Monday, August 24, 2015

Darkness, Will and Seeds of the Future

Mother of God of the Bull, Olot, Catalonia, Spain

Throughout my encounters with the Black Madonnas, I have noticed several themes that many of them share. Obviously, the color of these Madonnas is either dark or black in nature, hence the name of the genre. According to a study completed by Leonard Moss in December of 1952, the following findings were presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Moss observed a large body of European Black Madonnas and divided them into three categories:

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

2.     Various art forms that have turned black as a result of certain physical factors, such as deterioration of lead based pigments, accumulated smoke from candles and the grime of ages.

3.     Residual category with no ready explanation as to why they are so dark.

Moss also reported that the bulk of the Black Madonnas fell into the latter category. We can see from this study, which was obviously conducted in a materialistic methodology (interestingly only two years after the Assumption of Mary was made official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in the shadow of the Atomic Bomb blasts of WW II,) that the last category is ripe for consideration for those of us who look at the world as full of spiritual symbolism. It is also quite interesting when one considers art especially in terms of what Rudolf Steiner stated in his lecture cycle The Influence of Spiritual Beings on Man, that “Art is the creation of organs through which the gods are able to speak to humanity.” In other words, art is a method by which the spiritual world speaks to humanity.

So what is the spiritual world trying to tell humanity through these unusual, almost other worldly works of art?

It is also of note that many of the Black Madonnas are attributed to St. Luke the Evangelist, as well as being placed in shrines along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela throughout Europe. In addition to their color, many of the Black Madonnas have very large, almost inhumanly so, hands.

The Black Madonna of Marsat, France

The Virgin of Victory, Thuir, France

Our Lady of the Good Death, Clermont-Ferrand, France

In a recent English translation of lectures by Steiner, entitled Universal Spirituality and Human Physicality Bridging the Divide, 

I have come across some very pertinent statements on the spiritual quality of "darkness." I had been aware of the connection between "light, dark and color" when it comes to artistic therapy, but these lectures above expanded on my understanding and revealed more mysteries of why the Black Madonnas have the symbolism they do.

The current era in which we live is considered "The Age of Consciousness Soul." In essence, this is the time when humanity, both individually and collectively, must develop the aspect of the soul that thinks independently and maturely. Gone are the days when humanity was led by miracles and pillars of light in the night such as when the Children of Israel were led to the promised land. Now we must on our own initiative reach out to the spiritual world in full freedom and consciousness and choose morality, choose to unite in a fully awake fashion with the heavenly world and the Christ.

Of course, it would be so wonderful and easy to have a flash of lightning, tablets descending from heaven with full instructions on what we are supposed to do. But the time for such events is past. Now we have to figure things out on our own, and forge ahead in very difficult times, mainly using our wills to do so. I can attest to how exhausting this can be at times, but it is what we are supposed to be doing in this age of human evolution.

The three aspects of soul expressed in the body are "thinking/head," "feeling/heart" and "willing/limbs." The corresponding symbols associated with these three aspects are the "eagle" for the "thinking/head," the "lion" for the "feeling/heart" and the "bull" for "willing/limbs." Our limbs, our hands are in essence,agents of our will. Our hands work on the initiative of the will, executing actions we carry out on a daily basis. Willing, according to Steiner in these (mentioned above) and other lectures, is associated with "darkness," with cosmic and earthly darkness. Darkness and cosmic will manifest in earthly substance, and out of darkness and our will, our actions, the seeds of the future are planted.

The Gospel of St. Luke is symbolized by the Bull. We often see mosaics or frescoes in churches or cathedrals of the four Gospel writers. Here are a few that show not only St. Luke with a bull, but also as an artist, a painter of Madonnas.

Emil Bock in his landmark book Studies in the Gospels Volume 2, explores the qualities of Luke's Gospel in great detail. In essence, after the detailed Nativity narrative, the Gospel is one long journey towards Holy Week. The will forces involved in such a journey are obvious, but also a metaphor for the quality of the human journey towards union with Christ.

