Monday, March 12, 2007

The Black Madonna: interview with China Galland

China Galland discusses the Black Madonna -- a mysterious image of divinity -- throughout many cultures and the ages, the goddesses' sublimation among white Western culture, and current traditions which still venerate the female Buddha in the modern world.

Capen: Well, China, your dream.......

Galland: The dream that I had recently about the Black Madonna: I woke up, I woke myself up, giving a lecture on the Black Madonna. My husband was still up in bed reading and he actually took notes and handed them to me after I woke up. (Laughs.) Because what I was saying in my dream was that now's the time to bring the Black Madonna forward, because she can hep us heal our tortured racial history with one another and give us a spiritual context in which we can be reconciled.

Capen: Now this is something that has been going on for years with you, this image is recurring. We talk about recurring dreams; here's an image in dreams that keeps coming back, so you made it your work and it has to do with unlocking something in you, too.

Galland: It has to do with unlocking something in me but I think it also has to do with something that's being unlocked in many people during this time. Because since the early 1980's there have been more and more books appearing about the Black Madonna. I've interviewed Jungian analysts like Marion Woodman in Canada, Dora Kalff in Switzerland, people like this who are saying that the Black Madonna is appearing in people's dreams, men and women. And signaling a transformation of consciousness. A very positive, powerful transformation of consciousness that's going on. And you know, a lot of people don't necessarily talk to others about their dreams or pay attention to them -- maybe they only tell someone like a therapist or an analyst -- but more and more people are reporting this phenomena, but always it's a positive image of transformation when she appears.



Capen: So we'll get to the racial aspect of it in the mundane world. But is there something that preceeds that, that's unlocked? What is this Black Madonna? What does it hold for people?

Galland: It holds many things, Stephen, for many people and it means something different in different cultures. Before there was a Black Madonna, and in many cultures around the World for my research I found there is this very powerful figure of a dark mother. She is the Earth Mother. So, in my opinion, one of the things that the Black Madonna is, is the contemporary manifestation of the ancient Earth Mother.

In pre Indo-European Europe -- I'm the European in terms of background. In pre Indo-European Europe, black meant life and fertility, white meant death. Which is the symbolism of the colors in China for example or in India. White is the color of mourning but black meant life. So this was the Earth Mother of what's called "old Europe" in archeological terms -- pre Indo-European Europe.

That's one supposition and one theory and given the number of cultures where there is a dark Earth Mother, whether it's the Pacho Mama in South America, or in Tibet, we have Tara who is most commonly depicted as Green Tara, or White Tara but she has multiple forms some of which are black.

And the Tibetan Buddhism arose out of bringing Buddhism in from India, and combining it with the earlier Bunpro tradition which again is an Earth-based tradition. In India you have the figure of Kali who is really a village diety, unlike Durga who is more Brumonic deity, who is the warrior queen. And Kali springs from Durga in the great Devi Mahatmia [possible spelling error -- WG] the myth of the female diety who comes when all the male gods have been defeated, and saves the World which is on the verge of destruction. And Kali, again another dark female figure comes from Durga, but actually has a very ancient history again coming out of Dravidian sources and Earth-based cultures. So I think this is the Earth Mother arising in this time. It's almost as though the Earth is speaking to us, dreaming through us, saying "come back to me, connect with me, be attentive to me, see yourself in relationship with me and as part of me. "



Capen: There was a book a few years ago it was entitled in fact, The Return of the Feminine. What does this mean to you? What does it mean for the World? We've come a long way since the matriarchal societies, many thousands of years, so a return to that means...

Galland: I think it probably means whatever it means to you. In different cultures we've assigned different behaviors to "the feminine" and what we might call the "masculine." So it is simply in my opinion a way of talking about, and it is very important not to confuse the subject and the object here, but it is a way of talking about reclaiming or intergrating or including that which has been left out. That which has been marginalized, that which has been trivialized, ignored and debased. And that might be something different in one culture than it might be in another.

So I don't, I don't want to get too rigid about it. I think it is extremely important to remember especially in our contemporary times of identity politics and division and all the fractionalizing that is happening, that masculine and feminine are simply descriptive terms. They're not things in an of themeselves, they are aspects of being. and my favorite story actually comes from Tara, who is the female Buddha in the Tibetan tradition, who at one time was actually an historical personage. And was noted and famous for her compassion, her generosity, her wisdom, her patience, her concentration. And everbody in that day and time traditionally believed that in order to be fully and completely enlightened you had to have a man's body.

