Related pilgrimage sites:
1. The ruins of Ephesus and the house of Mary (as in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians). Outside of Ephesus, Turkey is the house where Mother Mary lived with the Apostles John and Mary Magdalene after they fled Jerusalem because of persecutions. (For the entire history of this house see Donald Carroll’s book "Mary’s House", Christian Classics Co., 2002) From this house Mother Mary "ascended" into heaven.
I believe it is no coincident that for many centuries Ephesus had been the center of goddess worship and when it became the cradle of Mary’s official veneration in the church. The city boasted the mightiest temple to any goddess in the ancient world. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the largest building ever to have been constructed entirely of marble. Ephesus owed its fame and spirit to this temple. Even for modern standards the city’s government was compassionate and tolerant. It worshipped Artemis of Ephesus, an earth and mother goddess more ancient and primal than the Hellenistic Artemis.
In the shadow of this mighty goddess Mother Mary was safe from persecution and ascended into heaven. It was here that in the fourth century the largest building in Ephesus (the old Museion, not the Artemis temple) was converted into a church and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. (Some say this was the first church in Christendom to be dedicated to the Madonna, but other churches want to claim that honor too. It seems that the chapel in Spain, erected by St. James the Apostle after Our Lady appeared to him in 40 C.E., might qualify as the first.) In 431 C.E. the Third Ecumenical Council was held in Mary’s church in Ephesus and proclaimed her the Mother of God.
It is interesting that God/dess ordained for both Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, (according to the apocryphal gospels of Philip and of Mary Jesus favored her among the disciples and loved her devotedly) to die at this holy place of the Goddess.
Many scholars believe that Mary was declared the Mother of God and allowed to be venerated because of the need of the Hellenistic world for a heavenly feminine principle. They say it was a compromise with pagans in order for Christianity to become acceptable. While this is quite true, there may be more to it. What if the Holy Spirit, the feminine face of God/dess Herself was the one who made the connection between the divine feminine in Christianity and pre-Christian religions? What if God/dess Him/Herself uses Mary to make us see that there is only one God/dess who has the power to express him/herself in many faces?
2. This is, it seems, what S/he did most clearly in Mexico. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared in what is now Mexico City on the holy hill of Tepeyac, dedicated to Tonantzin, the Mother Earth goddess of the Aztecs. That is one reason why the bishop didn’t believe Juan Diego. He must have thought: "We know who appears on that mountain and it’s not the Virgin Mary but some pagan goddess!" Actually, the native Mexicans thought the same thing: "We know who appears on that hill: Tonantzin!" And so they referred to what we call ‘Virgin of Guadalupe’ as ‘Tonantzin’ for more than a century. To this day Mexicans know the Virgin if Guadalupe not as just another form of Mother Mary, but as a particularly Mexican Queen of Heaven. Just as the majority of Mexicans are of mixed Native Mexican and Spanish blood, so too their divine Mother is a mixted native and foreign heavenly person.
Human and Divine Triangles, or:
My Goddess is no wimp!
An article by Ella Rozett originally written for (but never published) a magazine called "Sage Woman: Celebrating the Goddess in Every Woman".
Some time around 1995 I received a Reiki treatment from a woman healer. When she performed some kind of sacred gestures over my female organs, a vision flashed before me: the Queen of Heaven with her crown and mantle forming a perfect equilateral triangle. It lasted only a few seconds, but long enough to let me know three things were important here: the perfect triangle, her divine power, and the name: a voice not coming from the triangle pronounced it as Santa Maria. – For me it was love at first sight.
Traditional Triangle Madonnas, left: Our Lady of Quinche, in Ecuador
right:Our Lady of the Rosary, Guatemala
I wasn’t raised Catholic and had never had any feelings for Mother Mary. But since 1982 I’d been meditating in Buddhist and Christian ways. There were days when I happily invoked God’s presence with the very patriarchal: Lord! Other times I felt a need for the feminine and called out for: Amma! I’ve used that word ever since I heard a Tibetan woman talk about how she got arrested by the Chinese. She said she could never forget the sound of her daughter screaming after her in utter desperation. She imitated that scream for us, filling a big conference room with a desperate yet powerfully loud and soulful Ahhhmahhh! That Amma stuck with me. And so I sometimes called, I did not know what Mother, with the exact same word that Tibetans, Hindus, Semites, and who knows who else, all use to call their divine mother. – Maybe that’s why Santa Maria came to me, because I unwittingly had called her.
