Decoding Da Vinci and Modelling Mary Magdalene
Three years ago, a gripping story by Dan Brown focused world-wide attention on the early history of Christianity (Brown, 2003). It claimed to reveal a hidden history of Christianity and of Jesus, its “founder”. Here it is: for the first time an NLP article for all you fans of The Da Vinci Code! More shocking revelations, and another unsolved mystery. Read on.
There can be little doubt that Jesus the Nazarene (Yeshua ha Notzri, to use his original Aramaic name) has been a central figure in the history of western civilization. And in the history of NLP, “Jesus” has been modelled by several NLP trainers (eg see Dilts, 1992, Field, 2001, Bodenhamer, 1997).
However, Dan Brown’s book raises the question: “Which Jesus have we modelled?”
In this article I want to model a very different Jesus; one that the Roman empire and the Orthodox/Catholic churches worked hard to hide.
As Robert Dilts has pointed out “There are also several relevant texts that have only been recently discovered and are not a part of the traditional documents of the New Testament which can provide additional insights and richness into the understanding of Jesus’ teachings and thought process.” (Dilts, 1992, p 5). Dilts does not actually explore these other texts in his modelling project on Jesus, and I can understand why. Before we can model the other Jesus, we need to clear up some rather extreme historical inaccuracies..
The Christianity of Choices
Christianity was first officially accepted in 324AD by the Roman emperor Constantine. Constantine became favourable to Christianity after winning a battle against his rival for the throne, Maxentius, while flying a flag with a cross on it and the words “In This Sign Conquer”. Constantine then desired to set Christianity up as a state religion, with a systematised belief system. The symbol of the cross seems to have been Constantine ‘s only personal experience of Christianity, and so he selected the current Bishop of Rome as his adviser.
Until 400AD, the Roman empire was remarkably tolerant of religious diversity. The early Christian church had also permitted many choices within its community. There were over 200 life stories of Jesus, or gospels, in circulation by 350AD, each with their own version of the “truth”. But these heresies (from the Greek αιρεσις, ” hairesis ” meaning choice ) were forbidden by a series of Roman imperial councils beginning at Nicea in 325 and presided over by Constantine .
The heresies of most concern to the Bishop of Rome at this time were collectively known as Gnostic (from the Greek γνώσις ” gnosis ” meaning knowledge ). The Gnostics believed that truth could be found by personal inquiry, rather than by adherence to traditions. Wisdom, the result of gnosis, was personified by the Gnostics as a being (Sophia) and seen as the feminine aspect of godhead.
It’s easy to see why the Gnostic version of Christianity didn’t appeal to the emperor. The Gnostics believed that “the map is not the territory”. The emperor wanted a state church with a set doctrine.
The Gnostic gospel that I want to use for modelling Jesus here, for example, emphasises the importance of finding the truth within, rather than from external sources such as a bishop or an emperor. It quotes Jesus as saying “Be vigilant and allow no-one to mislead you by saying “Here is the truth.” or “There is the truth.” for it is within you that the son of man dwells. Go to him. For those who seek him, find him. Walk forth and announce the good news of the Kingdom.” (Leloup, 2002, p 27)
Gnostic priests such as Valentinus had on occasion been considered for election as Bishop of Rome only a few decades before Constantine took over. But after Constantine ‘s councils their versions of Christianity were completely forbidden.
In 435 an imperial decree declared that the death sentence be administered to all heretics including Gnostics. So thorough was the destruction of the Gnostic texts, the only surviving texts of the movement are 50 scrolls found in 1945 hidden in an Egyptian desert cave at Nag Hammadi (Leloup, 2002, p x-xii). One of these scrolls was the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Dan Brown’s bestselling story has to deal with a very skilful piece of propaganda by the Church of Rome about the identity of Mary of Magdala (or Miriam, as her name would be in Aramaic).
From the four gospels which Constantine allowed to survive, we read that Mary Magdalene was physically healed by Jesus of seven “demons” (Luke 8:2). The Gnostic gospels held that this represented the opening of the seven body energy centres or chakras. In all the gospels, Mary was a central disciple – indeed she was the first to see Jesus after his “resurrection” in the surviving gospels, and was instructed by Jesus to carry his good news to the other disciples (John 20:11-18, Mark 16:9, Mathew 28:9-10). And yet, in 591, the Bishop of Rome, Pope Gregory I, declared that Mary Magdalene was also the woman whose many sins Jesus forgave in the gospel of Luke 7:36-50, and was therefore a prostitute.
