Paramedia Articles

Lost Christianities: The Black Madonnas

Lost Christianities: The Black Madonnas
© 2013 Joshua Seraphim Leilah Publications
All rights reserved.

“Wisdom has built her house; she has set up her seven pillars.  She has slaughtered her beasts, she has mixed her wine, and she has set her table.  She has sent out her house cleaners to call from the highest places in the town  …‘  come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed…live, and walk in the way of insight.’”        ~ Proverbs 9:1-6

madeleineIsis the Virgin of the World, is inextricably linked with alchemy and is often depicted in Medieval iconography with the Black Madonnas of Catholic Europe.  The ankh, or Crux Ansata, which Isis carries as primeval initiatrix accounts for some of the imperial scepters carried by Black Virgins who, like Isis, represent to the Neophyte the beginning of the opus whose alchemical secret is found in the iconography of ancientof Isis.  Àuset, Iset, or Isis is the seventh member of the pantheon of Ànnu; the wife of Àusar, or Àsar {Osiris}, and mother of Heru {Horus}.  The woes of Isis over her slain mate are chronicles by Greek and Egyptian scribes.

Ànnu was called On by the Hebrews {Genesis XLI., 54, 50: XLVI., 20} and Bêth-Shemesh {Jeremiah XLIII., 13}.  The city designated per Rā means “house of the Sun,” a sacred space where Isis and Her divine family were worshipped along with the Sun in prehistoric eras.  The body of the Aged One, an epithet of Osiris had its final repose in Ànnu, where Isis laid the Eye of Osiris and resurrected him.  Isis usually is depicted in the form of a woman with a headdress in the shape of a seat, the hieroglyph where her name is inscribed.  She frequently was seen depicted with horns of the cow, which is sacred to her, accompanied by plumes and feathers.

Most commonly, Isis is represented as a matronly goddess suckling her child Horus.  The figures of this motif exist in the thousands and have been emulated in the depiction of the Black Madonna.  To many Christians Mary, as the redeemer of Eve’s grave sin, is the Heavenly Mother of all, she seeks to meet all the needs of her children.  Especially as the Black Madonna whose adorants project their hopes, desires, and needs to her, only to draw them ever deeper into divine mysteries.  There are black Madonnas and Black Madonnas.  The term applies generically to any dark skin pigmented iconography of Mary.  The term used frequently to designate these images is acculturated Madonnas, meaning artwork by Spanish, African, or African-American artists.

Black Madonnas are generally medieval, or copies of medieval motifs, and are found in Catholic areas.  There are at least 180 Vierges Noires in France, Spain, and Portugal.  A few are in museums, most are in churches or shrines, and are venerated by Catholic religious.  The iconography of the Black Madonna figures is associated with miracles and some attract substantial numbers of pilgrims.

Of the hundreds that presently, exist at various shrines, some of the better-known images is: Our Lady of Altötting {Bavaria, Germany}; Our Lady of the Hermits {Einsiedeln, Switzerland}; Our Lady of Guadalupe {Mexico City}; Our Lady of Jasna Gora {Czestochowa, Poland}; Our Lady of Montserrat {Spain}; and Our Lady of Tindari {Sicily}.  Black Madonna is the ancient earth goddess converted to Christianity.  Note that many goddesses were pictured as black, among them Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Ceres, and others.  Ceres, the Roman goddess of agricultural fertility is particularly important in the Roman pantheon.  The best fertile soil is black in color and the blacker it is, the more suited it is for agriculture.

Black Madonnas clearly reveal the artist’s intention to portray a darkly pigmented mother commonly suckling Her ebon child.  Their faces and hands of both are black, while the clothes are brightly painted as if in celebratory intonation.  It is possible the faithful of the Black Virgin proclaimed her ‘black’ quite independent of artistic intentions.  Byzantine icons of the Madonna commonly have dark complexion, approximately in accordance with the actual skin color of Semitic tribes of Canaan and Palestine.  Certain Madonna statues are dark because they are sculpted out of dark wood or cast in a dark metals; skin and clothes are all the same dark color, though the statues are often draped in bright cloth clothes, which accentuates the pigmentation.  Important early studies of Black Madonna icons in France were done by Marie Durand-Lefebvre {1937}, Emile Saillens {1945}, and Jacques Huynen {1972}.  These studies reached three primary conclusions about the complexion of the images:

• dark brown or black Madonnas with physiognomy and skin pigmentation matching that of the indigenous population.

