“Her passion for the role of women in history was one of the driving forces in her life. To discover something of this magnitude was true treasure, worth more than gold” (119). This is clearly something you have in common with Maureen. Why is it important to you to share the stories of women throughout history?
My own “promise” is to dig, uncover and share these stories of forgotten women and their contributions to history, particularly as they pertain to leadership in spirituality. I believe that if we had not lost the feminine principle in both of those areas that human history would not have been so bleak and bloody. It is my hope that by restoring the stories of the extraordinary women who lived and died to bring change, equality, love and spirit to the world, that we can begin to heal this war torn and divided planet. If that is too lofty a goal, then I hope to at least inspire each individual reader to search internally and externally for a little more truth.
What was it about Matilda of Tuscany’s story that resonated so strongly with you? You say in the Author’s Notes that there is a manuscript about her life in the Vatican. Were you able to gain access to this manuscript?
It seems that with each book I write, there is always an amazing woman who takes control of it and demands to be heard. The Book of Love started out as a very different story, one in which Matilda was a minor character. But, like her ancestor, Mary Magdalene, Matilda had a different plan for me. The more I discovered about her, the more I couldn’t let her go. She completely claimed this book, demanded that her story be told, and I ultimately saw how she was the perfect device for expressing the concepts within The Book of Love. And she still demands my attention. In an amazing turn of events, my youngest son goes to school in Los Angeles with a little boy who is a descendent of Matilda! His grandmother is from the noble Canossa family, and we have become quite good friends.
As for the manuscript in the Vatican, I have not accessed the original, but I have seen it in both Latin and Italian translations. I believe it was entirely a Benedictine PR piece, and that the real Matilda exists outside of that document as I have presented her here.
What can you tell us about the Celtic tradition of storytelling and how it factors into The Book of Love?
In ancient times, the Celts believed that it was inappropriate to write down their sacred history. It’s interesting in contrast, how in modern times we tend to accept everything that is written down as credible or authentic, but disdain the folkloric and oral traditions as whimsical fantasies. The Celts believed the opposite, and I think they were on to something. Through them, the bardic tradition was born, wherein the legends of the people were preserved very carefully through specifically chosen and highly trained spiritual leaders. Preserving the oral traditions, the stories, was an enormous and sacred responsibility. In contrast, it was believed that writing down a spiritual lesson was risky in that it might not be presented properly. I think that this applies in many ways to what was happening with the early Christians, and even Jesus himself. As it says in the book, Jesus never meant for his writings (The Book of Love) to be disseminated to billions of people via printing presses! Nor did the other, early apostolic authors. They wrote their gospels for those with ears to hear, to be preserved as teaching tools that would be interpreted by those who were properly trained. We see with the Gnostic Gospels that we have a lot of material that is difficult to read and interpret, because it was never meant for untrained eyes.
Further to this, incorporating the Celtic tradition was important for me because I wanted to show how this “heresy” of The Book of Love spread across Europe, and became important to Ireland through the legacy of Saint Patrick, before returning full circle to Italy via Saint Finnian (aka San Frediano). I love all the connections between these traditions and cultures, and it was very much like holding on to Ariadne’s thread to find my way out of that labyrinth sometimes! But it was very exciting to watch those stories connect. There is a diagram of all the saints and their connections that I designed for my website, www.KathleenMcGowan.com, which readers might find really helpful.
You describe Chartres Cathedral as “a monument of unequalled beauty, a testament to the power and grace of human accomplishment borne out of heart and spirit” (667). How did you discover the link between the cathedral and The Book of Love?
Ah, Chartres. There really is no place like it in the world. As it turns out, I am writing a non-fiction book that, among other things, tells the story of how I came to understand the mysteries of Chartres Cathedral. (The Source of Miracles will be out in late 2009). But the quick version is that in studying the “heretical” traditions of the early Christians in France, I came upon the teachings of the labyrinth and the six-petal rose. They changed my life. And they made me realize the importance of the Lord’s Prayer, which is why I emphasize it throughout Matilda’s story. From there, it was a journey of discovery, not so different from Maureen’s. I uncovered a lot of evidence on my own, and then worked backwards to see how it all fit together. The cathedral constantly plays out that it is a book in stone, and a very unique book that must be read in many layers. Everything I write about Chartres is true, and it really only scratches the surface. Studying Chartres is a lifetime project. I really do hope to one day write a book about how to “read” the cathedral, but that is a project for when I am older and don’t have kids at home – because it will require moving to France for several years and waking up in its shadow each day. Ah, something to look forward to in retirement. Which is quite a long way off and really won’t be so… retiring.
