by Claire Norris (Berkeley, CA)

Most of us are familiar with the white Madonna in the pale blue cloak, the Virgin Mother Mary of the Catholic Church, a symbol of purity and piety. She has been painted by renowned artists throughout the centuries and her statue is found in churches throughout the world. For those who believe in her, the Virgin Mary is the source of unconditional love, nurturance, patience, caring, and help in times of trouble. She epitomizes the time-honored role of the good mother. She is there to give each one of her children what they need at any given time. This divine feminine archetype is the comforter and protector of all life.

The term archetype was coined by Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC – AD 50) to “denote an exemplar, pattern or model, literally first-molded, to refer to certain principal ideas.”i They can be defined as “universal forces originating at the highest levels of creation to shape the physical world of nature as well as the human soul...they are the prototypes or patterns that emanate from the spiritual world and are revealed in symbols, images, and gestures...flowers are an exquisite expression of these archetypal forces.”ii Archetypes can also be thought of as a pattern of energy or psychic structure held in the subconscious mind, common to all people. When an archetype is activated within us, we are aware of its energy through our emotions.

The pure Virgin Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, is one aspect of the divine feminine archetype. She is primarily associated with the protective maternal aspect of the feminine. A lesser known representation is the Black Madonna, Queen of the Earth, associated with empowerment, transformation and change. Her statues and shrines are found in many countries throughout Europe – primarily in France as well as Spain, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Germany, England, Ireland and Luxemburg. Both the Black Madonna and her white counterpart can be traced to the pre-Christian mother goddess.

The majority of Black Madonna statues were created in the Middle Ages. They fall into three major types.iii The first is the Byzantine icon style, produced in Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The second and third types are wooden statues typically around thirty inches tall. The oldest are the enthroned or “seat of wisdom” madonnas of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, found primarily in south-central France and known as Vierges Noires. Their facial expression is one of power, majesty and deep interiority.

The third type is the more common statue of the Black Madonna holding her child found in southern Germany and the Alpine region, dating back to the late thirteenth to mid-fifteenth centuries. There are numerous statues and paintings of the Black Madonna in churches, cathedrals and shrines throughout the world today. More than five hundred are estimated to be in Europe alone; not counting those in Latin America and Africa south of the Mediterranean.iv

The Black Madonna guides us through our darkness and represents the inner process of transformation. Her blackness has been attributed to the accumulated smoke from votive candles of the faithful, or the dark-skinned inhabitants of the Holy Land, or simply to artistic license. But we need to look deeper to the symbolic and spiritual meaning of her blackness—to the powerful attraction she holds for her devotees in terms of healing, inspiration and transformation.

According to author Ean Begg, she represents everything we could know in the blackness beyond physical sight, unperceived by our senses. She is associated with our deeper pain and trauma, the shadow side of our soul waiting for the light. “The Black Madonna, as an archetype, connotes an energy that carries the power to transform and heal.”v When there is a resonance with her energy, we feel the desire to make the journey to our inner darkness. Only by facing and integrating our shadow can we be made whole. “To Thee, Mother of all that has been hidden in Darkness, I devote my body and soul, so as to obtain for myself and others, thy blessings of healing on this earth and for all eternity.”vi

Our shadow side, our dark side, is buried in the subconscious mind. It contains all the unacceptable or disowned aspects of ourselves we don’t what to acknowledge or admit are part of who we are. Our repressed emotions and unresolved issues can become shadow material. All these stuck thought-forms create energy blockages within us and prevent us from reaching our full potential. Only by becoming aware of and accepting our shadow does it begin to lighten. In the words of Carl Jung from his Collected Works, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making...{the unconscious} conscious.”vii

One of the uses of the Black-Eyed Susan flower essence is to address the shadow aspects of the personality. The dark brown center of the flower, for which it is named, stimulates us to go into the dark depths of our own center within. Its golden petal-like rays extend out from the dark center reaching towards the light; and they bring the light back to the flower’s dark center. This flower essence can give us courage to go into the unknown parts of ourselves, prompting the process of inner healing to begin. “The Black-Eyed Susan is a powerful catalyst for confronting parts of the personality or traumatic episodes from the past that have been kept locked away in the recesses of the psyche. Often these unclaimed parts of the psyche operate as shadow parts of the personality.”viii

The Black Madonna archetype awakens in us a call to the darkness. She invites us into the darkness and into our depths. “Standing in the crypts of great cathedrals or upon alters of out of the way and humble churches or chapels, images of the Black Madonna are objects of intense veneration, prayer and pilgrimages that have been going on for centuries.”ix Pilgrims go to show their devotion to the Black Madonna and to honor the healing power inherent in her transforming darkness. “Blessed Black Madonna, Thou are filled with the healing energies of love, grace, and mercy. Into the depths of Thy dark mysteries I cast all of my thoughts, words and actions – my body and soul.x

