Svetlana Meritt | Coming home to the Black Madonna

“You’ve been unusually quiet,” remarks Dwight when we finish our lunch.

He’s right; I haven’t said a word, very unlike me.

“What’s going on?” he insists.

I open my mouth but don’t know where to begin. All of a sudden, a torrent of words is rushing to get out. “It—it feels like I’ve come home.” My voice surprises me; it sounds thick and hoarse. But then all the emotions I felt, all the insights that flashed through my mind, everything that stirred, simmered, swelled, and surged in my heart down in the crypt comes out in one big wave of words.

Dwight is taken aback. He looks at me at first surprised, then probing; then he begins to nod. “So,” he says when I stop to take a breath, “you’re reclaiming your heritage.”

“Heritage? What do you mean?”

“Mary Magdalene, what she stands for, it’s about you, your own voice, your roots. Before you can find your path and your mission in life, you have to know your origins, where you come from.”

In my head, wheels are turning. I stare at Dwight, emotions choking my throat. When I have my voice under control again, I utter, “It’s about my past lives, isn’t it?”

Instead of replying, he asks, “What does she represent to you, Mary Magdalene?”

I pause for a moment to think but don’t need to, the answer comes from my entire being, my body and heart. “She unites spirituality and sexuality,” I say quietly, strangely certain. “She represents Sophia, the deeply feminine wisdom which incorporates the sexual aspect.”

“And you were her priestess, in some distant past,” Dwight adds, “serving the Goddess of Love/Wisdom. You know the ways of the body instinctively. You were born with that. And now you know the ways of wisdom too. You’ve been retrieving it rapidly.”

After all the emotional upheaval, calm has settled in my heart. Dwight’s words came as no surprise. I’ve known it all along, but not consciously. Even in my youth, making love was a ritual for me; it required a special setting: music, dance, candles, fragrance. There was beauty to be created in that coming together of a male and female body, and I was the conduit; I created the magic of love that transported my lover beyond himself. Even then when I didn’t know anything of what I now know, I was dedicating the sexual act to the union of a god and goddess. In my body, I enacted the goddess; my lover I consecrated as the god.

“In the past, the temple priestesses were the sacred servants of the love goddess,” Dwight continues. “They initiated men into the mysteries; they opened for men the way to God. Those ways were rendered sinful by the moral judgment of the Church. Even though Jesus himself was partaking of them.”

I look at Dwight with gratitude. There is something—I grew to dislike this word but there is no other way to say it—empowering in reclaiming your past heritage. It’s like finding a missing foundation. Knowing where you come from gives confidence, a sense of inner poise.

So these are my roots, I say to myself, the tradition I come from. It may not be my way in the future (in fact, most certainly it won’t), but it’s nevertheless a part of me. I should embrace it, so that it becomes a source of strength.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure standing by our table. I turn to face Annie, our waitress, who is standing relaxed, watching us, a smile of approval on her tanned face.

“I see you have each other,” she says, winking, “but maybe you’d like a dessert too?”

“By all means,” exclaims Dwight, and with that we launch into a conversation.

Thinking back to this encounter, I recognize in Annie the spirit of the Marseille woman—cheeky, uninhibited, straight-forward, strong. I find that spirit in the iconic painting of Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix: the figure of a robust woman, her face aflame, bare-breasted, the flag of the French Revolution thrust in one hand, while with the other she’s brandishing a bayonetted musket. The figure of the warrior-goddess. (Sexy, at that!) I find that spirit also in the Marseillaise, the song of revolution (later to become the French national anthem), the epitome of the fight against tyranny and oppression.

Annie has something of that warrior spirit. She’s used to dealing with sailors from all over the world. She’s strong and feminine at the same time. It’s the strength that comes from knowing her femininity and fully accepting it. I immediately like her.

“So you would like to live in Marseille,” she slowly repeats my last sentence. By now, we’ve invited her to join us at the table. It’s very late and we’re the last guests. I admire the line of her shoulders that makes a strong curve into her arms. Her skin is glistening. I remember the line from one of Pablo Neruda’s love poems, “… the fine and firm feminine form.” I’m looking at one. Every now and then she tosses her black hair and makes a little sound, something between a brief, throaty laughter and a giggle. How does she do it? It’s so sexy.

“You have to know where to look for apartments,” Annie continues. “There are sixteen arrondissements in Marseille. In some, you don’t want to get lost. Others, there is no way you can afford.” She tilts her head and looks at me, then at Dwight. “I’ll help you find an apartment. If you come back here, I’ll bring the paper with rental ads and we can go through them together.”

Oh, heavens, am I dreaming or is it finally happening? The long-awaited help … to lead us where we’re supposed to live!

Dwight jumps at the offer right away. “When should we come back?”

Annie frowns for a second, counting on her fingers, then says, “Thursday. The paper comes out on Thursday.” And she makes that throaty giggle, gets up, and straightens her tight, very tight black skirt.



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