Throughout the ages the image of the black madonna has elicited profound veneration, but also intense trepidation and even abhorrence from its observers. While Catholics have sought to denigrate and even to shun the numerous Black Madonnas scattered throughout their own European churches—the followers of the older, nature-centered and alternative faiths have traditionally praised its beauty and uplifting power. In 1952 during a convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, representatives of the church made their feelings clear when a paper on the Black Madonna was presented. Abruptly the attendant priests and nuns rose and walked out in protest. The shocking disdain for the Black Madonna left reporters scrambling for clues to this “skeleton in the (church) closet” which the mere mention of the Black Madonna had invoked. It has since been speculated that paganistic origins for the Black Madonna could have sparked such surprising behavior, and more recently, with the controversy stirred up by The Da Vinci Code, it has been conjectured that it was somehow connected to the forbidden secrets of Mary Magdalene.
Members of the modern Knight templar organization are free to speak and research both the Black Madonna and Mary Magdalene, who is venerated as one of the organization’s patrons. Wisdom regarding both forms of the Goddess or female principle has been passed down among templars for centuries. According to the archives of the International Order of Gnostic Templars (www.GnosticTemplars.org), a division of the Scottish Knight Templars, Templar history related to Mary and the Black Madonna began with templar origins, when the founder of the Rule, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, composed literally hundreds of songs and sermons in honor of Mary Magdalene, and even mobilized the second crusade from Mary’s headquarters at Vezelay. But beside Mary Magdalene, St. Bernard has also been acknowledged to be a worshipper of the Goddess in her other forms, including that of the Gnostic Sophia.
When Templars arrived in the Middle East their “Goddess” education was furthered by the Goddess-worshipping Sufis, Islamic adepts who originally created Mecca as a goddess shrine and later inspired the Moslems’ “Goddess” flag with its goddess-related symbology of eight- or five-pointed stars and crescent moons. These adepts were the guardians of a tradition that had been faithfully preserved for thousands of years in the Middle East. From them Templars learned that beginning as far back as 4,000 BCE in ancient Anatolia and Sumeria, the goddess had been worshipped as Cybele, Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, and Artemis—to name but a few of her manifold personifications. But although Sufi indoctrination opened new vistas for Templars, this wisdom was not entirely foreign to them. Templars had already become familiar with some of the Goddess’s Middle Eastern manifestations back in France. The image of Cybele had returned from Asia many years previously with the Roman legions and she had been enthusiastically adopted by the ancestors of Lyons as a patroness. Artemis had similarly found a home as patroness of Marseilles, and the Egyptian Isis had been crowned Queen of Paris. But even though her black images had been part of French culture for many years, it was not until their arrival in the Middle East that Templars truly began to understand the essence of the Goddess.
The Sufis taught that the Goddess was actually the third “person” of the Catholic trinity, the Holy Spirit, which was the power that descended upon the apostles on the day of pentecost. Templars also learned that as the Holy Spirit the goddess could not only bless us, but could also manifest all our desires. She was the universal energy that emanated from God and possessed the ability to create, preserve, or destroy whenever called upon. Her three powers were personified by her diverse images, some of which reflected her role as the beneficent Mother Nature, while others, especially in her more grotesque forms, revealed her power to destroy. The Black Madonna was a reflection of the Goddess’s destructive power, but the Sufi practitioners of yoga and alchemy also informed the templars that this power was benevolent since it could alchemically transform a seeker of wisdom into an enlightened adept. It accomplished this evolution by destroying all the distorted concepts and egotistical predispositions that keep such a person from knowing the intuitive secrets of the universe that exist within his or her own heart. Such intuitive wisdom, it was learned, is known as gnosis.
