I'm currently writing a (short...maybe) discussion on the Three Marys as they pertain to my particular theology. As a Collyridian, the Virgin Mary is treated as a divinity equal to God. Because of this, I was recently accused of being a Wiccan. I thought about this for a while and said "No...I believe in the Trinitarian God but deny the Trinitarian Goddess" which is one of the central tenets of (most) Wiccan traditions. But then I started thinking about it some more, and wondered if I was maybe being unfair to Mother Mary. Is she Trinitarian? There are many Marys in the Gospel narrative. The Valentinians, an early Gnostic sect, informs us through the Gospel of Phillip that there were exactly three: Mary the Virgin, Mary the Mother of John (identified as both Mary's and Jesus' sister...more on that in a moment), and Mary the Magdala. There are also some very interesting associations within the Gospel of Phillip that discuss the nature of this Trinitarian Mariology. So I wanted to share some of what I've reasoned.
First, we have to rely on tradition a bit here. There are several women in the Gospel canon that Jesus interacts with. First is Elizabeth (also Mary's sister) when his interaction via Mary in her womb causes the infant John to jump in Elizabeth's womb. Later comes the woman at the well, the prostitute, and Mary Magdalene washing Jesus' feet with her hair. The Virgin and her sister Mary are present at Calvary, and it is the Marys that find the tomb empty after the Resurrection. Later, the Virgin is present at Pentecost, and then Paul's woman-bashing begins and active female personages disappear from the New Testament except when referenced by the speaker for a specific purpose. Tradition holds that, of these women, the woman at the well, the prostitute, and Mary Magdalene are the same person. There is often mention of "the other Mary" when referencing Mary and Mary Magdalene together, and sometimes Scripture will say "Mary and the other Mary". Additionally, there is mentioned "Mary, the Mother of John". Depending on how you treat these references, there are either three or four or possibly more Marys running around at any given time in the Gospel record. This really isn't incidental. Mary or Maryam or Miriam was and is still a common female name in the Jewish and Muslim world. It has fallen out of use in the West since the Reformation, but we should be relieved that there aren't a thousand Mary's being referenced in the Gospels, because there surely were that many historically. The Valentinians, who believed in the Gnostic idea of Sophia and the Demiurge, were also highly mystical in their outlook. The Trinitarian nature of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit was established early on. Though the Valentinians believed the Holy Spirit to be an extension of Sophia and, therefore, female (very interesting play on words in the Gospel of Phillip regarding the conception of Christ*), they also accepted the Trinitarian nature of God. Though there isn't much as far as how they viewed Sophia, Trinitarian parallels would have been expected. Thus, it would have been quite easy for them to conflate "the other Mary" and "Mary, the Mother of John" to be the same person, especially considering that no where in the Gospels does it say "Mary, the Mother of John, and the other Mary".
The Gospel of Phillip, when announcing that there are, indeed, only three Marys of importance, states:
"There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary."
Phillip does not tell us that "In addition to the Twelve..." or "There were three women who always walked with the Lord..." just that "There were three who always walked with the Lord." The implication is clear. Of those who followed Jesus during his lifetime, these were the three that did not leave his side for any appreciable amount of time. Gaps, irregularities, and variations in the Gospel accounts can, to an extent, be explained by the fact that they were a) written at different times, and b) written for different audiences, but could it be possible that there were times when Matthew, Mark, Luke, and/or John was absent for key events or sayings? Paul fills the New Testament but his Gospel was not considered canon. In fact, his Gospel reads like a hate-filled exegesis for why women are less than men. In one scene, his female companion is about to be eaten by lions, and he does absolutely nothing but watch. At the last moment, God intervenes on her behalf. And Paul continues to write epistles that illustrate his hate-gluttony for women. But enough about Paul. It is obvious that the Apostles were not present for everything. Luke even states as much when he concludes his Gospel by saying he intentionally left out certain events. Were they unimportant? Were they redundant? Was he even present for some of them? The Gospel of Phillip says plainly that Luke probably wasn't present. John probably wasn't present. Mark and Matthew probably weren't present. But there were three that were: the Three Marys.
