How Stories About Mary Influenced The Awakening Series

Collyridians supposedly offered fresh-baked bread to Mary.

Last week I wrote about the inspiration for the fringe religious order that plagues my main character, Tara, throughout The Awakening Series.

Research and reading into traditional and controversial beliefs about the Virgin Mary also influenced The Awakening, though Tara's journey diverges widely from Mary's.

(For one thing, Tara's not religious, and the series is not a religious series. Also, so far as I know, there are no stories about an apocalyptic cult threatening Mary, which would have turned that part of the New Testament into a thriller, probably not the goal of its authors.)

Pure And Perfect?

In the Catholic Church in particular, Mary is viewed as “pure,” “perfect,” and “immaculate” because she's seen, paradoxically, as both a mother and a virgin. As a child, I assumed those beliefs stemmed from the New Testament, but there's relatively little there about Mary.

There was a lot to explore on those themes.

What if a young woman didn't see sex that way and had abstained for other reasons and found herself pregnant? What if she rejected people who tried to see her as “pure” and believed she'd give birth to a messiah?

Mother of God?

The Catholic Church granted Mary the title “Mother of God” about 430 years after Jesus was born.

The Church believed she deserved the title because she'd given birth to the human Jesus, whom the Church came to believe also was God.

This belief played into the next doctrine, that of Perpetual Virginity.

Perpetual Virgin?

Later, under a doctrine known as Perpetual Virginity, the Catholic Church decided that Mary not only was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, but she remained a virgin throughout her entire life.

This doctrine surprised me when I learned about it. The logical reason for those who see Jesus as God to believe Mary was a virgin before Jesus' birth was to show that his “father” was not human but divine. (A point Tara's mentor, a former nun and professor makes.)

But this doctrine makes a clear equation between sex and being impure–and equates perfection for a woman with abstaining from sex.

Contrary Views

Not all early Christians believed Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born, however, let alone that she remained one forever.

The Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian sect that believed in a non-divine messiah, believed that Jesus was conceived the usual way, through sexual intercourse. Later, they changed position to say that Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit, but still believed that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary engaged in sexual relations and had many children.


The Catholic Church rejected both views.

The Church declared heretical any belief that Mary had sexual intercourse ever, including after Jesus was born. (A heresy is a belief at odds with what Catholics must believe to be considered Catholics. Heretics are barred from the Church.)

The early Church felt so strongly about Mary remaining a virgin forever that it labeled those who held the belief that she had sexual intercourse after the birth of Jesus “Antidicomarianites”—opponents of Mary.

Collyridians, another group the Church declared heretics, went too far the other direction from the Church's standpoint. They worshipped her as divine. Most of what's known about them comes from a Bishop who denounced them. The group, mostly women, offered bread to Mary. 
(I borrowed from this lore when I envisioned a former chapel where Tara seeks sanctuary in Books 2 and 3, The Unbelievers and The Conflagration. The table in the main room features baskets of homemade bread.) 

Tara's Allies

From what I could tell, the early Church viewed these two groups as opposites–one group that saw Mary as, perhaps, too human in that she had sexual intercourse, and the other that saw her as divine. I found that intriguing, as it suggested a lot about how that religion saw women.
I also found these groups intriguing because, as with the two Andrews of Crete I wrote about last week, there was little information out there. That gave me a lot of room to take poetic license with how and whether to fit them into my story.
In case you haven't yet read the series, I won't go into detail on what role the Antidicomarianites and Collyridians play, other than to say that references to them did make life more challenging for Shiromi Arserio, the producer/narrator of the audiobook editions.
I hope you'll stop back next Wednesday for more on The Awakening Series. You can get bonus materials for The Awakening Series, including deleted scenes, here.