This journey is not only about traveling to a particular place, but also about a journey to the depths within, a pilgrimage to the shrine of our own inner darkness. The Black-Eyed Susan flower essence can also take us on a pilgrimage to the center of our inner darkness. Through its vibrational imprint we are able to gain more insight and self-awareness; we are able to acknowledge and work with all aspects of the self. “This energy is already organized for us and when we bring it into the healing process, we are bringing a vast intelligence into the energetic form with which we are working.”xi The Black-Eyed Susan stimulates insight into the deep burdens we carry within and guides us to their release. Likewise, material representations of the Black Madonna stimulate a recognition and resonance with this living healing archetype.

Black Madonnas have a strong connection to the natural world and have been discovered in underground caves and grottos. They are black and fertile like the earth itself. They belong to the lower world, not the heavens above. Those who worship her are drawn to her darkness because she is a religious expression with archetypal grounding.xii Although not as dark, Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico is often characterized as a Black Madonna. Her connection to nature and the earth itself is beautifully depicted by author Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “...Our Lady of Guadalupe, she whose mantel is fashioned of moss from the north side of trees at sunset...her gown is soft, coarse-woven cloth with the thorns and weed seeds and petals of wild roses caught in it...she has dirty hands from growing things earthly.”xiii

The Black-Eyed Susan calls us to journey within to the darkness deep inside. A composite flower, the Black-Eyed Susan looks like one flower but is actually made up of two flower types – disc florets and ray florets. When the flower begins to open, the center disk is already dark brown. Gradually the ray florets unfurl, bringing a contrast of sunny, golden yellow. Darkness and light. The flowers grow about three inches wide with around twelve golden ray florets.

These bright flowers prefer to grow in open sunny fields and meadows. The plants grow a few feet tall, with the blooming flower at the end of the stem the plant’s predominant feature. Each stem typically holds a single flower, reaching for the light. In the center of the Black-Eyed Susan, hundreds of fertile, dark brown disk florets can each produce a seed.xiv  Likewise, in the fertile depths of darkness our shadow material can bring new growth to the soul. For those who do not at first heed the whispers of the Black-Eyed Susan, she will call louder. As the seeds ripen, her dark center becomes more pronounced – larger and more cone-shaped. “Come, let me guide you to the center of your dark depths with my sunny golden light.”

With the Black Madonna and the Black-Eyed Susan we can venture to the depths of our soul. Their rich, fertile, dark energy can guide us to the center within for true transformation and healing. Great emphasis is often placed in our culture on the value of enlightenment and reason. But it is through darkness that transformation takes place. What we have not made conscious does not go away, and if not made visible and integrated can make us unwell. Through flower essence therapy, through prayer, petition and pilgrimage, we can encounter and transmute the negative, darker aspects of our personalities that we have blocked from our conscious awareness and live a richer, more actualized life.

About Claire Norris

Claire Norris is the program manager at the Global Health Office, UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Her work includes program development, management and implementation, as well as student advising. She also serves as wellness coordinator for the School and provide information on various fitness, nutrition and health programs. Claire also is a certified herbalist and became a certified practitioner with FES in 2014.

Endnotes

i Cult of the Black Virgin, Ean Begg, Penguin Books, 1996

ii Flower Essence Society  www.flowersociety.org/archetype.htm

iii Black Madonnas, Hilary Ratna, Faith and Freedom, Vol. 61, Pt. 1, No. 166, 2008

iv The Cult of the Virgin: Offerings, Ornaments and Festivals, Marie-France Boyer, Thames & Hudson, 2000

v  Luminous Darkness: The Gateway to Understanding Opposites as Complements, Toni G. Boehm, Inner Visioning Press, 2004

vi Black Madonna Prayer, Sofia Christine, Port Townsend, WA  www.sofiachristine.com

vii Collected Works of Carl Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Bollington Foundation, Inc., 1959

viii Flower Essence Repertory, Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz, Flower Essence Society, 2004

ix Black Madonnas, Hilary Ratna, Faith and Freedom, Vol. 1, Pt. 1, No. 166, 2008

x Black Madonna Prayer, Sofia Christine, Port Townsend, WA  www.sofiachristine.com

xi Alchemical Healing: A Guide to Spiritual, Physical, and Transformational Medicine, Nicki Scully, Bear & Company, 2003

 

xii The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, Nancy Qualls-Corbett, Inner City Books, 1988

 

xiii Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Sounds True, Inc. 2011

xiv Black-eyed Susan, Barbara Nuffer, New York State Conservationist, August 2007


 


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