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Carolyn Pogue

In search of the Black Madonna

This Advent, stories of Great Mothers give me strength

By Carolyn Pogue

Lynn Chazotsang’s message held a gentle urgency: “Please bring an inspiring poem about the Great Mother of your faith to share. We will have an opportunity to honour all of them.”

Lynn, a leader in Calgary’s Tibetan Buddhist community, was hosting meal for the members of Women in Spirituality, a multi-faith group she co-founded with a Jewish friend. As I read the invitation, it seemed poignant that she would gather us during Advent, a time when Mary awaited the birth of Jesus.

I’ve thought a lot about our spiritual mothers, partly because of a spring journey to Europe. I didn’t have a big agenda for the trip, except that for some reason I wanted to find the Black Madonna.  

My husband and I found the ancient statues, each with its own intriguing story, in the cities of Prague, Czech Republic; in the Swiss Alps; in Montserrat, Spain; and in Dublin, Ireland. I saw her with my United Church eyes and heart as pilgrims prayed, burned candles and incense. Each was different, yet the same. I loved her.

Returning home I read Longing for Darkness: The Black Madonna and the Green Tara by China Galland. Lynn often speaks of the Green Tara, a feminine form of Buddha. I read that the Green Tara and the Black Madonna are carriers of spiritual development. “We’re seeing a dawning of the feminine now. Women . . . must develop our own capacities,” China Galland writes. “The Black Madonna is beginning to break through.”

The author’s longing for the feminine face of God led her on a spiritual journey away from Christianity and back again. She visits India, as well as Black Madonna sites in Europe and Texas. She relates that during the brutal Communist suppression of Poland, crowds were illegal, but authorities were afraid to stop the annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa. Interestingly, Lech Walesa, a leader in the Solidarity trade-union movement as well as a former Polish president, wore a small picture of her over his heart. I had not thought of power in this just this way before.

According to some, the Black Madonna is a white Mary with soot on her face. (Please!) Others say that when Christianity flooded Europe, people simply merged Mary with whatever dark Earth goddess they revered.

I love the power of a good story. This Advent, with stories of the Great Mothers swirling around, I feel strengthened for the year ahead. With fresh eyes, I reread Mary’s message to us in Luke 1. Mary says we need to turn the world upside down. Thinking ahead to 2011, I believe that in small and big ways, we will do just that.

May you be blessed with hope this Christmas.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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