There is a popular theme in classical art which depicts Mary Magdalene holding or gazing at a skull. I have never really understood this image. If Jesus was truly raised from the death, then the skull cannot be his. If it’s not Jesus’ skull, then whose is it? Is the former owner of the skull even relevant or is the presence of the skull merely symbolic? Why was this a popular theme among classical artists and why does it not persist today?
For years I have pondered the meaning of these paintings. What is up with Mary Magdalene and the skull? After the events of this past week and the spiritual experiences I have borne related to these events, now I get it.
The Events of the Week:
This week, Oshkosh experienced its first school shooting. A hurting and troubled teen attacked the school’s Resource (police) Officer with a knife. In the struggle the officer’s gun was discharged, injuring the officer. The gun was discharged a second time and the student was also shot. Following active shooter protocol, the school was evacuated while the offer and student were tended to. Fortunately, both the officer and the student survived and are recovering from their wounds (if you can ever really recover from such a traumatic event). The students, staff, their families, and the entire community are now grieving, trying to make sense of the trauma and (hopefully) examining what can be done (if anything) to prevent future incidents.
These kinds of incidents place us in the position of feeling helpless, confused and lost. First, we suffer shock. Then after the shock wears off, we grieve. For some, the grief comes out as anger. For others disbelief (denial). Others try to come up with all the things that could have/should have been done to prevent the tragedy (bargaining). There are those who do not know what to do with the energy of their grief, so they find ways to stay busy (creating distractions). Finally, there are those who will recognize the deep loss that comes in tragedies such as these and they cry. They weep for the loss of innocence. They weep for the hurting child and their family. They cry for the students and parents who were terrified. They wail over their own fear and the feeling of helplessness that arrives in the stark truth that we cannot always protect our children and over the brokenness of our world that drives a child to want to fatally harm another human being(s).
How it Unfolded Within Me:
As unofficial Pastor of Oshkosh, acknowledged empath, and ordained Priestess of the Magdalene, this is what unfolded in me relating to the above events and why I now understand the imagery of the Magdalene with the skull.
On Sunday, December 1st – two days before the incident at Oshkosh West High School, I got hit by an overwhelming feeling of anxiety. I immediately knew the anxiety was not mine, but it was powerful enough that I took a Lorazepam to stave off the impending panic attack. Then I checked in with my empath friends and Magdalene sisters. They were all in agreement – they too had been hit by powerful anxiety accompanied by overwhelming grief. We all wondered what was happening or soon to happen in the world that we were feeling it this hard. We had no idea that the anxiety and griefr we were feeling was the preview of what would soon be happening in our own backyard.
The news of the event came out via social media as parents and students began informing the community of what was happening. Without knowing who or how, I immediately “saw” an image of the officer and the boy. I knew who the officer was (without knowing) and I knew the boy was white. I then simultaneously went into prayer/empath mode while reaching out to leaders I know in the community to gain information beyond social media reactions.
While praying, holding and processing the energy of the trauma through my body (as empaths do), I was also fielding phone calls, text messages, etc. from parents and friends who were somehow involved in the incident. Listening. Holding Space. Offering counsel and comfort. As an empath/unofficial pastor, I was being called upon to be with them in their fear, confusion, and grief.
Another day in the life of an empath.
After two days of processing with others, the heavy hand of grief fell upon me. Once again, however, this was not my grief. Yes, I grieve for those involved and for our community, but what I was experiencing was a grief disproportionate to even that which our community was feeling. With this also came wave after wave after wave of compassion for the hurting boy and his family and for all the children in our world who are hurting and either not getting the help they need, or who are simply overwhelmed by the current state of our world. (To our children, the world out there really sucks and they often feel there is little to hope for. To understand this more, please read HERE and HERE). When the hand of grief came, I set aside the day for prayer and to sending healing (Reiki) to our fragile and broken world.
This brings me to Thursday. (only two days after the incident). Thursday brought the presence of Death. “He” came to me upon waking from a restless sleep and has remained with me since. This is not the first time Death has come to me, and I have been told that “He” is here to stay. Death, it seems, is to remain my companion (in fact He’s been here all along) and as “He” explained, “He” is what I have been seeking after all along.
For those new to the language and mystery of death, let me explain. I’m not suicidal. Neither am I wishing or praying for death, or even having fantasies as such. Instead, I have experienced the profound awareness that Death has always been with me and something I do not fear. Of course, I would hate for my children to preceded me in death (God forbid!). Yes, my body reacts to life-threatening experiences with fight, flight and/or flee. Absolutely have I grieved those I have “lost” to death. But the fact remains, I have never shied away from nor fled death. Instead, I have been fully present to it in whatever form it has taken in my life – and it has taken many forms. From the death of every single institution in which I have worked (the deaths strangely beginning to unfold shortly after my arrival), to the death of the university from which I earned my master’s degree, to the death of a marriage, the death of my Church and my relationship with my church, the death of friendships, the death of dear friends who were taken from life much too soon, to innumerable endings (deaths) that have occurred in my life. The death of dreams. The death of hopes. The death of what I once thought my life would be. For as long as I can remember, Death has been my companion and dare I say, “my friend.”
To those who might experience fear in the face of these statements, here’s the thing: DEATH IS A PART OF LIFE. In fact, it is out of Darkness that life comes into form and it is Darkness/Death to which we return. We cannot have life without death – either literally or metaphorically. As such, it behooves us to get comfortable with death. As our world becomes increasingly divisive and continues in its race toward death, we best make friends with death SOON!
But not everyone is comfortable with Death, neither is everyone called to be a Priestess of Death. Priest/ess of Death is a unique calling. Priestess of Death is a calling that requires discipline, persistence, tenacity, immeasurable courage and the ability to stand toe to toe and face to face with that which humanity fears the most. As a Priestess of Death, we must be willing to DIVE DEEP – first into our own wounds, past traumas and fears and do the really challenging work of transforming these wounds so that our TRUE BEING might emerge. THEN (concurrently) we have to be willing to Dive into the Darkness around us – being witness to that which is made out of fear, holding and accompanying others in their pain, being the vessel through which the pain and untruths of our world are processed and released for those unable or unwilling to do it for themselves.
It is this final piece that best describes the work of the Priestesses of Death. We are here to bear witness to everything in our world which has been swept under the rug, every lie that has been told, every loss that has not been grieved, every fear that remains, and every trauma that humanity is unable to clear themselves. Bearing witness, however, is simply not enough. Our most challenging task is to hold that pain in our bodies and allow it to move through us as it seeks its own healing and release. If you are a Priestess of Death – you know about which I speak.
This is the meaning of the Magdalene with the skull. Unlike the other disciples of Jesus, Mary Magdalene embodied the ability to not only be with Death but to hold the space and process the pain and trauma of death that others are not able to do for themselves. As Priestess of Death, Mary Magdalene did even more than this. She held space with and for Jesus as he journeyed toward his death and in being with him there, she became Co-Redemptrix – transforming through her own body humanity’s fear. After Jesus’ death, Mary continued this work and through the Magdalene succession, this work continues through those equally gifted and called to be Priest/esses of Death.
The Magdalene Priestess Training and the Order of Melchizedek Alchemist Training programs, created and facilitated by Lauri Ann Lumby provide education, guidance and support for those called to share in the calling of Priestess of Death.