Mary, the Fourth Member of the Divine Quartet
December 18, 2011
Ave Maria, Gratia Plena
Speak: Greetings, Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with you, The eternal envelopes you
benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus sventris tui Je-sus
Speak: You are worthy of praise among women,
and worthy of praise is the fruit of your womb, Jesus
Sancta Maria, mater Dei
Speak: Divine Mary, Mother of God
Ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc
Et in hora mortis nostrae]
Amen. (from Ave Maria, Igor Stravinsky, 1949)
Speak: Pray for us, Mary, Now
And at the season of our death.
What I’d like to offer today are some songs about and by Mary. And some thoughts about her as a person and as a divine being. The Ave Maria just sung was composed by Igor Stravinsky, uses the words of the Annunciation and the Hail Mary.
I was not brought up Catholic, and I don’t have a history of reciting Hail Marys. Maybe that helps me to look at the words that the Angel Gabriel and Mary’s cousin Elizabeth spoke to her, and see and feel the vestiges that harken to a much earlier time, between 5000 and 30,000 years ago, when the divine feminine was revered. Divine Mary, Mother of God! Over centuries and millennia she reigned, with people honoring the Divine Feminine in all her forms, including Gaia, the earth herself. Gaia, the Greek goddess, was said to have birthed all creation.
From about 4000 years ago until now, the Divine Feminine has been relegated more and more to the background in most cultures, downplayed or eroticized or even annihilated. So I have come to look at Mary’s story as the story of a woman who embodies the goddess in a hidden form. For me, She symbolizes the Divine Mother of God, the fourth member of a quartet, instead of a trinity: Father God Elohim, Mother Goddess Mary, Son Jesus and daughter Sophia (or Wisdom, the Old Testament equivalent to the Holy Spirit. It’s interesting how the language at the beginning of John’s Gospel about Jesus is quite similar to the language about Sophia ( or Wisdom) in Proverbs 8.)
Four is a symbol of wholeness in all cultures. This makes more sense to me than a Father God creating everything out of nothing (like Zeus creating his daughter Venus without consorting with a woman) or a Mother Goddess similarly creating out of nothing. It is natural in all of our world, both plant and animal, to have a male and a female join to create the miracle of new birth.
In the book of Genesis (1:26) says “Let US make humans in OUR image and likeness …So God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God they were created; male and female they were created.” To me this is a hopeful sign that not all of the references to a woman co-creator have been excised from the Judeo-Christian religion.
Helen Fisher, anthropologist I listened to on TED talks, says that when our ancestors were hunter/gatherers, women were equal with men. Their foraging accounted for 80% of the food for their community, and thus they were accorded high status. Hunter-gatherer communities have been unearthed all over the world, and all of them worshipped the Goddess. Marija Gimbutas, who is an archeo-mythologist, calls these cultures the “Old European” cultures.
According to Leonard Shlain, who wrote “The Alphabet and the Goddess,” the evolution of the two-sided brain in humans has enabled men and women to diversify – to think and function differently in the world. Men learned to focus and fight to hunt prey and protect the community, while women had to see in a more diffused way in order to gather food, build community and family. Indo-European culture and conquest brought the invention of written language, weapons and the plow, and a war-oriented world view. Men’s left-brain focus and physical strength trumped womens’ foraging, verbal and community-building skills. This development profoundly influenced humans’ world view, and their interpretation of the divine, and how they explained the world’s creation. Within a thousand years most Goddess religions were gone.
And NOW, At this time in history, we are on the cusp of a time of integration: mind and body, black and white, men and women, immanent and transcendent. I see Jesus, with Mary’s influence, as the new prototype for Full-Brain and Full-Person Consciousness. I heard James Hillman, the recently deceased Jungian scholar, speak about our evolution of consciousness, through the goddess/matriarchal era, then the patriarchal era, and now, the time of a melding of the two, greater than the sum of its parts.
In today’s world, men’s focusing, and competitive and compartmentalizing skills, combined with womens’ verbal, negotiating, “people” skills and connected-brain thinking, are both needed and wanted to create a more balanced world.
But, Because of the complete imbalance between male and female for the last 4000 years or so, I think the Goddess deserves some equal time.
