Grief is a sacred journey

The Black Madonna Wore Pink: Marion Woodman, 1988

With gratitude to AZ Quotes

I felt compelled to go. I wasn’t sure why. A friend had invited me to a weekend workshop on the Black Madonna led by Jungian analyst and writer Marion Woodman. In 1988, I had a few of Marion’s books, but hadn’t read much.

On Friday evening, I found a back row seat in a semi-circle of fifty chairs. A smiling woman about sixty walked to the podium wearing a pink angora sweater and a bubble cut. Her big beige purse could have belonged to the Queen Mother. I wondered what she could know about earthiness and the embodied feminine.

Marion Woodman, 2007

She stood next to the podium rather than behind it. In five minutes, she kicked off her practical thick-heeled shoes.

“Bare feet keep me grounded,” she said smiling at her audience as though we were her dearest friends. “I need to feel the earth beneath me.”

She laughed like a bright silver bell. We all laughed with her.

I’d read many Jungian writers on feminine psychology. I’d studied Marion’s teacher Carl Jung and many women Jungians for twenty years, but no one said much about body. I was drawn to Marion’s titles: Addiction to Perfection and The Pregnant Virgin. Like many others, I was addicted to an impossible ideal of perfection. Like the pregnant virgin, I wanted to seed my own soul.

Marion encouraged discussion and interaction as she wandered around the conference room in her stocking feet. She spoke about the threefold feminine in mythology, the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. I listened but kept quiet.

On the second afternoon, Marion announced she would lead “bodywork” that night. My friend wasn’t interested and decided to go out for dinner instead.

Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia)

“I’ll stay,” I said, even though part of me wanted to run to safer ground. My breath was tight and shallow when I walked into the dimly lit room where we gathered after dinner.

“Find a place to lie on the rug,” Marion said. With thirty women and a few brave men, I lay on my back in semi-darkness. Marion led us through relaxation exercises, bringing awareness to various parts of the body—crown, ears, shoulders, slowly down to toes. “Notice where you’re tight,” she said. “Or where you ache or feel a knot or numbness.”

Choose an image from nature or a dream,” Marion said, “and imagine it in a part of your body that needs support.” I held the image of a favorite flower over my churning belly and imagined the blossom opening as I breathed. Marion’s deep low voice kept me focused. Over the next ten minutes, my belly relaxed and my pulse slowed.

Madonna of Czestochowska (wikipedia)

Watch for healing images in life and dreams,” Marion said when the lights were on. We ended with a simple circle dance, one I would do many times with her in years to come.

The last morning, Marion spoke about the Black Madonna, the Goddess of the Underworld, the Earth, fertility, sexuality, and the cycles of life and death. Marion mentioned the Black Madonna of Montserrat in Spain, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in Poland, and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. My heart beat a little faster as I understood that ancient worship of the Dark Goddess still survived throughout the world.

“Feminine Divinity is in all of us,” Marion said. “We depend on Her for life.”

My heart pounded. This is what I’d come to hear.

Marion asked for Black Madonna dreams. I was silent, itching to tell the dream I’d had a month before but afraid to weep in public. It was almost time to close.

Virgin of Guadalupe (wikipedia)

“Any more dreams?” she asked.

My hand shot up like a rocket. I wanted to yell, “Me!”

“Tell us,” Marion said, focusing her blue-eyed gaze on me.

I told a dream about being held by a large dark-skinned goddess-like woman. I was on her lap, like a child. Although I have dream notebooks as far back as 1967, I lost that precious dream. It returned to the Great Unconscious, but it changed me anyway. Telling it to Marion and the group led me toward a spiritual search for the Dark Feminine. It wasn’t long before a group of women friends began studying goddess mythology together. We’re still studying and experiencing 25 years later.

I went to many workshops with Marion, the last one in 2007. Like a fairy godmother, her pink sweaters and blond curls slowly morphed into flowing fabrics in shades of purple and blue. Her thick tresses grew long, wavy, and grey.

In my dreams and in life, Marion helped me navigate the feminine mysteries. When my husband was dying, she held me through letters while I descended into the darkness of cancer therapy and grief. She still holds me in my dreams.

With Marion Woodman, 2003

The Black Madonna is larger than life itself.
Nature impregnated by spirit,
She presides over fertility, sexuality, childbirth.
She accepts her body as chalice for spirit,
Presides over the sacredness of matter,
The meeting of sex and spirit.
Rejected by the patriarchy,
Her energy has smoldered for generations.
Now she erupts in us and in the world,
Demands conscious recognition,
Demands redemption of matter.
(Marion Woodman, Coming Home to Myself, p. 125)

***

Do you have teachers who have been part of your life for a long time? I’d love to hear about them. If you’d like to know more about Marion Woodman, I highly recommend “Marion Woodman and the Search for the Conscious Feminine” by Patty de Llosa, published in Parabola Magazine. For another article I’ve written about Marion, see Falling in Love with Marion Woodman.

18 Comments
  1. Your wrestling with envy and finding resolution in a previous post was as endearing as this post is instructive. Here’s to burning away veils of illusion, revealing one’s authentic self.

