Thursday, October 9, 2014

Myths about Mary


The official Catholic Church would have us believe unbelievable things about Mary, the mother of Jesus:
that she remained a virgin in spite of giving birth to Jesus,
that she was conceived without original sin (assuming it exists),
that she was taken bodily up into heaven,
and that she was the mother of God without being God.

In my experience, hardly anyone knows what “Immaculate Conception” means. I hear it confused with the belief that Jesus had no human father. To explain “Immaculate Conception,” I offer this text written in 1866:
. . . by the sin of Adam man is conceived and born in sin, and obnoxious to [the lord’s] wrath, . . . a woman, after child-birth, should continue for a certain time in a state which that law calls unclean; during which she was not to appear in public, nor presume to touch any thing consecrated to God.
She was officially unclean 40 days after the birth of a son, and the time was double for a daughter. (Girl babies made a bigger mess dirtying . . . what?) For her purification a mother had to bring a lamb and young pigeon or turtle dove to the temple.
These being sacrificed to Almighty God by the priest, the woman was cleansed of the legal impurity, and reinstated in her former privileges.
Even after Mary was declared immaculately conceived or unstained by original sin, the Church, following Jewish tradition, celebrated Mary’s purification in the temple after giving birth. And Catholic women went through the same purification ceremony. This “reasoning” is so weird, I suspect some of my atheist friends still won’t understand. Contact me and I’ll explain further.

There’s more for your entertainment. Doing research for a womanpriest forum, I found apocryphal works on Mary. Apocrypha, meaning “things put away" or "things hidden,” were not accepted into the Bible but influenced beliefs. Those on Mary reveal the origin of Marian doctrines. The Gospel of James emphasizes her exceptional purity.
 . . . the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel.
The priest tells Joseph he’d better fear God—remember what happened when others didn’t obey:
“the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction.” And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in thy house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. . . .
Why did Mary need a guardian? I found this explanation:
. . . the crisis posed by Mary's becoming a woman and thus her imminent pollution of the temple. The priests resolve the crisis by turning her over to a divinely chosen widower.
Womanhood polluting the temple! Because of her menstruation? In contrast to that patriarchal culture, indigenous cultures around the world celebrated the onset of the flow, and in some cultures, men envious of woman’s power to remain strong while bleeding cut themselves in pretend menstruation. But the Church held Mary to be above physicality. Joseph finds her pregnant and is “greatly afraid.” Then
an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying: Be not afraid for this maiden, for that which is in her is of the Holy Spirit; . . .
Another aprocryphal work on the Assumption has this passage:
 . . . with the departure of her blameless soul . . . a voice out of heaven was heard, saying, “Blessed are you among women.” . . .  from that time forth all knew that her spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise.

Apocryphal writings reveal the origin of the “Hail Mary.” From the Gospel of James:   
Behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women!

How did these tales about Mary (rivaling the fairy tale of shepherds and kings in a stable) develop and why? The answer lies in pre-Christian history. Around the globe in pre-Christian and pre-patriarchal times, the accepted God-image was the Great Mother. Several Virgin Goddesses pre-figure Mary by producing a child without sexual intercourse—Isis, Ishtar (Easter), Inanna, Demeter and others.
The child, like Christ, often is male, is born at the coming of light (winter solstice), and is born in a hidden place like a stable or cave. He becomes a powerful leader. He dies and is reborn (2nd Coming).

When Christianity replaced earlier religions in the Roman Empire, Mary became the new Goddess. An illuminating moment occurred in 431 at the Council of Ephesus. In a raucous fight over which title should be given Mary, Theotokos (Mother of God) won over Christotokos (Mother of Christ).

The people of Ephesus rejoiced at the outcome because Ephesus was the seat of Artemis/Diana, “Divine Mother” and “Queen of Heaven.” Diana’s temple became the church of Ephesus. “Virgin” and “Star of the Sea” (Stella Maris) are more Goddess titles bestowed on Mary.
As these few facts demonstrate, Christianity is a synthesis of paganism and Judaism. It accepts its connection with one but not the other.

