The Black Madonna
In all traditions, the color black is synonymous with “night,” “darkness,” “death,” “chaos,” or even, to use an Eastern term, “non-existence,” which is not precisely the same thing as “death” or “chaos.” The color black is not a color, it is the absence of colors, whereas the color white brings together and synthesizes all colors. This allows us to understand the primordial dichotomy that has passed into the collective unconscious between Black and White, in the zone of white civilization, in other words that of the Indo-Europeans and Semites more or less centered around the Mediterranean.
Under these conditions, the Virgin Mary whose color is black necessarily means something: chaos or non-existence, both terms that are poor translations for something that is unorganized. If we go back to the justification of the entity Mary, Mother of God, and if we accept that she represents the first creature emanated from God before the creation, that is to say the organizing force of the existential universe, this black color attributed to her becomes perfectly logical. The Virgin is potentiality, in other words she is the Materia Prima that has not yet been organized but out of which everything may emerge. It is in this sense that we should understand the dialogue between Jesus on the cross, his mother, and John the Apostle. It is in this sense that we should understand the mission of the angel Gabriel to the young Mary and her acceptance of becoming the receptacle for the embodied God. The Virgin Mary, thus always virgin (the meanings that can be given the word virgin here are irrelevant) is nothing other than the Materia Prima of the Alchemical work, a series of metamorphoses that leads to the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, the crystallization not only of all knowledge, but also all energies. This raw and common “primal Matter” must be “fertilized” by Fire and separated into its two opposing elements, what the Alchemists called Sulfur and Mercury. It would seem as if primal Matter, thus original Chaos, was an inharmonious combination of these two elements. Therefore nothing is possible. But with the introduction of Fire, in other words the sacred spirit, a return to the original unity is prompted, a return that is not without violence and collision. In Alchemical operations, it was necessary “to cook” the primal matter under very special conditions that would prompt the introduction of material heat as well as the flame of the spirit. And the result of this “cooking” is a black shapeless material, the first stage of the regeneration of Chaos. The Alchemists called it the “Stone of the Black” and happily attributed to it the periphrastic--yet nevertheless metaphysical--phrasing of “Raven’s Head.”
It clearly seems that the concept of the Virgin Mary, the Virgo Paritura of Chartres and other sites, may be this “Stone of the Black.” In any event this was the thought of all those who unhesitatingly depicted the Mother of Jesus with a black face, therefore recycling the well-known image of the Shulamite “burned by the sun.” The Song of Solomon takes pains to counsel the Daughters of Jerusalem, and thereby all humanity, to refrain from treating this black color as a punishment of curse. “Pay no attention to my black color, I have been burned by the sun.” Whether it is the Holy Ghost whose shadow covered Mary, or the secret Fire of the Alchemists, the result of the operation remains the same: the primal Matter turns black. But this is because when impregnated by the Spirit it can give birth to the One who will be the Light, Jesus in the evangelical scriptures, the Philosopher’s Stone in Alchemical treatises. These same treatises specify that none can discover the material Philosopher’s Stone unless he has undergone, in his own mind, the same metamorphosis. There is no longer any dichotomy between Mind and Matter, for Jesus (or the Philosopher’s Stone) is both Body and Spirit, man and God. And if the anonymous sculptors of the Middle Ages wished to give Mary this black color that has caused so much fascination, it is clearly because they had in mind the spreading of this essential message: from this apparent darkness the Light will emerge.
Of course, only certain elite knew this meaning of the black goddesses, then the Black Madonnas of Christianity, but the nature of the elites is to transmit to the highest number a core concept in the form of a very simple concrete image. The Black Virgin is not a Christian creation but an adaptation to the Christian world of this archaic concept that is present in all religious or mythological traditions. In India, “in the beginning was depthless night. Then manifested the Most High, who was self-existent; he created the water and sowed his seed upon it; this produced the Golden Egg, from which was born Brahma, creator of worlds.” This myth of the original darkness is universal.