Monday, September 5, 2011

Goddesses in the Dirt: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...
Goddesses in the Dirt - Issue #18: Our Lady of Guadalupe


In 2005, I traveled to Teotihuachan, an archaeological site in Mexico known as the place "where men become gods." I assumed this applied to women as well, as I was doing a first: traveling with a group of women on a spiritual retreat. 


I enjoyed meeting and mingling with women who had come in from all over the world. Every day was spent at the site, walking the sacred pathways which the ancients followed, and climbing the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, where we held meditation sessions. One of the leaders in particular caught my attention. She had been a student of Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of the book, The Four Agreements, and her name was Rita.


One evening, the group was invited to dinner at an artist's studio near the site. I noticed the walls were decorated with a large mural and was told it was a copy of the original Virgin of Guadalupe, whose image appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego on December 9, 1531 in the Tepeyac desert. According to the story, the Virgin requested that the peasant ask the local Bishop to erect a church on that very spot. When the Bishop asked for proof of the Virgin's appearance, the peasant brought back her image on the cloth of his garment. The garment, called a tilma - made out of poor quality cactus cloth - should have deteriorated long ago, and not have lasted almost 500 years. As such, it defies scientific explanation. 


History tells us that Mexico was conquered by the Spanish only a few years before the image appeared to Juan Diego, and there are schools of thought that state the image is not miraculous but is the work of a native artist from the 16th century. Either way, between 18 − 20 million pilgrims visit Our Lady of Guadalupe each year seeking cures, and the list of miracles attributed to her image is remarkable. Being raised Catholic, I had assumed that this beautiful copy on the artist's wall was the typical depiction of the Virgin - cloaked in her robin's egg blue gown and hands clasped in prayer. Traditional symbolism states that her figure stands on the crescent moon - a symbol of the night and darkness - to show the then Meso-Americans that she was more powerful than the god of night. Guadalupe is a form of a Nahuatl word which means "to crush the serpent," and in the image, the Virgin is standing on top of a snake. The angel supporting her depicts the dawning of a new age, and signifies that she is royalty, as dignitaries were always carried on the shoulders of others. Her blue gown is the color of royalty and the rays around her signify the sun, which she is extinguishing, showing her as more powerful than the sun-god, Huitzilopochtli, whom the 16th century Meso-Americans worshipped.


What I didn't know was there was a lot more to the symbolism than I had ever realized. Rita proceeded to explain to me that the Divine Feminine is hidden in the image - not so hidden if you look closely - and the oval nimbus around her figure, edged in red, symbolizes the vulva and the entrance of life into this world. 
After looking at the image for a long time, I realized I was witnessing the portrayal of female power in a whole new light. I've spent much of my life questioning the church's treatment of women and wondering why the female was shunned for being the evil sex. After so many years, it was refreshing to view an image of the feminine that combined the sexual and the sacred into one.


The artist Alma Lopez has created her own version of this iconic image, aptly entitled Our Lady of Controversy.

While I was never able to see the original Our Lady of Guadalupe, I appreciated the opportunity to be introduced to its complex iconography - however one chooses to interpret it - through this beautiful replica. Thanks to Rita's insight, I realized the Divine Feminine is abundantly present all around us —
and while Teotihuachan is known as the place where men become gods, all women can become aware of the goddess within.


top three photos courtesy of Google images

29 comments:

  1. very interesting! I didn't notice the symbolism of the picture myself before explaining

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  2. Great eye-opener, Amanda! Yes, indeed, the vulva. I like your series very much, you give the subject so many angles, turns and twists - as women indeed are, by nature.
    I am a Protestant and am glad about my upbringing, because it suits MY nature. And in fact I always wondered why the Catholic Church has not understood, apparently, that women are the powerful "other half" of mankind (as well as of animalkind, of course), not threatening to man, but completing him. And vice versa.
    I wish your series would become a must-read for young Catholic Priests!

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  3. Wonderful! This is an eye-opener~superb interpretation appreciated.

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  4. That is a beautiful storytelling. I enjoy to learn the way femininity is celebrated and has been in history in this part of the world.
    Love all the images as I appreciate the female body and what it represents.:)
    Have a great week dear Amanda.;))
    xoxo

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  5. Incredible and oh so interesting. I never knew. And i was raised catholic too. Thank you for sharing this Amanda, I'm tempted to read more (wish i were a part of your group.) I love the photo of you, your sister, and friend. Fantastic.

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  6. Fascinating... it is always a pleasure to see what you have dug up from around the world Amanda, thanks for doing what you do.

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  7. wonderful insights...i have always ignored the catholic church because of it's disregard for women...i will look closer now when traveling in meso america......always enlightening to visit you!...love it!