The Sufis revealed that the worship of the destructive/transformative power embodied within the black image of the Goddess had, over thousands of years, become common- place in the Middle East. And they had been specifically made by craftsmen to amplify this force. The venerated Black Madonnas of the East had been made of a dark or black conductive and amplifying material—such as a hard wood, stone or meteorite—in order to better transmit their power to their worshippers. A huge black meteorite had been the original image of Cybele, just as it had been for Aphrodite or Venus. Meteorites found along the coast of Asia Minor had been traditionally gathered up as manifestations of Venus and installed in small temples dedicated to the Goddess. Goddess mystery school traditions eventually grew up around these black images since it was found that they exerted a magical effect on the human energy system. With current scientific knowledge we have learned that their “magic” created currents of energy which pulsed within the human electro-magnetic field, an effect caused by their high density and concentration of iron and nickel. Ultimately, their effect would have elevated a person to ecstasy while also initiating him or her into spiritual life by activating the normally dormant evolutionary force at the base of the spine. This power, known in the East as Baraka and Kundalini, can lead one, it is believed, to immortality, which is why in ancient times meteorites were recognized as both Holy Grails and Philosophers’ Stones.
The Sufi love of the Goddess and their unparalleled understanding of her alchemical power personified as the Black Madonna completely resonated with the templars. Thus, when they returned from their respective tours of duty in the Middle East they made a point of bringing back many statuettes of the Black Madonna for local Templar preceptories and the Gothic cathedrals they were in the process of building. In fact, it was principally because of templar influence that by the time of their demise in 1307 it is estimated that there were upwards of 190 prized images of the Black Madonna venerated throughout France.
Templars installed some of their most prized Black Madonnas in chapels in the Languedoc region of France. The Languedoc was a hot bed for all things heretical, and it eventually became famous for harboring perhaps the most hated of Catholic heresies, the Cathar Gnostic faith. Interspersed among the Cathars were many practitioners of alchemy, learned from the Sufis—reputed to be the greatest alchemists of the time. Alchemy, it is believed, leads to the awakening of the inner centers of intuitive wisdom or gnosis. And the pursuit of gnosis leads to inner, alchemical transformation.
Such heretics were safe in the Languedoc to practice the alchemy acquired from the Sufis. Alongside the alchemy experiments were observed the rites of Johannite Christianity, an ancient Gnostic tradition inherited in the Holy Land. The elders of this alternate branch of Christianity taught that Jesus had established not one but two lineages of Christians, the Catholic Christians of St. Peter and the Gnostic/alchemical or Johannite Christian lineage of John the Apostle and Mary Magdalene. Jesus had, according to their tradition, himself become a Gnostic through his training with John the Baptist, who was regarded by the Johannites as co-Messiah with Jesus. After Jesus transmitted Gnostic Christianity to John the Divine, the alternate Christian lineage had passed down a long line of Grand Masters named “John” until the First Crusade. At that time the lineage was inherited by the templars and their first Grand Master, Hughes de Payen, became the titular John of the lineage. From that time onwards templars were married to the Gnostic path.
In recognition of the Johannite Christian heritage templars dedicated their churches in the Languedoc to John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene and placed alchemical images of the Black Madonna within them or in close proximity. Templars also built a series of Gothic cathedrals in northern Europe dedicated to John or Mary and installed Black Madonnas upon their main altars. The dimensions of these cathedrals, which were based upon sacred geometry taught by the Sufis, were designed to generate the alchemical power of the Black Madonna and elicit states of gnostic awareness. Seven of these cathedrals were anciently built over the seven chakra points of Europe. An ancient pilgrimage route of the seven sites founded by the early Johannite Templars was designed to activate the seven human chakra points – which are considered to be centers of gnostic awareness. Beginning at Santiago de Compostella in Spain, and then moving up the European spine to the French cities of Toulouse, Orleans, Chartres, Paris, Amiens, and then finally culminating at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, these seven cathedrals are marked abundantly with Johannite, alchemical and Goddess symbolism. Black Madonnas were once prolific in these cathedrals, and many of them once had labyrinths covering their floors. Even the original floor of Rosslyn Chapel was originally covered with a labyrinth. The Templars understood that the labyrinth, a geometrical form body of the Goddess, is one of the best tools for alchemy and gnosis in existence. The idea is that, as one walks the back and forth maze of a labyrinth, the two hemispheres of the brain begin to act in unison and intellect unites with intuition to produce gnosis. Alchemy is also stimulated internally as the body’s intrinsic polarity harmonizes and unites to activate the latent alchemical fire.