The Mother of God of the Bull, found in Olot in Catalonia, Spain, pictured at the beginning of this post is one of the most interesting of all the Black Madonnas on the Camino. Her narrative is that she was discovered buried in a mound of dirt outside the town. A bull was standing next to the mound, mooing incessantly. The local townspeople thought it a sign and started to dig the mound, which produced this Black Madonna. She was originally quite black, and has been "whitened" through several recent restorations, but older art and copies document her color was quite dark in ages past. She has a bull lying next to her. An ancient folk custom is to bring children who are about to walk to this Madonna as a blessing on the next phase of development for the growing child.

The age that the majority of the Black Madonnas were either discovered or brought to Europe was considered to be the era of preparation for the Age of Consciousness Soul.

For me the symbolism is quite clear, these enigmatic works of art, dark in their color, with large hands, associated with St. Luke and the Bull speak to us of using our wills to lay the seeds for the future. The fact that they are all along the Camino, the ancient pilgrim route, which at the very least, took much initiative and great will to complete, for me is very meaningful. The somber faces on the Black Madonnas spoke to the generations before our era, to "be awake, get to work." 

The Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, said it best in her two simple statements; "build me a temple," and "where are you going?" The request and question she repeats during all of her apparitions to Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino. They are profound questions as to what humans are doing with their wills, how human will is preparing for the future.

I explore this and other themes in the soon to be published, in September 2015, book on the Black Madonna. Stay tuned for information on how you can order. Until then, it is quite powerful to contemplate the darkness of these Black Beauties in terms of our human endeavours in our current age.

"And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name." Isaiah 45:3

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Assumption and the Human Soul

Meteor Shower Mid August, 2015

For those who have known me for a long time, they realize that heat is not my friend. I am one who longs for Winter like most pine for Spring, I always hated living in Southern California with it's endless brown and skin scorching six month long Summers. I have moved North in search of cool, and sort of bide my time during the Summer months as an exercise in endurance. When August rolls around, I am feeling the heaviness of the ambient nature of the "dog days." but sort of getting the hang of it, and trying to enjoy the start of the harvest season with her melons, grapes and other delicious gifts of the earth that have been growing since early March.

15th Century Russian Orthodox Icon of the Assumption of Mary

One break in the monotonous days comes around in mid August, with the festival of the Assumption of Mary. This event is the celebration of the ascension of Mary into heaven. Raised as predominantly Protestant, this festival was new to me in my adult years. One can see artistic representation of Mary as she enters heaven in early Coptic and Armenian Icons from the first centuries of Christianity. A letter attributed to our friend of Divine Darkness, Dionysus the Areopagite (baptized by the Apostle Paul and contemporary of Luke the Evangelist,) mentions Mary's Assumption. 

15th Century Icon of the Assumption of Mary

It was not until November 1st, 1950 that the Catholic Church recognized Mary's assumption into heaven as official church dogma.Social historians point to many reasons for this turn of events. During the late 40's the world was coming to terms with the horrors unleashed onto and by humans since the First World War. After the insanity and mechanized slaughter of 1914 - 1918, humanity thought it had fought the war to end all wars. A frenzy of frivolity occupied the 20's only to be followed by a great economic depression, which sowed the seeds for the rise of fascism and ultimate war in the 30's and early 40's. When victory of the allies was declared in both Europe and Japan, humanity came to terms with both the Holocaust as well as the atomic bomb.

Ethiopian Coptic Icon of the Assumption of Mary

Rudolf Steiner states that art is one way that the spiritual world communicates with humanity. As Iconography can illustrate, the images used for meditation and focus illustrate great truths of the Christian mystery tradition. While Christians, and myself for that matter, consider Mary the mother of Jesus to be a historical figure, her symbolism is deep and multi fold. The Virgin Mary depicted in so many expressions can be considered as the symbol for the human soul. She was the first human to be told of the imminent arrival of Messiah, and her part in this miracle. She was the first to say yes, "May your word be fulfilled in me," she responded to the Archangel Gabriel. Mary for many has been more accessible mainly because she was human.

In the face of coming to terms with slaughter, cruelty, mechanized killing and ultimately the unleashing of the atomic bomb which had the possibility of killing all life on Earth, people of faith were struggling after World War II. In the United States, there was  the numbing with materialism and a booming economy. I have often thought this was a way to distract a basically good hearted people from what was done to Japan, and the future of the Earth in the name of "preventing more deaths."