But Before I get back to Mary and the Magnificat, I want to share something about my trip to England this summer. I walked the Ridgway Trail (my ancestors were named after the trail because they lived near it). It is an ancient, pre-Roman road that follows the chalk ridges from Southwest to Northeast England. I walked along the part of the trail that contains the most prehistoric sites. The trail itself may have been a connector between many of these sites. According to Marija Gimbutas, author of “The Language of the Goddess,” the stone circles and “avenues” that are found in large numbers in this part of England are tributes to the Divine Feminine. They date from about 5000 to 7000 years ago. I visited the stone circles at Avebury and at Stonehenge. I also visited two long barrows, burial tombs along the trail, sacred places where people honored and buried their dead in a communal tomb. I visited “The Sanctuary,” a site where wooden poles were constructed in a circle, with an avenue, several miles long, of these huge, stones that led from the Sanctuary back to Avebury. These sarsen stones, 50 tons each, had been moved from up to 200 miles, then lifted to stand on end, forming these avenues and huge circle.
I felt an incredible sense of connection to these tributes to the ancient past. When I walked the trail I hadn’t yet read the portion of Gimbutas’ book that links these huge stones to the Divine Feminine. Gimbutas’ book has hundreds of pictures of artifacts, stone circles and tombs with symbols of the goddess carved into artifacts and circles and tombs representing the female shape.
[My trip was just before I was scheduled to have a mastectomy, and the daily walks let me literally walk out my thoughts and misgivings about this operation. Also, the genetic history that has caused me to have cancer three times, came from my Ridgway ancestors. So, I came to a profound sense of acceptance of my heritage, both magnificent and difficult, the male and the female, the good and the bad.]
Now, I want to go back to Mary’s story
The angel Gabriel visits Mary, “Greetings, most favoured one! The lord is with you.” But Mary was deeply troubled….and wondered what this greeting might mean. Then the angel told her, “you shall conceive and bear a son who will bear the title “son of the most high”.
Sing: How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? (John Tavenor, 1992)
These words are the King James’ translation of Mary’s response to Gabriel, put to music by John Tavenor. In the New English translation, Mary says: “How can this be? I am still a virgin.”
So the angel told her how: “The holy spirit will come over you and the power of the most high will overshadow you, and the holy child will be called ‘son of God.’ It is interesting to note, that the Latin words “Dominus tecum” in the Ave Maria above, translated as “The Lord is with you” may have been the reason Mary was troubled when she heard Gabriel’s greeting, for the word “tecum” also means “enveloped” or “enclosed” and is also in Latin the same word as “vagina.”
Late,p8t68tr Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist) has words that complete the Hail Mary: “ Blessed are you above all women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
I think the Catholics have gotten it right to deify Mary. She is not only “meek and mild.” She is a prophet who speaks strong words. She utters the words that Hannah said when she offered her son Samuel to God (I Samuel 2:1-10):
“My soul magnifies the Lord, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” (Connie Ridgway, 2011)
Mary is a powerful force. She speaks hopeful, strong and prophetic words about putting right the hierarchical order of life. Jesus must have truly learned his gift of challenging the authorities from Mary.
Fecit potentiam, fecit potentiam, in brachia suo
Dispersit, dispersit superbos
Mente cordis sui
Speak: This is from Bach’s version of the Magnificat, and means “God has shown a strong right arm and scattered the proud in the conceit of their hearts.” Mary didn’t mince words.
And she goes on:
Esurientes Implevit Bonis
Esurientes Implevit Bonis
Et Dimites Devisit inanes. (Johann Sebastian Bach, 1733)
Speak: “God has filled the hungry with good things and the rich are sent empty away.” Mary is doing this song what Jesus later did in the temple—overturned the tables of those in power who keep the poor down and elevate the rich.
So, let us continue in the tradition of our more ancient forebears, who were earth-centered, peaceful and egalitarian. Let us embrace our Divine Mother, equal with our Divine Father, both of whom are truly within us all, and enjoy a new heaven and a new earth.
And I end with my own version of the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my savior
So tenderly you have looked upon your servant
Humble as I am
All the world from now on will call me blessed
So wonderfully you’ve dealt with me
God has put down /the mighty from their seat, /and exalted the humble
God has filled /the hungry with good things; and the rich are sent away