Meeting the Black Madonna
I stood outside the Camargue church in the South of France next to a strong gypsy woman clapping to the flamenco dance of her sisters dancing in front of her. They danced in their floral knee length dresses, hips undulating to the claps of the circle of hearts that surrounded them. My gypsy neighbour elbowed me out of the way to get closer and I held on more tightly to my 5 year old son Charlie. Clapping and ‘Ola!’ filled the air in Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer as the gypsies danced for the Black Madonna.
It was months on from a dissolved marriage of twelve years and, unbeknownst to me, I was on the precipice of meeting myself for the first time. The strong interweaving of sensuality, heaven and earth spoke to my soul and still does.
My heart stirred again in the candle-lit crypt of the church, as I watched the gypsies dance flamenco for their patron saint Sara, or Sara la Kali. She is represented as a Black Madonna statue. She is believed to have been the Egyptian servant to Mary Jacobe, one of the three Mary’s that came to France by boat from Palestine after Jesus’ death. She is an unusual Black Madonna in that she is not the Virgin Mary.
Feeling this passion from the dancing gypsies, singing to the Madonna was the beginning of a great freedom for me: I grew up as a Catholic, lighting plenty of candles to my beloved Virgin Mary, and had successfully suppressed much of my sensuality and freedom of expression in my quest for the divine. I have always had a deep connection with the divine and this freedom to express myself was the missing link to a fuller existence. I knew how to connect with the wisdom but I didn’t know how to embody it.
Being with those gypsies, who were very much at home in their bodies, and so in love with the Black Madonna, opened up a whole new aspect of the divine for me, which of course opened up a whole new chapter in my life….one of experiencing this world both in my body and in nature whilst staying connected to my centre, my knowingness, my wisdom…. I am still very much refining that one.
Relationships have tested it and then strengthened it, tested it and then strengthened it. Don’t you find relationships can be this way? Every time we lose our centre to another, through peril or love, and then realise that we have wandered off away from our centre……we have the opportunity of returning back a little closer to our true centre afterwards. Relationships can pull us towards or away from our strength… The Black Madonna reminds me to be in alignment with truth; to both stand in my centre and to be in deep relationship with another.
When I got back from France, 18 years ago, I started to teach people how to paint with passion from their hearts. That time in France, as a single woman for the first time in many years, set me free to express myself. I started body painting myself, and others (this one is more recent) and developed a series of workshops that help people to express their soul. I love this work very much. It gives me such a buzz to see people truly expressing themselves.
Now, 18 years on from Saintes- Marie-de-la- Mer, I take people to dance with the gypsies in the desert in Rajasthan, because I know it touches their soul and what it feels like to be part of nature and a woman dancing in the night with your soul on fire. And it takes me back to the Black Madonna at Saintes-Maries-de –la-Mer.
Sometimes I have known this archytype of the Black Madonna, the divine feminine, intimately, for a few minutes and she shows me what is possible; my ego dissolves…. and then I know what true freedom really feels like…. to love unconditionally, to be of the earth and the heavens, to be a million stars, all shining at once, allowing the entire universe to be perfect in its imperfection. All of us are human, and passionate, and divine and perfectly imperfect in our quest.
That is Art.
I painted this years ago, even before I knew I would be running retreats in Bali. Now I sit like this at home and in Bali for my meditations.
Just keep painting your bliss….
The Gitan gypsy Pilgrimage in Sainte Marie de la Mer in the Camargue in the South of France is usually held on May 24th every year and is one the largest gathering of gypsies in the world. Sainte Sarah is the patron saint of the Romani people. Go! It is amazing. I will run an art tour there some time.