Contemporary Triangle Madonnas, left by Dolores Delgado, right by Caroline Ometz
After the vision disappeared, my intuition suggested two things:
First, the triangle somehow seemed to be an ancient symbol of pure femininity.
Second, Santa Maria did not need any male God beside her. She seemed almighty to me, just like a Goddess. As far as I could tell with my admittedly very limited vision, there was no male God or Baby Jesus anywhere in sight. Just she was enough. (Some say that was the meaning of ‘virgin’ in antiquity: a woman who belonged to no man and was sufficient and perfect in and by herself.)
Now I had two problems. First, though my intuition told me that the triangle had to be an ancient symbol for the feminine, I had a hard time making sense of it and finding satisfying confirmation for it. A woman’s body certainly forms a lot more circles and curves than triangles. Of course there is the "pubic triangle", but it seemed to me to be present on men as well as women. Someone suggested that not only the pubic hair, but also the ovaries and uterus form a sort of triangle. But, perhaps because I am German and a virgo, (i.e. a perfectionist) that didn’t seem quite good enough. The ovaries and uterus don’t form a perfect equilateral triangle like the one in my vision. I wanted a real and perfect triangle that appears only on women. Yet I contented myself temporarily with what I had. After all Santa Maria appearing as a triangle at the moment when someone is doing a healing over my pubic triangle seemed like a pretty good hint. So I would sometimes place my hands on my ovaries, forming a triangle with my thumbs and index fingers. Then I would meditate on how if one flips that triangle up, one has the Goddess triangle. Hence I came to the conclusion that she is like the sun and each woman like a ray of her light.
Our Lady of San Juan De Los Lagos, Mexico, the actual statue and a common rendition
Later it occurred to me that when you put the two triangles together, you end up with the "star of David", symbol of Judaism. A rabbi explained to me that it symbolizes God’s movement towards us and humanity’s movement towards God. He was adamant about the triangle not symbolizing God himself. I suspect because he would want the Jewish God to point neither towards something like the Christian trinity, nor to the Free Masonic triangle, symbol for God on our dollar bills, nor to a Goddess triangle, for that matter. But what I want to know is: where did King David get this star? From the Jewish goddess Asherah? I found the only hint of that in Anita Diamant’s novel "The Red Tent", where Jewish women eat triangle shaped cakes in honor of their Goddess.
Only since I started writing this article, has God/dess finally led me to definitive answers. Ah, the value of putting things in writing! First I came across Shahrukh Husain’s book "The Goddess", which says that the triangle as a symbol for woman, earth, and/or goddess goes all the way back to the Paleolithic era, as early as 27,000 B.C.E.!
The book cites various religions that share this "genital triangle of the Goddess, widely known today by its Sanskrit name of yoni".1 Then it shows a picture of a stylized yoni that looks nothing like a triangle but like a drop. Somewhere it mentions an eye as the approximate shape of the vulva. Now that seemed like a more realistic shape for portraying it…. until my quest for a perfect and exclusive feminine triangle led me to a priestess of the Goddess tradition. She gave me some hints, but here I can only recommend: "Women, know thyselves!" Take a mirror, investigate, and you might be surprised at the perfection and number of your triangles!
Still, I did not find these discoveries a completely satisfying explanation for the symbol of a cosmic, feminine triangle. It seemed to me, there had to be more to it than body parts. I guess I too am a child of our era. Millennia of patriarchy have pretty much rooted out a spiritual appreciation of the gate through which women bring all of human life into this world, under unimaginable labor and pain. My apologies to all you mothers!
However, even Goddess worshippers interpret the three sides of the Goddess triangle as more than body parts. They see them as symbolic of the three phases of a woman’s life: the ‘maiden, mother, and crone’. They also speak of three phases of the moon. Yet, I find both divisions a bit random.
I rather like what I was taught at the university of Bonn, Germany: that divinity is threefold because it includes all things with their opposites and that, which transcends a thing and its opposite. This would mean that the female Goddess includes the male God and that which transcends male and female. It would also mean that the triangle would work just as well for the male God who includes the female Goddess and transcends male and female. Now that feels like proper spirituality, metaphysics, and gender politics in religion!
