Our Lady the Water Bearer Pt. II
an excerpt from
by Courtney Roberts, M.A. (Lewellyn, 2004)
(Continued from Part I)
It was on the following day, Monday, March 1st, that the first of the many miracles attributed to the healing waters of the spring occurred. The water had been carried far and wide by the faithful, and rumours were beginning to spread about healings wrought by its power, but the first cure that was officially investigated by medical authorities and accepted by the Episcopal commission as evidence of the “work of God” took place on this wise.
A young mother named Catherine Latapie, set out in the middle of the night for Lourdes, taking her two youngest children with her. She seems to have come on impulse, for she was a full nine months pregnant, but desperate for help. She had fallen from a tree back in October of 1856, seriously injuring her right arm. The broken arm had mended, but two fingers of her right hand remained paralyzed and gnarled, making it painfully difficult to perform her spinning, knitting and other household tasks.
She had arrived at the grotto at about 2:00 AM, and stayed to witness the morning apparition. Afterwards, climbing to the back of the grotto, she plunged her hand into the icy spring waters. As she did, she felt a wave of healing come over her. Her fingers were suddenly loosened and her hand made whole again. No sooner had she begun a prayer of thanksgiving, than she was wracked by the onset of labor. Gathering her children together, she hurried them over the six kilometers back to their home. There she delivered a baby boy, not fifteen minutes after they crossed the threshold. The child was christened Jean-Baptiste, and grew up to become a priest. Both the healing of her hand, which was whole from that day forward, and her relatively effortless delivery were attributed to divine intervention.
What Aquero Wants
The following day, March 2nd, there were almost 1700 people gathered at the grotto to wait for Bernadette. As she came out of her ecstasy, she headed for the rectory, for aquero had made a special request that morning. In the tradition of the apparitions and miraculous statues that preceded her, she had told Bernadette to go to the priests and ask that a chapel be built on the spot, so the people could come in a procession. Having shared this news with the crowd around her, they rushed ahead of Bernadette to the rectory, already convinced that a grand procession was in store for the “big day”, Thursday, marking the end of the fortnight of apparitions. This was probably not the best way to approach the clergy on this sensitive matter and things did get really awkward afterward.
Bernadette’s meeting with the priests later that day did not go well. The parish priest, Dean Peyramale, was not about to authorize any processions, particularly while the local gendarmerie was only just sorting out the problems presented by the crowds, and he was certainly not inclined to entertain any requests from some mysterious apparition who refused to identify herself. Whereas Bernadette stood firm and confident before the worldly authorities, the wrath of the parish priest made her feel confused and timid, shrinking to the size of “two grains of birdseed.”
The Dean was angry that day, and he railed at Bernadette. Striding up and down, he accused her of manipulating the crowds and the circumstances for her own ends. He was even less impressed with the two aunts who accompanied her to this ill-fated meeting, for he had driven them both out of the Children of Mary years ago, for getting pregnant before marriage. After assaulting them with an unpleasant tirade, he ordered them out. As they were leaving, Bernadette realized she had been so confused by his reaction to the procession that she had completely forgotten to relay aquero’s request for a chapel. Now she would have to go back and face him again.
Dominiquette Cazenave, the sister of the station-master, agreed to go with her and booked another appointment with the priests for 7:00 that evening. She pleaded with Dean Peyramale to go easy on the child this time. When the two arrived, Bernadette promptly delivered aquero’s request for a chapel, and once again, the priests fell to, like dogs on a wounded deer. Dean Peyramale insisted that aquero make that wild rose bush bloom before he would believe in her, and ordered Bernadette to deliver his counter-demands to her. The other priests questioned why aquero hesitated so long to identify herself. They all wanted to know who she would say she was. As the tone of the interrogation escalated, Dominiquette took Bernadette and left. Once outside the rectory, Bernadette was greatly relieved, for she had at least completed her commission, and done what aquero had asked.