• various art forms that have turned black as a result of certain physical factors such as deterioration of lead-based pigments; accumulated smoke from the use of votive candles; and accumulation of grime over the ages.

• residual category with no ready explanation.

The medieval custom of bathing statues with wine would also have contributed to the darkening of Romanesque Madonnas.  {Francois Graveline, Vierges Romanes ed. Debaisieux, p. 26}  The Catholic Church recognizes Madonnas are intentionally portrayed as black, connecting her to the bride in the Song of Songs 1:5-6, who says: “I am dark but beautiful, o daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Salma.  Do not stare at me because I am black, because the sun has burned me.”  Monastic communities such as the Benedictines view the Shulamite bride in the Song of Songs as the Bride of God, i.e. the Kabbalistic Shekinah the divine feminine in the human soul that longs for union with God.

The Virgin Mary, who takes up the role of interlocutor between the Logos and Mankind, is seen as a reintegration of Eve, as tikkun for a damaged race.  Saint Teresa of Avila says in her Meditations on the Song of Songs chapter 5 v. 8: “O Blessed Lady, how perfectly we can apply to you what takes place between God and the bride according to what is said in the Song of Songs.”  The bride’s blackness in the Song of Songs represents the promiscuity of Semitic and Nubian women, viewed by the Orthodox Rabbinic men of ancient Palestine as loathsome.

Religious and sexual yearning between King Solomon and the Shulamite bride in the Song of Songs, and between the Christ and Magdalene in John 20 represents the intolerable ache and incurable wound of the soul.  The Song of Solomon ends with the call to the Beloved: “Flee my love, make yourself like a gazelle, or like a young stag on the mountains of spices!”  {Songs 8; 14}  In John 20, the Christ anointed with spices retracts himself from the touch of the Magdalene with a dynamic of bodily renunciation and intimacy of the resurrection.  The Church identified the Magdalene as the sinful woman whom cleaved to the resurrected Logos, hindering him from the Ascension.  In this way, the proto-orthodoxy creates a persona of a sinful Mary from the Marian figures in Luke 7 and 8, and John 20 that fit into the gender dichotomy of Woman as virgin or harlot.

However, many Hebraic hygienic and marital laws vilified sexually sovereign women, the Song of Songs celebrates eroticism.  New Testament scriptures foresee the Christian Church as the virginal bride of the Christ {II Corinthians 11; 2, Ephesians 5; 23-32} or the New Jerusalem of the apocalypse {Revelations 21} as the virginal bride of the Hebrew Messiah.  A puritan Christianity modeling its religious infidelity to a jealous God exploits the passion of the Madonna.

Black Madonnas express an empowerment not fully conveyed by a pale-skinned Mary, who seems to symbolize gentler qualities like obedience and chastity.  This idea can be discussed in Jungian psychoanalytic terms.  The sexual power, ‘eros’ approach may be linked to the Madonna and female sexuality repressed by the medieval Church.  In France, there are traditions affirming that some statues are of Mary Magdalene and not of Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, but these related theories are generally rejected by Church theologians.  The suggestion that Black Madonnas represent sexual equality and empowerment corresponds to fertility and agricultural goddesses attributed to the archetypal ‘great mother’ {Isis} who presides not only over fertility, but also over life and death.

Isis had many faces, colors, and functions {from birthing life to resurrecting, and imparting the secrets of Amentet to the Pharaohs} so the iconographies of Mary too fulfill many roles.  The iconographies of the Black Madonna are unlimited, found in various religious memes celebrating the Magna Mater, or the Alma Māter.  Theologians and religious alike should not fall into racism by accepting black Madonnas as “politically correct,” subscribing to one Church interpretation over another, or by refusing to see Eve’s pale countenance weeping before Lilith.  Undoubtedly, the Black Madonna, in all her colors, is the heir to the thrones of all the matrilineal goddesses.

Stephen Benko argues: “the Black Madonna is the ancient earth goddess converted to Christianity” noting that many goddesses were pictured with dark complexions, among them Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Cybele, and Sekhmet.  Artemis of Ephesus was one of the most celebrated goddesses of the Greek pantheon.  She is daughter of Leto and Zeus, and the twin of Apollo.  Artemis is the goddess of the wilderness, the hunt and wild animals, and fertility {a goddess of fertility and childbirth mainly in Aegean cities}.  Like Isis, Artemis was often depicted with the crescent of the moon above her forehead and was sometimes identified with Selene {goddess of the moon}.  Artemis’ main vocation was to roam mountain forests and uncultivated land with her nymphs in attendance hunting for lions, panthers, hinds, and stags.  Artemis guarded their well-being moreover, reproduction.  She was armed with a bow and arrows that were made by Hephaestus and the Cyclopes.

