Thursday, April 30, 2015
What does the Black Madonna mean for us in these thirty days of Mary
I extracted this article from the extensive website of
www.interfaithmary.net with gratitude
A psychological explanation for the dark Madonna is that she is a mysterious variable (like the x in algebra). As such she allows us to project our fantasies, wounds, and needs onto her. Once offered to her, she can heal them and then lead us on to greater wholeness.
For those of us white folks who feel wounded by imperfect human mothers, it is helpful to be confronted with a mother image that is strikingly different from what we are used to. This allows us to reframe our image of motherhood, to let go of old norms and habits and open to a new experience of motherhood, undisturbed by baggage from the past. When a white person is presented with a black mother (which was certainly the case in 12th century France) it is a nudge to let go of conventional ideals (e.g. white = beauty, goodness, and power). It is a step towards freedom from all our preconceived notions, shackles, and narrow horizons
Of course for brown and black people the healing effect of brown and black Madonnas works in a different way. It is not the image's difference to them, which is healing, but its similarity. Through it heaven expresses its solidarity, love, and care for them, affirming that they are not excluded from any heavenly graces. As the Virgin of Guadalupe said to Juan Diego: "Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not one of your kind?"
For C.G. Jung and his followers the Black Madonna represents the archetype of the dark feminine: that which is unconscious, unpredictable, and mysterious in humans and in the Godhead. She represents the existential terror one has to face in the "dark night of the soul" (St. John of the Cross) in order to come into complete union with God. Cedrus N. Monte (onwww.cedrusmonte.org ) calls the Black Madonna a "lethal force" to the ego. She goes on to explain that when the ego is lethally wounded, the true self is born into new life. Another form of a "good death"\
Brigitte Romankiewicz interprets the darkness of the Madonna as a representation of a soul in wholeness, with its "light" and "shadow" sides in perfect balance. Psychologists insist that humans need to integrate their dark tendencies if they are to be healthy and whole. We need to know and acknowledge our base instincts with compassion, though not act upon their whims. Whatever positive potential they may include should be appreciated and made use of in a constructive way.
There are two other types of Madonnas that portray the Virgin's ability to know, embrace, and transcend light and darkness: One is Our Lady standing barefoot on a snake, sweetly smiling. Both snake and Lady are unharmed and in their right place. The shadow is controlled, tamed, but not destroyed.
An ordinary garden statue of the type "Our Lady of all Graces" turned Black Madonna on my porch by Suli Marr.
Mary holding a tamed dragon like a lap dog, a very rare type, Chartres relief on the "royal gate".
Brigitte Romankiewicz (Die Schwarze Madonna, pp.100-1) sees the same idea expressed in images of more or less light Madonnas standing on a dark moon, which sometimes bears the image of a serious or sad woman’s face. Here are three examples: the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Madonna of Haslach in the Landesmuseum in Stuttgart, and the Black Madonna of Marija Bistrica
Madonnas standing on a moon-woman began emerging in the late 14th century. Traditional art historians interpret this symbol as pointing to Eve, the archetypal Dark Mother of Christianity, who supposedly plunged humanity into sin. How did the moon and the first woman become conflated? Through many centuries of the moon symbolizing the feminine power to bring forth life in the cosmos. Since about the 6th century B.C.E. the Greco-Roman moon goddess Selene became known as the “Mother of all that lives”. (Dorothea Forstner and Renate Becker, Lexikon christlicher Symbole, Marixverlag, Wiesbaden: 2007, p.356) That title echoes in Eve’s name, explained in Genesis 3:20: “The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.” Eve is the English rendition of the Hebrew name Chawwah, which was derived from the Hebrew word chawah, "to breathe, to live".\
So Eve is a figure who represents all that is feminine in our universe as seen through patriarchal eyes: She is all women who have the power to bring forth life but who are also somehow at the root of all evil and have to be ‘kept in their place’. She is also the feminine moon, who measures time and grants fertility, but receives its light from the masculine sun.\
But even outside of patriarchy, women as well as men do have light and shadow sides that are challenging to integrate in a healthy way. The Madonna standing on a dark moon (sometimes with the face of Eve) is an image of integration and wholeness. She is the totality of femininity, with light and dark aspects in their correct place: the light on top and the dark under one’s feet, i.e. controlled. Mary, the “second Eve”, the first woman of the ‘new creation in Christ’ redeems the “first Eve”, just like Jesus, the “second Adam”, the first man of the new creation, redeems the “first Adam”. (cf. 1 Cor 15:45-49)
Our Lady of Guadalupe is an especially well balanced portrait of the integration of light and darkness, the union of opposites: there is the straight line down her dress that divides it into a light and a shadow side, there is the light radiating sun behind her and the dark moon beneath her, there is her dress with flowers representing the earth and her mantel with stars representing the heavens, and there is the male angel under her supporting her own femininity.
