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.
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.