Priestess Interviews - Lynn Picknett
Interview by Caroline Wise, Lyceum of Isis of the Thames
Biography: The internationally-known British author Lynn Picknett was born in Kent
and grew up in Yorkshire, graduated with honours from the University College of Wales,
and now lives in London.
While employed as a book editor and feature writer for women’s magazines, she
literally bumped into Clive Prince on a doorstep in 1989, and then her life really took
Their joint non-fiction works include Turin Shroud: How Leonardo da Vinci fooled
history – the subject of three major tv documentaries (one for Sir David Frost’s
production company on behalf of the BBC), War of the Windsors; A Century of
Unconstitutional Monarchy (an exposé of the British royal family) – and of course, The
Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, which inspired
The Da Vinci Code. Its 2008 sequel is The Masks of Christ.
Lynn’s solo works include Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess and The
Secret History of Lucifer.
I particularly liked the bit about how Mary Magdalene (well, Mary of Bethany, but the Vicar thought
they were the same woman and so did I) got told off by her sister Martha for chatting to Jesus while
she had to organise the household by herself. As one of nature’s chatterers and debaters with a
complete distaste for dusting and tidying (other things never change, either) it wasn’t hard to see
whose side I was on. Anyway, if chatting rather than polishing was good enough for Jesus, who was I to
So after listening to that story we went home to Sunday lunch. ‘Come on, our Lynn, give us a hand with
the dishes,’ said Mum. I turned the bright blank stare of the fanatic on her, saying ‘No thank you,
Mummy. Mary Magdalene wouldn’t have done it.’ Insofar as it was possible to be a fanatical Anglican c.
1955, I was that monster. Mum backed off muttering about what a ‘funny little kid’ I was. But it
worked. I didn’t lift a finger in the kitchen. And I certainly started as I meant to go on.
Yes, an odd introduction to Mary Magdalene. When Clive Prince and I were researching for what became
our book ‘The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ, I looked at
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and nearly fainted. That’s no young Saint John, it’s a woman… It was
something of a massive epiphany, and it seemed to cut straight to the heart somehow. (And since Dan
Brown picked up Templar Revelation everyone knows about the woman next to Jesus, but it was
originally my very own realisation. An odd – and rather humbling thought.)
Slightly later I become involved in researching Church abuses (see below) and suddenly the picture
opened up. I perceived the Magdalene as the wronged heroine, associated throughout the centuries with
‘fallen women’ and with pathological sobbing over her unshriven guilt and sense of shame.
How do you see her role in Judea with Jesus and the disciples?
It’s interesting that out of all the women in the Bible she is virtually the only one who is never defined
by her relationship with a man, not being ‘Mary the daughter of, or mother of…’ It is obvious that she
was not only a woman of substance, extraordinarily independent both financially and psychologically for
that time and place, but also perhaps simply too well known to need a description.
And her name always comes first in a list of Jesus’ female disciples, underlining her status and
However, I would stress that there is no evidence at all for she and Jesus being legally married. For a
start, she is not described as ‘Mary, the Lord’s wife’, as she certainly would have been if that had been
Then there is the curious sense that pervades the New Testament gospels that she has been edited
out of many of the stories, deliberately marginalised, as if the writers felt a deep distaste for her and
only left her in (and even then, only rarely and briefly, at least specifically by name) because she was
too well known to leave out – especially as she was the first person to see the risen Jesus.
It’s a fair bet, however, that she is also Mary of Bethany and ‘a certain woman of the town’.
But why should the gospel writers find her so unappealing? It’s hardly because she was a prostitute,
which she wasn’t. This idea originated with a pope in the 7th century CE, and was rescinded in 1968,
although the Church did so, as it were, in whispers, in small print. Many people today still think she was a
There’s an amusing point here. The New Testament tells us that the women provided the money for
Jesus and the men as they toured the country on their mission. If the Magdalene had been a prostitute
that would have meant that Christ and the saints had been living off immoral earnings!
Perhaps she was despised because she and Jesus were unmarried lovers, or because she influenced him
too much. It won’t be the first or last time that a strong-minded woman captured a leader’s heart but
in doing so alienated his other followers. (Yoko Ono springs to mind.)