Some of the sites of Europe’s towering cathedrals, such as at Chartres, had since the time of the Celtic Druids been places of Goddess worship and divination. Legend has it that there was a Madonna at Chartres hundreds or even thousands of years before the birth of Christ, so obviously the image could not possibly have represented the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It was, no doubt, related to the pre-Christian nature religion that once covered Europe, and was, therefore, an image of the Goddess holding her Son, the Green Man or Lord of Nature. The time-worn legend of this nature cult held that the Goddess was the barren earth who gave birth each spring to a Son manifesting as all the fledgling buds and sprouts of the season. The Son grew very quickly—reflected by the rapidly growing vegetation— and then died each year in the fall with the falling leaves. During his short life he also became the lover of his mother, who then became extremely distraught at his passing in the fall. This popular nature legend spread throughout Europe, the Middle East and Egypt, and precipitated the creation of many nature festivals, including Easter. Within the Mesopotamian nature cult the early Madonnas represented the Goddess Inanna or Ishar, whose Son/lover was the nature god Dammuzi or Tammuz; in Anatolia they denoted Cybele and her Son/lover Attis; and in Syria they symbolized Astarte or Aphrodite and her beloved was Adonis, a nature god who, like the waxing and waning life force of the growing season, was forced to spend part of the year underground. Even in Egypt, the original Black Madonna and Son—Isis and Horus—represented the Goddess and Green Man. When the Egyptian Green Man, Osiris, died each fall it was said that Isis would revive him long enough to mate with him and conceive Horus. According to one perspective, Horus was thus Green Man Osiris reborn.
When the Catholic church was formed it borrowed many of the rites, holidays and images of the early nature cult, including the Black Madonna and her Son. They also co-opted many elements of the legend of the Lord of Nature and wove them into the life story of their savior Son, Jesus. This was possible because the legend of the Lord of Nature had, by that time, acquired both a mundane and spiritual interpretation; to some he represented the forms of nature, and to others he was the savior and archetypal initiate. In Egypt, for example, the mundane understanding of the Green Man, Osiris, maintained that he was the personification of nature that died and is then reborn each year, but the spiritual interpretation of the legend taught within the mystery schools recognized Osiris to be the archetypal initiate whose death in the fall and resurrection in the spring denoted the egoic death and spiritual rebirth of an Egyptian adept.
Thus, the archived Templar histories have revealed that Templars must have known the Black Madonna and her Son as not only the Goddess and Green Man, but also as the transformative Goddess who gives “birth” to the archetypal initiate and coddles him to spiritual maturity—or gnosis. Since the Church was no doubt aware of these early “pagan” associations, then its current disdain for the Black Madonna is understandable. The Church has always sought to distance itself from the earlier pagan traditions it so abundantly borrowed from, and it has consistently opposed all alchemical paths that lead to gnosis. As some mystics have demonstrated, such a path can invariably lead to the inner revelation of “I am Infinite,” or simply “I am God,” a proclamation that goes decidedly against the grain of Catholic doctrine.
Finally, the church’s abhorrence of the Black Madonna may also stem from the fact that in some circles she is associated with Mary Magdalene. In fact, there are those who believe it is she who is embodied and immortalized as the dark image. If this is indeed true, the Catholic church is more likely than ever to be virulently opposed to any veneration of the image of the Black Madonna, especially now that the Nag Hammadi gospels have been found to portray Mary as the favorite disciple, wife, and even true successor of Jesus.
Mark Amaru Pinkham and his wife, Andrea, are the North American Grand Prior and Prioress of the International Order of Gnostic Templars (www.GnosticTemplars.org), a division of the Scottish Knight Templars. Andrea will be facilitating a tour to many Black Madonna sites in Europe during her “Sacred Sites of the Divine Feminine” tour this coming September 18-27, 2008 (www.BodyMindSpiritJourneys.com).