Why is the labyrinth such a powerful ancient symbol? Have you walked the labyrinth on the floor at Chartres Cathedral?
I visit Chartres Cathedral every year on a pilgrimage. The labyrinth is only open on Fridays during certain times of the year, so I plan carefully to ensure my ability to spend a day in the labyrinth. It is a very special experience, and one that restores me. As for the symbolism, well I think that the eleven circuit labyrinth specifically is powerful for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that I believe it was developed by Solomon and Sheba to represent a true temple space where God could always be accessed, by any sincere seeker at any time. I think when we look at the labyrinth that it speaks to our subconscious and our spirit, that we recognize it as the tool that takes us directly to God. We know it is powerful. Jesus added the six-petal rose to the center, enhancing an already perfect design. And it has been pointed out many times that the circuits in the labyrinth mirror the appearance of the brain, which is interesting. I really want to create an enterprise or foundation that brings labyrinths to youth facilities and prisons, as well as hospitals. It is so therapeutic and restorative, I really think it could be an exceptional tool in all aspects of rehabilitation.
Like Maureen, have you encountered controversy for opting to write novels rather than nonfiction accounts of the evidence you’ve uncovered about the Magdalene gospels and The Book of Love?
Absolutely, and like Maureen it was the right decision. In my case, more people have read my books because they are fiction, because they are written in the storytelling traditions of the ancients. Also, I love what Destino teaches Maureen at the end of The Book of Love, which is this: to present this information to people in a way that isn’t factual actually forces them to consider it for themselves. It’s a good thing that there are no documents available to be viewed and torn apart by academia. Seekers need to make a faith based decision on what feels authentic to them and what doesn’t, rather than be told what they should and shouldn’t believe. I treasure my fan mail, and I get it from all over the world from those who say that these stories resonate with them, that they just “feel like the truth.” And those are the people I write for, the people who inspire me to keep going no matter who criticizes me or how harshly. And as I said in The Expected One, the irony is that writing fiction gives you so much more freedom to tell the truth than you will ever have with non-fiction!
What have you discovered about your own faith while researching and writing The Expected One and The Book of Love? Has your spiritual quest mirrored Maureen’s in any way?
Okay, I hate to sound like a commercial for my forthcoming book, but this is the subject of the non-fiction Source of Miracles, and it really takes an entire book to answer this question. My journey of faith has been long and complicated, but also wondrous and astonishing. Using the teachings from The Book of Love transformed my life in the most amazing ways imaginable, and many of them unimaginable. It has been literally miraculous and I can’t wait to share it with the world. I am an extremely devoted Christian – I pray every day and I read some kind of inspirational or scriptural material in study every day – but most would likely not view me as a “traditional” Christian as much of the material I revere are these “heretical” teachings.
In general, how have readers responded to The Expected One? What are some memorable comments you’ve received?
It’s just so overwhelming to read the mail I receive every day from all over the world. I think that The Expected One really reached people who feel disenfranchised by the institutions of religion. So many of the comments are along the idea of, “this book restored my spirituality after so many years of turning my back on religion” or my personal favorite, “Mary Magdalene brought me back to Jesus.” I think that would make Mary very happy to hear, and it also is my own sentiment. I had to find this version of Jesus, a depiction of him that I think is very accessible and one that I discovered through Mary Magdalene’s story, in order to find and claim my own faith. I encourage readers to take a look at my website, www.KathleenMcGowan.com and click on the link to my Guest Book. There they will see thousands of letters from readers all over the world who have been moved by The Expected One. Those letters nourish me and keep me going. I read them all, and I answer as many as I can. I hope that The Book of Love continues to feed the hearts, minds and spirits of those readers, and that it reaches some new ones who need to hear its message!
