our mother the black madonna

The Great Mother remains true to her essential and eternal and mysterious darkness, in which she is the center of the mystery of existence.
— Erich Neumann
 The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

The Black Madonna of Einsiedeln

There is so much focus on the light.

Ideas of ascension and hierarchy point us toward the light, ask us to seek the light, reflect only light.

But light is not all there is. Light is not all that is holy.

Within us there is also darkness. There is shadow. 

Anger and fierceness, these too are love.


Who Is the Black Madonna?

She draws me in like a magnet. 

She looks straight at me and does not avert her gaze.

There is great truth in the heart of her deep mystery.

Surely you have seen her - a statue or painting of Mary with dark or black skin.

Medieval in origin, created by unknown artists, now generally found in Catholic and Orthodox countries, there are at least 400-500 Black Madonnas in Europe, 180 in France, and hundreds of copies.

Most are in churches or shrines where they are venerated by devotees.

Some are associated with miracles and attract pilgrims.

[the Madonna’s dark aspect is] the blackness of divine mystery celebrated by the great mystics who see the divine as forever unknowable, mysterious, beyond all our concepts, hidden from all our senses in a light so dazzling it registers on them as darkness.
— Scholar of mysticism, Andrew Harvey

Jungian analyst Marion Woodman brought this archetype of the feminine divine to the attention of psychology circles in her books, and if you look for the black madonna in fiction and other writings, you'll find her in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees and China Galland’s Longing for Darkness.

The Black Madonna as the Queen of Nature

Why is she dark?

Is she dark because of lead paint that deepened over time?

Is she blackened from exposure to heavy incense smoke?

The Madonna's skin is painted black, charred black, the black of volcanic stone and dark wood.

It is a sad fact that Jesus and the Virgin Mary have been widely, almost exclusively, portrayed as white, or light skinned. Is the Black Madonna a reference to Jesus and Mary's true identity as dark-skinned people? 

Is the Black Madonna of African origin? 

If you search for her meaning, you will find a variety of theories, sone reaching back into our pagan roots: the Black Madonna as a symbol of fertility and transformation, the recognition of the need to return to balance and wholeness, a way of honoring the earth. 

Some believe her dark skin references Isis and other African and eastern goddesses making her an ancient earth goddess who has been transformed into the Madonna, in other words, a goddess hiding within plain sight. As such, her black skin speaks to us of the feminine power of regeneration.

Others believe her darkness is a metaphor; Mary, the mother of God, the mother of us all, veiled to represent the deep mystery of wisdom and knowing.

Mary veiled within the Church, as women have historically been muted, hidden, silenced by the Church.

Theologian Matthew Fox says, “Her return is a sign of our times,” and certainly that seems true.

As her black skin calls us into our own collective shadow, her message feels immediate and crucial to our survival, as individuals and as a community.

The Black Madonna is the sacred feminine rooted in a body living on the earth. She has been burned and transformed by life. Through her loving acceptance of all of us, and valuing the interrelatedness of all life, the Black Madonna brings us to wholeness. At this time of world upheavals, she is coming to remind us of the sacredness of life, for the need to care for and nourish the earth, and ourselves and all sentient beings.
— The Black Madonna: Reclaiming the Dark: Towards Full Feminine Consciousnes


Our Crow Mother

In 1950s Austria, artist and Benedictine sister Meinrad Craighead came across an image of a black-skinned Madonna and began to learn about her, embracing her as the bearer of sorrows, the one who can receive and contain our most unbearable pain.

(Remember, white reflects light, black absorbs it.)

Craighead, who left the European Benedictines in the 1970s for the southwestern United States,  drew a connection between the Dark Madonna and the Native American Hopi spirit, Crow Mother, both images of the feminine divine who both care for us and challenge us.

 Native American Hopi Carved Crow Mother Katsina Doll

Native American Hopi Carved Crow Mother Katsina Doll

She is Crow, black as the night sky and the richest soil, dark as the miracle of deeply watered earth in the arid Southwest. She is the mother who fertilizes all life. She visits Hopi villages to initiate the young in the predawn winter darkness. She is the Keeper of the Balance...science now shows us pragmatically what people in both the Old World and the New have probably always known forever, with their deep hunches about our origins. Black is holy. It’s the mysteries of the night sky. We both come from and are contained somehow by this darkness.
— Meinrad Craighead

The Dark Madonna is the early Madonna, the original Madonna.

And while there's much we don't know about her, we know that black is holy.

We know that darkness is rich with meaning.

We find ourselves in the shadow.

The Great Mother waits for us there.


For Your Journal:

How do I feel when I look at images of the black madonna? What rises in me?

Where does my life feel out of balance?

What parts of myself or my experience to I hide from the world?

What within me seeks healing?

What do I seek to transform?