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  8. Teo Sisters Unite! ~ the Virgin of Guadalupe is so lovely ~ her colors so vibrant.

    She's been on my mind lately as well Amanda. I found a statue in front of a Catholic Church in Powell, Wyoming of Santa Barbara with the same clothing as Guadalupe that I will feature in my next blog (MiracleSisters.blogspot.com).

    The birth canal and vulva resemblance is something I never knew before - hidden in iconography for a reason...the goddess worship gone underground.

    My next story is about the Japanese Internment Camp at Heart Mountain...and the full circle of women of all those connections sends chills down my kundalini!

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  9. I am in awe of artists and iconographers who always seem to be able to include secret wisdom, insights, and jaw-dropping surprises like these in their works!

    And of the academicians who translate them for us...thank you, Amanda!

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  10. I find the symbolism in this incredibly interesting. I was raised Baptist and The Virgin of Guadelupe was never really in our worship service, but I love learning about it.

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  11. Dear A: Born RC and Mic. The war between the sexes seems so that it seems to predate history! The power women have intrinsically has been noticed in the fertility cults (Venus of Willendorf and others). Woman have great creative powers as the goddesses we intrinsically are dynamic and a vital force of nature.
    A good question to ask; is the nature of women to nuture life and according to the Homerian seer Blind Teresias (from the play Oeidpus) who suggested that women do have much better and more frequent the ability to have intense multiorgasms(yeah!). This may have turned some men sour, jealous that women are the superior sex according to the seer. This explains women being, in some cultures,grossly ostrasized and belittled, becoming mere chattel of men. The idea of woman as a scapegoat "sinner" case in point. It seems that women in some patriarchial societies are either virginal or harlot. The fact that the marginalization of women seems to be full of this dichotomy in regards to the dualistic nature consciousness (good, bad, ( oh that old chestnut). It is interesting to note that this historical shifting of the sands of woman's subsequent social, etc., "worth" fluctuating between patriarchial and matriarchial societies, between revered or demeaned, between virgin or harlot etc is cyclical. It would be interesting to note which triggers either the veneration or denigration of women in history? It'd be well worth a study! Thanks for your enlightening article!

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  12. That is a very fascinating story, amanda. It sounds like you had an eventful time of learning and devotion.

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  13. The vulva! Please, I'm sorry but give me a break. What Rita and friends may want to think is the vulva around the virgin is nothing but her aura. Or, I should say that is what I prefer to think. I can't understand why some women want to project their genitals on to art. It's like O'Keefe's work and how people love saying how wow, it must be a vagina or god knows what. I find it akin to saying my deodorant looks like a penis. Go figure.
    I love being female and I happen to be a feminist but when I read something like this I really wonder why some women are so totally shallow. Sorry, but this kind of crap really irritates me.

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  14. I love Towanda's comment. :) I have been around the Virgin my whole life, thanks to where I live, and have always been fascinated by her. I knew the history but not the symbolism, so this was a treat - as usual! :)

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  15. ola - i never noticed it either, until rita pointed it out to me!

    geli — hahaha!! wouldn't that be a hoot - required reading for priests! but i'm beginning to wonder if there are any young priests left in this world......

    rosaria - i'm glad you enjoyed it. it was eye-opening for me as well (and a little shocking at first!)

    zuzana - the female body has been such a topic of negativity for so long, that it's hopeful that the world can being to view it as what it is - sacred. thanks for your lovely input, as always ~ xo

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  16. lori - so you were raised catholic as well! did you spend all those years bruising yourself on the kneelers and wearing the prerequisite navy blue uniforms?

    yes - the foto - it is of Debbie and me and our former sister in law Gael - i'd love to do such a trip sometime again and it would be fabulous if you came along as well!! xo

    owen - thanks - i do my best to dig up interesting nuggets inside and outside the excavation!

    sue - i can understand your desire to ignore the catholic church - i didn't have that option as a child but i can say now that i enjoy the theatre aspect that the church provides - and it is high theatre. the dogma may not translate but the dramatic aspect is huge......

    sistah - goddess worship gone underground indeed - thanks for the very powerful and literal metaphor - it is so true! caves abound below teo and they are viewed as sacred and feminine as well — will look forward to these enticing upcoming posts of yours!!

    xoxo

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  17. jo - haha! that's funny — just call me a doctor of the divine feminine!! i'm so happy this struck a chord with you - i always feel there is so much mystery out there just waiting for us to discover it, so this is a pleasure to do.... xo

    farmchick - i bet there a lots of fascinating things in a baptist church service that we don't know about — every branch of faith must have a treasure trove of hidden mysteries...

    chiccorreal - what is mic?
    wow!! did teiresias really say that? must go check my oedipus rex!!

    what you bring up isn't just a chestnut - it's the whole tree! thanks for your comment - i loved reading it - and you are spot on - for whatever reason (the oedipus one being a fascinating angle) women have been marginalized in the past several millennia, esp the past two - and there are all sorts of reasons, from leonard schlalin's suggestion that the ability to read rewired the human brain (esp the male) to become more aggressive and warring dominated after that. the theories abound and would fill thousands of dissertations, but the subject fascinates me endlessly. thanks for your insightful and entertaining input!

    r-bear - you said it perfectly. it was indeed a perfect blend of learning ... and devotion.