Gregory VII’s contributions to the papacy include the creation of the College of Cardinals. Where does he stand in the long line of popes? Is he revered or reviled? How much of his legacy does he owe to Matilda’s influence?
Well, I think you would have to ask a Vatican spokesperson that question to get the official answer. In my research, I found that he was a little bit of both. He’s a saint, by the way, canonized in the 18th century, so somebody revered him! His reforms were significant and shaped the Church in many ways as we still know it today. As for Matilda’s influence, well certainly Gregory’s controversial and, for their time, earth-shattering Dictates of the Pope with their assertion of equality, were entirely influenced by Matilda. I’m not convinced that she didn’t draft them! It was just the kind of thing she would do. I think Gregory is remembered as “great” and was ultimately beatified and canonized because of what Matilda was willing to surrender to him and for him. She enabled him to carry out his philosophy that the Church should not be subject to a secular law. It was her military might as well as her personal support that allowed Gregory to challenge Henry and assert independence for the Church. He gets a lot of credit for emphasizing celibacy in the priesthood, but I think that is largely misunderstood in the context of history. Gregory was trying to stop Church property from trickling out to wives and heirs as part of his attempt to strengthen the papal position. It was quite brilliant at the time, but I’m not sure that such a feudal approach was was meant to last 1000 years…
The book’s settings range from the Tuscan countryside to Vatican City to the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Have you visited each of the different locales depicted in the book? Does one place in particular stand out for you?
I have visited each of those locations and all of them had a dramatic impact on me and the story. Orval, particularly, is a very special place. It is lush and magical and still carries Matilda’s essence in a strange way that I tried to convey within Maureen’s experience there. Meanwhile, everyone in my family has really fallen in love with the Tuscan countryside on this journey, and what’s not to love? My kids want to live in Lucca! But in addition to the abundance of art, food, and natural beauty came the extraordinary discovery of this underlying heresy that has simmered in Tuscany for 2000 years. I was totally unprepared for how powerful and present it is. While France gets a lot of deserved attention for its heretical undercurrents, no one ever mentions this about Italy! As a result, it is a gold mine of rich and previously unexplored material. The third book in this series, The Poet Prince (due to be released in 2010) looks at this secret Tuscany in great detail through the eyes of Lorenzo de Medici, and his “Expected One” mistress, Lucrezia Donati – the latest historical character to take over my life and demand the telling of her story!
In The Book of Love, Peter gives Maureen a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. What was your impression of the basilica when you first visited?
Wow. Just… wow. It is an overwhelming place on so many levels. For me, both sides of my brain spin when I walk in there, and I am in total conflict every minute. I’m a huge art lover so I am inspired by the masters of Renaissance and Baroque who are represented there, specifically Michelangelo and Bernini. Then there is the spiritual context – that Peter is buried there – and the religious and political implications, which are daunting and complicated for me, much as they are for Maureen. Finding Matilda in the middle of the basilica years ago is what really started me on her story. I needed to know who she was and why she was buried in the Vatican – and no one could tell me. So that was a mystery I had to solve. The Vatican is full of mysteries that I want to solve, of course. Some more accessible than others.
It appears that Berenger will be exploring his legacy as a Poet Prince. Can you give us a hint about what’s in store for Berenger and Maureen in the next book in the series?
Berenger will come face to face with some very interesting characters from history who have shared the title of Poet Prince. Most significantly, he will discover that he shares some similarities with Michel de Nostre Dame, better known as Nostradamus, and the real hero of the next book, Lorenzo de Medici. Berenger will also come up against the fact that those men had very deadly enemies, and that those enemies have equally dangerous descendants. The legacy of the mad monk Savonarola will come into play in a big way, and Sandro Botticelli and the young Michelangelo are significant characters who come to life. I fell madly in love with Lorenzo de Medici as I researched him, so that will bleed into Maureen’s experience as she gets lost between the past and the present. There are complex and exciting themes about love and time explored within the art of the Poet Prince as Maureen and Berenger are taken through the deepest lessons of both. I first discovered “Les Temps Revient” or “The Time Returns” while researching Lorenzo. He carried that phrase on a banner in Florence, and no historian has ever been able to explain why. It was a clue that drove my research on these books for years, and one that I laid the foundation for here n The Book of Love. That journey into eternal love and endless time continues with the legacy of The Poet Prince.
