Tag Archives: Jesus

The Gospel according to Sylvia Browne

A response to “The Two Marys”

Yes, the author is that Sylvia Browne, the psychic, who is also a Gnostic Christian and church founder. This leads to my first issue. The miracles in the Gospels are a bit far fetched, Sylvia says. Feeding of thousands? More like a few hundred or less. Rising from the dead? No, a faked faint with feeble as possible whippings and beatings and cleverly aimed nails so that the Lord could recover in the tomb and then sneak off to travel and minister and die happily in France with his family at the age of 84.

So – Jesus can’t rise from the dead or do miracles, but Sylvia can see the future and receive messages and pictures from her personal discarnate spirit. We’re asked to accept her beyond the rational gifts, but not those of someone somewhat more established and revered?

The tone of this piece matches the one that Sylvia often writes in. Occasionally, she’ll give interesting, more scholarly insights, such as when and how the cult of the Virgin Mary really gathered speed, with statements that sound like informed research. Then she’ll say: Jesus revealed himself to his French friends by “letting the cat out of the bag”. So much for the Messianic Secret! She makes oft use of the lazy “a lot” and calls many other psychics “nuts”. Worse still, these ‘nutters’ might become occultist, which she abhors – no reason.

Her view is that Jesus was crucified for preaching a loving, forgiving God…. interesting, but not expanded. We don’t get many quotes from the Gnostic gospels that her views depend on – least of all, discussions of their translations and authenticity.

Although badly told, she does rationalise her version of Easter. Everyone was in the trick – there’s no outcast, self murdering Judas; Joseph of Arimathea and of course his beloved Marys all knew. Even Pontius Pilate was malleable with a bribe. She explains this is why Jesus was crucified so close to the Sabbath, when no dead bodies were allowed left hanging so he could be on the cross for minimal time, not have his legs broken, and be snuck off to a powerful man’s tomb ready for revival and escape. The vinegar on a stick was opium to help him bear the pain and lose consciousness. The Noli Me Tangere moment on Easter Morn was – don’t touch, my wounds still hurt. Then Jesus shows his earthly wounds – for what spirit has them, she asks (hasn’t she heard of ghosts appearing with the last known body?). And then Jesus becomes master of disguise, does a bit of globe trotting, including America (how could he miss you out) and then retires to Languedoc as “David”.

For anyone of a non Gnostic bent, Jesus’ faked death is shocking on many levels. Traditional theology is that Jesus’ death is the telos of his mission; Christmas matters because of Easter, and those teachings are mere aperitif to the main course – his passion.

If it’s true that as Lynn Picknett gleefully states in her book on Magdalene, that there have been a spate of dying and rising gods, then Jesus needs to do something extraordinary – and that would mean a bodily resurrection after an actual, bodily death.

To me and many Christians, Jesus’ subversion of death and overcoming it on the cross is essential.

Many Christians see the unthinkable emotional as well as bodily suffering as a sign of Jesus’ love for them – that he wanted to bring us back to God so much that he would endure this for us. Julian of Norwich would not get along with Sylvia Browne!

My understanding of the Cross is different to mainstream Christianity, but this view is spreading: I believe not in penal substitution, appeasing an angry God’s thirst for blood to pay off an insurmountable debt of sin. The cross is about saying God is nothing to do with this world of violence, punishment, payback and worldly might. I love Hildegard of Bingen’s view of sin (as told by Ilia Delio) as being the exile of unrelatedness and the refusal to grow. I wonder if every personal block to God and each other, including what we would consider acts of evil, is covered by that definition. Sin is what stops us from living authentically.

But all Christians can agree that Jesus did something unique and essential for the human/God interface, and that he overcame death – our greatest fear and enemy. Sin in all its forms and definitions has been dealt with – that exile is over, that impediment is removed and light, not evil, now prevails. So a few pokes and a opium-fuelled doze with fictitious angels as alibis for the bribed tomb guards misses the whole point.

If Jesus preached a loving forgiving God, it would be more powerful to demonstrate him.