This Sunday, October 12, Mary Smith and I will present a forum after our Mass.  I’ll speak about the parallels between the Great Mother of ancient history and Mary in Catholic belief, and Mary Smith will present a model of Mary for us today—not a Goddess but a woman with attainable strengths to companion us on our journey.
This frees us to place the Sacred Feminine where it belongs, on a par with the Sacred Masculine.

October 15, 2014          When SHE reigned

On Sunday Mary Smith, our priest at Mary Magdalene,First Apostle, and I gave a joint presentation on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I gave evidence of the parallels between Mary and the pre-Christian Goddess in apocryphal Christian works and in Catholic doctrines.  Mary spoke about the meaning of Mary for us today—not as a Goddess. Both of us mentioned the Black Madonna, dark images of Mary appearing all over Europe. 

When the Roman Empire replaced earlier religions with the Christian religion, it convened councils of bishops from around the empire to decide which form this new religion would take. There were many Christianities with a wide variety of beliefs. And there were many old religions in the empire, devoted to various images of Divinity. 
      One was Isis, the mother of Horus, an Egyptian mother/son pair, whose motifs were transferred to Mary and Jesus. So closely are the two pairs linked that figurines in which Horus sits on the throne of Isis’ lap were simply renamed “Mary and Jesus.”

The other week I observed my student teacher, Ryan Snyder, presenting a lesson on Egypt in his World History class.  He reminded me of the period when Black leaders from the southern part of Egypt ruled—a reminder that the image of Isis was Black as well as Arabic or Semitic. HERE you can see the variety of Madonna images, known as the Black Madonna.  Notice the dark African ones.

The broad scope of religious history demonstrates an irrepressible need for a divine Mother. Our earliest human ancestors imagined the Holy One female. Extremely ancient myths and materials tell us that the Goddess was supreme and Her worship widespread, if not universal, in human societies around the globe before male deities took over.

Archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of Goddess figurines, from Ireland to India, some dating back to 25,000 BCE. The oldest known art objects, they depict human forms with female thighs, buttocks, genitals, breasts, and pregnant bellies—Woman as the Source of Life. In Myths to Live By Joseph Campbell comments that they were
dubbed—amusingly—paleolithic Venuses.
Scholars molded by male-centered thinking did not know what to think of these figurines. They could not imagine WOMAN being held up as an icon, leading to their mistaken opinion that they were erotica. But Charlene Spretnak points to
the difference between the powerful Paleolithic figures and current pornographic portrayals of women as coy, vulnerable toys.
Look at some HERE. The figures were fashioned without feet because their lowest point was intended to be pressed into the earth for veneration in little household shrines. In The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Campbell comments sardonically that it is
not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered.
He volunteers the answer that they provided the same services our male deity provides: receive our prayers, initiate "meditations on the mystery of being," aid women in childbirth, guard children, protect farmers, their crops and cattle, watch over the sailor and the merchant.

Stories of the female Creator come from Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Africa, Australia, and China as well as the Americas. Woman as Creator of the universe was a natural image for primal cultures who saw that woman bears new life. These cultures were in awe of female power because she could produce a monthly flow of blood without harming her body, she could grow babies in her body and give birth to them, and she could produce food out of her own body. Joseph Campbell wrote that, as the link between sex and babies was not known, males must have seemed,
within one jot of being completely superfluous . . .
    The female body was experienced as a focus of divine force, and a system of rites was dedicated to its mystery.
Human figures of larch and aspen wood are carved to this day among the Siberian reindeer hunters—the Ostyaks, Yakuts, Goldi, etc.—to represent the ancestral point of origin of the whole people, and they are always female.
Vestiges of that ancient reverence for the female appear in our scriptures, as we  will see next time.

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