Black Madonnas and Pilgrimages: Their origins in Paganism
We know that with Stonehenge sun, moon and the stars had been considered. As well the construction of cathedrales in the Middle Ages oriented itself from the constellation of stars. The above-mentioned suggests that the cathedral is – similar to the stars – something everlasting and perpetual, object of earthly mysticism, symbolized by Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, the Black Madonna.
Protectors of all life and of the earth
For the western European pagan tribes and several succeeding Christians, the Black Madonnas have been more than only a religious symbol. They had also in other regards important significations and influenced – among others – astronomy, astrology, the production of maps and disposed of mysterious “energy fluxes”, that are hidden in the earth. Nowadays, those fluxes are called “tellur fluxes” (from latin: tellus = earth), powers which cause e.g. the rotations of a divining rod.
The Celts for example considered the earth as a living organism – as the Great Mother, protector and preserver of all life. Like every living organism also the earth needed to be nourished. The Celts believed that this happened with the help of a network of subterranean blood-vessels, similar to the veins and arteries in the human body. Through these is believed to have flown an invisible spiritual power.
This power and the chanels through which it should have flown was called “Woivre” by the Celts, in English “Snake” – a quite quick description for something that winds its way through the earth’s surface. The principle of the Woivre served as explanation for phenomena like subterranean sources, different geological formations and presumably as well magnetic features. Certain spots at which the Woivres overlap or flow into one another, had been considered as “sacred places” or “power centers”. They correspond to important nerve centers in the human body – the “chakras” (from Sanskrit: wheel).
These centers have been marked by stone pillars but often as well with Black Madonnas. Certain churches, like those in Chartres or Le Puy, ranked already long before Christianity as sacred places.
Stone pillars and Black Madonnas are said to have a healing and fertile effect. Stone pillars for example should attract, bundle and store the positive influences from heaven and earth. Therefore, those cult places are awarded to have a power that could heal all physical and psychical diseases. Thousands of patients went on a pilgrimage to them in the hope of healing. Hence it followed the pilgrimages, also long before Christianity.
In the classical Antiquity, man and nature were one. Not so in the Christian age. Man understand himself as a part of nature, like a stone, a tree, an animal or a star. Therefore, it was only logical that it was assumed the earth would have nerve centers like man. And a pilgrimage to such a nerve center would serve health and well-being of the individual. In its earliest form, the pilgrimage had nothing abstract or devoted. On the contrary. It was considered as something practical and functional. On the search for health and harmony and unity with the earth, the Celts once went from one cult place to another, as well as their successors centuries later, to drink the water from the healing sources. The Black Madonna, worshipped here, is the personified relationship between men and earth.
When Christianity during its spreading in western Europe took over the old traditions and when different pagan godesses resulted in one single Mother of God, also the praying and cult places were integrated into the new religion.
It would have been impossible and inopportune to pull them down to remove them out of the belief of the population. It seemed more suitable to adapt them. Cathedrales had been elevated at certain spots and were marked either with stone pillars or black madonnas or even both. Today, in several cathedrales, you can still observe the effigy of a Madonna who is standing on the head of a snake. Possibly this is a symbol for the victory over the devil. But it can also demonstrate the embodiment of the earth, the godess who reigns over the Woivres, the snakes of the earth.
The Christians went to the same pilgrimage places like their ancestors. There they built cathedrales and churches. A pilgrimage – in the Antiquity as well as in the Christanity of the Middle Ages – was not only a voyage to this or that cult place. It was a movement to different cult places on always the same paths: a laid down process of motions. A pilgrimage is like artistic dance with slow motions, performed on a long distance. And the key points of the formation seem as regular and precise like the Way of the Cross stations.
The configuration of the sacred places was considered as perpetual and unchangeable like the stars. In fact, it was assumed that the pilgrimages were oriented from the star or special star constellations. That is the reason why the pre-Christian cult places and the Christian cathedrales erected at their place demonstrated some form of “star map”. We know that with Stonehenge sun, moon and the stars had been considered. As well the construction of cathedrales in the Middle Ages oriented itself from the constellation of stars.
The above-mentioned suggests that the cathedral is – similar to the stars – something everlasting and perpetual, object of earthly mysticism, symbolized by Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, the Black Madonna.