Indeed, there are fascinating clues in the non-biblical gospels, such as The Gospel of Thomas and The
Gospel of Philip about her problems with Jesus’ male disciples. She seems to have been rather keen on
hogging the spotlight – in one scenario she asks or answers 39 out of 42 questions in a sort of q and a
session with Jesus and the disciples. And on one occasion she actually persuades him to change his
Most of the male disciples were wary of her, it seems, but to Simon Peter she was absolutely
anathema. asking Jesus to ‘Let Mary leave us… for women are not worthy of life’, while she said to
Jesus ‘I am afraid of Peter, for he hates me and all the race of women.’ She also makes it clear that
Peter had physically threatened her.
I know Christian traditionalists routinely dismiss the non-Biblical gospels as worthless, but that is
simply an untenable argument. I am intrigued by the vividness of their depiction of the personality
clashes among the disciples – especially MM and Peter – which is so specific, and so consistent among the
‘forbidden’ gospels, that one begins to suspect that’s the reason they were left out of the New
Testament in the first place. And of course while Mary is barely there in Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John, she is routinely – apart from Jesus himself of course - the star of the other gospels.
Perhaps she was the power behind the throne of Jesus’ mission. A rich, educated and feisty woman who
controlled not only the purse strings, but also the message itself.
In Templar Revelation, co-authored with Clive Prince, you suggest that Jesus and Mary were
enacting scenes from the mysteries of Isis and Osiris. Can you tell us more about this idea?
First, ‘Christ’ simply means ‘anointed’ and there is only one anointing in the New Testament – and it is
performed by a woman… By ‘a woman of the town’, who almost certainly was Mary Magdalene, using the
fabulously expensive unguent spikenard.
Once again, however, the male disciples seem not to understand. They pour scorn on her action, saying
they could have sold the perfume to feed the poor, but Jesus defends her, saying she is effectively
preparing his body for burial, adding that wherever the gospel is preached her name will be celebrated
for this act. Then why isn’t it? There isn’t even a Church feast day for the anointing, even though it was
essentially the act of Christ-ening Jesus.
So in that Mary acted as a priestess - no doubt about it. That she was powerful also seems a given,
judging by the anxiety she induced in the traditionalist male disciples.
There are also suggestions that her ‘anointing’ preceded an act of sacred union, echoing the ancient act
whereby a priestess (possessed by the spirit of a goddess) would bestow enlightenment on a chosen
man, intended to be the sacred/sacrificial king through a form of tantra. Interestingly, spikenard is
traditionally associated in tantrism with the hair and feet, which Mary anointed.
But linking her act to many tantalising glimpses of the influence of the ancient Egyptian religions
scattered throughout the New Testament suggests more than a casual connection with Isis and Osiris.
For example, John the Baptist’s baptism had no basis whatsoever in any Judaic traditions – but of
course just across the border in Egypt baptism was a regular event, preceded by public confession of
sins. Also, the Lord’s Prayer is very similar to passages in the Egyptian Book of the Dead (more properly
Chapters of Coming Forth By Day).
However, the scene in the garden where the Magdalene fails at first to recognise the risen Christ is
astonishingly similar to the story of Isis’ grief at the death of Osiris, and the annual mystery plays
about the gods. And of course, Osiris comes back from the dead due to specific rite that involves the
ministrations of Isis. Was the story of the meeting in the garden a garbled memory of an enactment
performed by Jesus and Mary Magdalen? Or did the writers dimly recall some connection with Egypt
and simply overlay the Isis myth on a real event?
And when you discover that John the Baptist had his headquarters in Alexandria in Egypt, and that
Jesus began his career as a disciple of John’s, the Egyptian connection becomes irresistible. Then there’
s the depiction (see above) of the Magdalene as completely out of her depth in the world of modestly
veiled Jewish ladies – far too feisty and unstoppable. As Egypt was the most equal society at that time,
it makes sense that’s where she learned her manners.
We tend to idealise people from the past. What’s your view on how the Magdalene is presented?
I recently gave a talk to a New Age group, who were rather alarmed, I think, by my insistence on not
putting her on a pedestal. They seemed to think it was sacrilege even to joke about her or to suggest
she was a real woman with real flaws.
Frankly, of course, if we could summon the real woman up from the past via a Star Trek beaming up
sort of thing, I doubt if we’d be too impressed. She’d probably be small, toothless and smelly – but then
so would everyone else from her era. Although in her case she was praised for her compassion and
She’s had a bumpy ride over the centuries where her PR is concerned. Her followers in the south of
France in the middle ages called her ‘Mary Lucifera’ – the light-bringer, the enlightener – but of course
her enemies seized on the title and used it against her. To them, she was Lucifer, the devil, who led
others, particularly women, astray.