Her presence inundated the atmosphere of Ephesus {now modern day Turkey} providentially also the city where Mary lived after the crucifixion of Jesus.  Auspiciously the Council of Ephesus held in this ancient city in A.D. 431 proclaimed Mary “Mother of God.”  Brigitte Romankiewicz reports that at the time of the council many shrines to Isis and Cybele had been abandoned by decree of the Roman empire.  The Council of Ephesus to christened 48 Black Madonna icons into shrines to the Virgin Mary {Die Schwarze 71 Madonna: Hintergruende einer Symbolgestalt, Patmos Verlag, 2004, p. 50}.

Cybele arose not far from Artemis, as the Phrygian Alma Māter {Lat. ‘nourishing mother,’ now providentially the form of address by graduates to their respective Universities!} and as another fertility and agricultural goddesses of Asia Minor.  Her iconography reaches back to the Neolithic period of the Stone Age where Her depictions are seen in Neolithic caves.  These are fitting depictions because Cybele is represented by a black meteor.  Peter Lindegger {cited in China Galland’s Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna, p.145} links Cybele to Ishtar, the Sumerian- Babylonian Queen of the Skies, whom the Phoenicians and Canaanites worshipped as Asherah much to the loathing of Hebrew prophets.  Cybele is closely linked to death and the underworld and is portrayed as a Black Madonna with dark facial complexion.

Isis truly embodies the iconography of the Black Madonna.  She is one of the many masques Lilith puts on, the Hermetic sign Isis Mourning in the L.V.X. formula of Golden Dawn ceremonial magic represents Her Crone aspect of the Triune Goddess.  The Black Madonna corresponds to the following Tarot Trumps: II High Priestess, III Empress, XVII The Star, and XVIII The Moon.  These Trumps interconnect the formula of the Triune Goddess ~ of Maiden-Mother-Crone averse, or rather, Virgin-Whore-Crone.

Artemis-Maria Immaculata-Cybele-Isis is the Eternal Virgin, the Black Madonna clothed in the luminous veil of the Stars.  Initiation into the mysteries of Isis lead the candidate to that Light is not the perfect manifestation of the Eternal Spirit; She is the supernal light that veils matter and form. She is the luminous idea of spirit acting through matter, descending through the Abyss to annul the space between generation and sexual instinct.

Alma Māter consoles and protects, yet she also punishes and condemns. Mary Beth Moser in her book Honoring Darkness: Exploring the Power of Black Madonnas in Italy {see Bibliography} dedicates a whole section to the Madonna’s “Punishing Miracles” {pp. 68-76}.  Her divine acts of justice avert the desecration of her countenance and ensure earthly respect for the Alma Māter.  Alma Māter is not heir to the thrones of all the matrilineal goddesses, if She is limited to one sexual nature or one colour.  Black Madonna guards the lost, derelict, and those maddened with love and lust, She not only births the incarnation of the Sun to us, but also guards the secrets of death.  Hence one of Her Catholic titles: Our Lady of the Good Death.

The Black Madonna’s link to death is evidenced by the title of the Black Virgin of Clermont-Ferrand, and that many of her icons were venerated in subterranean burial chapels {crypts} of the great medieval Cathedrals.  Consider Our Lady from Under the Ground {Notre Dame de Sous Terre}, the Black Madonna in the crypt of Cathedral Chartres, whose poetic title “Our Lady of the Underworld” is befitting of her custodianship over the spirit at the moment of death.  Catholics venerate the Black Madonna profoundly, as a custodian and guide after death.  Her prayer, the Ave Maria, ends thusly: “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”  This is a mantra repeated repeatedly when praying with her rosary.

Convents, statues, cathedrals, even confraternities are named after Our Lady of the Good Death, ever placing a mantle of mystery and adoration upon the Black Madonna.  In 19th century Brazil a Confraternity of Our Lady of the Good Death, made up of African slaves, was instrumental in synthesizing African and Catholic traditions into what came to be known as ‘Candomble,’ and ‘Santeria.’  To this day, there exists a Confraternity of “Catholic” Women of Our Lady of the Good Death in Cachoeira, Brazil, who are responsible for the survival of indigenous folklore in the form of Candomble and Santeria.