Although there is no evidence for this even in the four “orthodox” gospels, the name Mary Magdalene became synonymous with prostitution in the Roman church and in popular culture. The claim that Mary was a prostitute, interestingly, was repealed by the Catholic church in 1969 (Leloup, 2002, p xiv-xvii).
Why did Pope Gregory make such a point of linking the name of Mary Magdalene to prostitution? The answer is simply that Mary Magdalene was a central figure in the Gnostic and other heresies (choices). She was revered by the Gnostics as the sexual and spiritual partner of Jesus of Nazareth. Her gospel was considered particularly significant testimony about Jesus’ real teachings.
Dan Brown suggests that this message is encoded in the art of Leonardo Da Vinci. For example, he holds that Mary Magdalene is the woman painted next to and almost mirroring Jesus (mirroring in the NLP sense, as two lovers might mirror each other in a café today) in Da Vinci’s painting of “The Last Supper”.
Scholars suggest that the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, written in Egyptian Coptic script, dates back to around 150AD, making it one of the oldest records of Jesus life, and setting it in the same time period as the earliest of the four “orthodox” gospels.
In Mary’s gospel, the disciple Peter, who set up the church in Rome, asks Mary for information: “Peter said to Mary: “Sister, we know that the teacher loved you differently from other women. Tell us whatever you remember of any words he told you which we have not yet heard.” (Leloup, 2002, p 31). In response, Mary tells some intriguing stories of the Jesus she recalls…
Here I want to explore the story in Mary’s gospel that fascinated me as an NLP trainer most.
It starts with Peter asking Jesus “What is sin?”. Jesus replies bluntly “There is no sin.” This word sin, in itself, deserves a little clarification.
The Coptic text we have is translated from earlier Greek texts, and so the word translated as “sin” is the Greek word αμαρτια (“hamartia” a term from archery meaning to have missed the central goal). This is the same word used throughout the Christian New Testament, and it clearly has very different connotations to those given by the Anglo-Saxon word “sin”.
I think of sin metaphorically in terms of Robert Dilts Neurological levels model, as displayed concentrically in O’Connor and Seymour (1990, p 89). In this model, spirituality is the centre. “Sin” is simply to think of one of the other levels as the centre; self-identity, beliefs or capabilities, for example. It is to behave in ways that miss the goal of life. Nothing more, nothing less.
Traditional Christian thinkers have often understood this. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an American writer and Roman Catholic monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Trappist, Kentucky . His writing makes links between Christianity and Buddhism. Merton explains, “To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask.. If the very deepest ground of my being is love, then in that very love itself and nowhere else will I find myself, and the world, and my brother and Christ.” (Finley, 1978, p 27, 57).
Similarly, Pavel Florenski, a twentieth century Russian Orthodox priest pointed out that in Russian, the origin of the Russian word ???? (” grekh ” meaning sin ) is the older word ????? (” ogrekh ” meaning mistake ). Florensky says ” God’s love is what unifies a person.. Sin is the element of the disharmony, decay, and decomposition of spiritual life. The soul loses its substantial unity, the consciousness of its creative nature. It is lost in a chaotic vortex of its own states, ceasing to be their substance. The I drowns in the “mental deluge” of passions. Sin lies in the disinclination to leave the state of self-identity, the identity “I=I”, or more precisely, “I!” The root sin at the root of all sin is the assertion of oneself as oneself, without relation to that which is other, i.e. to God and to all creation. It is self-immersion without self-transcendence. All particular sins are only variants or manifestations of the stubborn self-immersion of selfhood.” (Florensky, 1997, p 129, 132)
“Sin”, then, is just separated-ness. The true experience of my real Self is not the experience of a Subject/Object/Particle it is an experience of connection with something else as a wave , link (as in quantum physics). This is the only way to know self , as a part of whole , in relation to something else or something bigger.
Parts Integration a la Mary Magdalene
Bearing this reframing of sin in mind, here is the full reply that Jesus makes in response to Peter’s question about the nature of sin, in Mary’s gospel.
“Peter said to him [Jesus] “Since you have become the interpreter
of the elements and the events of the world, tell us:
What is the sin of the world?”
The teacher answered
“There is no sin.
It is you who make sin exist,
when you act according to the habits
of your corrupted nature;
This is where sin lies.
This is why the good has come into your midst.
It acts together with the elements of your nature
so as to reunite it with its roots.”
Then he continued
“This is why you become sick,
and why you die:
It is the result of your actions;
What you do takes you further away.
Those who have ears, let them hear.
Attachment to matter
gives rise to passion against nature.
Thus trouble arises in the whole body.
This is why I tell you
‘Be in harmony.’
If you are out of balance,
take inspiration from manifestations
of your true nature.
Those who have ears let them hear.”
