Restoring the Sacred Role of Women: A Jungian look at “The Da Vinci Code”

Disclaimer:  The following essay contains ideas that may be misinterpreted as anti-Catholic.  While history has clearly demonstrated corruption within Catholicism, I still know that there are many good people in the Catholic Church who follow Christ.  Please understand that as I write about unsavory parts of Christendom, I do so to reveal truth about gender and religious misconceptions, and not to mock or belittle Catholics.

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Restoring the Sacred Role of Women so as to Unify

Male and Female in Order to Reach Individuation

A Jungian Analysis of “The Da Vinci Code”

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A discussion of gender roles and the separate spheres of men and women has fascinated writers and thinkers for centuries.  Too often, the male and female sexes have been thought of as diametrically opposed to one another, leading to a separation between the two.   But famed Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung believed strongly that the human being’s deepest desire was to become unified, or whole.  (In fact, this fundamental belief is what caused him to split from the views of Sigmund Freud, who believed the deepest desire was to act on one’s suppressed sexual desires).  According to Jung, an exploration of the psyche involves us to look inside ourselves, where we unfortunately see only separate pieces.  But it is not just the unification of the fragmented parts of one’s individual psyche that must occur.  Rather, it also refers to the unification with others, specifically between a man and a woman.  Unfortunately, history has either left women out, stripped them of respect, or even vilified them.  This is most evident in the centuries following the crucifixion of Christ.  While historical Christianity has greatly reduced, even vilified the role of women, certain non-canonical, non-traditional texts give women the respect and honor they deserve, allowing for the union of men and women that is so fundamental for individuation.

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To be clear, it must not be understood that true Christianity does not reduce the role of women.  Indeed, Jung explains that many incorrect Christian doctrines (thus including the importance of women), is “not of the deepest and best understanding of Christianity, but of the superficialities and disastrous misunderstandings” of it (Jung 437).  Rather, it is historical Christianity (specifically Catholicism) that degrades the role of women.

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In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code (the novel to which this essay will repeatedly refer), the two characters who best embody this idea of distorted Christianity are Silas and Leigh Teabing:  They are both physically crippled:  Silas is constantly engaging in self-flagellation, inflicting himself with pain in the name of God, while Teabing walks with canes to assist him.   But more importantly, they are crippled in the sense that they completely misunderstand true Christian doctrine, as they both commit murder in their attempts to gain access to the Holy Grail.

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There are countless examples throughout the centuries where women have been oppressed and mistreated.  Indeed, the Catholic Inquisition, which warned of the “dangers of freethinking women,” killed an estimated 5 million women” (Brown 125).  Jung explains that this culture of disrespect for women has created a disastrous a role in Western [thought]”, and that “our patriarchally oriented culture is largely to blame” (Jacobi 117).  As Dan Brown’s protagonist Robert Langdon clarifies, it “was man [presumably both human being and male], NOT God who created the concept of ‘original sin,’ where Eve tasted of the apple and caused the downfall of the human race” (Brown 238).

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The only woman that the historical Catholic Church does seem to revere is Mary, the mother of Christ.   Allan Mohl, expert on the impact of religious fundamentalism, asserts, “Catholicism in particular has stressed the ideal image of the Virgin Mary as embodying the maternal characteristics to be emulated by all women.”

But is this not unreasonable?! 

If Mary is the ultimate example of an honorable and noteworthy women, the essence of what other women should aspire to be, it is not fair that she is a virgin, as immaculate conception has occurred (and will occur) only once.

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Indeed, the fate of mankind depends literally and

quite completely on women exercising their sexual power.

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Examples of women being discriminated against, whether explicitly or covertly, are unfortunately not just an idea of the past.  Sadly, women today are often treated in a manner that is inferior to that of men.  In The Da Vinci Code, Bezu Fache dislikes Sophie from the start, claiming that her mere presence distracts the men in his field in their jobs (Brown 50).  He is no doubt aware of her beauty, and perceives her as even a sexual distraction, though she in no way perpetrates this idea by her actions or her words.  Fache is also threatened by Sophie’s intelligence. This is an example of Jungian’s notion of scape-goating, as he is unaware of his shadow, and is thus projecting his insecurity onto the woman, who is a cultural “other.”        