And so this woman, who before her name was Tara, before she bacame enlightened, her name was Yeshi Dawa, which means wisdom moon. And Wisdom Moon was being encouraged to pray that she could be somehow magically transformed and receive a man's body, or that upon her next rebirth, she would receive a man's body, because that was the only thing missing, she was told, between herself and enlightenment. Her spiritual accomplishment was so great, all she needed was the male form. And she said to all the monks and holymens who were encouraging her in this direction 'Thank you very much, but I've long thought about this. Nowhere can I find what is male, nowhere can I find what is female. Worldy beings are always confused about this matter. These items, these aspects are simply aspects of being, masculine and feminine. No more seperate from one another than a wave is from water. Since most Buddhas have chosen to come in the form of a man, perhaps it would be more helpful if I chose,' and then she took a vow, 'to only be enlightened in a woman's body for all times until all suffering is ended in all worlds for all beings.' And so she was.

So this story in which Tara very clearly says, and this preceeds by thousands of years, any kind of feminism, or idea about masculine, feminine, and women's liberation. she simply, to me, this is really what the Buddha taught. Which is that one must be grounded in the truth of one's own experience. No matter what other people say. So this woman, against all received tradition, stood up to all the elevated personages of her day and said 'Thank you very much, I'm perfectly capable of being completely and fully enlightened myself, in this form as a woman.' And so she has been continually reincarnated since that time as a female.



Capen: Now the move into this area of prejudice. Having to do with black and white.

Galland: You're talking about racial prejudice.

Capen: Yes. You see an awakening going on. I think a number of people see this, but it seems to be part of your explorations. That there is an awakening at this point that is connected somehow on a symbolic plane with the Black Madonna.

Galland: For me it is. Because that is what's coming to me in my dreams. But ever since I saw the photograph of a cold Black Madonna in an enormous Benedictine monastery in Switzerland, Catholic monastery, and discovered that she was a Madonna especially revered in one of the main pilgrimage sites in Europe, I thought what in the world is this Black Madonna about? I grew up Catholoic and I never heard of a Black Madonna. When I went from India, from interviewing the Dali Lama, to Switzerland to see this Black Madonna, I first got into this material very innocently and naively.

I thought this is something very Jungian, Jung had seen this Madonna, went and visited it many times. She's outside of Zurich, near where Jung had lived. I thought oh, this is something about reclaiming the darkness within. People talk about the psyches and the shadow. This is about integration of personality, it has to do with wholeness, it couldn't have anything to do with race, it's in Switzerland, Switzerland is lily white. But Jung also maintained that this particular goddess was a manifestation of the goddess Isis. Now when I began to do my research for my last book, Longing For Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna, I discovered that Isis was in fact worshiped all throughout the Roman Empire whihc had extended as far north as Switzerland and Germany. Isis was an Egyptian deity, an African Egyptian deity. Whose main shrine and temple was at Philo, in southern Egypt, which is now in the area of the Kush [possible spelling error -- WG], which is Black Africa.

So Isis, too, like many of the female deities, many deities, had several forms, but some of which were black. And, as I said, she was worshiped throughout southern France and throughout the Roman Empire, and Italy. So there are, I began to understand that perhaps there was a racial connection. That the Black Madonna even in Switzerland, might be connected,and symbolize the race of the people who originally this image had come from. That is one possiblilty. I do not know for a fact. There is a great deal more research that needs to be done. I couldn't find any specific archeological evidence, but I didn't spend more than a month there. And I didn't know German. I would have to have done a lot more research to be able to make that explicit connection between the site at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, and Isis.



When I began to do the research and tried to find out why would Jung have said that, and discovered that Isis had been worshiped there, I began to do more research on Isis and how that figure was Helenized, and also worshiped by the Greeks, and translated in that time in the mesopotamian region into Artemis as well. And there was a black Artemis who was carried into France, and there are Black Madonna sites in France often found along the ancient tin routes of the Greeks, who brought with them a black Artemis. So this figure has many, many sources. As I said, Maria gim Buddist [possible spelling error -- WG] told me herself that she thought there was no necessity to look to the mesopotamian region or even to Egyptian Africa as a source for the Black Madonna in Europe. It could also be the pre Indo-European Earth Mother. I think we have to really talk about individual sites. Why is the Madonna black in Laredo, Italy Why is there a Black Madonna at Chartres Why is there a Black Madonna at Recommodore, Switzerland, Germany, Austria?

There are many Black Madonnas. Poland, the main patron of Poland is a Black Madonna. So I know of at least forty or fifty in Europe, myself, and some people would say that there are more. I would be more conservative, but there are many. Other people would say, that, one scholar I know, Lucia Bernbaum, whose written on the Black Madonnas in Italy, I think her position might be that she might take the lineage back further and say that they're black because originally all people were black. This is what the peleantologists are saying and showing us through the various migration routes, all coming from Africa. I think it would be difficult to prove something like that. I don't know that you need to go back to that argument.