The next morning, March 3rd, over 3,000 people were waiting at the grotto. When Bernadette first arrived among the throng, aquero failed to appear. Bernadette was deeply grieved and retired to the mill to escape the crowds, which she blamed for the disappointment. Her cousin, Andre Sajoux, convinced her to go home and try again later, which she then did. Returning to Massabielle around 9:00 AM, she found aquero waiting for her and all her tears were soon forgotten.
That afternoon found Bernadette knocking on the rectory door. She happily informed the Cure that aquero still wanted her chapel. When Peyramale demanded again to know aquero’s real name, Bernadette told him that she had asked her name, in obedience to him, and had also asked about making the rosebush bloom, but aquero had only smiled in reply.
As Thursday, March 4th, approached, the whole region was caught up in the preparations for the “big day.” While Bernadette had never made any promises or projections, the people expected some grand miracle to occur. The police commissioner took great pains to inspect the grotto throughout the night to ensure there would be no trickery or special effects. Dozens of police and military personnel were on hand, both in town and at the grotto, to manage the expected crowds and to prevent accidents on the treacherous footpaths over the Gave.
When Bernadette arrived on the scene, shortly after 7:00 AM, the size of the crowd ranged from an estimated 8,000 to 20,000. Aquero appeared as Bernadette began the second decade of her rosary. It was a fairly long apparition, lasting about 45 minutes, and Bernadette spent some time inside the grotto in silent conversation with aquero. Saying another rosary outside the grotto, Bernadette blew out her candle and headed back to town, leaving the silenced crowd behind. There was no miracle, no roses, no naming of names; it was just like any other apparition that preceeded it, and indeed, Bernadette had promised nothing more. It was the popular imagination that had been overrun with wild ideas about miracles.
And so it ended. The fourteen days of apparitions were done and the disappointed crowd dwindled away. The press made much ado about the nothing in their reports, scoffing at the people’s deflated expectations. But Bernadette was free; she had kept her promise to aquero, visiting the grotto every day and faithfully delivering her requests to the priests. She could return to school and her home; except that her home was now overrun with strangers who sought her out constantly, carrying on as only the frenzied faithful can. Time and time again, Bernadette had to remind these importunate seekers that she wasn’t a priest, and yet the crowds still pressed her to bless their rosaries, their children, to touch and heal them, etc.
Naturally, there were those who sought to profit from all the excitement, and those who accused the Soubirous clan of similar motives. Regardless of how desperately poor and starving Bernadette’s people were, there appears to be no evidence that they ever tried to use the child for gain. Bernadette herself was as incorruptible in life as in the grave, adamantly refusing every coin that was pressed upon her. The local authorities even tried to set her up in a string of “sting operations” but she never took the bait.
And so the 15 days of apparitions came to an end. While certainly entertaining, they had proven a big disappointment overall. There had been no dramatic miracles at the grotto, the lady had never shown herself, the rosebush never bloomed. There was no great revelation, other than the spring, and while there were certainly of rumors of miracle cures, the medical evidence was not yet forthcoming. Oddly enough, the parish priest, Dean Peyramale, who had been so hard on Bernadette, had done an about-face on the healings, becoming an enthusiastic miracle hunter. He hastened to champion some rather dubious cures that later cost him credibility.
As the talk of miracle cures increased, Bernadette testified during yet another interrogation on March 18th that she did not believe she had the power to cure anyone. Meanwhile, the people kept coming to the grotto, littering the area with the candles and votive items they left behind. But the apparitions were not over yet for Bernadette.
Dean Peyramale was thunderstruck when Bernadette delivered these words to him at the rectory. She had rushed directly from the grotto, repeating the strange phrase over and over to herself so she wouldn’t forget. “A woman cannot have that name!” he roared. Once again, the parish priest lost his temper with poor Bernadette and sent her away.
But Peyramale’s enthusiasm for the apparitions in his parish had suddenly been lit with a brand new flame. The Immaculate Conception? Finally, the apparition was speaking his language. This announcement changed everything, elevating aquero above the dim mists of peasant superstition, and instantly transforming her into a Godsend; a miraculous justification of a new and troublesome Church dogma.