Of course the Santa Maria triangle may stem from the Christian trinity. This occurred to me only after years of deliberating the riddle, whereas other women get it right away. When I shared my vision with the interfaith meditation class I teach at a jail, a Baptist woman immediately commented: "She’s the trinity!" (Which was all the more amazing to me since the Baptists don’t see Mary as anything near divine.) When I confided the image to my Protestant mother, she said: "She’s the center of the trinity." In a 1947 apparition in Rome Our Lady affirmed herself: "I am the one that is of the Divine Trinity: daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and Spouse and Temple of the Holy Spirit." 2 Yet in contrast to these explanations, I did not perceive even a trace of anything masculine in the Santa Maria of my flash of a vision. I suppose it may still have been there though. If someone looked at me for two seconds, they would not notice the male hormones either, without which I could not function.An artist told me that the triangle is a symbol of dynamic power. That fits with the message of power I got from Santa Maria.
The second problem I had after my vision (besides trying to understand the symbolism of the triangle) was that from what I had heard and seen of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic church, she always seemed overly meek and submissive. No wonder my husband told me one day: "My friend Maddy says your goddess is a wimp!" Our friend insists that what she really said was: "The Virgin Mary is a disempowered, watered down face of the Great Goddess." Still sounds like a wimp to me, but no matter. I felt similarly about the Catholic church’s rendition of Mother Mary. It seemed to me that my mighty Santa Maria had very little to do with theirs. Yet I heard nobody but Catholics even talk about her. It seemed that only they might appreciate what it was like to see her. So I tried to be content with attending a church that at least calls her by the name with which she was introduced to me. But it wasn’t very fulfilling as far as my quest to get to know her more intimately. So how else was I to respond to her introduction to me?
The answer only came years later. One day I went to a fundraiser concert for the Catholic Aids ministry. Someone performed a song about Lourdes, the famous shrine in France where the Queen of Heaven, with the help of a peasant girl, manifested a miraculous healing well. In order to find the sacred well, Mother Mary instructed Bernadette to dig in the earth with her hands. The singer explained that this was symbolic for us having to dig through the layers of our subconscious in order to find the sacred well within. That was the first time I heard anything sensible said about Marian apparitions and I knew I had to find out more. So I started reading about Lourdes, Medjugorje, Fatima, Paris, Mexico City, and many other places where Santa Maria has appeared. What I found was that the Mary of the apparitions, the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, Divine Mother, Queen of Peace, Morning Star, and all the other great names she is known by, is the same powerful heavenly Mother I saw. This Maria isn’t submissive at all. She forms out of light and demands to be venerated with small and huge churches, with candle light processions, equally with Jesus. In 1920 she told the 10 year old Jacinta of Fatima: "Tell everybody that God gives graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Tell them to ask graces from her, and that the Heart of Jesus wishes to be venerated together with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Ask them to plead for peace from the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for the Lord has confided the peace of the world to her." 3 Right after World War I she warned that a second and worse war would come if the church did not consecrate the whole world to her Immaculate Heart. They did nothing, the war came and only in 1942 Pope Pius XII finally obeyed her. By then it was too late for countless millions.
Mary’s apparitions are said to have started in 40 A.D., when she was still alive.4More recently, in Medjugorje, Bosnia, she makes the sun dance, writes messages into the sky, unlocks prison doors, stops wars and warns of others. She acts as a spiritual director, exhorting us to constant prayer and to divine union. She likes to choose as her prophetesses simple girls, such as she was when she became the mother of Jesus. She hardly ever chooses to convey important messages through male clergy. (That may be one reason why the Church authorities have a love-hate relationship with her apparitions and scrutinize them with great suspicion.) She has millions of Catholic and Orthodox Christians madly in love with her, although most still want nothing to do with apparitions.
So I want to assure you, this Heavenly Mother is no wimp! I will admit however, that I sometimes get the feeling that she ‘bites her tongue’ so to speak. She knows that if she said something that was against Catholic dogmas she would immediately be condemned as an apparition of the devil and then she couldn’t serve the millions of faithful Catholics who stream to her. She does push the envelope, but she knows she can only go so far. At one point in the Middle Ages she had become so powerful that she was venerated more than the male trinity. To reestablish male dominance on earth and in heaven, Pope Pius V in the 16th century "prohibited all existing offices (rituals) and prayers to the Blessed Mother"5. The next Pope gave her back all her power and then some, the next one after him restricted her veneration again, and so it goes back and forth through history.
