Penitence (Mary Magdalene is my Homegirl)

As far back as I can remember, Mary Magdalene has been an important figure to me*.  If I was going to do a moment of pocket psychology… I wasn’t actively raised Catholic, but my mother was.  So I consider that I was raised culturally Catholic, if not religiously so.  When my spirituality and my sexuality were emerging, the only figure I came across who was a woman – and an independent and sexual woman – was Mary Magdalene.  And so she became central to my developing spirituality.  But not Mary Magdalene as she’s traditionally portrayed.  We create our goddesses and gods; we create our mythologies.  Without this entry devolving into a vast thesis, the Mary Magdalene of my mythology is a powerful woman, a sexual being, a temple priestess, the archetypal prostitute, consort of Jesus – his equal.

Some of this is bourne out in other mythologies and theories – see the novels “The Moon Under Her Feet” by Clysta Kinstler and “The Wild Girl” by Michele Roberts, and Starbird’s book on the spirituality of Mary Magdalene, “The Woman with the Alabaster Jar”.  Some of it is from my own imaginings and meditations.  Of course, I rejected one of the major aspects Mary Magdalene is traditionally associated with – penitence.  I read that as weakness, as the church wanting to cow a powerful woman.

I’m older now and I guess a bit wiser.  More importantly, I’m out the other side of some fairly wild years.  And I’m slowly realising that there’s room for penitence in my life.  I am still realising and coming to terms with this, so this entry is part of my journey; not a destination.

Not everything I did in the years where Wild Leena reigned was bad by any stretch of the imagination.  On the contrary, those years delighted me.  They formed me and bettered me.  I did a lot of great stuff.  I helped a lot of people through sex work, and I had a world of fun.

It was (forgive me if this sounds weird) Mary Magdalene who inspired me into sex work.  She was with me as I considered it (and I to-ed and fro-ed for a long time on that), with me when I walked into that massage parlour, with me with that first client.  She was also the guardian of my wider sexual exploration.  But at a certain point, things changed and eventually crossed the line. I became a thorough hedonist – I thought only of my own pleasure in any given moment, not of any consequences to myself or others. And that’s no way to live.

And so I did some damage – to myself and to others.  I lost control of the sex work at times and wound up doing some things I’m not proud of.  I manipulated people who didn’t derserve to be manipulated.  When I was taking a lot of P, I often forgot that other things were important.  I lied to friends and I hurt people who were important to me.  I had affairs with married men – most notably a four-year-long love affair.  And in the course of that, I did some things so awful that I can’t even bring myself to write them down.  Although we were secretive as all get-out, and as far as I know his family is still unaware of our affair, I caused so much hurt to his family in subtle, insidious ways.

I have carried a lot of guilt and shame because of some aspects of my history, and it has hurt my present.  For a long time, when my life was really out of control, I truly believed my life would be a cautionary tale.  I thought I would do something fucking stupid while on P and get arrested (I did do some fucking stupid things while on P, but thankfully managed to avoid doing any lasting damage to anyone or anything).  I thought I’d be killed by some random guy I inadvisedly hooked up with (we’re not talking your average bar hook-up – I was hanging around gang members, criminals, the sort of people who have handguns in their bedside cabinets).  I thought I’d catch a billion STDs.  I thought I’d be some sad old lady at 40, shagging anyone who’d have me for the drugs they had.

But that’s not how things turned out.  I sorted out my life.  I gave up drugs.  I stopped indulging my poisoned, desperate sexuality.  And then I met the man who is now my fiance, and we have a beautiful life together.  We love each other, we have fun together, we have lovely friends, we live in a great house, we can take fabulous holidays together and there’s really not too much we have to worry about.

Except that for the longest time, I didn’t feel like I deserved it.  I had so expected my life to be shit because of my actions that it felt like the universe had done some massive miscalculation.  I was supposed to be PUNISHED!  I wasn’t supposed to live a great life with a man who loves me!  I genuinely struggled in the early days of our relationship, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the punishment to kick in.  My wonderful man was so patient with me through those times, just being with me and maintaining, whether I wanted to believe it or not, that he wasn’t going anywhere.  Eventually, I came to accept that it was true, that some bizarro roll of the dice had landed me here.  I still felt like the columns didn’t add up, though; like I didn’t deserve the life I’d found myself in.  I still felt that I ought to be punished.

And then the image of the penitent Mary Magdalene came to me.  Slowly, slowly, and I’m still learning to understand what it means.  But I’m figuring out that maybe there is power in penitence after all.  That I can acknowledge that SOME of the things I done in the past have been wrong, without writing off my entire past.  That I can accept their wrongness and accept the things learnt from that and move on from it.  That there isn’t some divine scoreboard, wherein this much wrong-doing equals this much punishment.  That someone can do wrong and still be a worthy person.

Penitence is self-reflection and self-forgiveness, as well as acknowledged the wrongs.  Penitence is truth, and truth is powerful.


* Though I label myself Wiccan, Gnosticism is another important string in my spirituality. Jesus is also an important spiritual figure to me, though not Christ and he’s not as central to me as Mary Magdalene. But that’s a story for another time.