The genre of Japanese monster movies dominated the 1950's. The character of Godzilla actually was a creature of nuclear fallout. My brothers and I used to be thoroughly entertained by these cheesy badly acted form films, later I used to think wow, those poor Japanese people, always escaping some big monster smashing the heck out of their cities. It was only as an adult, when I started to look at film as a reflection of society, I started to realize that these monster flicks were a way that the Japanese were dealing with the aftermath of having two of their large cities obliterated by bombs the size of cars.

I spent New Years Eve, 1999 - Y2K at a weekend vigil through an organization called "The Nevada Desert Experience." Yes, I spent the night before the new millennium at the one and only convent in Las Vegas, playing bingo with nuns, awaiting a dawn prayer service at the nearby test site where the atomic bomb had been developed. The days leading up to New Years Eve were spent in prayer, fellowship and workshops with interfaith people to bring in a new age of peace. We heard from Imams, Shoshone Shamans (these are the Native Americans who's land was confiscated in order to test the nuclear bombs) Catholic Priests, Buddhists Priests, Protestant Ministers and anti nuclear activists.

The speakers that most moved me were the Hiroshima survivors, who traveled from Japan to pray with Americans on the land that initiated the demise of their cities and killed so many of their citizens with radiation disease. These dignified people came with open arms of friendship, and deep requests to the Americans that such an event, nuclear bombing, would never happen again. We were shown pictures of little girls in Kimono's, heads bowing with tears flowing, offering flowers begging us to never do that again to them. At 4 am on New Years Day, I made the drive to the test site. The vigil had been all night long, with people crossing the line to be arrested for trespassing. I decided my prayers outside of jail would be more useful and joined the morning mass outside of the gates. We heard prayers from all different faiths, and danced to greet the dawn, pledging to work with all our efforts to promote peace in the new century before us.

I can see why Pope Pius XII "dogmatically defined" the Assumption of Mary as official Church belief when he did in 1950. Humanity had unleashed a power never thought possible. In the past, while wars were horrific, life did go on. Now, through our so called science, we were capable of blowing up our precious planet, or at the very least making it uninhabitable for hundreds of thousands of years. A counter to this was the hope of transformation of humanity, that life indeed would triumph over death, that goodness would circumvent the evil.

Mary, as image of the Human Soul, was recognized as having an "immaculate death." While not excusing responsibility for creating a culture of annihilation that the bomb unleashed, this recognition did show that Divinity had come to transform humanity and that ultimately, there is no death of the true and beautiful human self.

This year, 2015 has so many anniversaries. The end of the Civil War, the beginning of Wold War I and the end of World War II, specifically the double atomic bombing of Japan that we are told ended the terror. A former love of mine who is now an Orthodox Priest on the east coast of the states posts interesting things on his facebook page. A recent scan of his current focus is justifying the killing of the Japanese in 1945. They were terrible, they did awful things, they would have killed more Americans, we had to do this, it was the right thing to do, besides - the Japanese were not Christians, they worshiped the emperor as a God. I had an uncle that survived one of the death marches forced by the Japanese. His daughter once told me that she was glad that the US dropped the bomb, because her father could come home. What many Americans do not know, is that Nagasaki was the gateway where Christianity came to Japan. The original Japanese Christians suffered greatly to worship and the first Japanese Cathedral, dedicated to Mary, was obliterated by the blast, only the head of the Virgin Mary statue in the church remained. The response of the Christians at the time was to pray and sing, and help those who had been injured, and never blame anyone for the tragedy, only to work towards understanding and the spread of love. 

The Black Madonna of Rocamadour, France

Morality is not easy, especially in times of war. I often think, like the bumper sticker says, what would happen if there was a war and no one showed up? I think of the pictures of those little Japanese girls crying and praying to Americans to please never do that again, I remember the warm embrace at dawn in the Nevada desert from a survivor of Hiroshima, and I see the beautiful Icons of the Virgin Mary as she ascends to heaven.