The Immaculate Conception was officially promulgated as Church dogma in 1854 by Pope Pius IX. While only recently formalized, it had a long history, representing the culmination of centuries of debate as the Roman church struggled to rationalize its instinctive devotion to the Mother of God. After absorbing so many of the traditions, rituals, and imagery of pre-Christian goddess worship into their impassioned deification of the virgin mother of Christ, the Church was left with some thorny theological issues. Wrestling with this innate need to worship God as mother within such a distinctly patriarchal and male-dominated system required genuine mental gymnastics.
You have to catch the train of Roman Catholic theology at the first station; otherwise, you’ll never get aboard. There are certain first principles that must be accepted, without which, the rest makes no sense. The doctrine of original sin is one such first principle. In summary, it teaches that we are all born tainted by the fall, unwittingly separated from God and His grace, and in thrall to the lord of this world. Adam and Eve are to blame for this sad state of affairs, for according to scripture, it was they who succumbed to the original temptation. However, after describing the circumstances of the fall, Genesis 3:15 contains this cryptic prophecy, in the words of God addressed to the accursed serpent: “… I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise their heel.” An eventual redemption seems almost implicit within the fall itself.
In order to be fit to carry God incarnate within her, theologians determined that Mary had to be free from any taint of original sin, even from the very moment of her conception – not like the rest of you women! Mary was the antithesis of Eve; even a new Eve, never knowing the separation from God’s love that has haunted us since the fall. She was fully human, and yet the first and highest among all mankind, chosen and specially consecrated before she came into being for this extraordinary task of bringing God into the world.
The Immaculate Conception is a truly lovely idea, and lends itself to the most exalted and poetic interpretations. Still, I can’t help but wonder, what if God decided He wanted to be born of a perfectly awful woman instead; some lying, thieving, whore, for instance? Wouldn’t that be even more miraculous and Godlike, transforming the basest elements into the purest good? What would creative theologians make of that?
Even though the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a fairly recent development in Church dogma, we can actually trace its main tenets back to some of the earliest sources. The apocryphal Gospel of the Birth of Mary, of unknown authorship but of a certain antiquity, describes the conception of the Virgin Mary in terms that clearly presage the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. This gospel figures into the works of St. Jerome in the 4th century, so it is at least that old.
In this version of the story, Mary’s father, the Levite Joachim, is reproached by the High Priest for his wife’s barrenness. He retreats to the wilderness in despair, where he is blessed with a visit from an angel. The angel tells Joachim that, like Abraham and Sarah before them, his wife’s womb has been closed all these years that the Lord may be glorified in its miraculous opening.
According to Chapter II, verse 9, “….Anna, your wife, shall bring you a daughter, and you shall call her name Mary.” Verse 10 continues, “She shall, according to your vow, be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and be filled with the Holy Ghost from her mother’s womb. She shall neither eat nor drink anything which is unclean, nor shall her conversation be without among the common people, but in the temple of the Lord; that so she may not fall under any slander or suspicion of what is bad.”
Afterwards, the angel appears to Joachim’s wife, Anna, bearing a similar message. In chapter III, verse 2, the angel says “… a daughter will be born unto you who shall be called Mary, and shall be blessed above all women.” Verse 3 continues “She shall be, immediately upon her birth, full of the grace of the Lord … and being devoted to the service of the Lord, shall not depart from the temple, till she arrives to years of discretion.”