Then she became a brand name for female shame, representing prostitutes and fallen women. Endless
paintings showed her (with her clothes hanging off, of course) overcome with grief at her shame. But
why? Even in terms of the accepted story, hadn’t Jesus forgiven her? Didn’t she recognise his power to
do so? To generations of artists, however, she never got over her wicked years, and to the Church she
was incredibly useful in that guise, to keep down women.
The irony is that she was probably the least ashamed woman in history.
When did Mary Magdalene first tap you on the shoulder? How did she attract
I say this fairly confidently that not many others will make a similar claim, but Mary
Magdalene got me off helping my mother with the housework.
I used to go twice on Sundays to our local Church of England church – St Thomas’ in
York, – and was probably the only member of the congregation who actually listened to
what was being said. I sat there, this puddingy little child of about 8 with a bad black
fringe (some things never change) and wrapt expression, alone in the intensity of my
attention in a sea of nodding Sunday best millinery.
the endless rows among modern clergy about female bishops fairly pointless.)
To me she’s an icon of a fearless pioneering woman, with measureless influence.
What’s her message to women and men today?
As I believe she carried the message of her goddess – Isis – into a patriarchal world where men
reigned supreme and women were neither seen nor heard, I see her as the representative of Isian
values and the embodiment of the divine feminine.
I see her inspiring today’s women not to give in to peer pressure or to be moulded into the media’s
one-size-fits-all design, but to set their sights on a greater ambition and the wider picture.
On another level I do see her relationship with Jesus as a grand passion, and in that she could inspire
both men and women not to be dragged down by the constant chipping away of real love and passion by
the crude and the disrespectful.
Most of all though, I see her as both brave and pragmatic. She stood up to Peter, but, it seems, when
Jesus was finally out of the picture and she had no one to defend her, she fled to France. Thank the
Goddess she didn’t share the lust for martyrdom that afflicted many leading early Christians.
What is the connection between Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and your books The Templar
Revelation and Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess?
As mentioned above, Dan Brown picked up a copy of our Templar Revelation when he was looking for
inspiration for a new Robert Langdon thriller. As he was to state during the High Court case (Michael
Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail sued
Random House/Dan Brown for plagiarism in 2006 – and lost) he had got everything he needed from our
book, such as the discoveries of clues to heresy in Leonardo’s paintings. In fact, Brown got the whole
idea of the Da Vinci code as such from us, although I must stress we had no problem with that, as he
used our non-fiction work quite legitimately as reference material.
I was still amazed, though, that the movie included an element that was not in the book – namely the
idea that if one kneels to the Magdalene, one is also honouring all those who have ever suffered in her
name. This idea came from my solo work, Mary Magdalene: Christianity’s Hidden Goddess – which was
tacitly acknowledged, if only very briefly, by the fact that my book is held up to the camera for a few
seconds by Ian McKellen’s Sir Leigh Teabing.
It’s a very strange feeling – particularly when being a bit more poverty stricken than usual – to have
had a part in such an unprecedented global phenomenon, but one must remember that it’s not about
fame and fortune. It’s about indirectly inspiring literally millions of people worldwide to read the
‘forbidden’ books and challenge the lies and distortions of centuries. Not too bad for the puddingy
little Yorkshire girl with the bad fringe who liked the Magdalene because she got her off helping with
Is it true you were offered a role in the movie?
Yes, there we are, Clive Prince and myself, as the somewhat sinister looking couple in the scene on
the London bus who turn round to watch Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou walk to the back.
We were given these tiny cameos as a sort of recognition for our contribution to the whole Da Vinci
Code phenomenon, and thoroughly enjoyed what was a landmark day in our lives.
We’d arrived on a freezing morning in September on location in London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields. We were
waiting to sign on as extras. When we gave our names we were whisked off past the other extras and
escorted to our trailer – yes, I’ll say that again, our trailer – and kept informed by assistant
directors of what was going on.
Then as we got positioned on the bus for our scene, the extras couldn’t understand why director Ron
Howard kept chatting to us and knew our names, or why we ended up immediately behind Mr Hanks,
the prime spot. We were teacher’s pet, and they hated us, especially at the lunch lunch break when we
were allowed to eat with the crew. We also had our own loo…
It took about 9 hours to film what was about a 2 minute scene – eventually cut to about a minute in
the movie – and we got plenty of opportunity to chat to Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. At the end, I told
Tom it was Clive’s birthday and he led cast and crew in singing Happy Birthday to Clive (or ‘Cleeve’ as
little Audrey Tautou pronounced it). What a day… how surreal and astonishing!