In Christian mysticism darkness stands for divine mysteries that are hidden from the ordinary "light of reason". This tradition reaches back to the Hebrew Bible. The more famous story about God meeting us in darkness is in the book of Exodus. God appears to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai in a thick dark cloud. Then he asks his special prophet Moses to come up and meet him face to face inside the cloud "and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was." (Ex. 20:21)
No less important is the account of God's first covenant with the people of Israel in Genesis 15. When Abraham really wants to know something from God, he is told to bring a sacrifice before the Lord. He has to defend his offerings against wild animals and wait all day. Finally: "a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. (verse 12)And in that darkness God spoke to him at length. "When the sun had set and it was dark" God made his covenant with Abraham.
The dark cloud is mentioned again in 1Kings 8:10-12 during the dedication of the temple of Solomon: “When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the Lord’s glory had filled the temple of the Lord. Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord intends to dwell in the dark cloud;’”
So God hides in a cloud of darkness and to experience God directly one has to enter into that which a famous medieval book by the same title calls "the Cloud of Unknowing". The anonymous author recommends that during prayer or meditation you put everything you ever knew under a "cloud of forgetting" so as to be able to take a completely fresh look at your universe.
Mary's "Holy House" in Loreto where one of the most famous black Madonnas resides. Photo: Giorgio Filippini
Shortly after I was asked for the first time to give a talk on the black Madonnas I was able to go to Loreto, Italy before the black Mother in the darkness of her little brick house. There I asked her directly about the meaning of her blackness. Listening with an empty, open mind and with my whole being, I felt that she was covering me with the darkness of her cloak as in a dark "cloud of unknowing". In that darkness beyond words we communed. She did not give me any words then, but afterwards I felt assured that she reveals her secrets to those who love her. Those who dare enter the darkness of the "Cloud of Unknowing" and the "dark night of the soul" (St. John of the Cross) she draws into herself, like a "black hole" draws in matter, and there, in that darkness, she teaches them. It’s like being in the womb of God: you know you are safely held and nourished. You grow without needing to understand how. Ever since then, I see Black Madonnas as a symbol for the womb of God.
Dr. Eben Alexander, author of “Proof of Heaven” vividly describes entering the womb of God during his near-death experience: “I continued moving forward and found myself entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: (…) My situation was, strangely enough, something akin to that of a fetus in a womb. (…) In this case, the “mother” was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. (…) It was as if I were being born into a larger world, and the universe itself was like a giant cosmic womb”.(Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, N.Y.: 2012, pp. 46-7)
In his book “Revealing Heaven: the Christian Case for Near-Death Experiences” John Price uses the same words. That is, he quotes a fundamentalist minister, who says this about his near-death experience: “I went into what looked like a womb that was dark except you could see in the dark. (…) I believe I went into a womb of some nature to be healed. It was like my hard drive just got completely erased, and I came back to have to relearn. (…) The moment I woke up from the coma, I knew that I’d believed a lie that had hurt thousands of people.” (Harper Collins Publishers, N.Y.: 2013, pp.140-141)