Verses 4 and 5 continue “In a word, she shall there serve the Lord night and day, in fasting and prayer, shall abstain from every unclean thing and never know any man; But being an unparalleled instance without any pollution or defilement…”14
It would seem from this text that by the 4th century, this rather Nazarite idea that Mary had been especially consecrated and pure, even before her birth, already had a strong grasp on the Christian imagination. In the very early apocryphal gospel, the Protoevangelion, commonly attributed to the apostle James, the brother of Jesus, and the first bishop of the Christians in Jerusalem, we find this charming tale from Mary’s infancy in Chapter VI, verses 1-3:
“And the child increased in strength every day, so that when she was nine months old, her mother put her upon the ground to try if she could stand; and when she had walked nine steps, she came again to her mother’s lap. Then her mother caught her up, and said, As the Lord my God liveth, thou shalt not walk again on this earth till I bring thee into the temple of the Lord. Accordingly, she made her chamber a holy place, and suffered nothing uncommon or unclean to come near her...”
This obsessive emphasis on the purity of the Virgin Mary is as much a part of the proverbial “Age of Pisces’” as the message of the Christ himself; that is, if you accept the idea that the precession of the equinoxes (introduced in Chapter 2) is linked to the evolution of religious ideas. The revelation of the suffering, sacrificial Christ, the Piscean IXTHUS and his fishers of men, forever turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy-times-seven times, has always been accompanied and counterbalanced by the puritanical and nitpicking tendencies of the sign Virgo. Wherever you find the disciples of the Christ, abandoning their egos in martyrdom and agape, you also encounter their fanatical devotion to chastity.
The ideal of virginity was one of the chief distinguishing features of early Christianity, setting Christians apart from their pagan and Jewish neighbors. This was a radical concept in the days before birth control. Foregoing marriage and sex not only demanded terrible sacrifice and self-control, it also liberated Christians from the endless duties of the householder and parent, freeing them to seek and serve the kingdom of God. The presence of so many self-proclaimed virgins within the early Church led to the development and regulation of the religious orders, which to this day are peopled with the modern virgins of the Church.
But is the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception true? Is it even necessary? I’m certainly not fit to judge, but it does shed a beautiful light. I find it uplifting that men should even rouse themselves to think such things. The case could be made that the doctrine does represent an evolution, even a revolution, in the definition of female divinity, one that is perfectly in keeping with, if not impelled and inspired by, the very impetus of the age. Whatever its metaphysical merits, it certainly represented a turning point in the declining fortunes of the 19th century Roman Catholic Church.
So when little Bernadette stumbled over these strange words as she delivered her message on the rectory doorstep, she could hardly have imagined their implications on the institutional Church. To the common people who worshipped at the grotto, aquero had merely identified herself with one of the many popular titles of the Virgin Mary. Most of them had assumed she was their heavenly mother all along. But for servants of the institution of the Church of Rome, like Dean Peyramale, her choice of words sounded more like a heavenly justification of some recent, and rather controversial Papal decisions.
The political subtext underlying the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was there for anyone who had an eye to see. Once the single, most dominant force in European society, the Church had come down in the world; a long way down. The authority of the Church had been undermined by enemies on all sides, but the scourge of “modernism” was chief among the Papal plagues. Ideas like original sin and redemption were losing ground against the onslaught of 19th century materialism and the rampant secularization of society.
In 1854, Pius IX had proclaimed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception solely on his authority as pope; alone and acting without the cooperation of the bishops of the world. This was deliberate on his part, and probably undertaken to expand and enforce papal authority. In fact, his actions set the tone for the ensuing declaration of papal infallibility in 1870.15
The Pope was not without his critics. They couldn’t necessarily contend with the doctrine itself, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception was actually quite popular, especially since the success of St. Catherine Laboure’s Miraculous Medal. It was already accepted and enthusiastically celebrated in communities throughout the world. What rankled within the ranks was the high-handed manner in which the dogma had been proclaimed. The Pope seemed to be picking exactly the wrong time to propagate such a sentimental dogma; one that could only widen the growing divide between the church and modern society, between faith and rationality, and between Catholics and Protestants. It seemed reckless to flaunt his authority at a time when that authority had become so tenuous. And now, Bernadette’s aquero had seemingly offered the Pope the ultimate justification for his actions. Dean Peyramale began corresponding feverishly.