Here, Jesus says that sin means being out of balance, lacking internal harmony, and acting according to habits which take you further and further away from your true nature. He suggests that physical illness and death result from this internal disharmony.
There are two extremely important statements here, for me as a healer. The first is where Jesus explains “This is why the good has come into your midst. It acts together with the elements of your nature so as to reunite it with its roots.” Interestingly, he says that “the good” acts not against but together with the corrupted (distorted, altered) elements (parts) which have been generating the habits we want to change. “The good” combines with these elements in order to reunite them with their roots or source.
We would say in NLP terms, that “the good” combines with the parts creating our most destructive habits and helps them become one with their own highest positive intentions. Repeatedly, Jesus says that the goal is not to create an internal struggle against our “evil nature” but to create harmony and unity inside.
The second important statement for healing is Jesus suggestion about what to focus on when someone is out of balance. He recommends that the person who is unwell or out of harmony pay attention to manifestations of their true nature, rather than paying attention to the distorted manifestations that they would previously have called sin. What are “manifestations of our true nature”? It seems clear to me that this refers to positive and resourceful emotions, and behaviours that we have engaged in which we feel aligned with.
The source of these “manifestations of our true nature” is what Mary refers to as “the good” within us. In another passage, for example, the disciples say that they are afraid to teach, because others will reject their message. The story goes on: “Then Mary arose, embraced them all, and began to speak to her brothers: “Do not remain in sorrow and doubt, for his Grace will guide and comfort you. Instead let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us for this. He is calling upon us to become fully human.” Thus Mary turned their hearts towards the good , and they began to discuss the meaning of the teacher’s words.” (Leloup, 2002, p 29).
A modern solution-focused counsellor would immediately recognise this “attention to manifestations of our true nature” as a call to find “exceptions to the problem”. After two thousand years of Constantine ‘s imperial Christianity, this is extraordinarily refreshing. At last, we get to read again this powerful call, in the midst of any “problem” to find those manifestations of goodness and see them as our true nature shining through. Mary asks us to understand that healing only requires us to reunite with our true nature, and not to struggle against some imaginary “evil”.
Here, in a form that we can use as NLP Practitioners, is Mary Magdalene’s gift.
Mary Magdalene’s Pattern
» Begin by being in a relaxed, confident state. Use a relaxation process to get into the right state for communicating with your inner mind. Remind yourself that it is within you that “the son of man” dwells. Clarify what it is that you want of him now. What needs to change so that you can reach your life’s goal more perfectly. Sit somewhere comfortable, and hold your hands out with the palms up, as if holding an object in each.
2) Begin communication with “the good”.
» Remember a time when you have experienced a manifestation of the good which is your true nature. a time when you felt in harmony with yourself. As you re-experience that feeling, ask which hand the good would stand on if you knew. Check where it would stand on that hand. Trust your unconscious response. Feel that hand: is it cool or warm, light or heavy? What would the good look like if you could see it? What kind of voice would it have? And what would it say, if you ask it now “What do you want for me?” Whatever the good responds when you ask that question, thank it for communicating with you. “If you have that; what do you want by having that, that’s even more important?”
3) Begin communication with the element creating the habit
» (thought pattern, emotional response, behaviour, physical health problem) you are wanting to transform . There is an element which has been creating a habit which does not fit with your true nature. None the less it is not “evil” or “sinful”; merely separated from its true nature. It is missing its own target or goal. Imagine that this element is standing on the other hand, and check where it would stand on that hand. Trust your unconscious response. Feel that hand: is it cool or warm, light or heavy? What would that element look like if you could see it? What kind of voice would it have? And what would it say, if you ask it now “What do you want for me?” Whatever the element responds when you ask that question, thank it for communicating with you. This is very important. Your aim is to discover what even more important thing it will get by wanting what it wants. For now, when you ask the element what it wants, it may tell you something positive or negative. Either means you’ve begun sorting this out. Trust that its highest intention (in Mary Magdalene’s terms its “root”) will be positive.
4) Find the higher positive intention of the element.
» Now ask it the question, “If you have that; what do you want by having that, that’s even more important?” Appreciate each answer. Go up the “ladder” asking this question “If you have that outcome, what do you want by having that, that’s even more important?” You’re not after the details here, you’re asking what result is even wider, bigger, even more of use to you. Continue until you realise that its intention is the same as the intention of the good.
5) Invite the good and the element to integrate.
» Allow them to integrate Once you’ve found the shared highest intention ask:
- “Does this element notice that it has the same highest intention as the good?”
- “Does this element realise that its root is in the greater wholeness of the good?”
