Let us run to Mary, and, as her little children, cast ourselves into her arms with perfect confidence.
– St Francis de Sales
By the fall a poison was handed to mankind through a woman (Eve), by the Redemption man was given salvation also through a woman (Mary)
– St Augustine
No man is delivered or preserved from the world-wide snares of Satan save through Mary; and God grants His graces to no one except through her alone.
– St Germanus
I was raised as a Roman Catholic. This religion which shaped many of my early beliefs and values, still has the power to, on occasion, make me silently say – “Bless me, Father for I have sinned.” While I love the stories and the rituals I grew up with, by the time I was 16, I was clearly headed down the path of leaving my childhood church behind. During the late 60s and early 70s, the Church tried hard to make itself relevant to my generation. The Latin language rituals that seemed magical to me as a child, transitioned into English language guitar Masses in my teens. While I liked the hip music, I wasn’t buying into the dogma which was expressed by my parish priests during Sunday Mass.
At 16, I discovered Yoga. In my 20s and 30s, I started down a self-directed spiritual exploration that had me discovering the different belief systems from Native America Earth based concepts to various Eastern Traditions. In my 40s, I was fully focused on my career and my work left little time for spiritual exploration. While I loved my job, something was missing. I used to joke that the main advantage of working in a male dominated industry was that I was the only one in the ladies room when we had a meeting break. While the challenge of often being the only woman in the room, made me feel successful, I started to feel a bit isolated. My husband recognized before I did that I missed being with other women – kindred spirits. I needed another outlet besides the stimulation of my job. So when we stumbled upon a flyer announcing a 9 month Women’s Wisdom program to explore feminine energy and spirituality, we both agreed I should sign up. The description of the program was so completely different from my day job, we both laughed at the contrast between the two worlds.
In the Women’s Wisdom program, developed by Sue King and Hemitra Crecraft, I learned about Goddesses, Wicca, Native American, Eastern and Shamanic traditions. In the course of this training, I was introduced to the concept that the Catholic Church elevated Mary, the Mother of Jesus for the purpose of indoctrinating pagan earth based believers into accepting the Church. With a strong tie to Mother Earth, community rituals were tied to cycles of the land, sun and moon. Early Europeans who depended on the Earth’s cycles, resisted some of the teachings of the early church. Mary, the Mother of the Son of God, replaced the Egyptian Goddess, Isis and other pagan Goddesses as the symbol of the Great Heavenly Mother. Some Catholic feast days celebrating her were attempts to replace important pagan rituals.
August 15th is one of those days. In the Catholic tradition, it is the Feast of the Assumption which commemorates Mary’s ascension directly into heaven upon her death. In the Celtic tradition, August 15th marked the feast of the Harvest.
This Catholic holiday was always special to me because it was Mary’s. My Mother, my Grandmother and I all share the first name of Mary which was a tradition in Irish Catholic families. (To avoid confusion, I was never called by my first name. But thanks to the Patriot Act, “Mary” has been added to “Denyse” on legal documents and government issued identification. Alas, confusion reigns when I travel on a commercial airline with my Mom.)
Growing up, Mother Mary (Christ’s mother) was revered in my early life. My grandmother had an altar dedicated to Mary. We used to gather violets and other wild flowers and place them on the Mary altar on a regular basis. Mary could be counted on to be an intercessor for our prayers to ensure that her Son heard them. My grandmother prayed to Mary every night. In summers on Long Beach Island, August 15th was the one day of the year, my Nannie could be counted one to don her bathing suit and go in the ocean. I was told whatever ails you would be healed by the salt water if you went into the ocean on the Blessed Mother Mary’s Feast Day.
This past spring, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore myths around both Mary, the Mother and Mary Magdalene. I had never appreciated Mary Magdalene, she was a supporting character in a Biblical story full of leading men. In my recollection of stories told by my grade school nuns, Mary Magdalene was the antithesis of Mother Mary. So when my Mother, once a traditional devout church going Roman Catholic, driven by her own quest for a more feminine spiritual life, joined a church devoted to Mary Magdalene, I was stunned.
When I would visit my Mom on weekends, I would join her at the weekly service. It was a Mass lead by Catholic Women who were ordained Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP). One of the women in the community shared with Mom some of the myths around Mary Magdalene who in some stories is thought to be the bride and first apostle of Christ. As numerous religious scholars have written, she was thought to have left Israel by way of Egypt and spent her remaining years in the Languedoc region of France. Mother Mary is believed to have spent her remaining days in Ephesus, Turkey.
This past May (the Month of Mary), Marge Richards, a member of the Mary Magdalene community arranged a tour to this region of France. With daily trips to sites linked to Mary our tour guide, Anneke (also known as Jeanne d’Aout – search Amazon to purchase her books) captured my interest and imagination with a different ending to the Christian Bible stories of my childhood.
As I learned more about both Marys of the Bible, I will take my dip in the Atlantic Ocean on August 15th with a very different perspective. I will note that with any story, the history is written by those with the more powerful pen and that there is always more than one side to any story!