The Black Madonna

A striking poster advertises an exhibition dedicated to the history of 1000 years of pilgrimage to Einsiedeln Abbey, the seat of the Black Madonna. We see her red robe and the crown but the statue is not there. A veil is all there is. The energetic, blood red colour of the cape arrests and fills with awe. It dresses up the unconscious, adorns the shadow, crowning darkness and emptiness. “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my veil,” – the words inscribed on the statue of Isis of Sais come to mind. All the symbolic representations of the divine are just what comes from our attempts at peering through the veil; this is why we communicate the mystery or perhaps how the mystery communicates with us. In our daily world biased towards clarity, obviousness, growth, achievement and tangible benefits, the Black Madonna is an omen of wholeness that we have lost on the way. She heals by making whole, soothes and warms the cold hearts, projecting boundless forgiveness and compassion. She is not always meek, but can be quite defiant and disruptive in relation to the stale status quo. Like the unconscious, she is the great balancing force. The weak, the sick, the disenfranchised, the disempowered, women, strangers, outsiders and foreigners, have all sought refuge under her mantle. It was believed in the earlier centuries that only the Black Madonna can show the right way to murderers and other criminals. Until the eighteenth centuries convicted criminals of Switzerland were able to atone for their guilt and go free if they made a pilgrimage to the holy statue.

The capes of the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

There are many covert ways in which the church still try to downplay her vibrant and growing cult. Her blackness, for example, is usually explained by the prolonged exposure of the statue to candle smoke. This is quite hard to believe, since the numerous Black Madonna statues have sprung up in numerous places in the world immediately in their black glory. According to legends, the statues were often found by children, shepherds or animals close to caves or streams, often buried in the earth. The mystery surrounding their sudden emergence is symbolically very fitting. She shows herself to the humble and the weak, her source of origin being veiled in mystery. She does not seek a central or prominent role, and yet she is the centre of the mandala, the creative matrix from which all life came and to which it will return. Although her face is featured on the poster advertising the exhibition, she is just but one of the themes of it. Still, it was easily noticeable how crowds gravitated towards and concentrated in the sections dedicated to her. Disappointingly, the role of Forest Sisters, one of whom offered the statue of the Black Madonna to St Meinrad, the founder of the monastery, was not acknowledged. Nothing is said of the appalling treatment of the Sisters by the male establishment of the Monastery. Namely, they were driven out of the Dark Forest, where they lived in a peaceful community gathering herbs and healing the sick, banned from visiting the Black Madonna statue, ordered to wear black and had to lead a convent life in the nearby town (see my previous post on the subject https://symbolreader.net/2016/02/28/the-black-madonna-of-einsiedeln/).  As a consolation, the sisters received a copy of the original Black Madonna statue. What is more, the lay public were also restricted by the Benedictine monks from adoring the statue right until the beginning of the twentieth century. Older female inhabitants of Einsiedeln still remember the times when they had to sneak in to the church to pray in front of the Black Madonna.

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

I am Black and Lovely: the Mystery of the Black Madonna by Margrit Rosa Schmid is a booklet rich in detail that accompanies the exhibition. It contains a wealth of stories about the Black Madonnas of the whole world. I was not aware of the sheer number of statues and shrines of her in Switzerland alone. At the beginning of the twentieth century in the Italian canton of Tessin, where her cult is very strong, a local pastor felt uncomfortable with what he perceived as a pagan cult of the statue of La Madonna Nera. He replaced it with a white Madonna, which sparked outrage with the locals. Eventually, the church had no choice but to give in, the Black Madonna was restored, while the white one ended up in pastor’s attic. This particular Black Madonna is a copy of the magnificent Black Madonna of Loreto in Italy. Schmid beautifully describes the symbolism of the appearance of the original Italian statue. Especially striking are the five black moon sickles adorning her gown complete with a reversed red triangle – a symbol of feminine fertility (the chalice and the womb). During the French Revolutionary Wars, Napoleon moved the Black Madonna statue from Loreto to Paris, where she was displayed in Louvre as an Egyptian goddess. He must have understood subconsciously that the Black Madonna indeed comes from a long lineage of ancient dark mother goddesses, especially but not only Isis. The Loreto Chapel of Madonna showcases statues of nine Sibyls, further strengthening the connection with the ancient cult of the goddess as well as pointing at the gift of prophecy, seeing in the dark, common to all dark female deities. Mary, not only in her role as the Black Madonna, has always fulfilled a symbolic role of a pontifex – a bridge builder between humans and divinity.

