I found this roadside shrine on the back roads to Petaluma in California. It had been an old spring but for now it is dry…But a little stream bed next to the shrine was running in full force from the winter rains after a long California drought.
The image of Our Lady of Lourdes graces this shrine…people leaving offerings of flowers and small tokens.
This area was settled by the Portuguese dairy farmers. The Holy Ghost Society bought the old world ways and traditions of Celebrating Virgin Mary to the New World. Below is an experience I had with the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society Festival:
Elizabeth Kelly and I were on our way, in her Mercedes driving through Central California to the small town of Thornton. It was said a statue of the Virgin Mary of Fatima had been crying real tears. It was the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Fatima apparition in which the Virgin Mother had appeared to three children in the village of Fatima in Portugal. And this little Portuguese-American town of Thornton was having a major event.
We drove past a canal filled with blooming pond lilies; the canal seemed to go on for miles. The bright yellow flowers in full bloom were resting on the water, open to the California sunshine.
When we arrived at the small farming community, the celebration was in full progress. The church was buzzing with people, and a festival with booths selling food, beverages, and religious objects was in process outside. We decided to go into the church to pay our respects. A long line of people carrying flowers and candles was making its way up the aisle toward the main altar where the statue of the Virgin stood upon a large table. Many older woman were there, dressed in black and singing Ave Maria in Portuguese.
Young women of Portuguese descent were some of the most beautiful young girls I had ever seen. Mary-devotees from all over the country were showed up for this Holy Day.
Elizabeth and I made our way up to the altar of the Blessed Mother, lit our candles and placed them at her feet. We were going to leave at this point, but at that moment the rosary had begun, and the scene became like a freeze-dance; no one moved from their place until the entire rosary was said. We happened to be right at the statue kneeling and facing the main altar. The crowd closed in around us, the heat of the candles was intensifying, and the Hail Mary was repeated over and over.
This was one of the most intense purifications I had ever experienced in a Catholic Church, and in that very moment I started my period. I began to break out in a profuse sweat.
I couldn’t even move, I just kneeled there praying, in sweat, blood, and tears. My body released an odor that “stunk to high heaven”; it seemed that the prayers were purifying me down to a cellular level and being released through the process of sweat and blood. The experience reminded me when Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane when he had prayed so hard that he sweated blood?
When the rosary ended, we left the church and the festival to find a motel, to shower and rest. We returned to the church around sunset. Outside were about forty statues of different saints resting on litters. They were decorated with colorfully flowers and ribbons.
People were saying prayers and rubbing their candles on the saints The candles were later taken home. The statues were blessed, and they resonated with years of people’s’ prayers and offerings. Each statue had become a living archetype for the saint’s presence.
Being the historian that she is, Elizabeth began to speak of a time when the pagan gods and goddesses of Europe blended with many of the chosen saints of the time. This made it an easier transition for pagans to accept the new Christianity, for their familiar Gods-in disguise-are what composed many of the saints of the Church. For example, Saint Brigit’s statue was there at the festival in Thornton, dressed in a nun’s habit and holding a small image of a house; the Celtic goddess of hearth and home was also called Brigit.
The Celtic goddess Brigit dates back to a time long before Christianity arrived to the British Isles. The goddess had two sisters, and the three of them were often called the Three Mothers or Three Blessed Ladies. Brigit’s cult was centered at Kildare in Ireland; a sacred fire was laid in the temple, and it was always left burning. Bridget was prayed to as the goddess of hearth and home, she was associated with fertility magic. Saint Brigit’s feast day is, ironically, the same day as the pagan calendar’s new year, February first.
Saint Brigit was canonized as the saint of hearth and home. One of the miracles she performed when prayed to was the multiplying of food supplies. Her convent, associated with fertility magic, was in Kildare, where cows always had an abundant milk supply and shamrocks grew at all times of the year.
And the shamrock itself had been the symbol of the Triple Goddess long before it became Saint Patrick’s symbol for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Interestingly also is the sacred symbol for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, was the white dove, which now is the Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit. This is the hidden feminine aspect of the Holy Trinity.
Leaving Saint Brigit’s statue, Elizabeth and I moved on to three other statues-of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary; Mary Magdalene, beloved disciple of Jesus; and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Historically speaking, Saint Anne was an old woman when the miracle of Mary’s birth came to her. The Crone aspect of the ancient goddess became Saint Anne. Anne also being another name for priestess in the old Goddess Temples
Mary Magdalene often labeled as a prostitute by the Church, though the Bible never mentioned her name in such terms The Pagan’s Maiden Goddess became Mary Magdalene.
Stain-glass window found in St. Vincent Chapel Marinwood, CA.
And, as the Church relates the virgin-aspect of the Mother, she is found standing on a horizontal crescent moon. Yet this horizontal-moon symbol actually is an ancient symbol of the Horned God consort of the Great Goddess. The crescent moon creates the shape of the horns of a bull lying on its side; in many ancient cultures, the bull symbolized the king and consort of the Goddess. In Greek mythology, Zeus was given the title the Bull. Egyptian Osiris, consort of Isis, was worshiped in the form of a bull.