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  18. towanda - other than o'keefe (which you correctly point out regarding her flower paintings) i wasn't aware of any other female artist who projected her genitals onto art! (btw i always thought it was correct about some of o'keefe's paintings, my opinion) but i appreciate your point of view. as i said, it is how you wish to interpret the image. but i have to wonder:

    why do you characterize such women as shallow?

    maggie - i would love to know more about where you live. if you've been around the virgin your whole life, it must be one fascinating place and you must have some stories waiting to be told....would love to hear them♡

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  19. God is an Hermaphrodite, it can not be otherwise.

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  20. Hi Amanda,
    I should apologize for using the word shallow when obviously they are looking for something more and deeper, and thus see vulva rather than aura.
    Linda

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  21. so fascinating. I leanr something everytime I read your posts dear Amanda.
    BTW, if you want to play along all you have to do is 'reveal' 10 things about yourself. Very simple :)

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  22. How fascinating! The vulva images remind me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. I would love to visit Mexico one day. Canada is a bit closer to us in Maine. Sorry to be so late to visit. I've been bogged down with work and start of school stuff.

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  23. Thanks, Amanda, I am really enjoying this series...

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  24. paul - you speak the truth!

    towanda - i appreciate your comment. so many of us humans seem to have a need to see something deeper in the reality presented around us - some of us more than others. thanks for your visit.

    loree - kind thanks, dear. i will think about those 10 things.......!

    sarah - the images are very reminiscent of o'keefe - i have a portrait of the artist above my desk, i admire her so. good luck with the beginning of the school year and all that you juggle!

    tess - i'm happy you like the series as well - it brings me a lot of joy to share this information about the divine feminine.

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  25. Amanda, this post so embodies the energy that you have represented for me in the blogosphere. You constantly cause me to focus my attention where I otherwise would fail to do so.

    For obvious reasons, thank you for that.

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  26. i spotted the vulva in the oval nimbus right away. your description of combining the sexual and the sacred is just wonderful. amanda.

    i don't know why 'we' are so closed about sacred sex! i spent a night with 13 women once and we talked about sex for hours, shared things that we normally wouldn't: it was all good and in some cases, hilarious!

    i'll wager you've read the mists of avalon; this history of the goddess. it changed my life

    love always!
    kj

    p.s towanda, what's wrong with sex in art? i don't get your gripe :^)

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  27. Hi KJ,

    I never said anything about having a problem with sex and art. To the contrary, I think there are a lot of great works of art that portray sexual matter in all sorts of ways, and I enjoy and appreciate many of them.

    What I originally had a problem with was the projection of genital symbolism on to the work, the Virgin of Guadalupe. Your perception was of vulva and mine of an aura. Because of this difference in perception, I spoke rashly. I apologized for that.

    As viewers of art we each bring our own unique experiences to the work and we each take away different thoughts and feelings based on our own perceptions. That is what art does for us.

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  28. Hello....yes, it's your seemingly-always-late *Twin* these days.... opera in September does that to me.

    I loved this post. I am not surprised you were able to visit Teotihuachan ...how wonderful! And now, you have shared this with all of us!

    As yet another blue uniformed, bruised-knee Catholic girl, I love the symbolism - and the connection between the Virgin Mary and the Moon (Artemis/Diana). I have always felt close to Mary - but also to the Moon...so I have *morphed" into my own type of Catholic...incorporating some Budhist, some old-world Goddess beliefs. It works for me.

    Towanda has every right to see what she sees and believe what she believes...but I feel that in Art, in Religion, - in just about every genre, we women have gotten short shrift..vulvas, auras.... it's all moot in the end - and how wonderful NOT to blamed for being weak, frail and a vessel for evil.

    Love, always,

    ♥ Robin ♥

    p.s. My *Catholic Knees* were bruised, but more often than not, because when I knelt down in front of our Mother Superior, my skirt did NOT toucjh the floor......too short! Shame-Shame! ;)

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  29. So interesting and informative Amanda!!

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