Mary: Virgin, Mother, Goddess

I was raised Catholic in the tradition of my part Italian father and his fully Italian father; a tradition that my great-grandparents brought with them from the shores of Western Italy. At 16 when I refused the holy sacrament of confirmation, what would have been my affirmation of the Catholic faith and my welcoming to the Church as an adult, I broke this sacred tradition. This break became the catalyst for my shedding of Christianity. Bibles and crosses were given away, old church t-shirts were trashed and with this materialistic shedding I began an emotional  separation by mentally classifying everything related to the Abrahamic faiths as non-nonsensical and useless. I sought like-minded friends, those who had not only never experienced Christianity, but those who had forcefully rejected it like myself. I began a path of exploration and discovery that I still walk today.

And yet Mary was always there. She would come to me in little ways, whispers and nudges, tickles at the back of my mind. I would find myself praying to her in moments of hardship and I felt ashamed. I felt dumb.

Everything else about Christianity felt so wrong, it left a sour taste in my mouth, but Mary had a rightness about her that transcended the patriarchal monotheism that had brought her to me.

It took years for me to accept the Judeo-Christian pantheon as a set of allegories and archetypes in the same way I accepted the Aesir and the Olympians. Realizing the Bible was a collection of folk-lore left behind by a desert people was a revelation. By being told to take the Bible at face value, I had been alienated from its worth as a historic, culturally significant document. I did not accept the Eddas as fact or as a falsification of history, why then should I treat the Bible in that way? I don’t have to hate the Bible or its characters, I can accept them as a pantheon, a mythology. It was a liberating experience.

When I came out of my hateful tunnel, an adult who realized her beliefs were fluid and intimate, Mary was waiting for me. She took her place besides Athena and Frigg, Hecate and Artemis, Freya and Kali.

St. Anne, Mother Mary, and the Christ Child - Leonardo da Vinci

St. Anne, Mother Mary, and the Christ Child – Leonardo da Vinci

Mary, you who are the one woman the followers of Abraham and Moses hold up with high regard, you who stepped through a male dominated spirituality and surpassed it, how could I reject you?

When I call on the Mother, Mary’s face comes to me. She is a powerful force of the divinity of the feminine. A woman who bore a child without a man, a mother who suffered for her children, and has evolved over two-thousand years, absorbing Europe’s pagan mother-goddesses into her. Rather than making her a fraud, this adds to her power. Even if she is the invention of a few creative Semites in the desert, hundreds of years of prayer and belief have crafted her into existence.

To this day, when in need I still close my eyes and whisper to her. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen. 

Sí an Bhrú: Newgrange

I recently took a trip to Ireland and discovered not only does the Guinness really taste better in Dublin, but the fairy folk are alive and well on the Emerald Isle. I was continually told that though an Irishman might not say he believes in fairies, he sure as hell isn’t going near one of their circles. And it’s little wonder Irish folklore is filled with fairies and wee folk, it literally appears as if a fairy or leprechaun could be living inside every tree or rock.

IMG_0721I was constantly moving moss and parting leaves, always one step behind the fairy folk I knew were watching me. The landscape alone is enough for one to have a spiritual experience, but it is at the Neolithic site of Newgrange that a door is truly opened.

Throughout the Irish countryside there exist rings of trees and sacred mounds, believed to be the homes of fairies and doors between the worlds. Due to the folktales and superstitions of the Irish people, these mounds have remained largely untouched for hundreds of years, thus preserving the ancient sites they hide. The Neolithic peoples of Ireland built their homesteads in rings, and these fairy mounds and circles shelter what remains of these ancients. Arguably the most astounding of these mounds is Newgrange in County Meath, a hill that has existed in Irish folklore for hundreds of years but was only recently discovered to be a megalithic marvel.

Sí an Bhrú, as the Irish call it, is an ancient temple older than the Egyptian pyramids, lost for centuries, hidden under grass and legend. I could feel the temple’s pull immediately upon sight of its white washed walls: a stone remnant upon an emerald hill.

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IMG_0779I had the uncontrollable urge to touch every stone, to run my finger over every design chiseled by hands 5,000 years dead. There was a movement in the rocks positioned around the mound, placed there in reverence by people who came long after the ancient temple’s builders. I could feel them through my blood and bones. They sang and called out and I touched them.

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The meaning of the archaic spirals and patterns have been lost to us, but their power transcends generations. I was giddy and as a friend of mine would say, drunk on magic! Jet lag and exhaustion disappeared in this powerful place and was replaced by an ancient energy.

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The stone passage leading to the temple’s only chamber is cramped and low, forcing visitors to bow their heads and crawl. The temple’s chamber is small, capable of fitting only about ten people, squished together and taking care to touch as little as possible so as not to disturb the stone. Inside the chamber are three alcoves containing large basin stones, where the bones of the dead may have once been laid. Above the narrow passage there is an opening and on the Winter Solstice a beam of light penetrates it, slowly filling the chamber with the the last rays of the summer.

We’ll never really know if the ancients came to this holy temple to worship the dead, or the sun, or perhaps both; they left behind no written record. It is amazing though that an archeological find of this magnitude existed beneath legends of Celts and fairies, buried beneath soil and earth for thousands of years. The strength of Sí an Bhrú has stretched across eons, surviving cultural and religious changes, and firmly establishing its sacred power. Just by being amongst those archaic stones, I could feel the primordial heart of the Earth herself reverberating through our earliest attempts to join in her song.