Gnosis and Ancient Mysteries: A Review of The Secret Magdalene

Review by R.A. Goodyear

The Secret Magdalene The Secret Magdalene,

by Ki Longfellow

Three Rivers Press, $14.95, USD, $19.95 CAN

Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-0-307-344667-4

Visit Ki Longfellow at:

   "It comes, at last, to this – I am changed from water to wine. I who was dead now live. I know my own name. I AM. These then are the thoughts of Mariamne, daughter of Josephus of the tribe of Benjamin. In the waning of my earthly days, I recount the life of the Daughter of Wisdom, who came in time to be known as the Magdalene.” 

   So begins The Secret Magdalene, an extraordinary account of the life of one of biblical history’s most famous and enigmatic personas. But who was Mary Magdalene? Was she a repentant whore as Pope Gregory the Great proclaimed in 591AD? Did she really have seven demons? Or was she possibly just a highly misunderstood woman whom Yeshua (Jesus) trusted with His most sacred teachings? And if so, what then of John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved”? (John 13:23).  

   In perhaps one of the most unusual and stunning historical novels of all time, Ki Longfellow strives to answers these questions and more. Drawing upon her own experiences being misdiagnosed at age 19 with mental illness, which she later discovered was actually gnosis (Greek, ‘spiritual knowledge” or ‘insight”), Longfellow has envisioned a Magdalene so human, so profound, that after one read, she will live forever in your mind. {ttweet url=}

   The story takes a young Jewess, Mariamne and her adoptive sister, the Egyptian Salome, both daughters in the house of Josephus of Arimathea, from Jerusalem to Alexandria and back again. At the age of eleven, Mariamne has just recovered from an illness which cast her unto the brink of death and left her with the ability to prophesy in a voice not her own. Not long after her abilities are accidentally revealed, Mariamne and Salome begin disguising themselves as boys – John the Less and Simon Magus – in order to visit mystics in another part of the city. A merchant from Alexandria, Ananias, assists them. But one night when Josephus discovers Salome talking to Ananias alone, he mistakes her actions and banishes her from the house. He also decides to send Mariamne away to his brother’s home. Having spent her short life indulged with books and education and sharing a close relationship with Salome, Mariamne is unwilling to be parted from either her sister or her freedom to learn. Thus she and Salome once more dress up as men and, together with Mariamne’s slave, Tata, run away to Alexandria with Ananias. On the way they are taken to the “Wilderness,” called Damascus even though it is actually Qumran, the home of the Essenes (authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls). There Mariamne is introduced to her future mentor, Seth of Damascus, and there they also meet John the Baptizer and Yeshua of Nazareth. The encounters with these two extraordinary men leave quite an impression on the girls. 

   After some time spent studying in the Wilderness, Mariamne as John and Salome as Simon set out with Seth to Alexandria in Egypt. There they spend seven years in the Great Library studying philosophy, poetry, mathematics, medicine, literature, the Jewish mysteries, and the Egyptian mysteries, including the Passion of Osiris.  

   The time however comes one day when, much to Mariamne’s sorrow and Salome’s delight (as she longs to see John the Baptizer again), they are called to return to the Wilderness, leaving behind their fascinating lives. They walk back into a world of chaos, in which the Israelite followers of John the Baptizer seek to make him king, believing him to be the One who must come, and their long-awaited Messiah. Salome believes this too. But Mariamne, with her prophetic sight, begins to believe that Yeshua is actually the One, and in time she and Salome become divided because of it. 

   From there a series of events lead up to a masterful retelling of the life of Yeshua as it is known from the traditional and Gnostic Gospels. Will Yeshua, (who is just a man in Longfellow’s version, but later thought by his followers to be the Son of God and the Messiah and king), take up the mantle of the god-man to become the Messiah and save the souls of the blind men and women of the world? Will Mariamne follow him unto the end, even if it means his death? Who will take up the role of the betrayer? And how will his disciples remember him, how will men like Simon Peter portray him in the years to come as they spread his message? 

   Impeccably researched, with lush characters and imagery so vivid one feels as though they are living in the world of the New Testament 2000 years ago, The Secret Magdalene paints an incredible picture. Longfellow’s Mariamne is independent and brilliant, and Yeshua is a man of compassion and sorrow who laughs. Characters like Seth, Addai, John the Baptizer and Salome are real, flesh-and-blood individuals with hopes and dreams and emotions of their own. The voice of the Magdalene is alive, and her rendering of Christ’s message, taken from the Gnostic standpoint of the “inner kingdom of God”, is given new life. Readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the ancient, secret tradition of this version of Christianity will be spellbound as Longfellow skillfully explains Yeshua’s teachings and parables in a way clergymen in our modern churches will highly disapprove of. Longfellow takes a very different approach to both the mysteries of Yeshua and the events as detailed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Weaving in elements from Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Judas, the Secret Gospel of John, the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, together with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and using a myriad of biblical and historical figures as well as a few creations of her own, Longfellow’s narrative is seamless. Frequently throughout the story Mariamne, Seth, Yeshua and others spout gorgeous words of such wisdom, beauty and power as to make the heart break, such as: 

   "To a Jew, the Invisible God is always above and apart. And so He is to all the prophets. He remains apart no matter the heaven they find themselves caught up into. And they are sore afraid. But I have seen with my own eyes that God is not above and apart. God is within and without. There is nothing that is not God. In which case, there is nothing to fear from God....As Seth once said, 'It is not that there is one God. It is that God is One.' And as he also said, 'God is One, meaning All There Is. Therefore, it is not 'His' Mind that moves all things, but 'Our' mind.”

   No matter what you may believe, or how you may interpret the Gospels, The Secret Magdalene will make you think and see God, Yeshua, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles in a whole new light. Ki Longfellow has created a masterpiece of pure genius, and I highly recommend this book to anyone with even the slightest interest in Scripture. {fshare}