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In an even more overt modern-day example of the subjugation of the female, one needs only to look to the Catholic sect known as Opus Dei.  Brown explains that at its New York City headquarters, men and women enter separate doors; men at the front door, and women at the back door.  Women were made to sleep on hard-wood floors, which is just one way in which they were made to pay for the perceived price of Eve’s sins.  Regarding this, the villainous Silas remarks of Sister Sandrine, keeper of the Church of Saint-Sulpice, “she should not be punished for the sins of others” (89).  This statement is painfully ironic, as neither Silas, nor any of the devout followers of Opus Dei understand the deep significance of his words.

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Christianity as a whole tends to leave women out of the picture as pertaining to historical documentation.  For example, the Gnostic Gospels speaking of Mary Magdalene (namely the Gospel of Phillip and the Gospel of Mary) are notably absent from the cannon. Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, contends that the Gnostic Gospels were not included in the cannon precisely because of their positive portrayal of women (120).

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From a Latter-day Saint perspective, there exists a general consensus that we do not even speak of Heavenly Mother, the wife of our God.  Most believe that this is because we wish to respect Her and keep Her name from being profaned.  Though there is no doubt that many are sincere in this belief, no official church statement or words of high ranking church members (apostles and prophets) supports this view.  Therefore, we must question this notion; is it perhaps unfairly patriarchal, once again reducing the role and importance of women?  Naturally, discussion of Heavenly Mother and also the marriage of Christ make some uncomfortable.  This essay does not intend to be blasphemous nor mock things of a holy nature.  On the contrary, it intends to expose what is blasphemous and restore what is sacred- that of the important role of women, and more specifically, the holy union between male and female.

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Another aspect of historical Christianity that is intricately connected with the cruelty associated with women is the vilification of sex.  Reproductive ability was once regarded as a very sacred power, but now it posed a threat to the male-dominated Christendom, and was therefore portrayed negatively.  Mary Magdalene was stripped of respect and recast as a whore.  (Even the 2004 popular Mel Gibson film, “Passion of the Christ” depicts her as such, once again suggesting that we are unfortunately not yet free of these misconceptions)  Likewise, the Baphomet ceremony, once practiced by the Pagans celebrated the creative magic of sexual union, was banned by Pope Clement (Brown 316).  In The Da Vinci Code, Sophie Neveu witnessed Jacques Sauniere (whom she believed to be her grandfather) engaging in a sexual ritual, which Robert Langdon later explains to be a ceremony referred to as Hieros Gamos, which is simply another version of the Baphoment.  This act is not a perversion, but one which the ancients believed helped the male be spiritually complete in his union with the sacred feminine.  Furthermore, Hieros Gamos was practiced as a celebration of the female’s power to give life (Brown 308-9).   Still, by robbing sexuality of respect and the honor which it once held, the szygy, or the union of opposites between a man and a woman, specifically in the physical sense, was lost.

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Before the union of men and women can occur, women and men must have the same level of importance.  In other words, neither Jung, Brown, Pagels, nor any of the other numerous writers on the topic argue for feminism in the sense that women are superior to men, but rather that women must be respected as equals and acknowledged for their significant view.  A source illustrating the importance of women is found in the Gnostic Gospels, specifically in the Gospel of Mary, where the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is as follows: “And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene.  Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth” (Brown 246).   This passage marks a distinct contrast with the common interpretation of Mary Magdalene, and further suggests a redemptive outlook for women in general.

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Another source with more prominent ethos which likewise implies a respect for women is in the canonical Bible.  If Christ truly was married, as the novel purports that textual and historical evidence suggests, then He would understand the vital role of women.  In other words, true Christian doctrine seems to rightfully revere the sacred feminine.  Therefore, a close reading of the New Testament reveals a veneration of the female.  For example, the oft-quoted Parable of the Ten Virgins found in the Book of Matthew features women.  Although half of them fail to be prepared for the coming of the bridegroom, the other half are prepared, exemplifying righteous women depicted by Christ himself.  At least two other scriptural examples support not only a respectful view of women, but also specifically a sanctioning of marriage:  In the aforementioned parable, Christ is the bridegroom.  Also, the Gospel of John depicts Jesus at a wedding with his mother.  Surely, Christ would not depict himself as a central figure in a marriage metaphor, nor be present at a marriage ceremony, if he did not approve of the matrimonial union of a man and a woman. Furthermore, is marriage not the ultimate example of the union of opposites, both the man and the woman?