Rumour has it there was an Isian synchronicity on the day of filming.
Yes, it was very funny. There we were in the bus going round and round the same bit of the City of
London (in the end about 50 times) when we looked out of the window and saw our colleagues Andrew
and Susie Collins. They were on their way to investigate the site of London’s Roman Temple of Isis.
Are there any goddesses you are particularly drawn to?
I do love Isis, and always have since the first time I saw depictions of her. I feel drawn to her
magical and powerful side, besides her maternal and caring aspects.
I also adore Sekhmet, although I’m aware I am doing to some extent what I criticise others for doing
– I tend to change her into a much more modern version of the roaring implacable lion. I’ve had a
recurrent mental image of her licking my face whenever I’ve been upset.
I quite like the idea of Venus, although Roman gods are neither fashionable nor easy to understand, as
even the worshippers tended to be sceptical, at least towards the end of the Roman Empire. But she
still calls to me.
In your book you start with a distressing account of ‘the Magdalen laundries’ and the shocking
ill-treatment of women in our life-time. How can we best serve their memory?
Yes, it was researching the Magdalene laundries – primarily in Ireland – that led me to dedicate my
Magdalene book ‘to all those who have suffered at the hands of the Church’, and indirectly, led to the
idea in the Da Vinci Code movie of honouring them when honouring her.
I was incandescent with rage when learning what happened to thousands upon thousands of women
over many generations. Sometimes their ‘sins’ consisted of simply walking down the road with a boy,
sometimes they were pregnant out of wedlock, but they ended up the same – enslaved in the
Magdalene laundries from which many of them never emerged.
The scandal only really broke when some nuns outside Dublin wanted to sell their land and had to
explain the inconvenient mass grave. Then it all came out: the beatings, the physical and mental
tortures, the sexual abuse by father confessors, the isolation and spiritual torment.
UNICEF lists the laundresses officially as ‘modern slaves’.
When I was in Dublin with Clive promoting our book The Sion Revelation we took the opportunity to
find the only memorial to the laundresses, a simple park bench with a brass plaque showing faceless
heads and an inscription ‘to reflect here upon the lives’ of the women and their children.
Apparently when it had been dedicated the President of Ireland and other dignitaries attended, but
there was no representative of the Catholic Church.
I couldn’t decide whether the simple bench was a suitable memorial or an insult, to be honest, and I
shed a few tears – of rage mainly – sitting there in the rain. I thought that there must be something I
can do to help put right this terrifying wrong.
And so what I committed myself to doing was to speak of such abuse as fearlessly as the Magdalene
herself would have done in talks and in the media, and to – somehow! – try to ensure, whenever
possible, that we all remain vigilant against the creeping paralysis of seeking an easy life over one
that campaigns for the end of such injustices. We must remember that just as ordinary people
blanked out the existence of the Nazi or Soviet death camps, so many ordinary Catholics allowed
themselves to accept the routine use of atrocious abuse against the most vulnerable in their
community, in the name of the Father and the Son – but never in the name of the Goddess.
What role do you see Goddess-affirming networks like the Fellowship of Isis playing in the
world today – and the future?
If they do nothing except simply affirm the Goddess then they have achieved great things. If they
reach out and empower as many so-called ‘ordinary’ women so that they realise there is no such thing,
that we are all extraordinary, each with a heart that beats to the rhythm of the Great One and a
face that reflects her beauty, then they will achieve more than two millennia of male-dominated spite
In the future hopefully we will see many more women – and men – accept the reality of the Sacred
Feminine with awe, delight but also with humour and a truly divine sense of fun.
Why is Mary Magdalene important to you?
I think she is nothing less than the single most important woman in history,
simply – and with huge irony - because she inspired the Church Fathers to
suppress and oppress women in her name, a situation that still continues.
They knew about the real woman from the books that they forbade and
were determined to nip any Magdalene-like tendencies in the bud in order
to maintain their control over their flock. That’s why they rewrote her as a
pathetically blubbing ‘tart with a heart’.
There is evidence that in its first years, the emergent Church – especially
in Egypt and Africa – had priestesses and even female bishops, who
presided at services, preached and baptised. They told the horrified early
Vatican that they did so in the memory of Mary Magdalene. (Which makes