Sylvia says Jesus needed to get crucified to fulfil his Chart – but she obviously misses off most of the reading, for its not in minimal suffering and a ‘sham resurrection’ (her phrase) that his destiny is fulfilled. How could Jesus say “It is FINISHED”,  “It is accomplished”, or better still – “Consummatum”, all things brought together, if he did not complete his mission? And why would Jesus commend his Spirit to his Father and feel forsaken if he only had a half death? And dissembling is breaking one of the Decalogue.

I struggle to see why Sylvia refers to Jesus as Lord, although I am intrigued to look again at his sayings – the ones she upholds – and see if Jesus is Lord enough through just them.

There’s also something wrong with the family narrative – that of the Marys and Jesus travelling, of Jesus being a husband and dad, of his favouritism for Mary Magdalene over the disciples, and his and both Marys’ royal lineage. No overshadowing from the Most High is needed in this conception, and there’s no assumption into heaven – just retirement to the Essene community with its celestial nickname and a boringly ordinary death of old age.

The childhood friend bride feels uncomfortable from a personal relationships view: so Jesus couldn’t meet someone later in his life, and she had to come from the right sort of background to be suitable. It felt like the sort of fairy tale I’d like to see die out.

Like Shakespeare, Jesus’ appeal comes from his ordinary, non conventionally educated background. I abhor the notion that neither Will of Stratford nor Jesus of Nazareth could possibly be who we think without blue blood and academic training. That says, only the aristocracy are worthy of admiration; only official learning is true knowledge, and worst – that class and feudalism rule: just what I thought God wasn’t about.

Jesus is meant to come from King David’s line but he was born to a carpenter, to people too poor to get lodgings, but had to sleep and deliver a baby in a stable.

Why would Mary his mother sing the magnificat about the powerful and poor being switched if she was royal and rich herself?

And to cast the harlot’s mantle off Magdalene, we have to give her ermine.

Sylvia argues that Jewish men, especially those called Rabbi, were always married. It would controvert the Genesis command to multiply if a man did not have children, she says. But how easy is it to generalise about beliefs and practices? We know people who break the mould. I love that Jesus does everything topsy turvy and unexpected. We value money and property – he doesn’t appear to have any. He lives in a commune and travels – we value rootedness and stability. We don’t read of his ordination in the established religion – he simply preaches, al fresco often (it avoids room hire and permissions). His teaching and his death and resurrection are revolutionary, in the literal sense of turning over, as he does to tables of those misusing money and places of worship. He breaks the Sabbath to heal. He talks to a Samaritan woman. He puts spit in a blind man’s eyes. He assumes temple authority. Jesus’ non conforming to the ‘go forth and multiply’ custom says that humans are not defined by procreation.

Sylvia’s argument that the wedding at Cana must be Jesus’ own initially has more credence. For, she says, how else could he be expected to worry about the shortage of wine and ask servants to do things? Why would his mother bring this concern to Jesus if he weren’t the groom?

In the previous chapter of John’s gospel (the only one to tell the story), Jesus is called Rabbi, before we have heard him speak or do anything. It is the next – ‘third’ – day that Jesus is ‘invited’ to the wedding, with his mother and disciples, implying them as equal guests. When his mother draws the wine shortage to Jesus’ attention, he says, ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time is not yet come’.  Jesus sounds surprised, as if this wedding isn’t his concern. The servants obey Jesus because Mary asked them to – why is not explained. The bridegroom is mentioned, but not named, and so is the master of the banquet, to whom the transformed water is presented. I don’t think therefore that the case for this being Jesus’ wedding, with Mary M, who we’ve not met yet, is very compelling.

Many people are comforted that their Lord is single. We don’t have a physical description of him (Sylvia does, via her spirit guide, Francine!). He was Robert Powell-esque (star of the TV series Jesus of Nazareth) and Mary his mother curvy and dark (at least one of the three had the right ethnicity for a Jew). Magdalene was red haired! More Anne of Avonlea than Mary of Magdala! (Avonlea… that’s a whole other thought….) People have appropriated Jesus to their circumstances – a black Christ so African people feel closer to him, and European depictions made Jesus brown or red haired and light eyed and skinned. It’s been suggested that Jesus might be gay with the disciple whom Jesus loved (and his mates Mary, Martha and Lazarus a ‘queer’ family). But we don’t know if Jesus was married. We don’t know his sexuality, if any. We don’t know if he had children. But it means that mystique allows us to feel close to him, whatever our skin colour or family situation.

