The Passion of Mary Magdalen
(The Maeve Chronicles)
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The most provocative woman in the Gospels, Mary Magdalen makes only a few, dramatic appearances. You always knew there had to be more to the story…
Make way for Maeve, the feisty, outspoken Celtic Mary Magdalen, telling her own story, on her own terms. No one’s disciple, she is lover, bard, priestess, healer. And like her beloved Jesus, Maeve incarnates the divine mystery of love—in the flesh.
Flesh we first encounter stripped naked and displayed on a slave block in Rome. Born to warrior witches on an island in the Celtic Otherworld, raised to be a hero, Maeve is determined to find her lost beloved, a young man known to the Celts as Esus, whose life she once saved at enormous cost to herself. She has survived a shipwreck, trekked through the mountains of Celtic Iberia. Only an imperial power could slow this woman down.
Snapped up by an aristocratic madam, Maeve becomes not only an accomplished whore but also has a close encounter with the goddess Isis, whose story of loss and longing affects Maeve deeply. A failed attempt at escape results in even more bitter slavery when Maeve is sold to a spoiled young matron with a terrible secret. Here in the house of her enemy, Maeve learns the healing mysteries that become the basis of her life—and his. When Maeve lands in mortal trouble, priestesses, whores, matrons, and even Rome’s chief Vestal Virgin must unite to bring about a her rescue.
Free at last, Maeve goes straight to Palestine where she meets Mary of Bethany, a prickly would-be rabbinical scholar, and Ma (yes, his mother), a fey but autocratic matriarch. Neither one knows where Jesus is; he has vanished again. What is a girl to do but settle down in the good-time town of Magdala and open her own holy whore house, welcome each stranger as if he were a god—until, at last, he is. Equally strong-willed and charismatic, Maeve and Jesus form a union that is as stormy as it is ecstatic. Throughout the terrain of the Gospels—healings, exorcisms, miracles, feasting, riots, and terrifying prophecy—the lovers fight and make love, nurture and confront each other, infusing this unique passion narrative with passion in all its meanings.
In this central novel of The Maeve Chronicles, acclaimed novelist Cunningham brings us a Mary Magdalen who defies all stereotypes—old and new. Passionate and unrepentant, feisty and tender, Maeve leaps off the page, a luminous, embodied archetype for our time.
“Cunningham weaves Hebrew scripture, Celtic and Egyptian mythology, and early Christian legend into a nearly seamless whole, creating an unforgettable fifth gospel story in which the women most involved in Jesus’s ministry are given far more representation.” —Library Journal
“This year’s must-have summer reading.” —KINK Radio
“Lavish and lusty…Cunningham’s Celtic Magdalen is as hot in the mouth as Irish whiskey.” —Beliefnet (chosen as one of this year’s “heretical beach-books”)
“Explodes off the page with its tales of love, hope, power, and redemption—book clubs looking for a great discussion, take note.” —TheBookBrothel.com
Elizabeth Cunningham is the direct descendant of nine generations of Episcopal priests. She grew up hearing rich (sometimes terrifying) liturgical and biblical language. When she was not in church or school, she read fairytales and fantasy novels or wandered in the enchanted wood of an overgrown, abandoned estate next door to the rectory. Her religious background, the magic of fairytales, and the numinous experience of nature continue to inform her work.
After being altogether too good and studious during her earliest years, Cunningham was expelled from a progressive boarding school for nudity. She subsequently earned a GED and went on to The College of General Studies at Boston University. From there she transferred to Harvard-Radcliffe College where she graduated in 1976 with BA in English and American language and literature. Somehow, she resisted the temptation to go to seminary to study for the Episcopal priesthood. The possibility was especially tempting, because, at that time, ordination of women was not allowed. When the church ruled in favor of women's ordination a few months later, she heaved a sigh of relief and went on writing The Wild Mother, her first novel, hailed by Publishers Weekly as a beguiling tour de force.
The Passion of Mary Magdalen, the centerpiece of The Maeve Chronicles, is Cunningham's fifth novel, and the book she believes she was born to write. Her other novels include The Return of the Goddess, a Divine Comedy; The Wild Mother; and How to Spin Gold, a Woman's Tale (re-released by Epigraph, May 2009). Magdalen Rising, the prequel to The Passion of Mary Magdalen was published in 2007. Bright Dark Madonna, the sequel, was published in April 2009. Red-Robed Priestess, the fourth and final Maeve Chronicle, was published in Novemeber, 2011.
Cunningham is also the author of two collections of poetry Small Bird, and Wild Mercy.
Although Cunningham managed to avoid becoming an Episcopal priest, she graduated from The New Seminary in 1997 and was ordained as an interfaith minister and counselor. Both The Maeve Chronicles and her interfaith ministry express Cunningham's profound desire to reconcile her Christian roots with her call to explore the divine feminine.
Since her ordination, Cunningham has been in private practice as a counselor and maintains that the reading and writing of novels has been as important to this work as her seminary training.
The mother of grown children, Cunningham lives with her husband in the Hudson Valley.