It was this identification of Bernadette’s aquero with the Immaculate Conception that made all the difference. It brought the Roman Catholic Church’s utmost attention to bear on the apparitions at Lourdes. With the speedy approval of the apparitions by the Episcopal Commission of Inquiry in 1862, the grotto under Massabielle was miraculously transformed from yet another local, Marian shrine into the busiest and most important Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. Popular devotion to the Virgin Mary saved the institutional Church in 19th century Europe. The enormous success of Lourdes, following close upon the success of the Miraculous Medal, inspired a new wave of Marian Catholicism that proved to be a effective antidote to the skeptical materialism of the modern world.
Bernadette was born on January 7, 1844, with both the Sun and Saturn in Saturn’s own sign, Capricorn. Capricorn is the opposite and complimentary sign to Cancer. In the parlance of modern, Western astrology, under Saturn’s crystallizing influence, Capricorn can be as hard and unyielding as Cancer is soft and vulnerable. Whereas Cancer represents the comforts and security of the home, Capricorn must leave the nest and take on the challenges of the world. A strange creature, this sea-goat, emerging from the enveloping depths of Cancer’s ocean to scramble up the rocky mountain slope, Capricorn is perhaps the ultimate realist among the earth signs. More cynical than Taurus, possessing the broad scope that Virgo often lacks, he is the hardest worker and the best builder in the zodiac.
In Western astrology, which developed mainly in the northern hemisphere, the Sun¸ passes through the sign Capricorn in the dead of winter, when newborn life must struggle against bitter cold, prolonged darkness, and relative scarcity to survive ‘til the promise of summer. Nothing comes easy for Capricorn, and those born under the sign’s influence often develop a somber maturity well beyond their years to cope with the challenges of their early life. Bernadette was already well acquainted with privation, shame, sickness, and loss, but even at 14, still too ignorant and unlettered to qualify for her first Communion.
Capricorn is a social sign. Not particularly prone to introspection, it seeks itself in other people’s recognition. Driven to achieve, often by deep insecurity, the sign imparts a knack for organization and administration; just the sort of traits that lead to success in business and politics. Capricorn wants to scale the hard, cold rock of ambition all the way to the mountaintop, the pinnacle of their chosen field. They see the big picture, the grand design, and have the tenacity to stick to their own master plan for however long it takes. That perennial fear of winter motivates them to build the castles and amass the fortunes that will keep them and their loved ones safe and warm for one more season. Somehow, no matter how much they have, it is never enough. The fear never abandons them.
While Bernadette never was, or wanted to be, successful, she certainly was, and continues to be, fabulously famous. After that desperately harsh childhood, once the apparitions began, she became public property and had no private life at all. Sometimes Saturn and Capricorn are just cold and hard, keeping their natives on a very short leash, burdened with one responsibility and limitation after another. Even her aquero, the lady of her visions, couldn’t promise to make her happy in this world, only in the next. Once the apparitions ended, she wisely secluded herself in a convent, where, still continually sought by her public but isolated from her family, she spent the remainder of her short life in a routine of painful illness and hard work.
Today, as millions of pilgrims regularly pour in and out of Lourdes, it is a Lourdes that St. Bernadette would hardly recognize. While there is no mistaking the spiritual aura of the place, its crass commercialism is equally unavoidable. That is the price you pay for success I suppose, but now that we are hovering about the realms of material success, crass commercialism, and the institutional Church, this might be a good point to return to the here-to-fore suspended subject of the sign Capricorn.
Saturn’s sign is conspicuous, not only in the birth chart for Bernadette, but also in the chart for the beginning of the apparitions at Lourdes. An earth sign and prone to both deep insecurity and vaulting ambition, Capricorn builds, seeking validation in structure and achievement. Capricorn represents worldliness and the powers-that-be, expressing both the sense of adult responsibility and the will to control that drives people to seek positions of authority in the first place.
