy Bride, the Sacred Feminine, and the enlightenment experience in Gnosticism. He also spoke with John Plummer, author and book reviewer for The Quest. The following is an excerpt from their discussion:
John: To begin, can you tell us about your background, training, and how you came to inherit the tradition of Sophian Gnosticism?
Malachi: Yes, I encountered my teachers, Tau Elijah and Mother Sarah, when I was eight, and I basically became Tau Elijah's sidekick when I wasn't in school. For the last eight years of his life, I studied the Sophian tradition with him, and became his successor in lineage. Over the years, I have become a Sophian elder and then a Sophian tau, and also an independent bishop. Most of my life has been taken up with immersion in Sophian Gnosticism, and also study of other traditions: Vajrayana, Sufism, Native American traditions, seeing how they all work together.
J: Can you say a little about where the Sophian tradition comes from, before your teacher?
M: Of course, in legend, it comes from St. Mary Magdalene, but whether that is true or not is another story! Spiritually, it comes from St. Mary Magdalene, through the oral tradition. The point to which we can trace some of the history is about five generations of lineage holders, to about the eighteenth century, or very late seventeenth century. Given the extent of the teachings which have been passed on, we believe it is likely that it existed as a very private lineage prior to that time.
J: You refer to your tradition as Sophian Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a word that is tossed around a lot these days with many different meanings. So, for you, what is Gnosis?
M: Ah, Gnosis! Well, Gnosis is knowledge acquired through direct spiritual/mystical experience. The Gnostic experience itself has three aspects as it is taught in our tradition. One aspect is an experience of higher consciousness. Another aspect is the opening of consciousness to new dimensions, specifically inner metaphysical dimensions. And the third is a conscious unification with the Divine. So, when we start talking about Gnosis, it is a movement of self-realization or an enlightenment experience. Indeed, a lot of people are talking about Gnosis today. You hear: "Got Gnosis?" not unlike "Got Milk?" Actually, from our lineage's perspective, Gnosis is not the mental/vital interpretations we can share, but the awareness within the spiritual/mystical experience itself, within that state—a state of being. Whatever comes afterwards, whatever flows out of that spiritual, supernal experience, is interpretation. So this would be a distinction we make in that respect. Gnosis is in the moment, in the experience.
J: Continuing on with definitions, since this is Sophian Gnosticism, who or what is Sophia, and what is her place in your tradition?
M: When we speak of Sophia, we are really speaking of the feminine aspect of the Divine, the feminine aspect of Christos, the feminine aspect of ourselves as well. So, essentially, when we call ourselves "Sophians," we are saying that we are a Gnostic Christian tradition that honors the pine and sacred feminine as integral to the Gnostic revelation and salvation story. So rather than just envisioning the Divine in terms of masculine images, we see feminine images as absolutely essential to the process. Of course, we also honor St. Mary Magdalene as an embodiment of Christ the Sophia, as Yeshua is an embodiment of Christ the Logos. And it is in that interaction, for us, that Gnostic light-transmission or illumination occurs—in the interplay of the sacred masculine and feminine, Logos and Sophia.
J: In light of your latest book, St Mary Magdalene: The Gnostic Tradition of the Holy Bride, please tell us more about your tradition's view of Mary Magdalene.
M: Certainly. When we look at Mary Magdalene, especially in light of the current interest in The Da Vinci Code, the first thing we have to say is that it is very interesting that so many people have taken the book as history, considering one picks it up in the fiction section and not the historical, theological or spiritual section! And people are only going so far with it—for example, that the Magdalene is important because she is a close disciple, the wife or consort of Jesus, and has his children; which is strikingly similar to the Virgin Mary, in terms of why the Magdalene is considered a holy woman.
J: In terms of her holiness and importance deriving from Jesus, from the male figure in the story?
M: Absolutely. Sophians take it a step further, and say: yes, disciple, yes, wife/consort, but also co-equal in illumination with Yeshua, and co-preacher with Yeshua. So when we speak of her, we are speaking of a powerful spiritual master, a holy woman in her own right, apart from whether she ever had children. Dan Brown speaks of her as the mother of the royal blood, as the mother of the children of Yeshua. To us, she is the first apostle, the apostle to the apostles, and thus central to the transmission of Gnostic apostolic succession. The mother of the royal blood in this sense, spiritual rather than literal.
J: And by "Gnostic apostolic succession" you mean the light-transmission of self-realization passed down through the tradition, not necessarily the physical transmission of hands on heads, or both?
M: Well, both. Inpidual persons, teachers, can be facilitators for others in the Gnostic experience. Can we cause it? No. But we can certainly serve as midwives if we embody something of this illumination, and it is entirely possibly to help facilitate that experience in another person.
J: Although the Magdalene's status does not derive from having Yeshua's children, I believe that your tradition does teach that they had children. You mention a son, St. Michael, in your book. I was curious about that, as I have seen a number of different versions of the story of Jesus' children. Sometimes there is a daughter, Sara. Sometimes, there is a son . . .
M: Sophians have it both ways. We are recording a very particular line of legend in this particular volume, related to the exile of the Bride in Babylon, which is closely parallel, of course, to the fall of Sophia in classical Gnosticism. So when the line comes down to us, in this particular cycle of legends, St. Michael is one of the preeminent characters. However, oftentimes, other stories will say twins, two children, one boy, one girl.
J: The Sophia/Logos, feminine/masculine polarity reflecting again at another level?
