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Friday, May 25, 2012

     

The Virgin of Montserrat is a statue of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ venerated at the Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery in the Montserrat mountain in Catalonia. It is one of the black Madonnas of Europe, hence its familiar Catalan name, la Moreneta ("The little dark-skinned one").


The Black Madonna in the Novel

... The South was fertile ground for my fiction, but the novel was also affected by my spiritual and psychological pursuits and study. I did'n’t set out to put a black Virgin Mary in my novel; it just happened.

For a lot of years, I explored archetypal feminine images and stories from different cultures and religions, and particularly what happens to women when connections with these images are missing or devalued. One thing that became clear to me is that images of a divine mother are surprisingly important in the psychological wholeness of women, especially in the process of women taking up residence in their own authority. It was through this study that I became intrigued with the ways that Mary has quietly, even subversively, functioned as the feminine dimension of God in much of western religion. I read an essay by author Kathleen Norris in which she made the amazing statement that Mary is particularly suited to post-modernism. She didn’t elaborate on the reason, but my guess is that Mary, fresh with feminist appropriations, has the potential to undergird women’s reformations.

As I began the novel, I wanted the driving impetus in Lily’s life to be the search for home and for her mother. But clearly in the back of mind, I knew there was a less tangible, more symbolic search for home and mother that needed to take place: a coming home to herself and the discovery of the mother within. I knew Lily would have to find an undreamed of strength, and that she would do it the same way the powerful black women around her did it – through the empowerment of a divine feminine presence, in this case a Black Mary.

I felt that any image of Mary in the novel would have to be black. Not only because the women who revered her were black, but because historically Black Madonnas have often been at the root of insurgence. I first became aware of the Black Madonna in my late thirties through the writings of Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman. It was a revelation to me that hundreds of very old Black Madonnas exist in Europe and elsewhere, and that their darkness is a legacy of ancient black goddesses. I think of the Black Madonna as the White Madonna before the church scrubbed the really interesting stuff out of her. I began to study the Black Madonna, and to travel to her pilgrimage sites, especially in France. I discovered that many of her stories and history reveal a Mary who is openly defiant in the face of oppression. In Poland, South and Central America, and other places, she has been a symbol of revolution. I decided I would create a Black Madonna for the novel, who had existed during slavery in the South, and that she would be a symbol of freedom and consolation.

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