Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Cult of the ancient Goddess in the early Middle Ages - by Vijaya Schartz

Ste Sarah (Ste Maries de la Mer)
The cult of the Goddess predates Christianity and many of the sites now occupied by churches and cathedrals in Europe were sites of ancient worship, often Druidic. When Christianity was imposed by Charlemagne upon his conquered enemies, churches were built over the old Pagan altars.

Many statues of the Goddess, revered by Pagans, were incorporated into the early Christian faith as representations of the Virgin Mary, sometimes knowingly, sometimes out of ignorance. Whenever a black statue of the Goddess was found, it was dubbed a Black Madonna and incorporated into the Christian church, possibly to prevent Pagans from worshiping old divinities. Even statues now recognized as Pagan by archeologists are still displayed in many churches in central France. One in particular was recently moved from inside the church to outside on the front porch, after it was officially identified as the Pagan Goddess. But it is still sitting in a niche at the church entrance, without inscription or comment.

Isis, Queen of Heaven
Growing up as a Catholic in France, I was told as a child that the cult of the Virgin Mary was the main point of dissension in the early Church and the root of the Protestant separatist movement. In hindsight, it might have been that the Protestants of the time knew the worship of the Virgin Mary was a substitute for the Pagan Goddess and wanted no part of it.

I’ve seen several statues of the Black Madonna, some ancient, others more recent. Some say she came from Africa and that's why she is black. Sometimes she is called the Egyptian, or Kali (the black). In India, Kali is a black feminine deity of chaos and revenge. But the early Celts also were dark-skinned before the Viking invasions, and may have emigrated in ancient times from North Africa or the Middle East. Possibly they brought the cult of the black goddess with them.

Kali, the black mother

Over the centuries, the cult of the Goddess somehow survived hidden among the Christian Faith. The most famous Black Madonna is located at the Ste Maries de la Mer on the French mediteranean coast of Camargue, where she is worshiped by the Gypsies as Sainte Sarah, or Sarah the black, as their patron saint. There are several in Spain and in eastern Europe. Many other black madonnas are mentioned in ancient manuscripts all over Europe but disappeared over the centuries.

Although somewhat of a secret in America, the Black Madonna phenomenon is better known in Europe, where civilization has older, deeper roots, and many traces remain of what existed before Christianity.

Marion Zimmer Bradley in her Mists of Avalon series also alludes to statues of the ancient Goddess worshiped as the Virgin Mary in Christian churches.

Curiously enough, a series of recent apparitions prompted a new cult of the Lady, especially in central Europe. Some believe she is the Virgin Mary. Others claim that although divine, she is a separate entity. Could she be the ancient Goddess who prompted our ancestors to worship her?

One of these statues figures prominently in PRINCESS OF BRETAGNE and in PAGAN QUEEN, Books 1 & 2 of the Curse of the Lost Isle series. There will be another Black Madonna in Book 4 of the series, LADY OF LUXEMBOURG, to be released later this year. That one is still visible in the crypt of the cathedral in Chartres, where she is called the black madonna of under the earth.

Please feel free to comment. This could be an interesting discussion.

Vijaya Schartz
Swords, Romance with a Kick.
Vijaya's books on Amazon:


  1. I loved your erudite comments on the Black Madonna. Isn't the Black Madonna also often seen in Poland? I also am Catholic and have loved the tradition of the Virgin. I know the symbolism dates back to ancient times. The cult of the goddess sees the woman as mother and nurturer. This, of course, fits into the idea of fertility of the earth, etc. I loved the Mists of Avalon and know I'll love your book. Good job, Vi!

  2. Fascinating! Very interesting and informative.

  3. Vijaya, I found your blog most interesting and enlightening. Your books are on my TBR list, and I look forward to reading them.

  4. Thank you Sydell, Kathy, Viola, and Mary, for your kind comments. I always found the way civilizations evolve a fascinating topic, and the more I study and learn, the more I realize that everything is never quite as it appears. I like to incorporate such elements in my novels. It gives more depth to my stories.

  5. I wonder if she can be traced back to Sammur Abbat(?)...the splintering of the Babylonian peoples into so many competing groups forced to flee in all directions.

  6. Nubian priestesses of the Egyptian form of Astarte(The Goddess Isis?)...anyone ever check these "Black Madonnas" for inscriptions in a language resembling modern Coptic(?)...

  7. I wonder if Dan Brown's "Gnostics" coincides with any of these French churches(?). "Pornea" does not suggest the self control of castrated males(eunuchs by any other name?) and chaste woman that are more celibate than nuns living in the Vatican? No, not at all... I have always found it very odd that Catholic nuns were forced to wear clothing and veils resembling the uniforms of Babylonian Temple Prostitutes for so many centuries(?)... Consider that those Babylonian women were getting raped by "customers" and by the State of Babylon who effectively pimped them out for 2 years and kept all the profit(!). Now there is a structure for an "underground" cult forcing women(and men?) into prostitution, forcing such to report everything they hear, see, experience from "clients" with a staff of "investigators" and "enforcers" to promptly blackmail and squeeze every iota of intelligence and influence out of every "john" and "jane" for that matter. If a local priest or prominent citizen decides to expose or "persecute" the gnostic goddess cult then they are discredited, publicly humiliated or murdered--whatever was most profitable ane effective outcome for those running the organization(?).

  8. I must say I am not an expert of the Babylonian period, so I can't confirm or disprove your theory. It's an interesting one, though.