A Conversation with Kathleen McGowan, Author of The Source of Miracles
You describe the Lord’s Prayer as “the formula for manifesting miracles…on a regular basis.” How did you arrive at this understanding of the Lord’s Prayer?
I came to this understanding of the Lord’ Prayer the only way one really can – through regular use of it as a practice! I found that the more I committed myself to working through the challenges of my life while using this prayer, the faster the obstacles were removed from my life. I believe firmly that Jesus gave us many valuable tools to reach God while improving ourselves and our communities, but the Lord’s Prayer is primary of these. It is perfect. It is flawless. It is powerful. And when life gets busy and I forget to use it regularly, I see the difference in my life. The miracle of it is in its simplicity of use. Anyone can use it at anytime, and instantly feel better about themselves and more connected to the Divine.
Can you describe the experience of writing about the incredibly personal story of Shane’s birth and near-death and some of the religious visions you have had in your life?
I cry every time I write about Shane or even speak about the miracles that brought him here and kept him here. There are so many different emotions to work through as a result of what he has taught me, but all of them come through love: maternal love for my beautiful child, love for the friends and family who sustained me during those tough times, love for the doctors and nurses who are so devoted in their daily lives to service, and of course the often over-whelming, awe-inspiring love of God and the miracles that are possible through that love.
It is always risky in these jaded times to write about visions, but mine have been so powerful that I simply cannot stay silent about them. I feel as if I was given the visions for a reason, and that reason is to share them with the world in a way that I hope will open more people up to their own personal experiences of the Divine: Divine Mind, Divine Will, Divine Love, and how we are all a part of that.
For readers who will never have an opportunity to visit Chartres Cathedral in person, can you recommend any books or works of art that will give them a sense of its enormity and beauty?
I will be creating an aspect of my website which is a celebration of Chartres through photography and experiences there, so they should definitely check out www.KathleenMcGowan.com. There are some lovely websites now which have great images of Chartres, which are a nice option as there are few books available in the USA which really do it justice. I think the best and most thorough can be found here: http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/medart/image/France/Chartres/Chartres-Cathedral/chartres-main.html
This website allows you to search through the sculptures and the stained glass individually. I have spent many hours on this site, as it truly is the next best thing to being there!
How did you come to pair the text of the Lord’s Prayer with the design of the rose at the center of the Chartres Cathedral?
As I was researching Mary Magdalene for my first book, The Expected One, I became deeply immersed in the “underground” spiritual cultures that exist throughout France. On this continuing journey, I have met a number of extraordinary teachers, one of whom introduced me to this particular practice. It was thrilling for me, as I have long wondered exactly what that rose in the center of the labyrinth was for, and none of the recognized labyrinth “experts” seemed to have any definitive idea. It was one of the great, lost medieval mysteries. Until now! I am thrilled to bring these teachings back to the world and share them in the hopes that others will find them as miraculous and transformational as I have.
How would you characterize your own faith journey?
My own faith journey has been rocky, difficult, beautiful and miraculous – which I think is what everyone’s faith journey is! The nature of faith is that we have to endure trials – which I believe are largely self-imposed – in order to test our own beliefs about God and our own connection to all that is Divine, on earth and in heaven. It doesn’t have to be hard, but I think we often make it so. I wrote this book because I hope it will help others to find this path a little easier, to learn from my mistakes so they won’t have to make them. God doesn’t want us to suffer! He doesn’t want us to experience pain in this process, in the same way that no loving parent wants to see their child hurt – and yet also realizes that sometimes it is the only way the child will learn…
Most of all, I would characterize my own faith journey as constant and ever-lasting. There isn’t a day of my life where it isn’t tested or pushed in some way. But at the same time, there also isn’t a day of my life when I don’t witness something totally miraculous! If we didn’t have darkness, the light wouldn’t seem nearly as bright to us once it shines…
What are some of the rituals, practices and techniques that you incorporate into your everyday life as a devout Christian?
