Meanwhile, millions of people still flock to Marian shrines around the world, like Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorje. Visions of the 'Luminous Lady in White' abound throughout history, and continue to this day.
The Divine Feminine in Christianity is an inspiring and provocative theme, challenging the dominance of male deities within the contemporary Christian “pantheon.” The irony is that historically, Goddess worship has always been a big part of Christianity. The Church fathers didn’t like to call it that, but in the development of the cults of the Virgin Mary, Christians openly incorporated the rites and attributes of the great Goddesses of the ancient world. The Divine Feminine was too much a part of the religious lives of the people and couldn’t be ignored.
The Christian church has been particularly adept in channeling the people’s instinctive devotion to a lunar mother goddess into the worship of the Virgin Mary. The love and loyalty she inspires are unparalleled worldwide. According to Marina Warner, “the moon has been the most constant attribute of female divinities in the western world, and was taken over by the Virgin Mary because of ancient beliefs about its function and role that Christianity inherited.”
Many areas of the world had some traditional cult to a mother goddess that was readily assimilated into Marian Christianity, and even continues to this day in the form of unique local customs, devotions, or apparitions.
Similarly, other female deities and spirits were often incorporated into the local saint cults.
Recognizable attributes of the great goddesses of the pre-Christian world; such as Isis and the Magna Mater, were regularly cut-and-pasted onto the burgeoning image of the Christian Mother of God, drawing their followers and spiritual heirs into her train. After all, a rose, by any other name, still smells as sweet.
Meanwhile, the stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances to humble seers in remote places like Lourdes,Fatima, and Medjugorje, continue to fascinate both believers and doubters alike.
This is hardly a modern phenomenon, or even especially uncommon. These visions were already prevalent at the very dawn of the Christian era. Although Marian Christianity has traditionally claimed them all for its own – packaging the particulars in the language and symbolism of the institutional church – there is something much older and infinite going on here.
Closer examination of modern apparition sites often reveals a long history of similar appearances. These sites may also have unique local practices that incorporate popular pre-Christian elements such as holy hills, healing springs, and sacred trees, with a mother goddess who just won’t go away.
Her worship doesn’t just endure, it thrives. In the parishes, in the prayer life of the church, and in the hearts of the common people, she commands a passionate love and devotion that the masculine concept of God simply doesn’t inspire. The worship of the mother goddess is alive and well in any parish on the planet. The culture and creed may have changed dramatically, but the emotions and archetypes remain the same.
The earliest, and certainly one of the most influential apparitions of Mary, occurred while she was still alive, at least according to legend. She appeared in 40 A.D. in Saragossa, a town in the north east of what is now Spain, to St. James the Greater.
This was James, the son of Zebedee from the gospels, the brother of John, and the disciple of Christ. Now what was a fisherman from Galilee doing so far from home? Legend has it he was evangelizing among the unbelievers, when he beheld a vision of the virgin poised atop a pagan standing stone, or pillar. She requested that a church be built on the site, as she so often does in these encounters.
This was the reputed origin of the great Catedral de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, or, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Standing Stone, the patroness of all Spain. The Virgin of the Pillar was a huge success, fast becoming the most popular shrine in the region, where the Queen of Heaven herself was said to continue to appear regularly during services to those who had an eye to see.
In this masterstroke of religious syncretism, co-opting and re-consecrating a site already sacred in the public mind, and enshrining a venerable local goddess within the novelty of the new Christian context, the church at Saragossa succeeded by striking a balance between old and new, past and future, inspiring a powerful cult of popular devotion among both Christians and pagans alike.
That good, old-fashioned, Bible-thumping, protestant fundamentalism we so take for granted today is a very recent innovation in the development of Christianity.
For a solid 1500 years before the protestant Reformation, (and then some) the European Christianity of our forefathers was, by virtue of its existence among Europeans, so thoroughly saturated with the pre-Christian practices of those societies that it is really hard to draw the line between what is Christian and what precedes it.
I’m not sure that we should.
No religion occurs in a vacuum. Contemporary Christianity is equally accommodating of, and a natural outgrowth from, the post-modern, consumer society in which it not only seeks to survive, but to lead and guide.
Consequently, the charts for the visions and visionaries not only reveal recurring planetary patterns, but the archetypal imagery associated with the astrological components, like the Moon, Venus, and the sign Virgo, neatly correspond with the mythological dramas playing out in the details of the apparition stories.