Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland
“Art is the creation of organs through which the gods are able to speak to humanity.”
Rudolf Steiner, The Influence of Spiritual Beings on Man
The Black Madonna of Le Puy, France
With this quote in mind, I asked repeatedly, what are the images of the Black Madonna saying to us?
Recently in Orange County California a replica of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa Poland was brought to a local parish. The Priest accompanying the image across the continent spoke of the nature of Icons. Icons, he said, are windows into the Spiritual World. In the Byzantine Catholic tradition, confession is said kneeling before an Icon with a Priest present.
The timing at which the Black Madonna's began appearing is significant in many ways. While the benevolent Spiritual World has granted and respects Humanity's freedom, The Divine knows our positive and negative capabilities. Many of the narratives of the major Black Madonna's come around the time when the organized Church negated the Human Spirit. In the Council of Constantinople of 869, it became heresy to teach or write of the nature of the Human Spirit. A dampening of the conscious connection with the Spiritual World happened after this event, as the schools and teachers that taught of a living connection with the Christ were silenced. Could the Black Madonna's of that age be countering this message of separation from the Divine, this clouding of consciousness?
The Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico
The most famous of the so called Black Madonna's of the Americas is The Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. Guadalupe is considered a Black Madonna because she is Mestizo in her presentation, she looks mixed European and Native and has brown skin. She appeared to a Nahuatl Native from December 9th through the 12th, 1531. Her final appearance was to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga and his entourage at his residence, when Juan Diego (the Native to whom the Virgin had been appearing the preceding days) came to the Bishop with her message, mid morning on the 12th of December, 1531. She left physical evidence of her apparition on the Tilma (a poncho like shawl of the Native style of the day.) This Tilma pictured above is still on display at the Basilica that bears her name, nearly 500 years later.
The Conquest of Mexico by Spain began in 1519. Spain had bankrolled Columbus's Journey in 1492, the same year she had expelled the Muslims and Jews from her land. These groups were given an option, to convert, to leave or to die. Many converted and were called "Conversos", many more left heart broken to have been expelled from their homes, and many were killed as a lesson to anyone who dared to challenge the authority of the Crown. For the first time in Western History there was a dawning of a organized, state sanctioned persecuting society. This cultural outlook was taken with the Conquistadors as they ventured to distant shores in search of riches and power the so called "New World" could offer them. Centuries of subjugation of the Spaniards to the Moors from the Arab and African worlds created a back lash towards anyone who had dark skin. One only has to read the history books to know what the consequences were for the brown skinned natives of the Americas.
It is significant, as with the Black Madonna's appearing in the 9th Century, that Guadalupe appeared when she did. Her main message was of cooperation between the Europeans and Natives. She announces her self as "The Mother of All Who Love Me." and urges the Natives to work with the Spanish to build a new civilization based on the universal principle of Love.
Bishop Juan de Zumaragga of New Spain, the First Archbishop of Mexico 1468-1548
What was also significant was that Bishop Zumaragga had his hand in a very important deed of the Church at that time. But the deed was half done, and our world, especially in the United States is still reverberating with the consequences.
The Catholic Church at the time of Guadalupe was reeling from the Reformation. Nearly 7 million people left the Roman Church or Protestantism. The violence and wars from this split left deep wounds on the continent. With the prospect of new lands, the Catholic Church was anxious to start evangelization of the American continent. The secular leaders were vicious towards the Natives. The Nahuatls were imprisoned, enslaved, raped and killed through violence and exposure to the diseases the Europeans brought. So vile was the treatment of the natives, that the Church tried to intervene on their behalf. Interdicts, excommunications were rallied at the Spanish conquerors who violated the Natives. In turn, the clergy were persecuted and imprisoned, often violently, by the secular authorities. Before the apparition of Guadalupe, there was revolution in the air against the vastly outnumbered Europeans. Zumaragga wrote to Charles V, saying that if there was not a miracle, the entire continent would be lost.
After the Guadalupe event, the impression left on the natives was one of awe and desire to be part of the new civilization. Guadalupe spoke as a Codice of building a new kingdom of love on Earth. The Natives who felt abandoned by the Spiritual World, now had material proof of the love the Spiritual World had for them. In the decade following the Apparition, 9 million documented conversions through Baptisms were recorded. While the Natives voluntarily converted to Christianity because of Guadalupe, the Spaniards were not as amicable to the upset of their economic system. Slavery is very lucrative, because the cost of labor is quite low. So terrible was the treatment of the Natives that Zumaragga intervened. With several of his colleagues, Zumaragga drafted a letter to Pope Paul III. Until this time, Western Civilization only recognized three races of people, Europeans, Asians and Africans. Zumaragga argued that the Native Americans were people worthy of Evangelization and the Christ, and should not be enslaved. The Pope agreed and proclaimed through a Papal Bull called Sublimus Dei, that strictly forbade the enslavement of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Unfortunately, the Africans did not receive such recognition of their humanity, and the slave trade flourished until the 19th Century with Imperial and Papal blessings. In many ways, in the America's this history of Slavery still haunts us to this day.