Black Madonna icons often measure 70 centimeters in height, 30 cm in width, and 30 cm in depth.  The 7:3 ratio echoes sacred numerology that goes back to pre-Christian history.  In the Christian context, the 7:3 speaks of Trinitarians {the 3 mystic complements of the trinity} and the seven mystic days for Genesis, the creations of the known archetypal worlds.  Black Madonnas were enshrined at places that were sacred even before Christianity, pagan holy sites and natural vortices of biorhythmic energies.

Legend recounts that Saint Eusebius {martyred 371 A.D.}, led by divine inspiration, found the Our Lady of Oropa icon in Jerusalem, buried under ancient ruins.  Eusebius brought her to Italy and enthroned her in a grotto sacred to Ceres, Roman goddess of the earth, in order to end the local pagan rituals.  The woods around it were consecrated to Apollo and the large rocks to Ceres and Diana.  Our Lady of Oropa became quite attached to this grotto.  A group of Benedictine monks tried to move the icon to a new location a thousand years after Eusebius’ relocation of it.  Yet after a few miles, the statue grew too heavy for the monks to transport, and they had to return it to the grotto.

Shrines to the Black Madonna all have a connection with the Benedictines, the Cistercians, or the Knights Templars.  All three of these orders were strongly influenced by Saint Bernard {1090- 1153}, who was instrumental in establishing a pervasive and fervent popular cult of the Virgin.  Vatican scholars list less than 50 of early ‘pagan’ Black Madonnas whose faces and hands are often painted a dark brown or black pigmentation.  American scholars at the University of Dayton, Ohio report at least 450 Black Madonna icons in Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Switzerland.

In the Jungian school of psychology, the Black Madonna represents the archetype of the dark feminine: the unexplored, unpredictable, and inexperienced in humans and in the Godhead.  She represents the existential terror one succumbs to in the St. John of the Cross-’ “dark night of the soul” in order to achieve gnosis.  Cedrus N. Monte calls the Black Madonna a “lethal force” to Man’s ego.  Monte explains that when the ego is lethally wounded, the true self experiences the crisis of rebirth, a form of transient death often experienced in ceremonial initiations.

The Black Madonna, Isis the Black Virgin, represents a continuity of life, a heritage of blood that binds nature and Man together.  There is no breach between space and dark matter; the ancients worshipped the Great Goddess of the Earth as the primordial Alma Māter who nourishes all Life.  The virginal Alma Māter is the perfection of Nature and miracle of generation.

Concealed in the very Mystical Memory of Woman and Genesis, is the beginnings of the pagan agrarian period with its fertility rites and matriarchal adorations; the worship of Isis, the Holy Mother proceeded by the Christian Age with patriarchal worship of Man and solar-phallic worship with the religious legends of the Dying God Slain and Risen; seen in the stories of Osiris, Mithra, and the Christ.

Through a regeneration of the esoteric principle of Death, an antinomian undercurrent of the Lilith mythos breaks down all psychosexual ideologies and matrices initiated by previous eons.  Uninhibited explorations of sexuality in recent history {via the enlightened research of Wilhelm Reich, Julius Evola, Carl Gustav Jung, Sigmund Freud, Barbara Black Koltuv} indicates a return to a more comprehensive and enlightened Understanding of sex.  Each era and procession of the zodiacal eon begins a new prospect of human sexuality and eroticism in religious motifs, with new psychotechnology as the brain adapts to new interpretations of cultural and religious memes.

The function of initiates into the mysteries of the Black Madonna and Isis is to bear the Holy Grail and its secrets.  The radiant blood of the Sangréal infers a rebirth from the ashes of severe psychological trauma {such as ceremonial initiation}.  The witches, nuns, Gurus and Gurujis, Bishops, Deacons, warlocks, Scarlet women, and Magi whom have pasted the tests of evolution and reached into the depths of their primacy inherit the royal blood.  The sanga-lugal was the priest-king in ancient Sumer, from whence comes the French Sangréal, the ‘blood royal.’  Thus the legendary Holy Grail, popularly ascribed to be the metaphysical womb of the Magdalene, existed contextually long before Jesus Christ.

In context of antiquated rites of mystical marriage, the hierodule {Greek, hierodulous}served as a female acolyte, often in connotation with religious prostitution.  This sacred prostitute referred to as the Scarlet Woman, allegorized as the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, was the holy aspect of ancient bridal rituals of the orient.  her sacred hieroglyph was the Rosi-Crucis, a cross within a circle found in many ancient religious sites and Roman coinage.  The ceremonial robes of the heirodulai, the sacred prostitutes were scarlet red, and in lieu of the Madonna’s sacerdotal role, many medieval artists such as Luca Signorelli and Caravaggio portray Mary in red garments.  The Song of Inanna reciprocated by the New Testament Song of Solomon indicates an antiquated ritual of mystical marriage.  The Christ and Magdalene epitomize the Hieros Gamos, a mystical marriage that often reconciles and obscures the borders between sexuality and religion.