But what it has brought up, and what I'm aware of now is that recently there is a work that has been published that I've not had the good fortune to see yet, but it is an atlas of human geneology, and the migration routes that was done by two professors at Stanford, was the result of 12 years of research of tracking the DNA, and the migration routes as part of the human genum project, an enormous scholarly project. And part of what they found in their research is that the white race is actually quite a newcomer on the scene that in fact what we think of as caucasian is actually a mixture of African, Asian, and, I'm sorry I'm blanking on the third aspect. I can look this article up for you. But in other words, what we call white is actually a mixture of other races. Primarily Asian and African.



So there is no such thing as white people. The whole idea of racial purity is a myth, in any case, and that is something else I discovered about the Black Madonna. For me as I began to understand the possible connections with Africa and with Egypt and migration routes and who we all come from in terms of all of us, initially, perhaps having come from Africa, in terms of the human family. And the book Longing For Darkness that was published in 1990, the Viking, and then the Penguin paperback came out a year later, and I began speaking more often and showing slides of these Black Madonnas. My consciousness began to shift, and I began to realize isn't it a little strange to be a white woman talking about these Black Madonnas? Why aren't there more black people in the audience? How is it to be a black person, what do they think about what I'm saying? And so I began to reach out and get to know people in other communities, whether it's the African-American community or the Latino community, or the Afro-Brazilian community. I've discovered the main patron of Brazil is a Black Madonna. Our lady of Aparasita[possible spelling error -- WG] -- who is called the mother of the excluded.

So this figure is found in many places around the world. I started developing friends in more diverse communities and having dialogues with people, and understanding more and more the racial implications. I don't believe the Black Madonna is black only because of Egyptian Africa or race. I think that is one factor. At some sites she is also black because what was worshiped there prior to Christianity was black meteorite stones that were called the diopodes that means fallen out of the sky, for example, in ephasis I know that that's the case in one of the great temples there. That eventually became a site for Madonna. So there are many reasons why they are black. But, today, I feel like she gives us a way to begin to speak to one another around the positive image of darkness. The Black Madonnas are all very powerful, they are miracle workers, they are healers.

When I show slides, which generally turns out to be primarily a white audience, there's often a few, a handful of African-Americans or peopel from other races that might be there, and its a wonderful way to open the door and acknowledge our diversity. This is a very positive image of darkness and in this culture, anybody of color has been so denegrated, I think it's very exciting and empowering to see this dark, feminine as an object of veneration, an object of devotion, and as a miracle worker, and a healer. And I think that is what her potential is for us. She has a great potential for being a healer. My experience of talking about her, and showing slides of her in mixed audiences and then inviting friends of mine, I have one African-American friend, a writer, Evelyn White, who herself was raised protestant, didn't have any particlular connection with the Madonna, didn't think anything about the Madonna, didn't know about Black Madonnas and found herself in Spain, being taken to see the Balck Madonna at Mont Serat. With no more thought than being taken to see a museum. O.K. your in Barcelona, one of the sights here to see is Our Lady of Mont Serat, who happens to be again, a Black Madonna.

Evelyn's experience was phenomenal, she said, she went in to see it and it was profoundly moving for her as an African American woman to see white people venerating this black woman. And she said she felt like people even treated her differently with a kind of curiosity and friendliness, but a kind of respect that she sometimes does not experience as an African-American woman. She said that she thinks every African-American should have the experience of seeing this madonna. I've talked to others who because in Protestantism, the madonna was thrown out with the reformation, and there was no image of the feminine in Protestantism, that was rejected altogether, it is not a figure that people relate to, necessarily. I think it is a rich vein that can be explored, and again it's this positive image of an aspect of the divine that we have to work with.



Capen: How will or how does the Catholic church receive ideas like this. the Catholic church is based on a trinity, a holy trininty, the quaternity was tossed out when this religion came into its own. And now your work is on behalf of the feminine aspect of this quaternity that's now missing in a huge religion that has a virtual stranglehold on many, many hundreds of millions of people. Do you work with people within the Catholic church, do you talk to people in the course of your research and how are you received?