If Jesus was single and not a father, that those of us without spouse or offspring can feel that the most special earth dweller was like us; if he could be complete without parenthood and partnering, that we can too.

There’s also a massive issue with the divine and their mortal creatures having an affair – it’s one of those off bounds parings like teacher/pupil, prison officers/inmate, and counsellors/clients and adults with minors. We’re not equal, there’s a power imbalance.

Unless you believe that Jesus isn’t divine or that we are. Many think that Mary Magdalene’s surname isn’t where she’s from but her title, like Mahatma Gandhi or Lord – she’s spiritually special. So maybe not such an odd coupling?

But then there’s the favouritism issue. I heard a sermon state that Jacob’s obvious preference for his technicoloured dreaming son was bad parenting. If Jesus behaved likewise, I can sympathise with the disciples who complained of Jesus’ constant petting and partiality, and can see why arguments arose after Jesus left them.

I’d like to think that the Son of Man, let alone God, had more maturity and sensitivity, and left a better example.


Sylvia’s arguments do not become more bolstered by evidence or reasoning. She often refers to scholars, but gives few names – save Karen L King and Elaine Pagels. She states her view of history as fact, supported by vague research – but this is a common complaint I have with nonfiction.

A later chapter has little to do with the Marys and more about tolerant beliefs. I do support Sylvia here, for in her crude offhand way, she says – let love and acceptance be the heart of living and let us not judge, let alone persecute or silence those with other beliefs. She sees the canonising of the Bible as a deliberate attempt at political control and mind steering, leaving out the best and truest parts of the Bible and editing the four chosen gospels to focus on Peter as leader and downgrade both Marys, and the message of love.

Sylvia mentions Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and its backlash with some admiration. Unsurprisingly, she also references the Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln book, which her view agrees with to some extent. She calls the 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ “somewhat weird” and offers a warning to viewers. She seems unaware that Scorsese’s film is based on Nikos Kazantzaki’s novel. And that its point is, that unlike her Jesus, coming down from the cross before living peacefully with his wife was a temptation to refuse. The film ends with Christ on the cross, choosing to continue his torment unto death to fulfil his mission. Hence this controversial story is more orthodox than Sylvia and books on the holy grail and bloodlines.

A brief word on that line: The offspring of Jesus would be at least demi gods, and that would be dangerous. And why is a bloodline so vital? Sounds like the feudal notion of purity of blood, of position by family not merit, and permanent exclusion for those not in the clan. But the whole message of Jesus is: God is widening the net (was it ever really so narrow?). Not by birth and heritage, but by belief are you included in God’s kingdom. I wonder if the Age of Aquarius is about moving beyond a particular set of beliefs to be seen as inheritor of God’s relationship – and beyond legalistic words about ownership.

It was a relief to get to the end of The Two Marys, but there’s an odd appendix – the tenets of the Novus Spiritus (why the Latin?), Sylvia’s own church. Twenty two statements in semi religious language – a few thous chucked in, not of the Buber variety; anti war, pro defence; the rejection of book of Revelation. I cannot see the appendix’s relevance to the book’s subject, unless it is another juxtaposition to suggest she too is a messenger of a new spiritual movement for this newly dawning age. Is she letting a cat out of the bag?

Sylvia seems to regularly hint of her own specialness – she compares Magdalene’s loss of her husband and mentor to the loss of her psychic grandmother. In the first chapter called Powerful Women (note Sylvia’s gender) she says, I’m not putting myself near our Lord, but I know how busy travelling and teaching can be and how it feels to be crucified by the press.

Despite the book’s title and my original intent to write this about Magdalene day, Sylvia’s focus is less on either Mary. Neither are divine for Sylvia, for whom, this is really Jesus’ story, bookended by a close maternal relationship. Mary Magdalene just propounded her husband’s ideas. This is not so empowering for women or Mary.

