I’ve just finished reading The Black Madonna in Latin America and Europe: Tradition and Transformation which is not the book I was looking for, which was La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands, which sold before I could remember where I saw it.
Anyway, The Black Madonna. The book is not very good in some really not very good ways. For one thing, the author tells you what she’s going to do in a chapter, does it, and then tells you what she did, which, as you know, is against my religion. She also has this annoying habit of using a term a couple of times before she defines it. These are all bad habits we might blame an editor for not beating out of her.
But then there are some factual errors, like Friday being sacred to Freyja instead of Frigg, and a heavy reliance on Barbara Walker’s stuff, which, as you know, I love, but don’t trust.
And I’m not sure that I am comfortable with her matter-of-fact statement that, before the Indo-Europeans showed up in Europe, Europe was a matrifocal, matrilineal, peaceful paradise of mother earth goddess worship. One would be, I think, hard-pressed to back that up, though it makes an intriguing theory.
Some folks like to look at the various mythologies of Europe and try to draw conclusions from their similarities. Like how most European creation myths seem to have a younger group of gods fighting and killing off an older group of gods (or in the case of the germanic folks, fighting and then learning to live with an older group of gods). It makes folks wonder if this isn’t a story of the Indo-Europeans bringing their gods with them as they swept across Europe and what happened when their religion displaced the religions of the earlier peoples.
Or some speculate that these might be stories about how certain gods could travel–Like Odin, Wotan, Goten and Thuner, Thor and Frey, Ing etc. because they were not attached to the land, but that each new place had its own goddesses, tied to the earth, which is why you have Eostre one place and Holda another and Frigg a third–all earth goddesses, all slightly different, distinct goddesses.
I consider myself to be a hard-core polytheist, but I recognize that Wotan and Othinn are the same god in two languages. I don’t, however, believe that Odin is Mercury, though I see why the Romans would have thought so.
This book is kind of shaking my ability to see these mother goddesses as anything other than fragments, hints at someone larger and older, though, and that’s what I want to talk through. Basically, what the author is doing is mapping the ways in which attributes held by older goddesses were given to Mary so that people who wanted to continue to worship a female god could.
And so we see these things associated with Mary that are also associated with other goddesses–being called “The Queen of Heaven,” being pictured with a cloak of stars, being pictured with wings or a cloak of feathers, having a son she looses to death who is, often, reborn, being associated with water, etc.
I’ve been trying for a long time to understand the relationship between Frigg, Freyja, and Hel. There’s been speculation for a long time that Frigg and Freyja were actually the same goddess at some point–perhaps known as Frige. They share a lot in common. They both have cloaks of feathers, they have husbands with similar names (Odin and Od), both are called upon to aid childbirth; both are “daughters” of personifications of earth, both are unfaithful when their husbands vanish, and so on. And it seems to me that Freyja and Hel share things in common, especially with their association with the dead.
It could be that they just seem similar because they are the highest ranking females in each of their tribes–Frigg is the Queen of the Aesir; Freyja is the most important female Vanir we know about; and Hel is certainly the only Juton we know of who has her own land.
It’s just when you start to look outside the pantheon and you see similar attributes attached to other goddesses, well, I begin to wonder.
I wonder, is it like an echo?
Can we imagine our holy folks standing in a great marsh calling into There and each echoing answer pieced together into a thousand lesser goddesses?
Or is it that some things are just sacred? A bog is neither quite earth or quite water so of course a goddess might make her home there? There are some things a male god just can’t do, like preside over childbirth, and so, of course, powerful female gods would be called on for such a purpose, right?
I keep thinking of Zora Neale Hurston–we talked about her a lot in Montreal–and her willingness to go see for herself. Laying on a couch wearing only a sock for a week, if that’s what it took.
I think, in the end, that’s the only strategy you can use–ask your question and be open to the answer.