Archives For The Virgin Mary

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

If the power of divinity was to be measured in the number of adherents, in the number of times they are invoked, in the number of images, statues, and icons depicting them, then Mary would be the most powerful of goddesses. The Christian Theotokos (“the one who gives birth to God”) has become ubiquitous, ecumenical, and multi-religious; an object of veneration for staunchly conservative Catholics,  jaded post-modernists, indigenous peoples in Mexico, and Vodouisants alike. In her new book “Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life” author Judith Dupre takes us on a journey through the art, history, and traditions that surround Mary, dedicating an early chapter to the connections between Mary and pre-Christian pagan goddesses.

“While Mary’s role in salvation can be detected in writings before the Council of Ephesus, the title Theotokos is from Isis, who had been called both the “Mother of the God” and the “Great Virgin.” Isis’s popularity, in fact, peaked in the eastern Mediterranean just as Christianity began to spread. When Mary replaced Isis in popular devotion, she also assimilated her symbols, an appropriation that can be observed frequently in the formation of Christian iconography. The familiar description of Mary from the first-century Book of Revelation as a woman who is “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars,” correlates closely to a second-century description of Isis, who emerges from the sea, her ringlets crowned with a diadem, on her forehead a moonlike disc, and wearing a mantle scattered with stars and a full moon that radiated flames of fire. (This is also how Our Lady of Guadalupe would appear, centuries later and half a world away, on Juan Diego’s cloak.)”

Far from being a dry academic tome, the book is filled with quotations, poetry, art, and a travelogue of visits to Mary shrines and places of sightings. Dupre counts herself as a devotee to Mary, and credits Our Lady of Guadalupe (and image of Mary long thought to be a Christianized version of the Aztec moon goddess Tonantzin) with saving the life of her son.

“I’d like to think of it as a book of hours, providing different glimpses of Mary that can be contemplated, savored, in light of a number of life circumstances that we often have little choice but to accept. Most of all, I wanted to make Mary real because that’s how I’ve experienced her in my own life, not as a distant figure from the past but as a loving mother and a living example of empowered womanhood. In these times, which are difficult for so many, Mary models an ideal way to live—faithfully, with grace and radical acceptance of what is and what cannot be changed. She has responded with such wit to my many prayers that I can’t help but think she also has a good sense of humor. So I think she’d appreciate Full of Grace—after all, what other book on Mary quotes Woody Allen, provides a recipe for Italian pepper biscuits, and tells you where to get your hair done in Palestine? Mary is real in every way!”

With the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe fast approaching, not to mention Christmas, this is a perfect time for Pagans to consider the place of Mary in our world today, and how the veneration of her many aspects and images represents the divine feminine for billions.

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 17, 2009 — 3 Comments

I have some other stories of note to share with you today, starting with the sad news that actor Edward Woodward, 79, passed away yesterday due to complications from pneumonia. Woodward is well-known to many Pagan film lovers as “Christian copper” Sgt. Howie from the original cult-classic 1973 film “The Wicker Man” (and better-known to most Americans as the lead in the 1980s vigilante series “The Equalizer”).

Edward Woodward in "The Wicker Man"

At news of his passing, “Wicker Man” director Robin Hardy said that Woodward was “one of the greatest actors of his generation”, while co-star Sir Christopher Lee called him “a good friend and a splendid actor”. Matt Holmes at “Obsessed With Film” says that Woodward (as Sgt. Howie) committed the most memorable “gut-wrenching” on-screen death ever, while Pagan film reviewer Peg Aloi offers a touching farewell.

“Woodward is remembered by many of his colleagues as a kind, warm man who told wonderful stories, as well as being a consummate actor. His distinguished career will long be remembered. In particular, his role as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man will be remembered for its complexity, subtlety and power. Howie is a repressive, seemingly cold-mannered police officer who eventually reveals stunning emotional depth and passion. Woodward’s portrayal unfolds with delicious tension and suspense, as the film builds to its shocking ending.”

Here’s to you Mr. Woodward, thank you for your work, may you find peace across the veil.

Turning from the sad news of this passing, to the optimistic idea of deeper understanding and communication between faiths, we have an interesting editorial from the national Catholic weekly America. There, Catholic priest and Harvard professor Francis X. Clooney, S.J., who has argued in the past against “bland secularism” at Catholic colleges, favoring instead a “religiously diverse” campus, talks about his experiences teaching the class “Hindu Goddesses and the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

“The mix of the course is thus quite extraordinary: some wonderful Hindu and Christian texts read by a great group of students, as we discuss a wide range of issues about scripture, our images of God and humanity, and what to make of the varied religious experiences of the human race. Harvard is not the place wherein to reach single, definite conclusions about truth, but I think that this learning across religious boundaries does open us to truth, to Truth. By studying the traditions of the goddesses and Mary together, we understand both more clearly; those of us who are Catholic at Harvard find ourselves brought closer to devotion to Mary, who holds her own in every discussion. The goddesses too fare well, though each of us has to make up her or his own mind on how to appropriate these goddess traditions.”