I’m big on prayer, and as I say in the book I use several prayers on a regular basis. Obviously, the Lord’s Prayer is key in my daily life, as are prayers authored by Saint Francis and Saint Teresa, which I reprint in the book. I use the “mantras” which I describe in the book as well, when times are tough. For example, “God is all good all the time” is my reminder when things are tough, and “People are doing the best they can with what they have” is the phrase I rely on when I am annoyed with some aspect of human nature.
You say that readers do not need to be practicing Christians to use the process you set out in The Source of Miracles. How will readers who are unaccustomed to praying daily find your book helpful?
My book is written in a very conversational tone, and formatted in an easy to use way. I wanted it to feel like you were sitting at my kitchen table with me. I want to be your sister on the path, not a preacher or a guru, so I wrote it the way that I teach it to my friends. And many of the people I have taught it to are not Christians. Jesus may have authored the prayer and taught it, but the prayer is not about Jesus. It is about understanding your relationship to God and your fellow humans, and that is an idea which is available to almost everyone.
This book breaks what is already a very short and easily understandable prayer into six even smaller pieces! So in essence, all the reader has to do is look at a sentence or two a day in order to learn it. The practices are simple and profoundly effective, so those who use it will see and feel results quickly. I also tell “non-religious” friends not to get too hung up on the word prayer. It is really about being able to ask yourself questions about your life, your desires for the future, your behavior patterns, and your relationship to the Divine, and having the willingness to explore how all of those things can and must work together. The prayer is a tool that gets us there easily and effectively.
One of the expressions you return to in this book is “People are doing the best they can with what they have.” How does this philosophy color your approach to life?
As I said above, this is a phrase I find myself using every day. I think the biggest challenge we all have in the 21st century is tolerance. We need to be tolerant of others, their differences in beliefs, their challenging behaviors. We need to try to remember that everyone is dealing with a lot in their lives right now. Stresses abound, and people are reacting to those stresses. We need to cut each other some slack and try to understand that the person who cuts you off on the highway or is rude to you in the supermarket may just be having a really bad day. It relates beautifully to the old Native America adage I learned as a child in California that “Great Spirit reminds us not to judge a man until we have walked a mile in his moccasins.” This phrase, “People are doing the best they can with what they have” is a quick reminder that all humans are complicated, sensitive beings who are trying to get by to the best of their ability.
Why does the Gospel of Matthew speak to you more profoundly and personally than the other gospels?
There is a purity to Matthew that I relate to above the others. It contains all of the grand elements of Jesus’ teachings, and presents them in a way that I just find absolutely perfect. It contains the Sermon on the Mount and the first introduction of the Lord’s Prayer – and I find Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes to be most beautiful.
It also contains for me what is for me the most perfect teaching of any gospel, found in Matthew 22: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two.”
Although the similarities between the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew are often cited, I find that Matthew has more love in it, it is more gentle. Some of the harshness of mark has been removed. Similarly, the elements in Matthew and Luke that overlap just resonate with me more when I read the version in Matthew.
In what ways has describing your own intimate relationship with God in The Source of Miracles changed that relationship?
My relationship with God is ever evolving as I learn more and more each day through what the Divine has to teach me. Most of all, I learn each day from the people I encounter through my life and my work. I believe that there is divinity in everyone, and I equally believe that I can learn about God via my interactions with people just as profoundly as I can through my direct experience.
I try to live my life as a constant prayer. I’m not always successful, as I am as flawed and human as everyone else, but it is a beautiful goal to have. And I find that when I stay on that path, God is more available to me, and closer than I ever imagined.
A Conversation with Kathleen McGowan, Author of The Poet Prince
1. With all of the intricacies of history, art history, religion, and literature, how did you conduct your research for The Poet Prince?
