01.05.2013 Spirituality

Birthing the Black Madonna

Andrew Harvey discusses the marriage of mystical teachings and sacred activism.


Radical Passion: Sacred Love and Wisdom in Action is Andrew's latest work, a summation of his life's work, the marriage of the mystical teachings of the world and sacred activism. In Radical Passion he emphasises the supreme importance of the Divine Feminine for spiritual seekers and as the only way to save the world today. In this piece he shares with us the dark feminine, the Black Madonna, who has been a hugely important part of his innermost life and his quest for the two sides of the Divine Feminine. She has been with him for over a decade through, and as initiator of, a radical dark night of the soul, and he shares his understanding of her searing power of initiation that is available to each of us - an incredible comfort in the face of the deep challenges many people are experiencing today.

The birth into the Black Madonna is a birth simultaneously into the "dark transcendent", the source and womb and spring of all manifestation, and a birth into the splendour of tantric fullness and the glory of tantric being. This birth destroys all of the fantasies that block the Transcendent, as well as destroying all of the fears, loathing, self hatreds, and all of the terrors of the body that block the glory of the flaming out of the body's own most sacred truth.

This is essential information for all seekers at this moment - unless we come to this birth of divine humanity here on the earth with fully consecrated sacred power and sacred creativity of every kind, we are simply not going to be able to survive.

I suffered in my innermost core the horror of the abuse of power and this experience made me a permanent mystical revolutionary. If you suffer the abuse of power in one arena, this initiates you into all the nuances of abusive power in all the different institutions of the world. One of the major gifts of the Black Madonna to anybody who worships her is that she wakes them up starkly to all the games of manipulation that mask abuse and to the presence of the corruption of power in every institution, media, and way of being and doing that is not directly illumined by democratic egalitarian compassion.

This is a terrifying initiation, because once you see, or begin to see, with her eyes, what you see is a world gone mad, a world in which the essential truths of divine humanity are rubbled, betrayed, and degraded on every side. And not merely by the materialists or by those who deny God, but with horrible ingenuity by those who claim to represent God, both in the established religions and in the guru systems. All are addicted to power and not to the true transmission of sacred empowerment.

The Black Madonna will tear you apart within yourself to rebirth you in your true, divine self. I have found that the most important way of seeing the Black Madonna is actually to bring together three seemingly contradictory aspects. It is my experience that you experience them all together, like music. The first aspect is that she is the transcendent Queen of Darkness, the "dazzling darkness" of Dionysius the Areopagite. This is the darkness beyond name and form. It is the darkness of the Tao. It is the transcendence from which even the light, even the godhead, is born.

The phrase of Ruysbroeck that Bede used when he was talking of her is very moving. He says, "She is the darkness in which lovers lose themselves." The Dark One is the Queen of final Mystery, the One who through all transformations is leading us on, ever onward, while "hiding" in a kind of cloud of darkness, forever distant from any formulation or concept we may have of her. In the second aspect, the Black Madonna is the Queen of Nature, the Queen of Tantra, and the Queen of all the dark, rich, gorgeous, fertile processes of Nature and of Tantra. The sum of these processes is often destructive, because for the true divine nature to emerge and for true tantra to be born, all kinds of fears and self presentations have to be rubbled. That can be searingly painful, but the purpose of the pain is to open you up to the gorgeous textures of her transformations.

That is what streams through the destruction; one of her hands is tearing you apart while the other is pouring onto the torn apart self the perfumes and unguents and revelations of a new kind of being. This is important to remember. The more you experience the holiness and the exquisite and acute precision of her destruction, the more you will be helped by her and understand why she is stripping you, because, almost immediately afterward, into the dark empty hole that she has dug in your psyche, she will pour a wholly new vision and new awareness.