In this chart set for the very first apparition, the beginning of the Lourdes phenomena, we find an unusual link between
the Moon’s sign, Cancer, and its opposite sign, Capricorn. The Moon is conjunct Mercury in Capricorn, and both oppose Saturn in Cancer. This opposition spans the third decan, or the latter third of the Cancer-Capricorn axis. That same area was also highlighted by planetary opposition in the chart for the Virgin’s appearance to St. Catherine Laboure on the Rue du Bac, linking these two events together in the influence they would both have on modern Marian devotion, on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and its impact on the institutional church. This same Cancer-Capricorn area was again highlighted by planetary oppositions in the chart for the 1871 apparition at Pontmain, France, which is included in a later chapter.
With such an emphasis on Saturn and Capricorn in the chart for its inception, the Lourdes story is not exactly one of maternal solicitude. There wasn’t anything particularly motherly about aquero, but there is something decidedly institutional about Lourdes. Once aquero became the Immaculate Conception, Lourdes was big business. By the time Bernadette was safely stowed away in her convent, Lourdes belonged to the world.
Both the parish and the diocese undertook grand building plans that totally transformed the wild, pagan ambiance of Massabielle into the very image of the established Church. But even the oppressive and occasionally tasteless architecture could not deter the thousands of pilgrims pouring in. The healing waters of Lourdes were a powerful magnet, drawing people from all over, rich and poor, laymen and clergy, peasants and nobility alike. They shared together in the rituals of caring for the sick and dying; the bathing, carrying, and countless acts of charity and brotherly love. Never before in Christendom had there been such a thing; these massive gatherings of souls, united in prayer around the pools of healing waters at the shrine.
I cannot think of a finer illustration of the humanitarian principles of Aquarius, the Water bearer, in action.
It is the sign of the Water bearer that dominates the Midheaven in both the birth chart for Bernadette and in the chart of the first apparition, and Aquarius is well-tenanted with planets in both cases. The apparition chart boasts the Sun, Venus, and Chiron on its Aquarius Midheaven, while Venus, Neptune, Mercury, and Jupiter in Aquarius are perched on the Midheaven in the birth chart for Bernadette.
Both charts feature an angular Venus in Aquarius closely conjunct the Midheaven. Venus is the other starry goddess of the solar system and her attributes reflect the qualities of her mythological namesake. Whereas the Moon, as heavenly mother, is maternal and protective, Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, is charming, graceful, friendly, and fun – like Bernadette’s Aquero. Aquero was tiny and delightful, and about the same age as Bernadette – more like a magical friend than a parental figure. She was a beautiful water bearer, indeed, and the beauty and grace of Bernadette in her ecstasies helped to popularize the apparitions.
It’s not that the Moon isn’t influential in the apparition chart. It’s in Bernadette’s sign, Capricorn, and with Mercury, is tightly conjunct Bernadette’s natal Saturn in Capricorn; a conjunction further emphasized by the opposition to transiting Saturn in Cancer. This alignment says a lot. Not only are the Moon and Saturn in opposition in the apparition chart, they are both in each other’s signs. The Moon rules Cancer, and Saturn rules Capricorn. This type of arrangement is known as mutual reception, for each planet is “receiving” the other. This links the two influences more closely together and further facilitates the exchange of energy between the two.
But there’s more – any planet in the sign opposite its rulership is a long way from home. It is considered to be in detriment, for it can be detrimental to its normal functioning to be in a sign of such opposite qualities and character. The Moon is in detriment in Capricorn, and Saturn is in detriment in Cancer. So the Moon and Saturn in the apparition chart are in 1) opposition, 2) mutual reception, and 3) in detriment, all at the same time. This is an emphatic astrological emphasis on the Cancer-Capricorn polarity, and on their rulers, the Moon and Saturn, but it is also a somewhat distorted emphasis, developing the more problematic aspects and issues of these signs.
That difficult Saturn influence is evident in the pressure and responsibility laid upon Bernadette, and the surprising maturity she showed in facing up to the challenges of her mission. Aquero never promised Bernadette peace and protection. Her public life (Capricorn) destroyed her private life (Cancer) cutting her family and roots (Cancer) right out from under her. When she did try to return to her home, she found little comfort there, for it was overrun with pushy strangers and the poor child never had another moment she could call her own.