I spent a lot of time in Italy while working on this book, as I felt it was necessary to immerse myself in the culture of Florence as deeply as possible. Despite the centuries between us, there is much of that great city which is unchanged. I was determined to see everything possible that was ever in Lorenzo’s possession. So much has been written about Lorenzo, but so little deals with his inner life. And I became more and more convinced that Lucrezia Donati and Lorenzo were together in one way or another until he died, so I wanted to find as much about her as possible. There is very little documentation on her in any language, so it became more of an intuitive process. I stayed in the Antica Torre, and went to the Uffizi and other museums every day for two weeks to study the art at length, sometimes just sitting in front of it to watch how others responded to it as well. Donatello’s Magdalene never fails to knock me off my feet. She is so wretched, yet crafted with so much love.
2. Has the process of writing changed for you with each book in The Magdalene Line? How?
They are all different experiences, because I become so personally and emotionally involved with the characters. With The Expected One, I wrote that book over a ten year period as I was immersed in all of that research and the story kept changing as new details were revealed and confirmed. The Book of Love was the most arduous process – that was a very hard book to write because I felt a deep sense of responsibility to present the information contained within the Libro Rosso in a way that would be easy to accept – some of those concepts are earth shattering for those who have never heard them before. And I had to cut an awful lot of that book because it was very complex. Further, I have a muse for each book, and those women set the tone for the process. Mary Madalene was wise yet powerful while Matilda of Tuscany was pure warrior queen who would not let me sleep until her story was told to her liking. Colombina was a lovely muse, as was the tragic Simonetta. Poet Prince was the most “fun” book I have ever written. I am now under the spell of Anne Boleyn, and this one is going to be quite a wild ride.
3. You mention spending time in Italy while writing this story. What are some other ways you are inspired creatively?
Art! I always immerse myself in the art, architecture, and literature of the era I am writing about because I think this gives a strong perspective on the social climate of the time. And I dig deeply to find supporting characters and stories which need to be told to explore the theme. To this day, the ghost of Savonarola hangs over Florence, and he is still hotly debated: mad monk or saint? I make those judgments based on their actions: are they fueled by love, passion, faith, ego, fanaticism? Digging into the psychology of these minor characters can take the story into a completely unexpected direction.
4. Are the prophecies written in your words or taken from a text?
The prophecies are written in my words, but they are based on the very real teaching of the Order. Monasteries in Belgium, like Matilda’s Orval (for those who read The Book of Love) were the repositories of these bloodline prophecies for centuries. There is a tradition of female prophetesses within the bloodline, and these were preserved. Ultimately, Nostradamus collected these prophecies from the abbeys and used them in his own collections. He tells his son Cesar in a letter that he had to burn the original source material as “they” were coming after him for heresy. So we have no idea what he burned to save himself and his family, but I think we can assume it was something pretty staggering – and priceless. This is the tragedy of history – much of what we need to truly verify our theories was intentionally destroyed.
5. What is your own personal view on astrology? Are birthdays and star signs directly related to the search for love and finding your soulmate?
I have been a practicing astrologer since I was about 12 years old, and I care deeply about this most ancient and accurate science and art. In terms of soulmates, astrology can help you in that search, but only with the help of a gifted astrologer who can cast real charts. It’s not enough to know that you are a Leo and your love interest is an Aquarius. You have to understand many other aspects of that charge – where the planet Venus was positioned for both of you, where the moon was, etc. All of these elements make a difference in compatibility astrology. That said, I believe that the stars suggest, but they do not complete. Marsilio Ficino was fond of saying that we must control astrology and not allow astrology to control us. Sound advice. On another note, those searching for soulmates do need to find themselves first. When you are on the path of fulfilling your life’s mission, you will open the door for your ultimately compatible soulmate to arrive!
6. Is the book within the book, The Time Returns, a reference to your own novel? Why did you choose to have Maureen be a writer?
There is much about Maureen’s experience which mirrors my own, and I need a protagonist character who had the freedom to travel extensively and be her own boss. This is one of the blissful opportunities that come from writing. Also, Maureen has to put herslf out in the public eye to defend her work at great risk, and I think that is a good touchstone for a modern reader to examine. Does the reader believe that Maureen is really in jeopardy for writing controversy? Because she is, based on my own experiences.
