The Mysticism of Mary:
The Ancient Feminine Force of the Catholic Faith
The power of the mother.
The strongest force in nature is a mother protecting her young. As the force of the ancient feminine, Mary serves not only as the Mother of Christ, she is in effect mother to us all.
As a child I was taught that Mary intercedes for her Son, Jesus and that devotion to the Blessed Mother serves as a form of prayer be it directly or indirectly to Christ. I see this differently as an adult.
I believe the Blessed Mother’s benevolent presence can be directly called upon.
There are choice times in a person’s life no matter their age when the only person they can talk to who will listen and understand them in their time of need is their mother. But what if that option isn’t possible?
Here I must personally attest to those moments of my own life when both my life and soul were in the most serious danger, I prayed to the Blessed Mother and She was there for me. Even though I had not reached safety, with the Blessed Mother giving me assurance with her presence, she provided me a sense of inner calm that I knew I would be fine.
Mary as the Universal Mother
Visual representation of Mary as the Universal Mother has traditionally been depicted in two main forms – Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the “Mater Dolorosa” or Mother of Sorrows.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Our Lady of Perpetual Help originated as a Byzantine icon of the Blessed Mother from the 15th century and presents the nurturing and protective role Mary provides as the Mother of the Christ Child. Representations of Our Lady of Perpetual Help vary but the common imagery associated with this traditional depiction of Mary are as follows:
– Mary wears a red dress signifying the Passion of Christ and a veil of blue signifying her virginity.
– Mary looks straight out at the viewer. The Christ Child looks elsewhere.
– The Christ Child is frightened by what He sees in the angels’ hands which foretell his crucifixion and is being held by His Mother seeking protection.
– The angel on Mary’s left is the Archangel Michael who in his hands holds the lance which pierced Christ’s side and the sponge soaked in vinegar which the Roman soldiers forced Christ to drink.
– The angel on Mary’s right is the Archangel Gabriel who holds the Cross of Crucifixion in his hands.
Variations show Mary wearing a large crown along with some artists amplifying the Blessed Mother’s proportions to the Christ Child’s to emphasize Mary’s significance in the life of her Son. The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is indicative of the ancient feminine by highlighting the power women hold as mothers that protect and nurture their children as well as the intuitive gifts a woman receives upon becoming a mother since it’s presumed Mary can see the suffering that lies ahead for her child, but remains steadfast and unafraid.
Intriguingly, from an astrological perspective the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help falls on June 27th and on the first Sunday in July in the Greek Orthodox Church, both taking place during the Zodiacal time of Cancer, euphemistically called the “sign of the Mother”.
It’s been said the greatest form of stress a human being can undergo is the death of a child. Imagine a person not only losing their child, but witnessing this most stressful of events first hand as well. This is the sentiment behind the traditional image of the “Mater Dolorosa” or Mother of Sorrows.
Here we see Mary as the Mother of Christ who must watch her child suffer and die before her. This depiction of the Blessed Mother always has her crying with most images showing 7 swords piercing her bleeding heart. The 7 swords refer to the 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of of the Rosary but with the addition of 2 mystical events which took place in Mary’s life:
The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
1. The Agony at the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus asks in anguish for his fate of suffering and death to be altered.
2. The Scourging at the Pillar where Jesus is openly whipped.
3. The Crowning of Thorns where Jesus is mocked by the Roman soldiers as “King of the Jews”.
4. The Carrying of the Cross where Jesus stumbles and falls three times as he carries the tool of his execution.
5. The Crucifixion and Death of Christ where Jesus is nailed to a cross by his wrists and ankles and dies.
The two additional Sorrows:
– The Flight into Egypt
After Christ’s birth an angel comes to Mary’s husband Joseph in a dream telling them they cannot return to Nazareth but instead must go to Egypt to avoid the bloodshed of Herod killing every male child under the age of 2 years old.
– The Vision of Simeon the Prophet
When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple as an infant, a very old man named Simeon was waiting for them. He was told he could not die until he saw the Messiah and upon seeing Jesus took the child from his mother’s arms and gave thanks to God while praising the Baby. Upon returning the child to His mother Simeon looked upon Mary and mystically said:
“And a sword shall pierce your heart.” – Luke 2:35
The Mater Dolorosa is most often depicted with Mary grieving unto herself, however one of the greatest sculptures ever made is a Mater Dolorosa piece of Mary with the corpse of Christ being newly taken from the cross and placed in her lap – Michelangelo’s “Pieta”, created in 1499.
With the exception of Michelangelo’s masterpiece if there is an image of the Mater Dolorosa without the swords being visible, Mary is often presented with a halo or crown covered in spikes that are meant to resemble swords, symbolizing the strength that is needed to undergo such immense pain of sorrow and loss.
The Gifts of the Magi – Pre-Awareness of a Mother outliving her Child
“The Epiphany” – a wall tapestry displaying the gifts of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones, 1894
In the time of King Herod after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage”. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
– Matthew 2:1-12
Each year at Christmastime, an image of three Kings or Wise Men is presented alongside the Nativity, or birth of Christ. Although not present at Jesus’ birth, it is widely believed the Three Kings came upon Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus for the purpose of paying the Christ Child homage with each King presenting before the Child’s Mother gifts consisting of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The presentation of these gifts from the Three Kings is known as the Feast of the Epiphany.
At a base level those who follow the stars or changes in the Heavens are known as astrologers. And to quote the 4th installment from my series which tells of the astrological and historical origins of Santa Claus through the life of St. Nicholas entitled “Santa Claus, Saints, & Sagittarius”
“Astronomers have theorized the phenomenon known as the Star of Bethlehem did indeed occur but that it wasn’t an actual “star”. A good portion of today’s astronomical community shares the belief the “star in the east” that “to the Earth gave great light and so it continued both day and night” was actually a conglomeration of the planets Venus, Mars, Mercury and Neptune around a never before witnessed, far brighter than usual, brilliantly illuminated Jupiter. The King of Planets positioned in such a unique state of radiance was interpreted by many as a sign from the Heavens that the world of Man had been forever changed by the arrival of a Messiah.”
The names of these three men and their Kingdoms are theorized as folIows:
Caspar – King of India
Melchior – King of Persia
Balthazar – King of Arabia
It must be mentioned when Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar set off on their venture, they had no idea what they would find nor what they were actually looking for which only leaves to reason the Three Kings were mystically motivated and their astrological knowledge affirmed that the Heavens had indicated to them a Messiah had been born.
This mystic motivation is what determined the Kings’ choice of gift for the newborn King.
Gold – As today as back then, the worth of gold is high and a suitable gift for one considered royal.
Frankincense – the most expensive form of incense that was used in India only for direct communication in temples between High Priests and their gods.
The last “gift” technically is anything but when realizing its grim foreshadowing of association:
A close up of the Commiphora Myrrha tree which the expensive resin used in the ancient process of burying the dead “Myrrh” is extracted from.
Myrrh – an expensive precious resin that was highly fragrant and used in the burial of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Because of its coagulating properties, myrrh served as an embalming fluid in the burial process.
By presenting a precious resin used exclusively in the process of burying the dead the Three Kings were mystically relaying to Mary that she would not only outlive her child but witness his death and partake in his burial.
Two other iconic images of the Blessed Mother are well known in the modern day with neither having any kind of implication to the Bible. Both images are purely mystical and originate from what the 3rd installment of this series will focus on in further detail – Marian Apparitions.
*Brad Kronen’s book “Love in the Stars” published by Llewellyn Worldwide, Inc. is available for purchase at your local book seller or online at amazon.com at the link listed below.