In the wake of all the embarrassment Melanie and Maxim had caused the Church after their vision at LaSalette, it was thought to be in the best interest of both Bernadette and Lourdes that she retreat to the protection of a convent, but doing so severed the last of her family ties. Through it all, Bernadette was constant. A real Capricorn’s Capricorn, she demonstrated genuine character and integrity, forsaking the world for the ultimate prize.
In packaging the apparitions for public consumption, the ambitions of the present (Capricorn) distorted the history of the past (Cancer), especially where the hard facts conflicted with sentimental imagination, or failed to serve the needs of the institutional authorities. The ancient traditions that were bound up within the image of aquero, linking the faithful back into the old ways of their ancestors, were once again repressed, denying the people access to their rightful spiritual heritage.
But these alignments also augured success; worldly success, material success, great buildings, impressive structures, fame, and renown. The Church prospered, public worship prospered, business and civil authority prospered, and Lourdes prospered, going from fairy tale to success story in seemingly no time at all, as each passing year brought more and more people in procession to the grotto, just as aquero had wanted.
The underlying Cancer-Capricorn influence is unmistakable, but the most popular and obvious impact of Lourdes is symbolized by the planets clustered about the Midheaven in both charts, where the Water Bearer pours out his libations on a thirsty world. The holy water of Lourdes is both its biggest attraction and most popular export. Who hasn’t been moved by the dramatic pictures of rows and rows of crutches, left beside the spring in testimony to healing? The sick and desperate, the hale and hearty, the faithful and the merely hopeful, stream in from all corners of the earth to drink and bathe in aquero’s magical fountains beside her grotto home.
The association of the sign Aquarius with the outpouring of the gift of living waters seems so obvious, but there is more to the symbolism of this sign. Like Capricorn, Aquarius is also a social sign, seeking itself through friends and like-minded associates. It is not a practical earth sign like Capricorn, and not, despite its name, a feeling water sign like Cancer. Aquarius is an air sign, intellectual and communicative, preferring the abstractions of ideas and ideologies, and the more detached loyalties of friendship. Aquarius likes nothing better than to join together with other idealistic individuals in the pursuit of a common goal or interest; the more progressive and outré, the better, and the more, the merrier. Aquarius actually enjoys being another face in the crowd, finding validation in popularity and safety in numbers, while strongly identifying with its own special interest group.
The pilgrimage groups that began to converge upon Lourdes in the years following the apparitions were devoted, not only to the Church and our Lady, but to a range of social and political causes that grew out of the instability of the times, including the ideals of a Catholic state, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy, and the political agenda of the Assumptionist order in particular. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that, for that time, these gatherings represented the largest popular massing of people in Europe, if not in the world. That stellium of Aquarian planets in both charts continues to operate to this day, as more and more pilgrims come in procession every year, sharing together their hopes and dreams by the streams of living waters.
As we approach a tentative conclusion to this never ending story, I propose that in following this course of events, we are actually tracing very ancient and indigenous religious habits, ones that embody such instinctive and deep-seated devotion that they are recycled from age to age and yet still remain vital and meaningful. The caves of the Pyrenees have hosted female deities and mother goddesses, in communion with their chosen visionaries, since long before the arrival of Christianity, and perhaps even before the beginning of history. Each generation experiences similar phenomena and exhibits similar responses. The differences lie in the meanings inferred; the definitions, context and interpretation. At Lourdes, these larger historical parallels have been repressed, and important evidence was ignored to make the story fit within the limited, and distinctly non-catholic vision of the Roman Church. It remains for us, blessed with unprecedented freedom of thought and information, to retrace the lost threads and piece the puzzle back together.
While I’m certainly not fit to judge what aquero meant when she said she was the Immaculate Conception, one thing is for sure. If she wanted a chapel to be built, and wanted the people to come in processions, and to bathe in and drink the spring waters, she said the one thing that would most readily assure it would all come to pass. Whoever or whatever she was, aquero wasn’t stupid.