According to Jung, humans are fragmented and can only be reconciled by union. This “union of opposites” must take place within one’s own individual psyche, but it must also take place between the male and the female.  Indeed, the first alchemists believed in conjunctio, or the mystic marriage or the concept of creation that results from mating, an idea that Jung describes as “having preoccupied the minds of [scientists] for seventeen centuries” (Jung 398-9).  Elaine Pagels’s interpretation of another of the Gnostic Gospels offers a view of the necessity of gender union to reach salvation, which can be equated to Jung’s concept of individuation.  The Gospel of Thomas explicitly states Jesus’s explanation that in order to enter the kingdom, “male and the female [must be] one and the same” (129).  This implies that men and women are both equal to one another, but must also be united with one another to reach enlightenment.

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Though not involving a romantic/marital relationship, the central characters of The Da Vinci Code exemplify this necessary union between a man and woman.  The traditional interpretation of the quest for the Holy Grail involves a single male knight searching for the cup of Christ.  Dan Brown offers a different version: Sophie Neveu  and Robert Langdon must work together to uncover the knowledge concerning the Holy Grail, which turns out to be not a literal cup at all, but instead a metaphor for a sacred woman-Mary Magdalene.  Sophie and Robert have different areas of expertise, but their collective knowledge is not at all in opposition, but instead complimentary toward the other.  In other words, the male and the female need one another to reach their purpose.

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Jung explains that “the contrasexual element has sunk so deep into the unconscious” that it is very difficult to disengage ourselves from this patriarchal concept which has unfortunately been indoctrinated into our collective unconscious for centuries.   One may question if there is any redemption for the future, any possibility of restoring the sacred feminine, and thus the sacred union between the man and the woman.  Essentially, is there hope? Yes! In 1969, the Vatican officially (albeit quietly) retracted their view of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, suggesting an attempt to at least begin to eradicate past damages inflicted upon women (Shoemaker).  Brown’s novel certainly offers hope for women, as Sophie is a woman of royal blood, a descendent of Christ himself.  Likewise, the novel suggests that an understanding of art, both from the past from the works of Da Vinci, and from more modern works such as Georgia O’Keefe paintings, offer a veneration for womanhood.  For example, concerning Da Vinci’s famed painting “The Last Supper,” the novel suggests the idea that the figure seated to the direct left of Jesus is not John the apostle, but is instead Mary Magdalene, wife of Christ.  This idea is supported by many factors:  the feminine-appearing face, the V-shape (an ancient symbol of womanhood) formed between both Jesus and the perceived Mary, and other possible evidences.  Although scholars argue over the validity of this idea, Dan Brown’s inclusion of this significant detail causes readers to ponder the importance of women during the time of the original church, and hopefully begin to understand the need for a revival of the knowledge of the important role of women even (and perhaps especially) today.

 

Overall, women have suffered a tremendous amount of oppression throughout the years, which unfortunately has been done largely in part in the supposed name of God.  Jung would argue that this is done not in the true spirit of Christianity, but rather because of an insecurity of men that leads to a society dominated by the repressive views of men.   Furthermore, this concept of the degradation of women, where they are stripped of respect, humanity, and sacredness, is the very source of so much tension and lack of harmony in both society and within ourselves as well.  True wholeness comes from restoring the sacredness of the female, but also in the unison, or syzgy, of men and women, who are not to be in competition nor opposition with one another, but are instead to be understood as complimenting one another.  Jung, Brown, and other scholars look forward with a hopeful view, one in which women are to be redeemed, then reunited with men, allowing for true individuation and wholeness to occur.

READERS!

1.  What are your thoughts/ beliefs/ experiences concerning these ideas?

2.  How can you personally restore proper female/male balance to reach a sacred union in your own relationships?

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gonna start delving into some of my college papers now…

🙂

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One response to “Restoring the Sacred Role of Women: A Jungian look at “The Da Vinci Code”

  1. Pingback: So good to miss,so hard not to kiss « How my heart speaks

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