Saturday, August 14, 2010

Assumption Day 2010: Blessed Art Thou Among Women

By Nancy Qualls-Corbett

For two millennia throughout all Christendom the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been adored. From the lofty world’s cathedrals to the smallest Christmas crèche that adorns a humble family dwelling her representation is present. Anthems are sung to her, voices are raised to praise her name, her very being. And yet standing back with some reflection, are we consciously aware of a deeper, more significant meaning of Mary? In re-imagining Mary, may we broaden our understanding of the profound psychological value her image holds for us.

Some years ago I was privileged to visit the caves at Lascaux in France to view the magnificent, bigger than life, prehistoric cave paintings. These depictions of noble beasts were majestic; some only in outline while others were painted in intricate detail with pigments made from minerals of the earth. I physically felt as I sensed this deep underground cave that it was permeated by the instinctual spiritual wisdom of twenty thousand years. It was as though the cave paintings were primitive man’s first expression of his soul. A numinous sense surrounded me as I knew myself to be in this holy place. It was not so surprising after such an awe-inspiring experience that I had a dream the following night. The dream was this:
I was once again in the cave of Lascaux filled with wonderment while viewing the paintings of wild animals on the walls and ceiling. Directly in front of me on the cave wall I begin to see a bare outline of a figure as if scratched into the wall. And then the outline became emboldened in black charcoal as if painted by unseen hands. While I continued to look with amazement, the figure began to take on more definition and color. I then realized I was viewing the image of the Virgin Mary… there on the wall of a most primordial setting.
I awoke from the dream with a start. As my conscious mind was reviewing the detail, the image of Mary created more than a little discomfort within me. I realized I had envisioned, in symbolic form, the archetypal aspects of the divine feminine nature. There in the earth’s womb-cave, ever so deep and dark in the realm of the collective unconscious, was the image of the Great Mother, which we most often in our Christian culture depict in our mind’s eye as the blessed Mother of Christ. We continue to look upon her image to understand her meaning in our modern day life, aspects of the feminine in our own psychologies.

Through the centuries the idealization of the blessed Virgin perhaps has inspired more masterpieces of art and great architecture than any living figure, as author Mariann Burke beautifully explores in the following pages. We see her as the youthful, blissful and serene Madonna, her adoring gaze on her infant child. Her slender fingers caress the child, as her long, slim neck turns gracefully arching downward. Or we see her as the Mater Dolorosa, the Pieta, her face wracked with pain and anguish or with a far away gaze of contemplative surrender. We also know her from myths and works of art as the Queen of Heaven seated on her throne or standing on the crescent moon with the milk flowing freely from her breast forming the Milky Way. We know of the lofty cathedrals painstakingly crafted throughout centuries that were erected in her honor and which bear her name. There is no question that her image has inspired artisans throughout all Christendom as did her image evoke prayers and supplications from kings and peasants alike. In our Christian mythology it is Mary’s image that may be experienced as the archetypal mother goddess, the good breast, comforting and nurturing.

Pope Pius XII’s proclamation in 1950 that Mary was taken up, body and soul, into heaven could not have been received with more understanding and joy than by Dr. Carl Jung. He writes:
When in 1938 I originally wrote this paper, [Psychological Aspect of the Mother Archetype] I naturally did not know that twelve years later the Christian version of the mother archetype would be elevated to the rank of a dogmatic truth. The Christian “Queen of Heaven” has, obviously, shed all her Olympian qualities except for her brightness, goodness and eternality; and even her human body, the thing most prone to gross material corruption, has put on an ethereal incorruptibility…The relationship to the earth and to matter is one of the inalienable qualities of the mother archetype. So when a figure that is conditioned by this archetype is represented as having been taken up into heaven, the realm of the spirit, this indicates a union of earth and heaven or of matter and spirit.1
Our ancestors had already expressed in their paintings praising Nature, as the caves of Lascaux demonstrate, this longing for union of matter and spirit. However, these primitive paintings today are becoming endangered, if not destroyed, by the presence by a pernicious fungus obscuring or even obliterating them. We, too, in our present day culture have all but lost the true image of Mary. It has become obscure to us through insidious means. Through patriarchal edicts Mary has been relegated to the adoring or grieving mother, the mother who was declared a virgin, meaning asexual. We often take her story literally, and ignore the symbolic, the psychological realm. She has been relegated to less than the whole of the Great Mother archetype, the feminine reflection that is sensuous and fertile, an icon of woman who is earthy and who is one-in-herself.

As author and analyst Mariann Burke wisely guides us and reawakens us to a renewed vision of Mary, we consciously begin to understand the extent of what her image embodies."

Nancy Qualls-Corbett, author of The Sacred Prostitute and Awakening Woman.

1. C.G. Jung. Collected Works, Vol. 9 I, par. 195-197.

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