The belief in the healing powers of rushing spring waters seems to have been part of our spiritual heritage for so long that perhaps we can only hope to trace its origins back to somewhere deep within our own. We still come, in greater numbers than ever before, to worship and purify ourselves by the riverside, where a heavenly goddess returns to re-reveal an ancient source of salvation. In the older forms of devotion that reemerged at the apparition sites, the Roman Catholic Church tapped into the people’s unconscious longing to worship the feminine aspects of God, ensuring its own survival into the 20th century. How ironic, that the church that once prospered by destroying the pagan goddess cults should come, in time, to thrive on their remains.
The message of Lourdes is timeless, at once ancient and modern. It is a message of community, of miracles we can share. It is a message of hope, even against hope, when all else has failed, when the combined powers of materialism and science must part ways to clear a path for faith. It is also a testament, among the thronging crowds, to the power of one; one little girl, who couldn’t lie, and wouldn’t be swayed from her vision. It is that innocence, that honesty, that purity of purpose, springing from contact with genuine divinity, that still captivates the imagination and thrills the heart.
From Visions of the Virgin by Courtney Roberts, M.A. Copyright 2004
1- Lois Rodden, Profiles of Women, 1988, AFA,Tempe, AZ, pg. 288. “Luc de Marre, from “birth record given by Choisnard in Language Astral (1922, pg.218)
2- Ruth Harris, Lourdes - Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, 1999, Viking/Penguin, NY, NY, pg. 77-78
3- Fr. Rene Laurentin, Bernadette of Lourdes, 1979, Winston Press, Minneapolis, MN, pg.112-114; and Margaret Gray Blanton, The Miracle of Bernadette, 1958, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, pg.209-210
My version of the storyline of Bernadette’s apparitions draws upon and synthesizes the accounts in the above sources, and other relevant texts cited within these notes and in the bibliography.
4- Ruth Harris, Lourdes-Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, 1999, Viking/Penguin, NY, NY, pg. 39-42
5- www.campan-pyrenees.com/medous/eng/navia.htm, May, 2003
6- www.geocities.com/~betharram and http://www.betharram.org/. May, 2003
7- Ruth Harris, Lourdes-Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, 1999, Viking/Penguin, NY, NY, pg. 36-37 and www.concentric.net/~Bluesox/day28.html
8- Ruth Harris, Lourdes-Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, 1999, Viking/Penguin, NY, NY, pg. 37-38 and Margaret Gray Blanton, The Miracle of Bernadette, 1958, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ, pg.45-46
9- Pamela Berger elaborates on this point in The Goddess Obscured, Beacon Press, Boston, 1985, pg.37. In Gaul, Christian leaders routinely destroyed statues of goddesses, as part of their missionary duty. “During the era of conversion, from the fourth through the eighth centuries, some rural pagans no doubt hid their statues, perhaps even buried them. Legends concerning the finding of statues of stately females, immediately christened the Virgin, abound throughout Europe. The sites of the discoveries have often been what archeologists now know to be ancient mother goddess shrines.”
10- Max Dashu, Secret History of the Witches, Xorguinas Y Celestinas; www.suppressedhistories.net/secret_history/xorguinas.html
11- Angel Murua, Folklore and Traditions, The Basque Country: Come and then Pass the Word or www.buber.net/Basque/Folklore/folk1.html
12- Michael Everson, Tenacity in Religion, Myth and Folklore: The Neolithic Goddess of Old Europe Preserved in a Non-Indo-European Setting, The Journal of Indo-European Studies 17, Numbers 3 & 4 Fall/Winter 1989, Pg. 277-95
13- Andre Ravier, Bernadette, 1979, Collins, London, pg. 21
14- The Lost Books of the Bible and The Forgotten Books of Eden, 1926, World Bible Publishers Inc., pg. 19
15- Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., Immaculate Conception, Encyclopedia Americana, Danbury, CT