Madonna and Child by Tanya Torres, Oil on Canvas, 8" wide by 10" high, 2018.
Part of The Dark Magdalene exhibition at the Bronx Music Heritage Center. $350.
In my culture, many people assume that the Black Virgin is dark because of the syncretism between European Catholicism and African religions. But the Black Virgin or Black Madonna was in Europe before the Europeans arrived in the New World, and before African slavery. The Black Virgin may well have her origins in Africa, but is not an ethnic representation. She is a metaphor of our human origins.
Why is She black?
There are several theories that try to explain why there are images of the Virgin and Child that are black. Let's ignore the one that says that this is due the effects of candle smoke on the images...
One theory proposes that the images were made dark to illustrate the text from the Song of Songs: "I am black but beautiful." [Negra sum sed formosa]
Another other prominent theory is that the Black Madonna is the ancient earth-goddess transformed. Several ancient goddesses were pictured as black, including Artemis of Ephesus, Isis, Cybeles and Ceres or Demeter. Ceres is the Roman goddess of agricultural fertility. Her Greek equivalent, Demeter, derives from Ge-meter or Earth Mother.
What is the connection between Mary Magdalene and the Black Madonna?
The ideas that connect the Black Madonna and Mary Magdalene may seem convoluted, but it is important to remember that the first people who died in a crusade for their beliefs were not Muslims, but Cathars, and natives of the South of France. Their church was called "The Church of Love" and they believed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were a couple.
Margaret Starbird has explored the role of Mary Magdalene as "the goddess in the Gospels" by analyzing the gematria, or the ancient use of sacred numbers to add meaning to holy texts. She explains how the epithet Magdalene expresses the number 7, or the sacred number of the Goddess.
Authors Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson connect the goddess Artemis, especially the image at Ephesus, to Mary Magdalene. They find evidence of this early association in a mural discovered in an early Christian church (See Mary Magdalene of the Bees.)
There are other ideas that help make the connection between Mary Magdalene the woman and Mary Magdalene the Goddess:
•The title given to Black Madonnas is often “Our Lady” rather than Virgin Mary.
•In popular myths, the statues of the Black Madonna appear in caves, mountains, wells, by the sea… in nature.
•The sitting image of the Black Madonna is very similar to that of Isis holding Horus.
•Her dark skin may be related to the Middle Eastern goddesses brought to Europe by the Phoenician traders.
•Three important goddesses were worshiped in the South of France: Cybeles, Isis and Artemis. They were worshiped in Ratis, where popular legend says Mary Magdalene arrived by boat with 2 other Marys. Today this site is known as Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, referring to the 3 Marys that arrived by boat. There is a local worship of Saint Sarah, a statue of a little girl that Margaret Starbird proposes to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus (in her book The Woman with the Alabaster Jar.)
•The Cathars, victims of the First Crusade, believed that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and that they had a child. They believed that, when Mary Magdalene escaped from Palestine and arrived in the South of France, she was pregnant and had a child fathered by Jesus Christ. This way, the blood of Christ became the blood of the local noble families, the Merovingians. The Merovingians claimed to be the rightful kings of France.
•It is believed that the Templars and other groups that came after, such as the Masons, kept the belief of the Cathars alive, and protected it as a secret by worshiping the Black Madonna as Mary Magdalene, or the Holy Grail, holding the Child, or the Blood of Christ. To the eyes of the Church, the images represented the VIrgin Mary, but to the descendants of the Cathars and the inheritors of their beliefs, such as the Priory of Sion and the Masons, the image represented Mary Magdalene's and Jesus' child.
To summarize the connection between Mary Magdalene and the Black Virgin:
1. The ancient earth goddesses survived in the human heart and adopted a Christian identity.
2. Ancient statues were given a place in Christian churches by assigning them a Christian character.
3. The belief in Mary Magdalene was hidden by worshiping her in the Dark Madonna while orthodox Christians saw her as the Mother of Christ, the Virgin Mary.
Marion Zimmer Bradley teaches an important concept in the book The Mists of Avalon with the phrase "all goddesses are as one." It doesn't matter which set of beliefs describe her: the female principle is an essential part of the human experience, a part of the soul that may be hidden, but is always ready to take the shape that most suits the human heart's journey back to Infinite Love.