Sylvia’s shockingly unorthodox view of Christ isn’t compatible with her own world view. Gnostics have a more positive view of humans, yet Sylvia believes that humans are flawed and in need of enlightening. But even if we don’t need traditional salvation, death does need overcoming, I think, and Sylvia’s Jesus doesn’t do that – his exit strategy is somewhat tepid compared with the rising and ascension of the gospels. And for Jesus to half die is worse – for it doesn’t signify or accomplish anything. Sylvia doesn’t ‘bother’ with much of the Bible, especially the first part, though she does imply she understands that Jesus preached a new understanding of God, but on whose previous heritage we do not need to dwell.

Her chief source of knowledge is Francine, who isn’t introduced as her guide is familiar to her readers in previous books. Francine seems slipped in at will and at difficult parts of Sylvia’s depiction as her incontrovertible proof. Sylvia seems to just know – which as a modern Gnostic (not one of those ancient dualists with all the rules), would be entirely consistent. I too believe in inner knowing over empiricism, but I also know I need to be able to present an argument too. Intellectually, she’s not convincing, and her writing style is often flavourless and flippant and not focussed. Thus I’m not a follower.

It has given me ideas to follow: my disappointment with Jesus and the royal line of David, and to re-read the gospels to ask – how special are Jesus’ teachings and is he portrayed as God? And what of my original Mary Magdalene quest?

These are all likely to appear on my blog another time.

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First Knight – Disneyland, Man Love and 2 Marys

These are three of the main thoughts I have after reviewing this film 19 years after its release, when it quickly became and stayed a favourite film.

Criticisms slipped in, but then I realised that what I thought were faults were actually hints of a different reading.

It is easy to see how beautiful, wise, good Guinevere wins the hearts of two men. But I never felt either really deserved her or were right for her. I also had trouble seeing the love between her and Arthur. I note Guinevere lost her father within the year and has only older men as companions – such as Oswald who keeps calling her “child” (far more bearable in Cold Comfort Farm), in Jacob, and then Arthur. Her mum isn’t mentioned, and nor are siblings. Ladies in waiting are given non speaking roles, and are a minimal presence. I hate Freudian missing parent theories, but Guinevere’s love for Arthur does seem to be similar to the love she may’ve felt for her late Dad: a deferent and quiet passion, unafraid but not quite equal, and not a sexual love. When Arthur greets his bride on the hill over Camelot, he arranges a military show to make an entrance, though it is not a public event (a grand debut was in Connery’s contract, but it undermines the relationship). They do not rush to greet each other, even though she’s suffered an attack en route, but he debonairly takes her hand as one would a political ally or dance partner. When they speak about their marriage the next day, there’s no physical contact until Guinevere gets out his scratch on his hand. Even when she is rescued from Malagant’s lair, the embrace there could almost be converted to beloved child and father. We never see a love scene or any other passionate kiss. At his death bed, I fail to see the look of love that Arthur notes is missing; this is again a daughterly sorrow at yet another older man leaving her.

Note he speaks of the love of Guinevere as sweetness, not passion, not a soulmate.

I felt we needed more to believe in this marriage, supposedly a love match, but I wonder if it is meant to be a will (not heart) powered steady devotion – a paraphrase of what she says to Arthur when she is discovered with Lancelot.

Lancelot appeals to the physical, courageous side of otherwise intense and sensible Guinevere, who’s already having to run kingdoms on her own as Lady of Lyonnesse. Guinevere, who wishes to live and die there (so having a great sense of settling), has been born into duty, no doubt with finery – though she says he’s taught not to put faith in it. Here comes a man without home or finery, a man who speaks his desires – but doesn’t act until the lady asks – ie gives not only her permission but initiates. He is not the body man of Lehman and Hunt’s sex obsessed essay on Titanic – the contrast is less crude than a physical macho hunk, for Lancelot is polite (compared with Mr Turner in my next post) and unthreatening. He doesn’t care about hierarchy and I think that’s what shocks Guinevere at the first rescue as much as his implication that he’d like a sexual thank you: because for him, pretty women are no better if they’re dairy maids or ladies, and he doesn’t care about monetary rewards. He’s not suddenly deferential when he learns who she is – why should saving a lady be more gratifying for him? Once I stopped expecting Lancelot to be a particular kind of man, I accepted him better.

