A memory comes to mind. The statue of the Egyptian goddess Hathor was also kept in an underground crypt at her temple at Dendera. Dwight and I sneaked inside past the fence, in complete darkness. The crypt was narrow like a passageway, dank, and carved with wall-to-wall hieroglyphs. From there, once a year, the statue of the goddess was taken up to the roof of the temple to bestow blessings upon the people before being carried to meet Horus, the Sky god. He too, was making the journey from his temple at Edfu to meet her. Hathor and Horus, reuniting once a year, in a spring ritual that re-enacted the cyclic tides of life force in nature.
I stand, entranced, looking at the blackness of the woman and the child. Sophia, Isis, Hathor…. What is common to all of them? Sophia, the mother of wisdom; Isis, the mother of Horus; Hathor, the fertility goddess. I look around the dim crypt. The crypt! Of course, that’s the womb of the earth, which feeds and nurtures. The womb of the earth is … black, naturally.
In the darkness of the crypt, an insight flashes into my mind and illuminates all these thoughts. The blackness provides the link with the primeval religion of the Mother Goddess. In these statues of Black Madonnas, then, was compressed and hidden the ancient worship of the feminine principle! The Black Madonna is the dark mother, the body of God. She represents the blackness of a pregnant womb, from which light will burst out.
I look around for Dwight to share my insight. I’m strangely excited, electrified. But I don’t see him; he’s somewhere in one of the catacombs, checking the energy. So I sit by the altar, next to the Black Madonna. There is a certain softness that radiates from the statue, something like an embrace, protection. It’s so good to be in the presence of this feminine energy. I feel as if the energy is murmuring inaudibly: “All is well. Rest in me. Your strength is rooted in me.” And I feel my body becoming heavy, grounded safely and strongly, like a tree. At this moment, in this shadowy crypt, I feel as if I’ve truly and deeply understood the feminine principle. Because I’ve felt it.
How can people live without this embracing, grounding energy, worshiping only male gods? Jehovah, Jesus, Allah … all lopsided religious systems. The past two thousand years of human history devoted to the male principle only. And now we have a world that is out of balance—koyaanisqatsi.
Whereas the ancients knew better. All ancient traditions believed that the feminine principle was inseparable from its polar opposite, the masculine. All the ancient religions wisely united the two, worshipping both male and female deities. Thus was reflected the very fabric of the manifest world: one life force permeates this world, but that life force is dual. Two opposite energies braid together—male and female, yang and yin, sun and moon, day and night…. To worship an exclusively male image of god is distorted, and in a sense, unnatural.
Fortunately, there were pockets of people in all great religions that secretly paid homage to the Feminine. In Christianity, the Knights Templar were one of those groups; they gave special allegiance to Magdalene disguised under the worship of Mary the Mother. It was really convenient they both had the same name, because Mary Magdalene, as every Christian soul has been taught for 1,500 years, was a sinful prostitute who repented.
At a mere thought of this I bristle. I want to shout—IT’S NOT TRUE! It’s a Christian tabloid. I feel suddenly hot. The softness and gentleness in which I’ve been basking are gone, replaced by revolt and fury. I’m ready to fight. That’s how I feel whenever I think about what the Church had done to Magdalene’s name, to women in general.
The casting of Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute is perhaps one of the greatest smear campaigns in the history of Western civilization. It was 600 years (!) after her lifetime that Magdalene was arbitrarily slapped with the libel of a “penitent whore” by the then Pope—and this, despite the complete lack of Biblical evidence to support it. Even when the gnostic gospel of Mary Magdalene was discovered in the late nineteenth century—the gospel that clearly showed that Magdalene was the favorite disciple of Jesus—it did little to change the situation. It was as late as 1969 that the Catholic Church officially removed the stigma of prostitution from Magdalene’s name.
In the South of France, however, Magdalene was all along venerated for what she really was—the beloved of Jesus and a spiritual teacher in her own right. Thus the continuity was maintained of a much older tradition, that of the Divine Feminine. And the Divine Feminine has two aspects—she is both a mother and a mistress. Hence the Black Madonna and Mary Magdalene were worshipped in the same place.
I see it so clearly now, in this crypt under the ground, in this dark vault lit dimly by a few bulbs on the ceiling: through the worship of Mary Magdalene was insured the survival of the ancient Great Goddess in her sexual function! The very archetype of the feminine principle that has been reviled and persecuted by “Churchianity” for centuries … centuries of burning pyres that consumed thousands and thousands of women….
In this moment, in this awe-inspiring place, I’m paying homage to all the women who perished on the pyres of men’s paranoid pursuit of power.
I stand up and look closer at the black statue, the walnut wood out of which it was made nine centuries ago. “I’m black, but comely,” a line from Solomon’s Song of Songs comes to mind, the most popular love song ever written. The black bride … the female principle gone underground.
Back up in the sun, outside the church, I feel exhausted, and so does Dwight. The energy in the crypt was so powerful, he tells me, it drained him. It was like a tightly-knit invisible fabric, protecting the crypt from any interference. I’m dazed in this bright, warm June sun, having just emerged from the darkness of the Earth’s womb—the two worlds juxtaposed.
The nearby stairs lead down to the port, and we take them without consulting the map. We don’t know where we’re going, but we follow where it feels right to go. The stairs deliver us not only to the little marina of the Old Port, but also to a brasserie, charming in its blue and white décor. A boat’s helmhangs above the door and the ropes line the flowered planters that surround the patio. We seat ourselves and order the menu of the day. Everything seems so beautiful—the boats, tranquil in the marina … the view of Marseille hugging the port … the mighty fort of St. John that guards the harbor entrance … Chateau d’If on a little island out in the sea, where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his two fictional heroes … the sun and sea and fragrant, briny air … our lunch, delicious.
A feeling gradually grows in me: I’ve come home. I’ve come to a place I’ve been searching for all this time. I’m so moved, a few tears roll down my cheeks.