La Madonna Nera of Sonogno, Switzerlad

The Black Madonna of Loreto

A particularly moving legend is connected with the Polish Black Madonna of Czestochowa, who bears two long scars on her face. In the 15th century, the monastery was raided by the Hussites, who stole the icon. However, their horses refused to move the wagon in which they were travelling. In frustration, one of the robbers inflicted two strikes on Madonna’s face with his sword. When he tried to draw his sword upon the image for the third time, he fell to the ground and died a painful death. It is perhaps her fragility and a memento of suffering visible on her face that makes her divine form so human.

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland

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8 Responses to The Black Madonna

  1. saraannon says:

    When I visited this Black Madonna I was told that the Dalai Lama stops by to pray with/to her when he is nearby. Apparently, it resonates with his lineage as one of the aspects of the Black Tara. As I remember Tara was a women who achieved enlightenment despite the prejudice against female monks. When it was suggested to her that she reincarnate as a man so her enlightenment would be more socially acceptable, she refused. I do not know how vigorous the suggestion was, but Buddhist nuns have been killed for daring to pursue enlightenment in the not so distant past.

  2. So beautiful to revisit the Black Madonna, Monica. Many thanks.

  3. Dewin Nefol says:

    Guete Morge Monika, Namaste 🙂

    How are you? Two weeks into the New Year already, I trust those weeks have surpassed your wildest expectations? 🙂

    The Black Madonna, as all Dark Goddess do, She has kept me intrigued for the past couple of hours as I’ve sat to read and re-read your blog and ponder her unfathomable depth. It’s a difficult experience to delineate when she holds you in her gaze: perhaps something akin to a sensation of constant buoyancy and movement, drifting on shifting tides into hidden dark corners and crevices and creases and folds of the mind, whilst wrapped in cotton wool and Love. Her exploration of inner space is confrontational and asks us to ponder upon all that we discover – not in judgement of ourselves, but rather in honest appraisal of the totality of ourselves: our thoughts, deeds and actions etc so that we grow better able to know thyself’. She is neither passive nor aggressive but the force of Her is penetrative, bold, brave and definite. I like Her being within me and me within Her, she is comforting, nurturing, motherly, protective. I am not detached from my thoughts but they are beyond my direct control: it’s neither dream nor reality until the tide settles for a moment to allow a thought to disembark onto dry land and take root.

    I did a little reading further on Dark Goddesses and came across a small entry making mention of Circe and specifically Ulysses: recounting a fortuitous encounter between Hermes and Ulysses (Book 10 of Homer’s Odyssey), whereby Hermes gives the Hero a holy herb called ‘moly’ that protects him from Circe’s intoxicating enchantment: She is a Goddess of Sorcery of course. Anyway, I immediately thought of the word ‘mollify’ – to appease the anger or anxiety of someone or reduce the severity of something. Associated words such as: placate, pacify, conciliate, soothe, calm, still, quieten, and allay, assuage, alleviate, ease, lessen, reduce, moderate, lull, temper, cushion, quell, soften and blunt – all reflect the qualities of the Black Madonna as presented here: qualities which Hermes knew would be defence against the Dark Arts of Circe. Circe’s magic might be said to be only as strong as the weakest link in the Hero’s will power and self-control?

    Wiki have an entry for ‘Moly’ – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moly_(herb) and include a passing suggestion that the herb Moly may have been a Snow Drop: a symbol of hope and new beginnings. I also found a charming Romanian Legend recounting how each year the sun took on the form of a young girl as it returned to warm the land in the spring. One year, Winter refused to let go of his stronghold on the earth and took the young girl hostage. A Hero soon appeared to rescue his love from the grips of winter. A battle ensued, and the girl was set free, but not before the Hero was wounded. As the sun began to rise into the sky, the Hero fell to the ground and drops of his blood stained the earth. The warmth of the Hero’s blood melts the snow and Snowdrops burst forth in celebration of the return of spring.