Galland: I'm also a practicing Catholic. I'm a practicing Buddhist, a practicing Catholic, I , actually you could say I'm promiscuous with God. (laughs) I think the divine comes in many forms and that we make the differences, we make the problems, but I don't think the powers of love in the universe do that. I think that's our pettiness and need to try to puff ourselves up and make ourselves different and better and special. An I frankly ignore that. Yes, I talk about this to other Catholics. Many Catholics are like myself, they've never heard of a Black Madonna, much less seen one. I've thought, wouldn't it be amazing if all Catholic churches in this country had Black Madonnas, had Our Lady of Guadalupe, had other figures besides the usual syrupy white passive image of Mary that's often promulgated by the orthadoxy. The Black Madoonna for me is like, in Tibetan Buddhism they have this wonderful concept called a Terma.

A Terma is a teaching that was planted by a Buddha thousands of years ago, perhaps. It was hidden in a lake, in a cloud, in a rock, in the mind. It is found when it is needed, in the time in which it is needed. And for me the Black Madonna is an ancient figure. The Black Madonna Mont Serat is hundreds and hundreds of years old, the one in Poland goes back to some say the 8th century, it's probably more 13th or 14th century. There is a Black Madoona at Chartes, Einsiedeln dates back to the 9th century. These are ancient images of veneration, and some of them are at main pilgrimmage sites in Europe. It is main stream Catholicism, this is not some obscure, this is nothing occult obscure about this. So why are we suddenly becomming aware of her now? Noticing , this has been a common source of veneration in Europe and pilgrimmage for hundreds of years. I think it is because she has a teaching for us in this time. Part of the teaching is that we are to value diversity, value difference. She is showing us that that which is dark is also luminous, radiant, fertile, fecund, alive, earthy, flowering. And bringing us a completely different view of the darkness and showing us that it is something that need to be venerated, and not rejected or marginalized, but valued deeply.



Capen: So your research, this quest of yours, has taken you from Nepal in years past to Chile recently?

Galland: Brazil.

Capen: To Brazil, in just the recent times. Where will you go from here to follow this, track this story down?

Galland: Into my study, (laughs), into my cave (laughs), to digest and to try to continue to understand this and formulate it and to finish another book. It is due out next year, tentatively entitled The Sacred Feminine. I'm thinking of calling it "Bringing Heaven To Earth," or "I Will Build An Alter With The Pieces Of My Broken Heart." I don't know what it will be entitled, but once again you'll find the figures of Tara, the female Buddha in the Tibetan tradition, the Black Madonna, though this time in Latin America. But also women activists. Because what good is it to have all these ideals and stories in the religious systems if we don't live the values, that they embody. In this new work, I'm looking at women activists as well, who are living.

Capen: And a quick word on your own mentors. I hear a lot of your work echoing the words of Joseph Campbell, for example, who regards the modern day Catholic rituals as very hollow, that the religion has lost its power, and maybe, for this very reason we are discussing today in part. But your mentors, who have you looked to for your own guidance, whether living or not?



Galland: That's a hard question. I want to back up a second before I even begin to try to answer that. Maybe the rituals might be hollow now, but I think it is waht we bring to it. Any ritual can become hollow. Is the devotion alive in one's heart? That's where the ritual and the power really resides. My own experience in letting myself look again, I've been away from the Church for nearly thirty years, so by the time I had spent time in India and Nepal studying Buddhism, and really coming to know the stories of Tara and Durga and the various female dieties in that world, I had a much larger system in which to hold and view Mary, in the Catholic church. And to see her coming for example, in Yugoslavia in the appearances at Medjugorje as well, of course she would come in a form that would be recognized and familiar, in that world. For me, one of the things that has endeared Tara to me is that her compassion is so great, she will appear to us in whatever form we need to see her as. This is what I think the divine does.

Mary is simply a form within a culture that I am familiar with. But perhaps because of what I've studied, I have reimagined her. I was given a gift one day in a meditation, in which I wrote about in Longing For Darkness, I one time simply thought is was a meditation, I didn't realize that it was a gift, that it was a vision. It has haunted me and stayed with me and in fact has inspires this new work. It was a vision of seeing Mary, realizing that of course, the Mary that I grew up with or that I knew, or thought I knew was passive, because that would serve the social order. But that didn't mean that that's who Mary, the Mother of God was, or Mary God the Mother, or Mother God. I began to imagine from my own experience as a mother of three children, that no mother in her right mind stood there passively while her son was being crucified. I imagine that Mary, while Christ was on his way to Golgotha tried to take off the crown of thorns, tried to stop the soldiers from beating him. She did not stand passively by, Mothers don't do that. Of course we wouldn't have seen her as a fierce, ferocious, courageous, brave woman, who was not afraid, but who was outnumbered.



Capen: More in tune with the Goddesses such as Hecate or Kali.