M: Yes, absolutely. And in another line of Sophian oral tradition, you will find legends related to Mary of Bethany, and there is very wild line that speaks of her as the Queen of Sheba, a feminine wisdom character, a priestess queen who comes to test a male character, a king, in terms of his wisdom. This is the difficulty in writing down oral tradition. You have to take a line and somewhat go with it, even though there may be many other stories.
J: Sure. One thing I appreciated about this most recent book is how you will be telling the story one way, and then you say, "Oh, and there's this other version over here" If I understand you correctly, there is no one true version, but many different tellings, which play back and forth, and somehow one begins to get a sense of the larger story.
M: Yes, for Sophians the idea is direct experience of God, direct experience of the risen Christ.
J: So, the stories, the practices, whatever, are simply there to midwife this experience?
M: Yes, they are vehicles.
J: I was intrigued by the sayings collection at the back of the book, The Secret Gospel of Mary. Can you tell us more about how this was transmitted to you, and your role in shaping it?
M: Throughout our history, our lineage holders have, from time to time, spoken wisdom sayings in the name of Mary Magdalene. And of course, every time a lineage holder, such as myself, shares these sayings, they change. They are meant to change. In terms of this particular gospel. . . There are probably about five hundred or so sayings in the tradition, attributed to the Magdalene, very specific sayings. In terms of sitting down to write it, it is the process of getting into the space to remember what one has received, and letting that come through. In this case, there was something of an intentional parallel to the Gospel of Thomas, in terms of style. In the way this gospel is presented, it is a modern Gnostic tradition. This is something some Gnostics have a question about. But if there is living Gnosis, how can revelation have stopped? And why shouldn't we have a gospel which can speak to modern people in terms they can understand, more intimately, more easily. And this was really the intention behind it: Here are these sayings, and let's weave them into a modern Gnostic scripture which can speak to us more easily today and yet carries something of the cadence, the form of the tradition.
J: I have found that when I utter the word "Gnostic" in popular, mainstream circles, a fairly standard list of objections quickly arises in people's minds—that Gnosticism is elitist, dualistic, anti-physical, anti-body, anti-sex, and so on. Obviously, classical Gnosticism was very perse, and such critiques may have applied more or less well to some forms of it. But perhaps not so much today. What would you say to folks who raise these kinds of objections?
M: First of all, it is great assumption that classical Gnostics were any of these things. When reading Gnostic scripture, it is important to always remember that it is meant as metaphor, in the context of spiritual teaching. It is not literal. So we have some questions about what they were really saying in these scriptures.
J: This is fairly different from the approach to the Bible that most Western, Jewish or Christian people have grown up with
M: Yes. Fundamentally, Sophian Gnosticism would speak of a non-dual philosophy.
J: A Western Advaita Vedanta?
M: Yes, very much so. This would propose that the appearance of dualism points to the dualism in consciousness. This is the discussion among Sophians when we talk about the Demiurge, and such matters. We are speaking of cosmic ignorance and the dualism in consciousness which we all experience. From a Sophian perspective, everything can be a vehicle of illumination: our bodies, our sexuality, our work, our hobbies, everything. Nothing is excluded. For us, this is closely related to our inclusion of the pine and sacred feminine. When we speak of the world as imperfect, we are actually saying "impermanent," and we are acknowledging creative evolution. Here in the material world, things move very, very slowly. Nature savors her evolution. We are not looking for perfection here, but for realization. Rather than looking outward for happiness, we are learning to discover our peace, joy, and happiness inwardly, in which case our lives become a vehicle for that fulfillment, that satisfaction. So rather than a dualistic model, we actually have a non-dual one. Now, for some people, a dualistic model can play out well during particular aspects of their spiritual journey. For example, if someone has had a very hard life, it can be very useful to take a view that the world is fundamentally dark and hostile, seeking a transcendence of the world in the Light and Spirit. These are ideas which are useful in spiritual life and practice, with particular people at particular times—not a formal Gnostic view of the world, as though dogmatic creed and doctrine.
J: So we are back again to everything serving the birthing of the inner experience.
J: I was intrigued by your view of the Second Coming—that it would be feminine, not focused on one inpidual but a group phenomenon. Can you elaborate on this?
M: If you go back to earlier periods in the lineage, they were often viewing a reincarnation of Magdalene as a central figure in the Second Coming. And this then evolved to, well, a woman who bears a child, a very special child. And then this comes down into the experience of modern lineage holders, who say: Wait a second, the next stage of this is multiple inpiduals, a collective, as this is how the pine and sacred feminine works, in multiples. There needs to be a balance between this First Coming, which was received as masculine, with the feminine. My teacher's teacher was Tau Miriam, a very powerful British woman, apparently quite something, and a lot of people were looking to her in this regard. But she said: No, no, no, not yet, but it will come to pass. Tau Miriam was a great shaper of our lineage in its present form today. Before her, you hear hints of a much more closed order, a secret society, perhaps not unlike Martinism. You hear more of this before her time, and she revolutionized this in many respects. She pointed out that giving birth is always a process, and that perhaps the Second Coming is a wave-like event of many women who are embodying the Sophia principle, as consciousness changes more and more to be able to receive that. If we are talking about the illumination of humanity, women have to share equally in that with men. Anything else does not make sense. We are looking at the Second Coming as the reception of the Holy Bride, which is innately an awareness of Christ Consciousness in a larger segment of collective humanity, not one inpidual.
John Plummer Ph.D., is a freelance theologian, author of several books and articles on esoteric Christianity, and most recently, coauthor with John Marby of Who Are the Independent Catholics?