Virtual Pilgrimage is one way to describe the ways in which I’ve been filing my pandemic time. The nice part of virtual events is that they are often recorded so they can be watched after the live broadcast. I’ve done a couple of these through Shift Network and recently finished watching “A Virtual Pilgrimage to the Black Madonna: Draw on the Liberating Powers of the Divine Healer as You Serve, Transform, and Take Action” with China Galland. China shared her knowledge of different iterations of the Black Madonna in Christianity as well as her experiences in traveling (all over the world) to places where statues or alters or churches are dedicated to the Black Madonna. She wrote a book called “Longing for Darkness,” which I have not read, but I think it was the basis of this virtual class. She dug deep in her research and in her experiences and found out that many of these places were not originally Christian. My first inclination after hearing that is to think yes, it seems that Christians will colonize just about everything. But, after listening to the similarities of attributes assigned to the more ancient goddess as well as to Mary the more I began to appreciate the connectedness of our (humankind) spiritual experiences. The archetype of the Black Madonna can be seen as powerful and meaningful though the lenses of multiple faith/spiritual traditions. There is something beautiful in the connections between Isis, Kali, Tara, Mary, and the idea of mother earth or other goddess based faiths.
Along with the course, I received bonus materials. My favorite was a Black Madonna Mini-Course from Andrew Harvey (originally recorded in 2014). He shared mystical experiences like China did but what I gleaned from his that was evident in China’s talks but not in such a direct way was what he calls The Seven Mystical Experiences of Black Madonna: 1. Queen of the Dark Void; 2. Queen of Destruction/Creation process; 3. Queen of the Shadow; 4. Queen of the Dark Night of the Soul process; 5. Queen of the dark fertile mistress of growth in nature; 6. Queen of ecstatic tantra; and 7. Queen of Sacred Outrage. I think if I had listened to his course first if I would have seen these aspects more clearly in China’s work. And I wonder if perhaps her book is more structured than her talks were. I did appreciate how much it felt like I was having a cup of tea with her and listening to stories about her mystical experiences. I found that the attributes of the Black Madonna were attributes I see in the holy and hope to cultivate in myself, compassion, mercy, creativity, care for earth, care for oppressed, comfort to those in difficult situations, etc.
The Spiritual practice each session and as a bonus segment was building and maintaining an altar. This session was a dialogue between China and Mirabai Starr (whom I also adore). Each of them shared what was on their home altars (yes they both had multiple) and how they maintained and renewed them. Mirabai shared that there was a time in her life when all forms of ‘god’ seemed unhelpful and her alters only had things from the natural world: pinecones, shells, branches, etc. China’s altars include (obviously) a variety of Black Madonna’s from her Catholic faith tradition as well as some from outside of her tradition. Both women have bells, candles, incense, water bowls, written prayers/notes, and personal/family mementos on their altars. Mirabai mentioned that even if she isn’t sitting at her main altar she often has a bell and a candle near her at all times so she can awaken herself to the presence of God everywhere. I liked the idea of personal mobile altar and as I looked around my “home office” I realized that I had unintentionally collect some of those items on or next to my desk. Currently, I have an oil diffuser, candles, cross, a communion set, and a vase (I just threw away the dead flowers yesterday) all within arms reach of my work space. I wonder if I reorganize in a way to create some intentional sacred space if the spiritual discipline of maintaining an altar (a place to pray and sit with God) would be an interesting practice to try.
China’s most recent book “Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves” was also part of her course. She was invited by a community to help them gain access to their cemetery (the reasons they didn’t have access were due to reconstruction, land takings, and generally racism). Her mystical experiences with the Black Madonna have inspired her racial justice activism. There is holy goodness in the darkness and if we were able to disconnect our association of the word darkness with evil perhaps we could also get at the root of racism and dismantle it. I admire her efforts to confront white supremacy as a means of spiritual growth. She says that our discomfort (for example in the work it takes to confront white supremacy and racism) is where spiritual growth happens and the Black Madonna is there to help us in the journey.