Perhaps there’s room in this world for Mary and the goddesses? That seems to be at least partially the gist, he even recounts how a group of students sing hymns to both Mary and the goddesses before each class, and how both the Catholics and the goddess-worshipers have deepened their understanding and practice. To read more about Clooney’s work, you should read his essay “Interreligious Dialogue: Goddess in the Classroom”, and check out his book, “Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary”.

In a final “War on Christmas” note, it seems the American Family Assn. is issuing its yearly call to boycott The Gap for not saying “Christmas” even though the clothing chain’s silly wince-inducing holiday ad name-checks several yule-tide holidays, including “Christmas”, “Hanukka”, and “Solstice”.

“It’s unlikely the new Gap ads will placate the psalm-singers in Tupelo. After all, in the spirit of inclusiveness, Christmas is mentioned in the same breath as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and solstice. The winter solstice, as everyone knows, is a pagan celebration, so — viewed through a peculiarly warped lens — the Gap ad puts Christians on the same level as a bunch of blue-paintedheathens dancing around a Yule log drinking mead out of a stag horn.”

The LA Times is dead-on the money, as the AFA has issued a boycott update saying the Christmas-invoking ad is “completely dismissive and disrespectful to those who celebrate the meaning and spirit of Christmas.” Yes, whatever happened to all those tasteful clothing-chain holiday ads that didn’t cheapen the holy Winter months by trying to sell you loads of stuff.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Despite the many theological and political problems I have with Roman Catholicism, I do carry a soft spot for the faith. I was baptised a Catholic, and many of my family members and loved ones are still active church-goers. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with their rich history of saints, and the unflinching social justice work of people like Dorothy Day.  Best of all, they have their very own active and thriving goddess tradition (at least that is what we Pagans would call it) in the form of Mary, mother of Jesus. Over the years I’ve kept my eye on the quiet movement to see Mary (officially) elevated to Co-Redemptrix (and Mediatrix), giving her a nearly (but not quite) equal role in the redemption of humanity. Now Pope Benedict XVI seems to be giving hints that he might be ready to make her status as Co-Redemptrix an official dogma.

The Assumption of the Virgin by Rubens.

“When Pope Benedict XVI told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square in April that the Virgin Mary “silently followed her son Jesus to Calvary, taking part with great suffering in his sacrifice, thus cooperating in the mystery of redemption and becoming mother of all believers,” most listeners probably heard nothing remarkable in the statement. After all, devotion to Mary is a pervasive element of the Catholic faith, and one of the features that most clearly distinguishes it from Protestantism. Yet for one group of devotees, Benedict’s statement was a milestone — a sign that he had moved one step closer to granting their wish for a new dogma on Mary’s contribution to human salvation. At least 7 million Catholics from more than 170 countries, including hundreds of bishops and cardinals, have reportedly signed petitions urging the pope to proclaim Mary “the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the coredemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.” In other words, the Virgin Mary — though always subordinate to and dependent on the will of Christ — plays an active, unique and irreplaceable role in helping her son deliver mankind from sin and death.”

The article mentions that many believe John Paul II wanted to make Mary Co-Redemptrix during his Papacy but was advised not to in order to not trouble the waters of Christian ecumenicism. However, some proponents of Mary as Co-Redemptrix say it would ultimately help ecumenical efforts because it would prove they don’t see Mary as part of the Holy Trinity.

“This would bring new clarity that Catholics do not adore Mary as a goddess,” Miravalle said. “It would underscore what Catholics do believe — that she is your spiritual mother — but at the same time that she is not the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity.”

While Benedict has criticized the idea of Mary as Co-Redemptrix in the past, he could be changing his tune in order to continue his efforts to unite and strengthen the Catholic Church. After all, Marians are often the staunchest, and in many cases, the most conservative, of Catholics and Benedict hasn’t seemed to mind courting controversy in reaching out to them. Besides, the fringe Protestant groups who demonize Catholics for worshipping the “Queen of Heaven”, and take credit for killing prominent Catholics with their prayers, aren’t going to stop simply because Benedict holds off on making Mary Co-Redemptrix. Why not officially acknowledge that which many rank-and-file already believe?

It remains to be seen if Benedict is truly sending out a “dog whistle” to Marians that he is with them, or if it is merely wishful thinking on the part of the Co-Redemptrix supporters. Certainly those of us who are interested in how non-Pagan religions engage with the divine feminine (whether they officially acknowledge her as that or not) will be keeping an eye out.