Galland: Or Durga, who's fierce. And I know about this idea of fierceness because at least in the stories in India and Nepal, there are the fierce goddesses, the warrior goddesses that are alive and celebrated in those cultures. It occured to me that I could see Mary in another way, I could imagine her differently. I have, and that has completely reinvigorrated my whole relationship with this Mary. But I have come to her a new person, and she in turn has returned to me a new person. It has completely changed my relationship and I've begun to see how I limit myself in my own mind. The Catholic church is the Catholic church. It is a human insititution, it is fatally flawed. The Pope is an environmental disaster. That doesn't mean that there is nothing of value there, there are things of tremendous value there, and there are things that are terrible there. Absolutely dispicable. The role of the Church for example in Latin America in conjunction with the military juntas during dictatorships is to be despised and castigated. There were some lone priests and bishops and cardinals who were fabulous, and stood against the military juntas. But some were co-opted, and a great tragedy has resulted. But, again, it is a human institution.

There is also great hope and great energy there. I think that each religion has perhaps a different lesson that it has to give us and none of them have the whole picture. I know for myself the emphasis in my understanding of Christianity on forgiveness has been enormously helpful in my own life. In Buddhism the emphasis on compassion has taught me something else. The image of the fully enlightened female Buddha was extremely empowering. In Christianity, if you even had an image of the feminine it was this disempowered, passive idea we were given about Mary. See it's all in our own minds. We can reimagine that, we don't have to accept that. That's again, a gift for me, from the Buddha, who taught that we have to test everything like a goldsmith. To test gold against our own experience, you have to heat it up and pound it and chew it and taste it and smell it, before you decide this is a genuine article, and you accept it. For me, I've needed both these systems to be my companions on my journey. I draw from many, whatever works. To me this is really what the Buddha taught. That all of these systems are simply boats to get us to the other side and when you take a boat across the river you row a raft across the river, when you get out, as the Buddha said you leave the raft there, you don't carry it around on your back once you cross the river. We forget that these enormous systems are all tools to help us and we turn them into our opressors, but we should be able to put them down, like the boat, once we cross the river.

In terms of who my mentors are? Hmmm. The only one that comes to mind at the moment, and I'll probably think of fifty the minute we stop talking, but the one perhaps that's freshest in my mind at the moment is Laura Bonaparte, one of the founders of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Buenes Aries, where thirty thousand people were missing during the military junta. Now eighteen years later, they're still missing, and the Mothers of the Disappeared are still demonstrating every week in the Plaza del Mayo. Laura lost three of her four children, she lost all their spouses, she lost the father of her children and she lost the unborn child of her daughter, one of her two daughters who was murdered. This is a woman who somehow has not become embittered or broken or crazed. She's become larger, she's been transformed by embracing this whole ordeal, and phenomena, and understanding and naming the terrible sin of silence and the culture of complicity that allows this kind of tragedy to happen in a society. When I went to Auschwitz in 1987 in Poland, what was so striking, was not how terrible Hitler was, but how many people cooperated or turned their head, or didn't want to know. Because I rode the trains to Auschwitz, I was realizing as I was riding on the tracks going into Krakov that these were the same lines that people were brought in cattle cars in. And then when I went to Auschwitz and saw how large the area was, and saw the villages nearby that we passed though on the trains, I realized how many people didn't know what to do, didn't want to know, or cooperated. I realized that is the great terror, is the silence, is our own complicity, that we are all capable of. What in our society in America are we being complicit about? What is it that we turn away from? Is it the homeless? Is it our racism that is so endemic in American culture? There are many things that we shy away from, myself included. It is a constant process I think of coming to greater consciousness of what is it I'm not facing.

Here, for me, the Black Madonna has been a tremendously powerful figure because it also came to me during the writing of that book, Mary is dark. When I was in Poland, I spoke to the curator of this painting this priest who is a friend of the Popes who is appointed to take care of the icon at Chence de Hoven [possible spelling error -- WG]the patron of Poland, the Black Madonna of Poland. Who is actually not black the way the Swiss Madonna is, or Mont Serat, or some of the others, she is a very dark, earthy red-brown. But the Poles call her the Black Madonna, Charna Madonna. But this priest told me it is not really correct to call her the Black Madonna, she is actually cosmic red. The painter's intuition was that as this being decended to us she burned through the atmosphere and she darkened. It occurs to me that this Mary that I know and love is a Mary who is dark from entering lives on fire. That is why she is darkened, and the amount of suffering that I think she can hold and absorb has allowed me and helped me be able to be a witness to more and more suffering, both my own and others.

It is main stream Catholicism. This is not some obscure -- this is nothing occult -- The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. It is a human insititution.

Capen: Thank you, China.


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