7. How has the creation of the character of Maureen affected you and your spirituality?
Maureen is an alter ego for me, a character I can use to explore my own feelings about this work that I do through her. In an amazing “life imitates art” kind of twist, my own life has begun to echo Maureen’s in a strange way, for example I met my own “Berenger Sinclair” while doing research in France – in Rennes le Chateau, to be precise. The deeper I get into the writing of these stories, the more committed I become to serving the message of The Way – of love, charity, peace and community. These women I write about become very real for me as I write about them, as if they were sitting in the same room, looking over my shoulder and correcting me when I’m wrong. Sometimes I “see” a scene completely formed in my head, almost as if I am watching television. This happened in the sequence where Lorenzo and Colombina meet for the first time in the forest. I saw it as a witness, and I transcribed what I saw!
8. Do you have a favorite piece of Renaissance art and why? Of poetry?
My passion for Botticelli was one of the things that fueled my passion for this book. Now, choosing a favorite was difficult to begin with, but it became even more challenging as I began to dig into the hidden symbols, stories and mysteries behind the art. If forced to choose one, it would have to be Primavera. But there is an extraordinary series of frescoes in the private chapel of the Medici Palace, commissioned by Cosimo and painted by Benozzo Gozzoli, that are some of the most magnificent works of art I have ever seen. A ten-year-old Lorenzo is painted as The Poet Prince in a stunning reproduction of the parade he makes his debut in on the Feast of the Magi. As for poetry, I fell in love with Lorenzo’s poetry and if space had allowed would have included it within the book. Few know that Lorenzo was considered a poet of extraordinary talents, and had he not been burdened by politics, we would likely be studying his literary works alongside Dante. His poem written after the death of Simonetta is hauntingly beautiful, and his poetry for Lucrezia Donati is bittersweet to say the least.
9. The words heretic and heresy come up often in the book. Can you talk a little about your own definition of these words?
A heretic is anyone who opposes the doctrine of the Church, but it evolves into something else through history; it often refers to those who are brave enough and/or rebellious enough to assert a spirituality which is personal and separate from the institution of Church. For example, members of the Order (and Cathars) – all deeply devoted Christians – were burned, tortured and otherwise executed because they held beliefs about Mary Magdalene’s role in Jesus’s life (according to Inquisition documents) and because they practiced a form of Christianity that was separate from Rome. Gnosticism was considered a heresy – the belief that humans could have a direct relationship with God - despite the fact that Jesus tells us that this is exactly what we should do! So I am fond of saying that Heresy is in the eyes of the beholder – and that it begins with HER for a reason!
10. What did you learn about family loyalty when researching the history of the Medici?
The Medici were a very close family during Lorenzo’s time and there was immense love between all of them. We know that for certain because even the accounts of their enemies tell us this, not just their friends. The man hired to kill Lorenzo could not do it because he is so overwhelmed by how much love there is within this family. Even in Lorenzo’s most strained moments with Clarice, he is kind to her, even warm and loving, in some of his letters home. There was great loyalty there, and this extended beyond blood. The Medici had many “adopted” members of their family and were equally devoted to those who they chose to allow into their circle.
11. Do you apply the principles of becoming anthropos in your daily life? If so, how?
I try to live by all the principles of the Order and the teachings of the Book of Love and the Libro Rosso. That’s why I wrote my nonfiction book, The Source of Miracles, because it represents the ways I have come to incorporate these teachings into my daily life. Some of them are small, like praying daily, even if only for a short time. Others are larger, like making significant commitments to charity of my time and spirit, not just money. I wake up every day and turn the day over to God, asking for guidance in that I may live with more love and more compassion each day.
12. What piece of advice would you offer to someone who has lost his or her faith?
You are a special, unique, amazing miracle of creation. You are here on earth today because you have something to contribute that is special and only you can do it. Most who have lost faith have been through some kind of terrible emotional ordeal, and they need to allow themselves time to heal, so just take it slow. Start by counting the blessings you do have. Make a gratitude list of the things that you do have, and then make a list of the qualities you possess that can make the world a better place. If you cannot have faith in God or a higher power for any reason, start by having faith in yourself. If you can begin to accept that you are here because you do have something unique to offer the world, you will begin see more light in your life. In the words of Saint Teresa of Avila, “May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May peace be with you today.”