Even today, the Hindu god Shiva, Lord of yogis, is associated with a white bull. Shiva sits in meditation, with matted locks, and a crescent moon in his hair. Parvati is his female consort, and is often portrayed sitting at his left side. The bull represents male sexual potency and, now, traces of the male consorts of the Great Goddess are seen in Catholic Church statues, under the feet of Mary the Virgin as she stands on the crescent moon.
Saint Nicholas was also there among the pantheon of saints, giving his blessing to sailors at sea (Saint Nick or Santa Claus, as we know him today, actually is rooted in a much older, pagan deity known as Nickar, a sea god and king of the ocean sprites), to children, to brides, and to bankers. In his hand, he held three golden balls, which represented financial assistance in time of great need; this is the emblem of pawnbrokers today. He was said to live in the fourth century as the bishop of Myra in Lycia. One of the miracles credited to him was the supplying of three bags of gold to three sisters who were about to sell themselves in prostitution because they lacked money for dowries; thus, becoming the saint of brides.
Elizabeth and I made our offerings and prayers to the various saints, and it dawned on me how many different aspects of Mother Mary there are: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Sorrows, the Black Madonna-her titles were endless. Her aspects are many, covering different offices and offerings.
I remember what an older, wise-woman had once said to me: “There is only one Mother of God but she has many aspects.” Even greater than the pantheon of saints of the orthodox Church was the number of more-ancient aspects of the Great Mother shining through in the disguise of The Virgin Mary. If one truly ponders the realization that for 2000 years the Virgin Mary held the Divine Feminine aspect for Christianity when all other forms of the Goddess had been stripped away.
Darkness had arrived and candles were being distributed among the crowd, when out of the church doors came a litter carrying the statue of the Virgin into the crowded street. Hundreds of flickering candles lit the scene as Mary’s figure moved through a sea of people and candle light, prayers on everyone’s lips, and hope in their hearts that the Goddess still lives.
After a good night’s rest, Elizabeth and I were ready for a second dose of the festival activities. Moving through the crowd, we came upon a traditional May Pole dance. Young boys and girls in traditional colorful costumes danced around the phallic pole, holding many-colored ribbons that were slowly and methodically woven around the pole. This dance had been a fertility ritual in old Europe. The phallic pole was inserted into the Earth to fertilize her womb and bring an abundance of crops and harvests. This phallic pole was even older than Europe’s traditions; it was borrowed from the worship of the lingam and yoni principles of India.
We moved on through the celebration activities to find men cheering around a corral where a bullfight was taking place. This sport, which is popular in Spain, Portugal, and Mexico, is the last remnant of ancient sacrificial bull worship. Many older civilizations believed that their male gods could transform themselves into a bulls. The Hindu Lord of Death, Yama, wore a bull’s head; Shiva, at one point, became Nandi, the White Bull. There was the Israelites’ Golden Calf, and Egypt’s god Osiris became the Moon Bull. It was believed in some of the bull cults that the sacrifice of a bull and baptism in his the blood would make a king a god.
A parade was beginning, and Elizabeth and I situated ourselves in a spot favorable for viewing. The statues were carried on their litters, now decorated with fresh flowers, and ribbon banners with the name of the parish it represented. Before each statue walked the congregation’s most beautiful young women, six girls for each parish church. They were fully decked out in expensive, white wedding gowns. Each parish had chosen a queen, who wore a sparkling tiara; over the white wedding gown each queen was clothed in a beautiful velvet cape that trailed behind her for about eight feet. These capes were highly decorated with Old World smocking, pearls, and gold or silver embroidery of crosses, doves, and the Eucharist or chalice. Each queen had a different-colored cape, and it was easy to see the time, money, and handwork that had gone into the costume of each participant.
Behind each queen walked two handmaids, who also wore velvet, decorated capes, but in a smaller version. Walking behind them were the junior girls that dressed much like the older “royal party” but were in the ten-through-twelve-year-old age bracket. Many were holding rosaries and saying their prayers; others were followed by the church rosary group reciting the Hail Mary. At the tail-end of each congregation was its saint, carried on the litter.
You can imagine what this looked like, with forty different statues and one queen and five princesses in each group-it was quite the royal procession. I had never seen this before, and even having been raised Catholic, I never knew that this type of society existed within the Church’s structure-for these were members of the Holy Ghost Society.
I learned about the Holy Ghost society a few weeks later when I visited a small museum in Bolinas, California, which featured an exhibit of the history of these Portuguese Holy Ghost Societies, including the crowns, the dress, and the royal robes. I learned that the girls were chosen for their ability to understand their catechism and also for their charismatic beauty. Each girl went through a ceremony with the parish priest, who ordained her a vessel of the Holy Spirit.
I saw that this society and its procession was a modern-day example of the use of the Hindu Shakti energies, the power of the Divine Feminine. The patriarchal structure of fundamental Christianity has wiped out most of the traces of the use of this quality of spiritual energy. But when you dig deeper into history, you can see it shining through.