- “Does this element realise that the good has resources that would help it to achieve its higher outcome?”
- “Does the good understand that this element has resources that will help it to achieve its own higher outcomes?”
Invite the good and the element to reunite now. Do not consciously move your hands together! Hold them up and watch closely for any subtle, tiny movements they make towards the centre and say “That’s right” to acknowledge these movements as soon as you see them. Allow them to integrate. Keep encouraging honest, unconscious movement of the hands together.
6) Experience the new unity.
» Once the hands are together, notice that the element that was there is now one with the good, with one weight and temperature; a wholeness with all the resources that the two separate elements used to have. Feel where in your body it would be right for that oneness to be placed back, and put your hands there, just allowing that wholeness to spread from there through your whole body. You may feel warmth spreading through you. Congratulate yourself, and think of a future time which, in the past would have been a time of disharmony, but which you can now imagine yourself in, acting as a whole aligned person, immersed in the good. Feel that peace.
Mary’s Final Secret?
Even in Jesus’ time, Mary Magdalene faced challenges to her status as a teacher. In several of the ancient gospels, the arguments between Mary and Simon Peter, who found the church in Rome , are recorded. It is, of course, possible that some of these arguments have been added to reflect later conflicts between the Bishops of Rome and the Gnostics.
In the gospel of Mary Magdalene, Peter asks “How is it possible that the teacher talked in this manner with a woman, about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant? Must we change our customs and listen to this woman?” Levi answers him “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered, and now we see you repudiating a woman, just as our adversaries do. Yet if the teacher held her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the teacher knew her very well, for he loved her more than us. Therefore let us atone, and become fully human [Greek a n q r w p o z ” anthropos ” meaning human beyond male and female].” (Leloup, 2002, p 37,39).
The Gnostics believed that the Roman church’s rejection of Mary and her teaching of inner harmony was linked to a fear of women. Even with that fear, it was hard for the church to “write Mary out of history” altogether. Mary Magdalene’s central position within Christianity’s four surviving gospels is as the person who had the first vision of the “resurrected” Jesus, and told the other disciples.
Over the millennia, Christians have pinned quite a lot on her testimony. But nowhere in the four accepted gospels do we have any discussion about the epistemology of this event. Epistemology deals with the question of how we know what we know. In the development of NLP it has been central. NLP has been far more interested in how we know what we know (the process) than in what we know (the content). And Mary Magdalene shares that fascination. She says (Leloup, 2002, p 31):
“ I had a vision of the Teacher,
and I said to him:
“Lord I see you now
in this vision.”
And he answered:
“You are blessed, for the sight of me does not disturb you.
There, where is the nous [active intelligence; Greek Νους] lies the treasure.”
Then I said to him:
“Lord, when someone meets you
in a moment of vision,
is it through the psyche [individual self-conscious soul; Greek ψυχή] that they see,
or is it through the Pneuma [divine all-knowing spirit; Greek πνευμα]?”
The Teacher answered:
“It is neither through the soul nor the spirit,
but the nous between the two
which sees the vision.”
Mary asks, then, is it her individual consciousness that meets Jesus in the vision, or is it her divine inner consciousness that contacts him. The reply is that it is the intelligence of perception which is active in this experience, rather than a particular “being” which owns or contains the experience. It is the ability to be at ease with experiencing this active intelligence which is true treasure. But the original gospel says more. After saying that it is “the nous between the two which sees the vision.” the text goes on “. and it is this which.” and then three entire pages are lost.
Perhaps another copy of the gospel survived the book burners, and waits in the desert to be uncovered at some future time supplying the missing pages. Right now, we can only guess what important words Mary had to say about the process of en-visioning. But already we know that, for Mary Magdalene, truth is not to be found in books or scrolls. It is to be found in our own active intelligence, in our deep knowing ( gnosis ; Greek γνώσις ).
Mary Magdalene was a respected and close associate of Jesus of Nazareth, but the account of her experience of him has been purged from the history of Christianity. From her gospel we get a very different perspective on Jesus understanding of both “sin” and personal unwellness. For me, this Jesus is dramatically aligned with the presuppositions of NLP. Jesus, according to Miriam of Magdala, taught her the following truths:
- Do not simply accept what others tell you but rather trust that truth is within you.
- Failure to achieve our true goals (“Sin”) and ill-health occur when a person is acting in ways that are not aligned with their true inner nature.
- Healing occurs when you combine “the good” in you with those parts which have been out of harmony. The good helps those parts that were out of harmony to become one again with their true nature and their “root” or intention.
- If you find yourself out of balance, re-inspire yourself by focusing your attention on real life manifestations of the pure inner nature that we all have.