Guinevere, like Rose in Titanic, is an action heroine. When we first see her, she’s playing a vigorous football game – foreshadowing Jennifer Elhe’s Elizabeth Bennet which came out in the UK a few months later – who is also corporeal and enjoys physical exercise (particularly under Andrew Davies interpretation). Guinevere doesn’t wield an axe like Rose, but she does escape being hacked The Shining style by one into her carriage. Like an agile Western hero, she grips unseen to the running boards and throws her world be assassin off the careering carriage, before leaping and rolling from it, then lying low and making a well judged sprint. She kills a man with a crossbow at short range. Later, she rides a spirited horse considered unsuitable for a lady by the king’s horseman, without a lady saddle; she throws a kidnapper off the boat; she has the nous to put a scrap of her dress on a tree as a breadcrumb trail to her rescuers; she twirls on a bridge over an abyss, she leaps over a waterfall and swims in the rapids.

But in all those examples, Guinevere swaps from Grace Kelly in Rear Window – remaining feminine but active – to distressed damsel. I note a powerful man – not a generic enemy – is in her presence each time. When Lancelot first appears, she’s gasping and afraid as the Malagant minion holds her. In Malagant’s slate mine palace, she is silent and compliant, again shivering as he undresses her and pushes her across the bridge to the oubliette with the slightest arm touch. And when Malagant attacks at the end, she rushes to Arthur’s bedside and never takes up a sword. But in front of Arthur and the knights of the round table, she does stand up verbally to Malagant when he attends a council meeting.

Now I’m coming to explain one of my themes. I see two Marys in Guinevere – Magdalene and The Virgin. Guinevere’s virginity is never mentioned but is prized, and there’s care for her never to even kiss Lancelot while she’s engaged (meaning that Arthur has the first experience with her) and for only a kiss to happen at Lancelot’s leaving – novel tie-in author Elizabeth Chadwick points out that such a kiss was only stopped becoming an act of love by Arthur’s interruption. Arthur, like Jesus, sees adultery of the heart as an equal sin. I see two readings of this story as allegory – one of the future, the other, the past.

As a wise spiritual ruler with a specially picked band of men, Arthur can feel Christlike. Guinevere could be his Mary Magdalene, but his relationship with her is more like mother son (or father and daughter) – linking to the other Mary of the gospels. Mary Magdalene is the naughty Mary, but some understand her to be the Kingdom’s co-creator, the enlightened one, not just the reformed demoniac/prostitute of tradition. Mary Magdalene might be the other side of Guinevere, the side who is drawn to the nomad (which Jesus was) who unlike foxes and eagles, does not have anywhere to lay his head.

But she’s also the one the villagers turn to for succour after two attacks from evil – firstly on bended knee, calling her Lady; and secondly for physical comfort after the forces of good save them – thus her Mary the Mother analogy is heightened.

Malagant is a Lucifer – once the highest of the elect, who left after a quarrel about supremacy and now seeks to terrify all Arthur’s people – a row, like in the Bible, which is never explained. I would like to have seen the “tyrant” speech of Malagant developed. In a way calm, kind Arthur is a tyrant, as is the portrayal of many monotheist’s God. Love me, and I’ll love you – cross me and there’s public judgement and death. You can only come into my kingdom by invitation, as Lancelot finds out (a bit like Calvinist theology). Arthurian god has a tempter, and both he and Malagant speak of the Law as the ultimate justice; Malagant claims he is the law, while Arthur points to something greater than himself, which is also potentially manipulative. Serving God, a country, a family or band of brothers raises the stakes and makes heavier the responsibility. The brotherhood/leadership dichotomy is a topic for another time, but I note these politically leading knights are not elected, they’re all military, and there’s no ladies – and despite having no head or foot, the round table does accommodate not only a king but a first knight.