    I’ve babbled on enough for one day, so will head away for the Land of Zzzzz. Thank you for posting: as ever I’ve enjoyed lingering here for while with your words being pushed and pulled in all sorts of ways whilst floating in a sea of exquisite darkness.

    Enjoy your weekend and the new week ahead. Take care in all ways always.

    Love and Peace. Namaste 🙂

    DN

    P.S: Have you ever experienced time in a Sensory deprivation, flotation tank? I haven’t but would like to very much. I imagine it being a heightened experience for those who settle and are comfortable in absolute silence and pitch black. In the absence of sensory input, I wonder if there are those who have spiritual experiences or epiphanies whilst using the tanks.

    • Hello Dewin

      Thank you so much for this multi-faceted comment. The year so far has been good with lots of Jungian analysis and yoga practice 🙂

      Anyway, your description of Her is enchanting in your own wizardly way. I think all dark goddesses must be connected, but at the same time I am happy there is a variety of them, each being unique – Black Tara, Kali, the Black Madonna… Your description made me also think of the unconscious. Now, when it comes to Circe, I have a lot of positive feelings towards her. Quoting myself is maybe inappropriate, but I did write about her and the moly flower: https://symbolreader.net/2014/04/14/the-secrets-of-the-odyssey-7-circe-and-the-underworld/
      She is a powerful initiator.

      Finally, I have never tried the flotation tank. I agree that it could be a special experience. A friend of mine from my studies set up a company offering this in Poland. He was extremely passionate about the whole thing. He suffered a tragic death, though – he was hit by a tram. I heard abut this when I was already in Switzerland. I also remembered he did a lot of transcendental meditation. I don’t know why I am mentioning all this but one has to think about death when pondering dark goddesses.

      Thank you again

      Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Namaste Monika 🙂

        It’s curious indeed where the Dark Goddess directs our thoughts – I was sorry to hear of your friend’s sudden tragic demise. Hit by a tram seems a brutal and definitive death-blow. I’m sorry for your loss.

        Thank you for linking to a previous article of yours posted here. I should have looked myself Monika and been more confident in knowing you’d probably have penned a line or two regards Odysseus. I’ve bookmarked that post to use as both a reference and a focal point for thoughts. It fascinated me: Circe is a highly complex metaphysical entity embodying a vast spectrum of human and supernatural ‘characteristics’: She embraces the totality of the human condition acting as both mirror of the soul and initiator of transformation/metamorphosis: through her Love we are comforted throughout periods of personal change. She is a fiery Moon who becomes facilitator of the Solar Fire…her guidance is practical, protective, definite, and sincerely compassionate: her spell-casting is the experience of metamorphosis that we each endure until ready to absorb the nature of her course correction.

        Circe explodes outwards whilst imploding inwards yet nothing is ever static or standing still around her or within her. She is wholly primordial with power brutality and compassion sufficient to transform Stars, encourage men and women to become heroes and heroines: She has the power to change the Human Race. She fascinates me and absorbs my attention Monika 🙂

        The closing lines of the post you link to leave a wonderful impression with me:

        “Partly because he is so near the boundary, so near the point where the circle closes, Odysseus is the hero who most often tells stories. …last among the heroes to return from Troy, Odysseus is also the one who right up to the end maintains his contact – and what an intimate contact it was – with the primordial powers who appeared in the first phases of the cycle. His wanderings were partly a compendium, a roll call, of all those beings and places that were already growing confused in many a memory, already being removed to the realm of the fabulous. … After his return to Ithaca, man’s approach to primordial beings and places could only take place through literature.”

        Great stuff. Thank you for providing a place to perch for a moment or two. I shall be back in due course.

        Until then, best wishes with the Yoga, and ‘bon voyage’ as you set journey the Jungian Seas. Should you discover Circe’s Island, I trust She will leave you feeling like a heroine 🙂

        Love and Peace. Namaste 🙂

        DN

  4. Dewin Nefol says:

    P.S: How fascinating it would be to establish a Jungian Therapy Centre in Switzerland at whose therapeutic heart was a number of Sensory Deprivation Chambers to facilitate the psychiatric process of repair, rejuvenation, and cognitive course correction 🙂

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