Isis is the dance of Life itself.  She is constantly sashaying and writhing in ecstasy, as all the primal possibilities of Nature and sex are enjoyed under the phantom shadow of space and matter.  All of Nature and the procession of the eons are harmony and beauty to the Black Virgin; her sacred words are perfect love and perfect trust.  The Black Madonna is swathed in the shawl of secrecy, vaporous because She is occult; She is the sphinx whom delegates the Secret yet is without secrets.  She is the Graal, the container of the ethereal waters, which are blood, oil, sperm, and menses.  Her ethereal waters are the Great Sea of Binah, the manifestation of maternal wisdom in the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.  Heaven itself is a veil of the immaculate starry Madonna.  Often associated with Isis is Venus, represented by the obtuse and acute Heptagram.

The Black Madonna is the vaporous guardian over the threshold of life and death, “Our Lady of the Good Death,” recall is the Goddess many Christians invoke upon death and is often invoked in the Last Rites.  She is all mysterious, all nourishing, all enticing, all intoxicating, ever immaculate, and diaphanous.  Recall that, as Isis the Black Madonna is the nourishing Alma Māter, she also is the Lady of Sorrows for she is the Alma Māter and Nature is Her name.  As the trumpets of the zodiacal processions and their mythic apocalypses blare forth the fearful glories of Isis, at the end is the deathly silence of the Black Madonna.

Conceived without sin, sin is not restriction, it is an offence to the deathless and its unfathomable maker, the creator of the universe.  The prayer beseeches her mercy, a refuge for those whom have sinned against themselves thereby causing ruin in the spheres of humans and the environment around them.  Mercy = Binah beseeched, the “grace of perfect sorrow” ~ one of the most beautiful and elegant verses of liturgy to the Immaculate Virgin.  Only in the grace of perfect sorrow does one come to sinful lament for transgression against personal & divine Will, obscuring the fatality of the negative Light.

To the Madonna, perfect sorrow equals perfect penitence…and Love.  Mother of the dying…we are all shells, hosts and “inheritors of a dying world” thus our Mother ever laments for the children she has not borne, the children {earth, Man, God} she has lost.  The outcast, murderers, thieves, the forlorn and forsaken, prisoners, madmen, and the insane, the refuges of Love and Lust, these are Her true children.  Again, she is beseeched to forsake not the despondent ‘at the hour of their death,’ for death is the relief of the soul and the transience of the will..  at least for those who believe in destiny..the merging of wills and fates between Soul and flesh.

Black Madonna Cathedrals and Chapels in Europa:

Onze-Lieve-Vrouw van Regula Moeder van Regula van Spaignen

Brugge Chapelle de la Vierge Noire, Maillen Assesse, Belgium

Donji Kraljevec, County of Medjimurje, Croatia

Our Lady of Rocamadour

Saint Saveur d’Aix, Aix-en-Provence Avioth, Meuse, France

Our Lady of Altötting, Bavaria, Germany

Our Lady of Dublin, Ireland

Our Lady of Tindari, Sicily, Italia

Black Madonna of Oropa, Piedmont, Italia

Our Lady of Crea, Casale Monferrato, Alessandria

Il-Madonna tas-Samra Madonna of Samaria, Malta

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland

Theotokos of St. Theodore, Russia

Our Lady Of Atocha, Madrid, Spain

The Virgin in the Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe

Virgin of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain

Nuestra Señora de la Merced {Our Lady Of Mercy}, Jerez de la

Frontera, Cádiz, Spain

The Virgin of the Miracles, Virgen de los milagros, El Puerto de

Santa María, Cádiz, Spain

Our Lady of the Hermits, Einsiedeln, Switzerland

Santa Maria Loretana, Sonogno, Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

Black Madonnas or important replicas in the Americas

Our Lady of Aparecida, Brazil

La Negrita, Cartago, Costa Rica

Black Madonna Shrine, Missouri, United States

National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Pennsylvania, United States

Night Owl Media, owned by Leilah Publications, is a alternative paramedia network for the 21st century. Night Owl is another digital step in paramedia, merging social media, art, activism, technology, spirituality and social, religious ,& political commentary.