Mary intuitively symbolizes the first incarnation—or Mother Earth

By Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Center for Action and Contemplation

In mythic imagination, I think Mary intuitively symbolizes the first incarnation—or Mother Earth. I am not saying Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype for it. Carl Jung believed that humans produce in art and story the inner images the soul needs in order to see itself and to allow its own transformation. Perhaps this is why the Madonna is still the most painted subject in Western art.

Mirabai Starr, student and translator of mystics across religions and a fellow New Mexican and dear friend of the CAC, writes about one such image that has had far-reaching impact. (We will hear more about Mirabai’s inter-spiritual history later in the week.)

When Christianity collided with indigenous religions around the world, a kind of nuclear fusion unfolded between the Earth Mother and the Mother of Christ. The apparition known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, from the Valley of Mexico, is a particularly potent example. This hybrid of Mother Mary and Tonantzin, the Mother of the Corn in Aztec tradition, appeared on the exact spot where the Nahuatl people had been worshiping the fertility goddess for millennia, and she spoke first to an indigenous farmer in his own language. Her skin was dark like their own, yet her features were European. She wore the traditional pre-Columbian maternity sash and also a mantle of stars, like the Virgin Mary. She made it clear that she was the Mother of All People and that her task and her delight was to love us, to give us shelter, to comfort our hearts, and to protect us.

The appearance of Our Lady in the sixteenth century in the Valley of Mexico coincided with the height of the Spanish Conquest, when the colonizers were systematically eradicating indigenous culture, murdering dissenters, and strangling the rights of the native people. The tender mercy of Mother Mary alchemically melded with the fierce power of the Mother of the Corn, and a glorious advocate emerged. Our Lady of Guadalupe bypassed the fear and suspicion engendered by the oppressors and offered a reconciling love that has continued as a wellspring of support for the people of Latin America. . . . [1]

I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype in the Christ Mystery, foreshadowed as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1; Wisdom 7:7), and again shown in the cosmic symbol of “a Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon” (Revelation 12:1-17). Neither Sophia nor the Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both are—and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.

The first incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia-Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness. Mary became the symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation (Jesus) on to us. Earth Mother presenting Spiritual Son, the two first stages of the Incarnation. Feminine Receptivity handing on the fruit of her yes and inviting us to offer our own yes. There is a wholeness about this that many find very satisfying to the soul. Mary is all of us both receiving and handing on the gift.

And the Earth is our Mother/Sister both providing for us and whom we are called to protect.

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