How do these things all relate? How do I act and think in my poor attempts to be a true witness for both the Virgin and the Son? What is my response to people of faith who think mass murder is somehow justified as a response for mass murder and torture? I have no answers, but I do draw comfort that the beautiful images, specifically of the somber Black Madonnas remind me that we are in an age where we must be awake, we must use our wills and inspire moral imagination through our actions. It is my hope that deep, vast, beyond space and time love can transform all the pain and sorrow of our age. My hope comes from the beauty of the natural world, the immensity of the stars above, and the inspiration from the spiritual world through art that reminds me of what lies beyond my senses. It is this, that helps me transcend the searing heat of mid August, and helps me prepare for the coming festivals of the new Liturgical Year.

Blessings on your journey!

The Black Madonna of Cusset, France

Monday, August 10, 2015

Equality and Freedom Within the Human Community

Our Lady of the Pillar, Chartres Cathedral in 2008

While I had been researching and lecturing on the Black Madonna for years, I had yet to actually see them in person until the Autumn of 2008. For those of you who remember, this was the beginning of the "great recession" when each day was like a terrible reality show to see if the world was going to crash economically. The United States Congress debated long and hard as to whether or not the tax payers would prop up the banks. My naturopathic acupuncture practice tanked as my patients either lost their jobs and health insurance, or lost their investments and had no disposable income to pay for my services. 

I had been selected to attend the Slow Food International Gathering of Food Communities in Turin, Italy for October of that year. Terra Madre, as the gathering is called, was where I would attend as a member of the delegation for Slow Food USA. Since I had a large number of frequent flier miles and no business to speak of, I thought I would attend Terra Madre and go and see the major Black Madonnas in Europe while I was in the neighborhood so to speak. My experience is chronicled in the soon to be released, (yes really, in September of 2015,) book on the Black Madonna.

When I returned from this life changing experience in Europe, I had the occasion to attend a weekday service at The Christian Community of Los Angeles. The Erzoberlenker at the time, our version of a Cardinal, was visiting our congregation from Germany and led the study group after the service. I asked him what he thought about the economic crash we were experiencing. His answer has always stuck with me. He said the reason the economy was in such a dire place was that we humans were having to learn what it meant to be in a human community. He said the Angels were most active in the realm of economics because it gave us the most opportunity to be supportive and loving towards our fellow human being.The economic realm he said, was the one place where we humans all had to encounter one another, we could not avoid one another, and was ripe with occasions for what he termed "brotherhood," which I interpret as community.

The Seal of the Knights Templar

One of the main themes of my book, The Black Madonna, Cosmic Companion for the journey of the Human Heart, is exploring the symbolism of the similarities among the Black Madonnas. When I started my study, one theme really jumped out at me. While there were often no artists associated with the Black Madonnas, historians could agree that a large number of Black Madonnas had been brought to the European continent from the Holy Land during the Middle Ages by the Knights Templar.

This realization really got my heart to ponder. Why, with all that the Knights Templar were involved with during their 200 year tenure, why would they bother to bring Black Madonna statues to Europe?

Our Lady of the Underground, found in the Crypt of Chartres Cathedral

In my never to be humble opinion, the Knights Templar are a very misunderstood sect. While not overlooking the violent and oppressive nature of the Crusades from a materialistic perspective, there is actually a very high ideal associated with the Knights Templar.

They were one of the most esoteric orders of their day, high Christian initiates who had a great grasp of the challenges of their age. They were the greatest organizing force of the era, more so than the nation states. They employed large segments of the population and started the first modern banking system in the West. Checks were conceived by the Knights Templar to aid pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land. One could deposit money for the trip in Europe and draw funds from banks in the Holy Land. Their guiding ideal was "Not I but the Christ in me." They took dual vows of the Knight and the Monk. While they controlled vast amounts of land, business enterprises and money, their vows of poverty inspired them to use the funds for the betterment of society. They personally owned nothing but saw themselves as stewards of the economic realm for the good of the community. The Templars established schools, cathedrals and artistic initiatives throughout Europe. 

Chartres Cathedral from Above

The main ideal of the Templars was to help humanity prepare for the coming era. The Templars and other Christian Initiates knew that the times were a changing. Humanity was evolving out of an age of innate wisdom and awareness of the natural and spiritual world into a new age of individuality and consciousness. The new age was to be one of conscious freedom and love. The Templars sought to foster this new age through the beauty of the arts. It was their intent to invite Humanity in freedom to a new age of Love through beauty. 