The third aspect is also revelatory. I think that one of the reasons why the Black Madonna haunts us all so much is that she very clearly represents the cost, the price, the anguish, and the sacred agony of the Divine Feminine in each of us. She is that part of us that is burned, wounded, seared, and broken by the world, by what we suffer in the world. There she is standing in front of us as the Queen of the great and final Mystery, and as Queen of Nature and Tantra, but also as what Jacopone da Todi calls Mary in one of his great poems to the Virgin, "La Donna Bruciata," the burned woman; she is the woman who has been burned by love, burned by the price of love, by the constant, unavoidable opening of the heart to the misery of life, and to the injustice of human beings, and to the cruelty of the false self. I think that what she is doing in standing in front of us in her burned, black dignity is giving us a way of enduring without closing down, of standing in the fire and being burned and charred by the fire without ever turning away from the necessity of loving in a complete and total way and of giving everything.

There is a great Sufi text of the ninth century that I think goes right to the heart of this third aspect of the Black Madonna. It says, "Those who are taken into union are drawn near. And those who are drawn near never fall asleep, and the sublime rays of heartbreak engulf them."

When you connect with her in the third aspect, La Donna Bruciata, what you connect with in the depths of yourself are those "rays of sublime heartbreak". What she gives to you is the ability to participate in her own life of final fiery compassion beyond hope, beyond agenda, beyond all plans, beyond any kind of transcendental justification. This aspect of the Black Madonna is an initiation into the burning furnace of charity, that is, the broken and burned heart of the Mother. You are taken into the depths of the mystery of the Mother because the Mother is not simply the great, dark cloud of final mystery that is uplifting everything from revelation to revelation. She is not simply the Queen of Nature and the Queen of Tantra, the Queen of all the fertile processes that transform life itself into a mirror of the Divine. She is also herself living as every dying animal, as every dying plant, as every raped child, as every broken hearted gay man and woman, as every abused person, as every killer, as every being of every kind on the planet suffering all the different forms of torment, ignorance, and grief.

Knowing her in these three aspects together is a mind, heart -and soul - shattering experience, because if you only know her in the transcendent aspect, then you can leave this world and reality behind. However, your realisation is going to be incomplete. And if you only know her as the Queen of Nature and Tantra, you have no knowledge of her as the transcendent Mystery or as absolute and final compassion. Again your realisation will be incomplete. Yet if you only know her as final suffering and final compassion, you will not be able to bear such knowledge, because you will not know her also as the Queen of the Processes and as the Queen of the Mysteries.

You really have to come to a knowledge of her in all three aspects and link them all in the innermost part of yourself beyond thought and paradox so that you can come into her true dimension. When you do this, what you find happening within yourself is that you start to birth a being and a way of being and doing that reflects all of the three aspects, together of her great identity. It is only through facing, inviting and saturating your whole practice with all of those three aspects that you can do that. You have, in fact, to "invite in" consciously the whole glory of the Sacred Feminine, since in the Black Madonna you have the whole radical glory of the Sacred Feminine in one symbol.

The Black Madonna requires the most searing imaginable abandon and the most extreme imaginable plunging into the total embrace of her conditions. When that is mature in you, in the depths of yourself, you become a part of the Cosmic Resurrected Christ, simultaneously awake to your divinity and also initiated into your total connection in suffering with every being everywhere.

The universe and all mystical traditions tell us about a sacred marriage between matter and spirit, the "feminine" and the "masculine". For millennia, the bride in the marriage, the Black Madonna, has been kept in a dark, filthy, stinking cellar with her hands tied behind her back and her feet tied to a chair, with black tape over her mouth. No sacred marriage has been able to take place within human beings, no marriage of spirit and matter, of transcendence and immanence, body and soul.

Releasing the bride from the cellar, taking the black tape from over her mouth so she can speak her own sacred wisdom in us is the present task before all of us. If she does not turn up at our inner wedding in her full splendour, there will be no sacred marriage. The only way in which the world can be saved is through a personal initiation into that sacred marriage by millions of people and a flooding of all the world's arenas and institutions with the powers awakened by that sacred marriage. These powers are celebratory, earth-rooted, earth-grounded, justice-making, and create in the name of love and justice a new world of equality for all beings. That is the future.

Andrew Harvey

Andrew Harvey is an author, religious scholar and teacher of mystic traditions

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