- When you have a vision of truth, what is important is not whether it is coming from your individual mind or from “god”. Instead, treasure the active intelligence which experiences.
- Barnstone, W. ed., The Other Bible Harper, San Francisco, 2005
- Bodenhamer, B. “Can A Christian Counsellor/Therapist Use Hypnosis/Trance?”, 1997 on line at http://www.renewingyourmind.com/Articles/Hypnosis-Trance.htm
- Bolstad, R. RESOLVE: A New Model Of Therapy Pearsons, Auckland, New Zealand, 2004
- Bremer, J.M., Hamartia, Tragic Error in the Poetics of Aristotle and in Greek Tragedy Amsterdam, 1969
- Brown, D. The Da Vinci Code Doubleday, New York, 2003
- Chantraine, P., Dictionnaire Etymologique de la Langue Grecque Klincksiec, Paris, l980
- Dilts, R.B. Cognitive Patterns of Jesus of Nazareth Dynamic Learning Patterns, 1992
- Field, I. Imitating Christ Through Guided Changework Highland Books, Godalming, Surrey, 2001
- Finley, J. Merton’s Palace of Nowhere Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1978
- Florensky, P The Pillar and Ground of the Truth Translated by Jakim, B. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1997
- Gonzalez, L.J. Modelling on Jesus Editorial Font, Guadalajara, Mexico, 1993
- Leloup, J. The Gospel of Mary Magdelene Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2002
- National Council of the Churches of Christ Common Bible: Revised Standard Version Collins, New York, 1973
- O’Connor, J. and Seymour, J. Introducing Neuro Linguistic Programming, Mandala, London, 1990
Appendix: The Process Of Healing In Jesus Work
NLP change processes are therapeutic processes of a special type. In my book RESOLVE: A New Model Of Therapy, I outline the sequence through which an effective NLP change process tends to move. To explain this sequence here, let me take the example of the healing work done by Jesus the Nazarene. Rather than simply “heal” people, Jesus followed a careful sequence, where he built rapport, asked people for an outcome, checked that they thought of their problem as solvable, healed them, and then confirmed their healing for them. The following examples help to explain the value of these steps. The steps are:
Resourceful state for the guide
Jesus was described as being confident and “resourceful”. This is important because, for others to trust his healing skill, they needed to see and hear that he knew what he was doing. “The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mathew, 7.28-29)
When asked “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered that his aim was that people needed to be led through stories so “they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.” (Mathew, 13.15) This is more literally put in older translations, “so that those with eyes should see, those with ears should hear, and those with a heart turn to me and be healed.”
In NLP we know that some people have a preference for thinking in visual images, some for thinking in auditory sounds, and some for thinking in kinaesthetic body feelings. Jesus has said here that by telling stories he “matched” each of these types of people. This care to match people was common in Jesus’ work. He frequently restated the exact words or type of words that the person being healed had used. This process built rapport before he began to help them. “And behold a leper came to him and knelt before him saying “Lord if you will , you can make me clean.” And he stretched out his hand and touched him saying, ” I will ; be clean.””(Mathew, 8.2-3)
Specify Person’s Outcome
Even when the problem appeared obvious, Jesus asked for an outcome from those he healed. He didn’t just charge in and do what he thought they needed. He checked with them. “And Jesus stopped and called them, saying “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.”” (Mathew, 20.32) “And when he came near, he asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” He said “Lord, let me receive my sight.”” (Luke, 18.41). “One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”” (John, 5.6)
Open up person’s model of the world
Jesus knew that healing was much more likely to occur if the person believed it was possible in their “model of the world”. He checked this belief before healing. “When he entered the house the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.”” (Mathew, 9.28) “And to the centurion, Jesus said “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.”” (Mathew, 8.13)
Lead the person to their outcome
Jesus used both prayer (we might say “verbal suggestion”) and touch or energy work to heal others. He understood that different techniques would work with different people. “And a woman who had had a flow of blood for twelve years and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her flow of blood ceased…. But Jesus said “Someone touched me; for I perceive that power has gone forth from me.”” (Luke, 8.43, 44, 46) “And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it “You dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out of him and never entered him again…. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”” (Mark, 9.25, 26, 28, 29)
Jesus encouraged people to verify that the change had happened. Confirming that things are different; actually testing the change, is an important part of healing. At times, the process of confirmation itself seemed to cause the healing to happen. “And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to the people.” (Mathew, 8.4) “And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.” (Luke 17.12-14)
After healing, Jesus had people imagine themselves in the future behaving differently, so that the old problem would not arise again. “Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.”” (John, 5.14) This is an important way to conclude such an exercise.