Now her divinity is a more or less open secret. It’s o.k. to call her Divine Mother and for centuries artists have depicted her in the same red and blue garments that symbolize Jesus’ human and divine natures. Yet a Catholic may not speak of Mary’s divinity as being a theological truth, only a poetic one. Only a rare theologian will acknowledge Mary’s divinity and only with the adage that hers is a gift from God whereas Jesus’s is by his own nature. She was a creature that was divinized; she wasn’t God to begin with. In that she is an example of what, according to mystical Christianity, we are all called to: becoming inseparably one with God – divinized, "inheriting the kingdom of God" as Paul calls it. Until the inquisition and the reformation (both anti-mystical movements), Christians used to summarize the whole Christian story by saying: "God became human so that humans could become God." It still says that in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church".6
Do the faithful care whether Mary’s divinity has always been her own true nature or was a later gift from a God who is portrayed as male? Some do, some don’t.
Here is my view on the issue: Let’s consider what the Bible says in Genesis 1:26-27: "Then the Gods (The Hebrew word is Elohim, which means gods, plural.) said: ‘Let us make the earthling (Hebrew: "adam" comes from "adama" = earth) in our image, after our likeness.’ (…) And God created the earthling in his image, in the divine image he created them; male and female he created them." So it seems obvious enough that God/dess has a male and a female face, which together are one, and that’s how God/dess created us too, male and female together as one.
This is not a revolutionary thought. For millennia the Judeo-Christian tradition has acknowledged a feminine aspect of God. The Spirit of God was often seen as feminine. In the Old Testament "Lady Wisdom" is a feminine aspect of God. The Jewish tradition has much to say about another feminine aspect of God, which they call Shekhinah. She represents God’s indwelling presence in the world, his compassion, his solidarity with the people of Israel, and more.
So God has a female face, the Holy Spirit, which "came upon Mary" (Luke 1:35) and made her conceive Jesus. That same Mary was "created in the image of God", like all of us. She achieved perfect divine union and was enthroned as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Thus she has become the most prominent manifestation of the feminine face of God known to Christians. The feminine Holy Spirit together with Mary of Nazareth turned Queen of Heaven give expression to the motherly face of Elohim – God/dess. Is this really so different from God Father, who, together with Jesus of Nazareth, Lord of the universe, gives expression to the male face of God/dess? In any case the female face manifests itself in Mary and the male face in Jesus.
Christians debated for centuries at what precise point in time Jesus became God’s son. If we want, we can have that same debate about Mary. Personally, for me it is enough to know that God/dess always had and always will have a feminine aspect and that Mother Mary is an expression of it at this point.
From what she told me in 2 or 3 seconds through symbol and word, she is both God/dess and saint, i.e. a human in union with God.
When the Jewish journalist Yossi Klein Halevi asked a nun in Israel: "Could you say something about the nature of devotion to Mary here in the convent?"7 she placed her finger against her lips and smiled. "It’s a secret. Not everyone would understand. Even Christians would think it’s excessive." I’d love to hear what millions of Christians are thinking about Mary behind their sealed lips!
As far as liberal politics are concerned, I must admit, my Heavenly Mother is sometimes politically "incorrect". She’s against abortion. I agree with her on that one. But she’s also against divorce, even when there is abuse and domestic violence. She likes celibacy, although she allows her modern prophet/esses to marry. She loves the Catholic Church although she cries about its state of affairs and reprimands its priests. She doesn’t believe in reincarnation, which I do. There have been days when I felt like denying the veracity of her apparitions because I disagreed with her. But then I realized, that would make me no better than those patriarchs who would call her the devil as soon as she said something they find politically disturbing. So I figure we don’t have to agree on everything right away. I give her respect and the benefit of the doubt and just leave some questions open for later. Maybe one day it’ll turn out that I was wrong, or that she was forced to compromise, or that her prophet/esses weren’t completely pure channels. Whatever the case may be, I’m sure glad she came to me.
1. Sharukh Husain, "The Goddess" Duncan Baird Publishers, London: 1997, p. 96
2. Brother Francis Mary Kalvelage, "Marian Shrines of Italy" Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford: 2000, p. 35
3. "Our Lady of Fatima’s Peace Plan from Heaven" Tan Books and Publishers, INC. Rockford: 1983, p.10
4. See Roy Abraham Varghese "God-Sent: A History of Accredited Apparitions of Mary", Crossroad Publishing Co, New York: 2000, p. 70. (I recommend skipping over the patriarchal introductions to these kinds of books.)
5. "Marian Shrines of Italy", p. 55 A good article about Mary’s power before that time can be found in Barbara G. Walker’s "The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets" under "Mary".
6. "Catechism of the Catholic Church", Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York: 1995, pp. 128-9
7. Yossi Klein Halevi, "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: a Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land" , Harper Collins Publishers, New York: 2002, p. 135