The Heart of the Black Madonna

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