Inside Chartres Cathedral

There was a great Christian mystery school at Chartres Cathedral in the Middle Ages. This magnificent cathedral was built with Templar money and patronage. Chartres houses some of the worlds most famous Black Madonnas. The Templars placed other Black Madonnas in shrines along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is interesting that the Templars thought that community exposure to the arts was an integral aspect of economics. One can wonder what our economic picture would look like if our great financial institutions thought of the good of the whole, and fostered beauty and community with their investments.

Chartres Cathedral at Night

There are many mysteries surrounding the Black Madonna and the Templars. I explore some of them in my book. For now, I hope this understanding, that the spiritual world can communicate with humans through the arts, and that our responsibility towards other members of our community can be fostered in the economic realm is actually a deeply Christian ideal first modeled by those who brought the Black Madonnas to Europe nearly a thousand years ago.

Blessings on your Journey!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Black Madonna and the Modern Pilgrim

Cloister Garden Walk at the Shrine of Le Puy, France a beginning point for the Camino Pilgrimage

One of the many correspondences shared between a large number of Black Madonnas in Europe is the fact that their shrines are quite prolific along the ancient pilgrim route of Camino de Santiago de Compostela. The title means the road of St. James along the field of stars. Santiago Means "Saint James", derived from Spanish santo "saint" combined with Yago, an old Spanish form of "James," the patron saint of Spain. The legend goes that St. James a disciple of Christ Jesus, the brother of the Apostle John, was the first to bring Christianity to the area of Iberia, the land now known as Spain. As he was preaching in Iberia, the Virgin appeared to him in a vision. He returned to Palestine, where he was subsequently martyred. The disciples decided to have his body buried in Iberia in what is now known as Santiago, the final destination of the pilgrimage.

The route, which drapes most of Europe, is an ancient one. It was said during Roman times, that when one looked up to the stars at night, the Milky Way pointed the way along the route. When Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of Rome, he dispatched his mother Helena to seek out relics and works of art. He also gave the Imperial blessing and title of the Camino to be re-established as a pilgrim journey for Christians in his empire. It was considered to be of equal value to go along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela as it was to visit the Holy Land. The route was very popular in the Middle Ages but fell out of favor during the Reformation. There has been an upsurge of interest and participation in the last 20 years, prompting everything from facebook chat groups, twitter feeds, organized tour companies and documentaries. It seems there is a desire from Christians and non religious alike to walk this beautiful road to connect to the soul, the inner voice that seems to get lost in the hectic nature of modern life.

St. Helena of the Cross, who is Constantine’s mother, is credited with bringing many Black Madonnas to the European continent from her travels to the Holy Land. Two of her more famous discoveries are considered to be the Black Madonna of Czestochowa and the Black Madonna of Montserrat. 

Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland

Our Lady of Montserrat, Catalonia Spain

The former is in Poland on the Eastern European aspect of the Camino, and the latter is on the Spanish leg of the journey.  The Black Madonnas brought by the Templars from the Holy Land are often found in the shrines built by this mysterious order of warrior priests along many aspects of the Camino.  There is a copy of the Black Virgin of Montserrat in the cathedral of Santiago, the final destination of the pilgrims, and also at many shrines of embarkation along the route.

High Altar at the Cathedral of Santiago, in Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Why are so many Black Madonnas on this ancient Christian pilgrim route? Why did the Knights Templar bring so many of these Black Madonnas to Europe and place them in shrines along the Camino? What mystical message was being conveyed, and why is there an upsurge in interest of the Camino during our very secular materialistic age?

Walkway from Le Puy Shrine leading to the Camino

I explore these questions and more in the soon to be released, in September of 2015 to be exact, book The Black Madonna; Cosmic Companion for the Journey of the Human Heart.

Stay tuned for updates on podcasts, author discussions and contests on how to win posters and free audio book copies of the book!

The Camino near Montserrat, Catalonia Spain

In the meantime, know that the placement of the Black Madonnas along the Camino is the purposeful message to Humanity that we are loved and admired by the Spiritual World.

Blessings on your Journey!