“Shakti” is a Sanskrit word that means “Cosmic Energy.” Tantric scriptures describe this as woman embodying the Goddess. Christian Gnostics saw it as the “Sophia,” which is also referred to as “wisdom” in Proverbs in the Bible. The Gnostics’ word “Shi’kina” represented the “spirit of glory”; the Jewish Cabalists saw it as “Shekina.” Ancient teachings of Cabalists said that when God was in union with the Shekina, perfection was obtained. The Torah, or Law, symbolized the garment of the Shekina.
If you look at the stories of deities and of human masters, you can easily see the spiritual feminine energy at play. Jesus had his beloved Mary Magdalene, Saint Francis had inspiration from Saint Clare. In Hinduism, Shiva’s consort was Parvati, and Krishna had a deep love for Radha. The Songs of Solomon reflect the great love of Solomon and Bath Sheba. Even in Buddhism, when Buddha was seeking enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and his ascetic practice of fasting was leaving him very weak, in that moment he renounced his old structure of renunciation itself. It may be worth noting that upon allowing feminine support, in the form of a woman offering him food, he became enlightened.
Even in the mundane world, this feminine energy is recognized, for example, when one says, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” The counsel of a wise woman combined with love and that right companionship can offer the power to move the world. Unfortunately, too many times, the wise, feminine energy has not been recognized, and when it isn’t, we can see the negative effects on society.
And, when it is recognized, we can see the positive effects. The Iroquois Nation understood this principle when they formed their confederation. Several tribes were continually warring, and, after much suffering, they choose to make peace. They appointed the clan mothers to choose the chiefs of each tribe. They felt that the women’s council would choose wisely because they were more apt to choose a chief that could keep the peace, as woman were more likely to value the preserving of home and family. The clan mothers were given the power to choose and dismiss the chief if he wasn’t doing his job correctly.
In formulating the American Constitution, the founding fathers of the United States borrowed many of the ideals from the Iroquois Confederation. But they did not use “clan mothers” to aid.
When government is without feminine influence, we may witness more war and less caring for the people. And religion without the feminine can be more judgmental following the god’s law without love and forgiveness. And, more personally, when the feminine energy is absent in men, they are unable to incorporate the gentler side of themselves into their lives. This feminine strength and love can be taught by mothers to their male children, by wives to their mates, and by female leaders-clan mothers-to male governing leaders.
For, when the Feminine is not respected, we see Mother Earth used without consideration for the generations to come. Sex is degraded and void of love. Mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives are not respected. The wounds resulting from this are found in our environment, our relationships, our religion, and our government. It is not a matter of feminine versus masculine but, rather, a matter of a balance between the two.
During this phase of my journey toward the feminine face of God, I visited many churches, researched Christianity’s history and symbolism, and continued my visionary experiences. I visited a local Catholic church, dropping in to pray during my lunch hour. Interestingly enough, the interior architecture of the church was exactly the same as that of my childhood parish church. Researching sacred architecture, I found that the arch-shaped elements often found in cathedrals had an arcane meaning, being the symbol of the Great Mother’s womb.
And as I was kneeling in the church one day, I noticed a huge arch that was the opening to the altar; on each side of this arch was a rose window, giving an ovarian structure to the church.
Rose windows have long been symbols of the Virgin Mary; Mary had innumerable titles with the word “rose” in them, such as Mystical Rose, Queen of the Holy Rose Garden, and the Rose Garland. It is interesting to note that in India, one of titles of the Great Mother was Holy Rose; the temple was symbolic of her body.
As I contemplated the arch and the rose-window ovaries, my eyes were drawn to the altar. My consciousness rose above the altar where the steeple connected to the church, and in a flash I realized that this steeple was the male principal, which was united with the Divine Feminine of the altar. The male-female union was actually secretly built within the structure of the church!
My mind raced over other cultures that recreated this symbol in different ways. The Plains Indians had their medicine bundles which held the sacred pipes: The red stone of the pipe’s bowl represented the mother earth, and its color was the blood of the tribe’s ancestors; the hollowed pipe shaft was the male principal, and when these two sacred objects of the bowl and pipe stem were brought together, they represented union, which had power that could carry prayer to the Great Spirit, in the act of smoking. These pipes are so very sacred to the Native American tribes that they are considered one of the most powerful agents for communing with the Divine.
In the magical arts of pagan Europe, the mortar and pestle were tools used to make herbal medicine for healing. Healing prayers and incantations were said with the grinding of herbs. Looking at the symbolism inherent in these simple objects, we can see that the bowl represented the womb of the feminine, and the phallic pestle represented the male principal; joined together with prayer, they created sacred power.
India is a bit more obvious in its symbolism of the deities, with Shiva’s lingam and Shakti’s yoni the genitals of the god and goddess. This is seen in the lingam and yoni sculptures from ancient architecture to household shrines.
It is noteworthy that this sexual union refers to power and divine union, because in many religions, ascetic practices and the denial of one’s sexuality is the preferred path to the Divine. In many patriarchal religious structures, the feminine aspect of God is totally denied, which leaves a lopsided, incomplete doctrine.