It is profound that Guadalupe in her invitational and respectful presence implores different races of people to work together to build a temple for "all who love her." We often forget that Colonial Mexico was a multi racial community with African, European and Native peoples. Modern technology shows us the reflection of those who witnessed her last Apparition at the Bishops Residence. In magnified pictures of Guadalupe's eyes, we see a woman with an Afro Hair style. We know that Zumaragga had an African Woman as his house servant.
The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to all of the races that were living in Mexico at the time. With her mixed racial expression, she shows that the Divine is present in all peoples. Guadalupe came right at the end of the Conquest of Mexico during the terrible genocide of the Natives. She also came at the beginning of the transatlantic Slave trade, and the Bishop who witnessed her tried and succeeded in a large part to have personhood recognized by secular and religious institutions alike. She came as a counter to the materialistic zeal that labeled some people as valuable and others not based on the color of their skin.
The Black Madonna of Dorres, France
While not glossing over the terrible injustices experienced by the Native Peoples of North America, in many ways the fate of the Africans forced onto the plantations was worse. They were captured and taken away from their homelands. Their families were torn apart through auction, the women endured rape and forced impregnation to create more workers on the farms. The savage beatings and poor labor conditions were often coupled with what we should call pogroms. Lynchings were common, even after slavery was abolished in 1863. While not as rampant as before, a type of lynching still exists through the unequal killing of Black Men by authorities and racist cults masquerading as political movements.
The Black Madonna of Marsat, France
After each murder, the authorities excuse it through justification, as if the person asked for it in some way.
Each and every time this happens, the message received by the community who was wronged is; your children are not as valuable as others, you are not part of the culture, your sorrows are not valid.
Juan Diego tried to pass off the task given to him by the Virgin, saying that he was unworthy. He felt this way because the culture of the day told him his life was nothing, his culture and ways were inferior and the God he was presented with looked alien to his people. Guadalupe spoke to him telling him he was a treasured child of God, that he was worthy and capable of great things. She was speaking to all those who feel abandoned and neglected, when she spoke to Juan.
In so many ways the Spiritual World, the Gods speak to humanity through art. When we ponder the Black Madonna's and the Virgin of Guadalupe, so many messages come to us from these 'Windows to the Spiritual World." If you visit the shrines to the Black Madonna's, it is profound to watch people with dark skin flock to the images. When the dominant culture harms and excludes people who are different, a deep wound results, a wound that can be carried for generations. Deep in our cells, we know we are connected, we long for communion with others. The Black Madonna's present Divinity in ways that include, that represent all of Humanity. The defining quality that the Virgin of Guadalupe proclaims that we must have to be part of the New Civilization her image symbolizes, is a love for the Divine. It is powerful to see how these images came into being as a healing counter influence to the damaging materialistic and racist zeal of which modern civilization is capable.
As Mary proclaimed in the Magnificat, the Divine through Christ was coming to tear apart worldly power.
Luke 1:46 - 53
The trappings of Earthly power, wealth, class, race, gender, have no place in the universal equality of the Christ. The Black Madonna's speak to us of this fact. In these days of sorrow, of so many of God's Children feeling that they are unimportant, expendable and undesirable, let us reach out to one another, hear the stories of pain, and be inspired to remind those who have searing tragedy in their lives that they are wanted, they are loved, and their place in our human community is necessary in order to build the New Civilization of Love.
Let those of us who's ancestors perpetrated oppression, who's peers benefit from oppression, ask to hear the perspective of those who have been harmed. Listen, and ask for forgiveness, even if the sin was not committed by you, for that is the first step in healing. The cycle can be broken, all it takes is for one person to break it. Will it be you? What is the Spiritual World saying to you through the Madonna's?
For me, they are saying: "You humans, all of you come from Divinity, you are made of the substance of the Stars, and to Divinity you will return. Until that time, create the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth with your thoughts, your feelings and your will, so all of God's creatures can feel part of the Beloved Community."
This is the most important thing we can do for our current age.
Members of The Beloved Community of Ferguson, Missouri working to heal the damage in the aftermath of the unrest in response to the shooting death of Michael Brown