    I notice the progression of color, beginning with pink and progressing to blue and purple, going deeper and more contemplative perhaps. Thank you for this introduction to Marion Woodman, with whom many of your readers are probably already acquainted.

    • Thanks for your great memory, Marian. The post you mentioned was about meeting Marion a few years later and being jealous of Vic because he was teaching with her. I wrote it four years ago. My jealousy had kept me up all night and motivated me toward making more effort to go to Marion’s workshops. Sometimes those feelings we want to reject point us toward something that’s being neglected. I’m fortunate to have been her student–and I still have all her books on my shelves when I need reminders. It’s always a treat when she shows up in a dream.

  2. Thanks Elaine – I love Marion Woodman for her clarity and her beauty in writing and speaking. There are many authors who write of the Dark Feminine; it is so necessary that we bring her into conscious awareness if we are to re-gain her wholeness not only for women, men also … Dreams are of course a wonderful way of hearing the inner calling of arriving at our essence (as in the first quote of Marion Woodman’s). Altogether a lovely post thank you so much! How wonderful that the dream returned even though it had been lost …

    • Susan, thanks for mentioning that it’s also important for men to bring the inner feminine to consciousness. Many of Marion’s workshops were women only, but she did a series at University of Toronto for women and men. Vic went with me when men were welcomed. Sometimes there were 40 women and 4 or 5 men in the room. Vic didn’t mind at all. I’m still searching for that Black Madonna dream since I must have written it down at the time with the details I can’t remember. I’ve looked through every letter I sent to Marion and through every dream journal, but there are many dreams in those journal, so I might have missed it. Writing this piece made me want to find it since Marion appeared in a few recent dreams. Now my dreams are in my dream journal and then I type them into a computer file for easy searching for subject words.

      • That’s an excellent idea to type them up and thus to be able to look more easily for subject words. Thank you, I’ll try that. I can foresee that typing them up also gives the opportunity to re-look, re-think and feel about the dream .. some more time on it …

        • I work with a dreamworker/therapist once or twice a month. Before each appointment, I review my dreams and what I was doing and thinking about the day before I had them. I write the dream with what was going on in my dream journal when I wake up, because otherwise the dreams slip away. Typing them later is another review. And if I know I had a dream about dogs or a certain person, but can’t remember when or the details, I can search. It works!

      • Perhaps if you meditate request and visualise you our dream will return to you. It still resides within you.

        • That’s an interesting idea, Patricia. Thank you. I’ve “incubated” dreams on various topics, but never requested the return of a forgotten dream. The teaching of the dream was clear and that remained, but it would be great to know the detailed images. I’ve had many Black Madonna dreams since that one–all recorded and on my bookshelf in a notebook. In 2007, when I had cared for my terminally ill husband for almost two years, I dreamed a Black Madonna handing me an emaciated baby girl and it was my job to keep the baby alive and help her thrive. I knew I needed more support, so I sought out a Jungian therapist who works with dreams. We started working together 5 months before my husband died. Dreams accompanied and often guided me through those years. I still see her once of twice a month to work with the magic of dreams.

  3. Thanks for this lovely reminder. How lucky you were. I never met Marion Woodman, though she was definitely one of my teachers. Her succinct writing voice has a accompanied me for many years, and I frequently recommend her books to clients.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashen. Yes, I was fortunate, beginning with my first meditation teacher in 1967 who realized his hippie students needed a psychological language, so along with philosophy, he offered classes in Jungian Psychology for years. With Marion, I was lucky to live 5-8 hours from places in Canada where she offered week-long and weekend workshops. Her ideas were important, but also her methods including movement, voice, and an ancient story or fairytale. I learned about the power of personal ritual from her. Also about painting, mask-making, dancing, and working with my dreams. I still work with a Jungian dream therapist twice a month.

  4. Thank you Elaine! This is lovely. Marion Woodman’s books are masterpieces, and are great to read again and again.

    • They are, Sera. In person, she was a beacon of feminine power, wisdom, and also humor. She was especially good at laughing at herself. I told her a dream I had of her where she was an ancient crone with clown make-up. She laughed and laughed.

  5. What a lovely tribute you’ve shared her of Marion and her work and how her teachings became a big part of your life. I am not familiar with her, but I shall now be taking a look at her books. 🙂

    • Thank you, Debby. Marion is your countrywoman, a Canadian jewel. She’s from London, Ontario. When she practiced and taught, her office was in Toronto and she taught there and all over the world. I crossed the border many times with Vic, with other women, and by myself to attend her teachings and workshops. She’s had a huge influence on my life.

      • Fascinating to know Elaine. I live in the city so London is about a 21/2 hour drive west. 🙂

        • I know you do. For years, Marion had her therapy practice in Toronto and spent three or four days a week in Toronto while living in London where her husband taught. In later years, she held classes in London. She’s still living there, but no longer in the public eye.

  6. Thank you for a great story ANF for the helpful reminder of a great And therapeutic writer.

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