And Camelot is the Kingdom, the heavenly city, built from his father’s legacy, a place, says director Jerry Zucker that we all want to live. Thus this neo Jerusalem is a place to aspire to, and not get cast out of for bad behaviour, or else you’re in the subterranean has-been of Malagant’s world. But it’s not just Jesus who is building a kingdom – there’s a currently earthly realm, like Camelot, which is built on ideals and ideas. Like a church, it’s not the stones themselves, but the people and dream that lives on – good job, for this fortress proves to be as robust as the cheese stall in its likeness that we see on the run the gauntlet day. That place is America. So the Disney castle look of Camelot makes sense – if it is intended: the American romanticisation of a medieval mythological ideal, the appropriation of a history they don’t have. Note the French renaissance windows: this is a new birth.

And Arthur’s existence is unproven, and so imaginations can set to work, inventing architectural details and costumes (is it coincidence that Arthur’s knights wear Star Trek like garb?). Saxons didn’t build cities so the only walls and gates around would be ex Roman – again, a great empire imposing itself, sophisticated on one hand, brutal and rash on another. Much like Arthur. His trial of Guinevere and Lancelot says – my personal hurts are a matter of state. I humiliate these people and call it an act against the realm, and I’m telling you – mess with mine or be unfaithful, and you’ll die.

Who the faithful are is my final point: the triangle is not the shape I’d assumed. Arthur is in love, but not with Guinevere. He has fallen for Arthur in a courtly ideal of unconsummated deep love that I call man love – not exactly gay (it’s so feeble that Hollywood is still not good at dealing with that in its mainstream films – yes Brokeback Mountain but think of Troy!). They couldn’t have been lovers or it alters the offence of Arthur’s discovery the love of Guinevere and Lancelot, whose “innocence” (ie lack of physical love) is important.

Arthur waits patiently for his wife to answer him and to formally marry him, but he rushes Lancelot onto his council with wedding like vows, preceded by a night of prayer and purification. This is man marriage. The scene when Arthur slips into Lancelot’s chamber and touches his bare back holds back from homoeroticism but I think the point is implied. Why, when Arthur discovers the near affair, is Arthur aggressive to Lancelot but composed with Guinevere? Because his love for Lancelot is the greater. He twice speaks of loving Lancelot to his face – “I don’t love people in slices” and “I loved you, I trusted you!”

Note Lancelot’s lack of aggression or even justification; he defers to his love, offering to die for him. In another Jesus paraphrase, Arthur brings up the theme that to die for another is the highest love (which can also be manipulative, it’s how any leader has got men to go to war) – and now Lancelot will give his life to serve his master and the kingdom.

And in Arthur’s last scene, he needs to make up to his two loves as much as they need to placate his rent heart over the discovery that the triangle does indeed have three sides. To prove the third one is most powerful, contrast Arthur’s goodbye to Guinevere to his send off to Lancelot. Arthur asks for his sword – not a phallic symbol, but as a shiny almost magical object throughout the film, to bestow a highest honour on a beloved friend. They hold hands and Arthur not only implies his blessing on Lancelot and Guinevere, he gives Lancelot the greatest privileges he can – being First Knight isn’t just political and military (I hope he doesn’t reign Camelot with only sword skill, and not state craft), it’s saying, You are my main man, I love you.

Mark Adam’s synopsis in Movie Locations of Britain started me on this road when he describes the film as Guinevere coming between Arthur and Lancelot (p151). I think he’s correct as both US and UK film covers have the two men as large and Guinevere in the background in the middle; and on the British cover, the picture of Guinevere is inside the sword, dividing them. So the courtly love here is Arthur’s for his knight; the nation state with universally applicable ideas is America, and this is the tale of taming the wanderer to become part of society rewarded by romantic love, brotherhood and knighthood – but does Lancelot lose something in becoming part of Camelot?

I look forward to getting the region 1 DVD and seeing if the extras support this, or whether this is my reading; but I enjoyed the film far more since seeing all this in it.


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Good Friday

As we’re close to the Easter season, I’d like to share what I wrote last year on my new take on this day


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