In another passage, Phillip discusses the Magdala. The Apostles ask Jesus why he loves Mary more than them, and he gives them a beguiling allegory:Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man
and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one
another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who
is blind will remain in darkness.The blind and the sighted are the same in darkness—this is the base
condition of humanity. Christ is the light that comes. The blind remain in
darkness and the sighted see the light. Throughout the Gospel narrative,
blindness is used as a means to describe those that cannot correctly perceive
or understand Christ’s mission and purpose. Two sayings later in the Gospel of
Phillip, it is made clear that the blind are those who do not possess the Holy
Spirit, and the sighted are those that do:
If one goes down into the water
(baptism) and comes up without having
received anything, and says "I am a Christian," he has borrowed the
name at interest. But if he receives the Holy Spirit, he has the name as a
gift. He who has received a gift does not have to give it back, but of him who
has borrowed it at interest, payment is demanded. This is the way it happens to
one when he experiences a mystery.
The same allegory can be used
here: for a blind Christian and a sighted Christian who are in the dark, there
is no difference. But when the light of Christ comes, the blind Christian still
cannot see while the sighted Christian can see the light of Christ.
The use of this allegory
to discuss Mary’s position in regards to the other Apostles can only mean one
thing: Mary Magdalene was possessed of the Holy Spirit at the time that Christ
was on Earth. This is incredibly important because the book of Acts tells us
that the Holy Spirit descended after
the Resurrection and Christ’s Ascension. The Catholic Church holds that only
Jesus’ Mother was possessed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit prior to Pentecost,
but the Gospel of Phillip makes it clear that at least one other Mary had this
gift while Christ was alive.
So we have established that Mary Theotokos, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the Mother of John were all present at all times for Jesus' mission. Mary, his Mother and Mary Magdalene were both filled with the Holy Spirit while He was alive. But what about the Other Mary? Let us go back to the Valentinians and see what the Gospel of Phillip says.
There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary.
There are three Marys listed in two different ways. 1a. Mary, his mother, b. her sister, and c. Magdalene; and 2a. [Jesus'] sister and b. his mother and c. his companion. And they "were each a Mary". The Other Mary, Mother of John is not listed explicitly, but Tradition tells us that she was the Other Mary, and that she was the sister of Christ's mother (for clarification, Tradition also tells us that Mary's father had other wives, so it wasn't the case that her parents simply named each of their daughters Mary, but likely, the Other Mary was from a previous marriage). This passage in Phillip then claims the Other Mary to be His sister. Why?
Let's delve into this passage a little deeper first. Mary Magdalene is explicitly referred to as His companion in this passage. But they are all implicitly his closest companions because the three of them "always walked with [Him]". Additionally, two of them are direct blood relations. These three women are closer to Christ than anybody else in the Gospel narrative. It also seems redundant for Phillip to specify finally that all three were Marys since he identifies two of them earlier. That is, unless there is something important about this designation.
Phillip spends a lot of time discussing the importance of given names and secret names. This redundancy would not be necessary unless there's something important about the name of Mary to Phillip, and he would not make sure the reader knew these three women specifically were all named Mary unless the importance of this name applied to these three women. That information, paired with what we just discussed concerning Mary Magdalene's possessing of the Holy Spirit, can mean only one thing: the Other Mary had the Holy Spirit, as well. She may have been biologically His mother's sister, but she was also the sister of Christ. This makes the Other Mary just as beautiful and mysterious as her sisters.
Mary the Mother of God, Mary the Mother of John and Sister of Christ, and Mary Magdalene the Companion of Christ are three facets of a highly-developed and beautiful Goddess. But they coexist in the Biblical history at the same time as distinct people. The Trinitarian God does not do this. The Wiccan Trinitarian Goddess does not do this. No deity that I have come across in any pantheon of any world religion does this. But Mary, the embodiment of the Gnostic Sophia, the Mother of God, does simultaneously bring together a Trinitarian nature in the persons of the other two Marys. Are the three collective avatars of the Divine Feminine? I'm not sure. Are the three simultaneous avatars of the indwelling within Mary? Not sure. What I do know is that Phillip also talks a lot about things that appear "defiled" but are naturally "pure" (marriage and sex being two that come up a lot). So this simultaneous triple manifestation of a Trinitarian Goddess figure could have a deeper meaning below it. But that's an exploration for another time.
*FOOTNOTE!: The play on words concerning the conception of Christ goes like this: 'Some said, "Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit." They are in error. They do not know what they are saying. When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?' This is because, in Greek, the word used for "spirit" is female. Phillip's precise play on words is explored in the excellent book "The Gnostic Bible" by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer.