Dreaming and Inspiration with the Sleeping Goddess of Malta
by Rev. Karen Tate
The tiny Maltese islands, located just south of Sicily, are home to the oldest megalithic freestanding stone structures that exist on Earth today. These intriguing structures, many of which resemble the shape of a woman‚Äôs body, predate the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. One famous artifact found in these ancient sacred sites, the Sleeping Lady, is thought to be representative of the Goddess religion practiced on the islands. Discovered in the underground, labyrinth-like structure called the Hypogeum, the Sleeping Lady is as much of an enigma as the location in which she was found.
Because of amateur and shoddy archaeological practices being employed at the time the Sleeping Lady was found, definitive scientific evidence is lacking about the exact nature and purpose of both The Sleeping Lady and the Hypogeum, but many theories abound. Having visited several of these woman-shaped temples, as well as the underground Hypogeum, I can personally attest to the sacred energetic that still exists among the ancient stone structures which seem to activate an intuitive remembering. This is particularly true within the womb-like Hypogeum, built in the fourth millennia and composed of three underground stories. One is flooded with emotions being within this incredible holy site, particularly when the ethereal echoes of sound begins to reverberate within the space. While some believe the Hypogeum was used as a tomb or to practice the chthonic mysteries of Goddess, the suggestion of the pose of the Sleeping Lady leads many to believe this was a sacred place used for the ancient healing art of dream incubation. This was an early healing modality where the divine would intercede and lend guidance or inspiration while the subject was asleep.
The Sleeping Lady of Malta found within the Hypogeum was hardly the only example of mortal and divine interaction. That inner voice, that divine guidance, those whispers that inspire us to act or create, entered the psyche of our ancestors in various ways. In ancient times these messages arrived in a dream, a disembodied voice or in a vision. In the Old and New Testament, these dreams of divine self-disclosure were called visions of the night. Physical appearances or manifestations of a deity were events of theophany or an epiphany. Ideas of divine guidance or revelation might also be called epiphanies. In writing to their congregations, we have evidence of apostles who have had visions of Goddess while they were awake. In Greece, Asklepios and Hygeia, God and Goddess of Healing, were seen in visionary dreams by those who came to healing temples for treatment using the aforementioned ancient healing art of dream incubations. After fasting and purification rites, the sick would sleep in the temple overnight in hope of receiving divine guidance to cure what ailed them. Dream incubation was also practiced in sacred temples by the Chinese. Native Americans went on dream quests where they would go out into the wilderness, fast and pray as a rite of passage, and in doing so, hopefully receive divine guidance. The ancient Egyptians also believed through the power of dreams they might receive messages from their many gods and goddesses. The Dreamtime is an integral component of the culture of the Australian Aboriginal tribes who believe the connection between the physical world and spiritual consciousness is reached during dreaming. These dreams shed light on the inner landscape of themselves, as well as inform about ancestors, history, fate, and culture in the past, present and future, simultaneously.
With the onset of science, and our disconnection with Nature, less and less faith and belief has been put in such methods. Today, occurrences of divine dreams and visions might be seen as unimportant and silly. They could be viewed as flights of fancy, neurosis, hallucinations or wish-fulfilling. And with some patriarchal religions rarely encouraging this personally empowered direct link to the divine source, or the divine knowledge of gnosis, such methods might at best be discouraged and doubted, or at worst, feared and interpreted as evil. It has been well documented what obstacles must be overcome before an apparition is accepted as real by the Vatican.
Could it be too many of us have stopped believing in dreams and visions? Perhaps we may have consequently severed or weakened that vital link to our God/dess Self or that gnosis that lies buried within. Many people do not attempt to remember their dreams or give any credence to these glimpses we are given. Could we have gotten too sophisticated and ‚Äúbig for our britches?‚Äù Might our ancestors, in a simpler time, have been more in touch with the Divine?
In more contemporary times, The Sleeping Prophet, Edgar Cayce, was famous the world over for his dream interpretations. He once said, ‚ÄúDreams, visions, impressions, to the entity in the normal sleeping state are the presentations of the experiences necessary for the development, if the entity would apply them in the physical life. These may be taken as warnings, as advice, as conditions to be met, conditions to be viewed in a way and manner as lessons, as truths, as they are presented in the various ways and manners.‚Äù Cayce believed the information he received in these dreams was from two sources: the subconscious mind of the individual for whom he was giving a reading and the etheric source of information called the Akashic Records, a sort of universal database for every thought, word, or deed that has transpired in the past, present and future.
On the other hand, Sigmund Freud theorized that dreams were a reflection of human desires and were prompted by external stimuli. He and Carl Jung believed dreams were the interaction between the unconscious and the conscious. Psychologist Joe Griffin believed dreams were metaphorical translations of waking expectations not acted upon during the day to quell their arousal. He believed dreaming deactivated the emotional arousal, freeing the brain to be fresh each day. Sort of like cleaning one‚Äôs palate between taste tests. Carl Sagan considered dreams neurological waste products with little subjective significance or meaning, however he believed REM sleep serves an important survival function in that being deprived of this state more than five days can cause hallucinations. Many psychologists believe dreams can help humans understand their subconscious thought processes in an attempt to overcome psychological difficulties. Contemporary researchers in the fields of dreamwork and parapsychology are once again using dream incubation techniques as they revive the ancient healing practice.
There is no definitive answer on dreams, whether they might be divinely inspired or not, if they can aid in predicting the future or healing the sick, or if they give insight into our own psyches, or provide a direct connection to the Source. Perhaps the best approach is not to question too critically the source of creativity, inspiration, vision and imagination, or any safe means that allows for personal growth and illumination. We can look to dreams for insight and contemplate the messages yet never relinquish our free will to make our own decisions without turning off the flow from the spigot. Good advice comes from Carol Koleman when writing about Yhi, Goddess of Light and Creation. She states, ‚ÄúTo bring life to the myriad of future creations waiting within, we must first acknowledge their absolute existence and believe that we can make them emerge through our own efforts. Remember there is magical possibility in every crevice of the cave! It only waits for our light to release it. If we ponder the gifts of our ancestors and honor the blessings we have now, the internal and external landscape of our world will be lush with life.‚Äù
The Temple of Isis Island of Delos, Greece
Delos, the sacred isle, one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Greece, is the home to many goddesses, including our Goddess of preference, Isis. As our sacred tour group waited by the dock for our boat to take us from Mykonos to Delos, we were anxious with anticipation about the visit. When the boat was late, not just a few minutes, but ultimately an hour, we soon learned something about living in Greece, or traveling in general. Be flexible and expect the unexpected. This snafu turned out to be one of our quirkiest pilgrimage stories. Here was a country that could decide upon a whim, it could just ignore things like daylight savings time!
Finally, the boat arrived and we soon found ourselves on our way to Delos, where the only inhabitants are the archaeologists who still work there. As our boat approached the island, my eyes scanned the landscape before me and I searched for the Isis Temple. I knew it sat atop a high precipice and was viewable from the sea. I saw it! It was still somewhat intact and I could just barely see her headless statue within the temple, one of the best preserved on the island.
Having exited the boat, I walked toward the Temple of Isis, enjoying the exhilaration of the strong wind, cool and crisp as it whipped across my body. From her sacred house there was a commanding view of the island and the vivid, clear, blue ocean beyond. Her temple is adjacent that of her consort, Serapis, (a Greek conflation of Zeus and Osiris) and at first, we just absorbed the beauty of this setting. How wise were her ancient followers who chose this prime location for our Goddess' sacred temple! Sweet music filled the air as our harpist allowed the wind to sing its own song as the currents strummed the strings of her instrument. It was so magical, it was almost as if Goddess herself was serenading us, with the wind as her fingers upon the harp. The moment was one I will never forget all the days of my life.
We are fortunate to have time here and we took great care making our offerings to Goddess. We left her dried flower petals and stones inscribed with words of devotion, including our name and the date, so that those coming long after us would know there were still priestesses of Goddess, particularly of Isis, in contemporary times. Archaeologists in future times would know we traveled far to make this pilgrimage, much as our ancient brethren were apt to do to in honor of her. We sang songs and rattled our sistra, the sacred rattle of Isis. As I sat there, reluctant to leave, a rather unexpected ritual of sorts unfolded. Delos, or Isis, seemed to have claimed a favorite piece of jewelry; an amethyst and crystal earring embellished with a moon and stars - my favorite. As I reached up and realized it had already been ‚Äúlost‚Äù to this sacred place, I offered up the mate. In reverence, I very lovingly took the remaining adornment from my ear and left it at the feet of Isis, protectively covering it with a large stone, feeling as I did this, I left a part of myself here with her for all time.
Looking back now on our three week pilgrimage, we all came home with mementos of our trip. Some were tangible and others of the intangible variety. Even if some thought they only came home with images of Goddess, or a great bottle of Greek wine, beautiful lapis lazuli jewelry or tons of photography, I trust we came back with much more than that. Our experiences were rich and varied. We learned much about ourselves, each other, and Goddess. Perhaps even more than we wanted to know. Traveling with people is like that. But if we put our faith in Goddess, while we might not have come home with what we wanted, or even with what we expected, as a priestess of Isis, as someone who has now felt Her essence, I must trust we all came home with what we needed.
Chartres Cathedral and Imagery of the Sacred Feminine
by: Rev. Karen Tate, author of
Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations
and Walking An Ancient Path
Despite the pressures from the patriarchy, and the infliction of the Inquisition, which decimated many of those in Europe who lived close to Goddess and her gifts, the Sacred Feminine endured in quiet confidence, even if she was sometimes shrouded. The new regime of Christianity, no matter how hard they tried, could not completely obliterate the people‚Äôs love and desire for the natural feminine principle that Goddess provided. She survived in the metaphoric underground, behind the veil of the Black Madonna, in the guise of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, all of whom have sacred sites which dot the countryside in France. Through the lens of sacred travel to such hallowed ground, this time to Chartres Cathedral, an hours train ride outside Paris, untold herstory becomes quite clear.
Chartres Cathedral, like many other such gothic structures that sprung up in the Middle Ages can be seen as dedicated to Goddess in the form of ‚ÄúOur Lady,‚Äù the Virgin Mary, hence Notre Dame. As such we can clearly see how the baton was passed from both Isis and Artemis of the Ephesians, both predecessors of Mary and called ‚ÄúOur Lady,‚Äù to the mother of Christ. Within these structures we see the reflection of the essence of the Divine Feminine incorporated within the sacred geometry of the architecture, carvings, and stained glass, all created by the sweat and determination of humankind who venerated her. Features within these cathedrals, namely the almond-shaped lancet windows and arches, are often believed to represent female anatomy or genitalia. Roses, bees, and wheat, common in imagery on stained glass windows, also are symbolism rooted in Goddess worship. Interestingly, the Church itself was referred to in feminine terms, and her congregation oftentimes viewed as the Bride of Christ. One wonders, would the Jesus of Gnostic texts, he an advocate of the feminine and viewed by many as being within a lineage of consorts of Goddess, if he would recognize most of what has become the dogma associated with the Kingdom he preached about?
Chartres Cathedral and Imagery of the Sacred Feminine: Encapsulated within Chartres Cathedral are a plethora of features and concepts personifying the Feminine Divine like no other single structure. The very site on which this current cathedral stands, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, has for millennia been a sacred place of the Earth Mother. First called Carnute, Druids were believed to have worshiped here in the sacred grove, practicing their skills of divination and related esoteric powers at the holy well, in close communion with Mother Nature. It is said the local tribes worshiped the Goddess here and whose image was one that depicted her giving birth. Later, as was the case with so many sacred pagan sites, the area was chosen as the location for a grand Christian structure.
A Romanesque cathedral was first begun here in 1020, but was subsequently destroyed by fire in 1194. Of this structure, only the west front, the south tower, and crypt survived. Curiously, of all the sacred treasures stored within this wealthy church, the only piece to survive was the Veil of the Virgin. A Gothic cathedral soon rose upon the ashes of the previous church, completed in just 25 years, in 1250 CE.
Pressured to adopt Christianity, those venerating Goddess at Chartres simply began to call her by a different name, the Virgin Mary, recognizing her as one and the same. According to authors Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson, Catholic officials actually devised a term for images of Mary previous to Mary‚Äôs birth called ‚Äúprefigurations of the Virgin.‚Äù Though not the intent of the Church, this certainly suggests another method by which assimilation of the Goddess and Mary occured.
Called by many the greatest of the French Gothic cathedrals, Chartres‚Äô powerful allure speaks to the faithful who have always been drawn here. Beloved scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell is noted to have commented on the huge impact this sacred site rendered on his psyche. Besides its hallowed location, the vast collection of Goddess imagery within includes two Black Virgins, the tunic of the Virgin Mary, the aforementioned sacred well, the labyrinth upon the floor, sacred geometry, feminine architecture, and the famous rose stained glass windows.
Beginning below the structure and working up, the large underground crypt is part of the original pagan shrine that was on the site from earliest times. The largest crypt in France includes two galleries running side by side and Saint Lubin‚Äôs vault, dating to the ninth century. One finds the sacred well, named Saints-Forts, directly beneath the church nave, and where the original statue of the Mother Goddess giving birth, renamed Our Lady Underground, or Notre Dame de Sous-terre, was kept. It is believed the original statue was destroyed during the French Revolution and a replica replaces it in the crypt today. It was carved of dark brown wood in Romanesque style which classifies her as a Black Madonna. She is placed upon the altar of the Chapel of our Lady of the Crypt, another of her epithets. When traveling to Chartres Cathedral, tours are given of the crypt, but like in so many places sacred to the Divine Feminine, do not expect the traditional tour guides to focus much on pagan religious history, particularly that of Goddess, in any detail, if at all.
Moving inside the church one finds the other Black Virgin, Notre Dame de Pilier, referring to the 10-foot (3-m) pilier, or pillar, on which she stands, though some say it is a reference to the pillar that once stood in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. She is just one of the many Black Madonnas, or Black Virgins, which are found throughout Europe. Other important Black Madonnas are found throughout Europe, including in LePuy, France and Montserrat, Spain.
These black or brown-skinned images are important within Goddess Spirituality, because these figures of madonna and child are believed to show continuity between the pagan Goddess with the Virgin Mary - and through Mary, the Goddess remained in the spiritual and public lives of the people. Just as with the aforementioned early tribes, and as we see repeated over and over from place to place, many contemporary Goddess advocates see little to no difference between Mary and Goddess. In fact, many even embrace Jesus as the son of the Goddess, adding another layer of assimilation between the iconography of the enthroned Egyptian Goddess Isis who holds her son, Horus, upon her lap, exactly as Mary holds Christ. To some, Jesus is easily assimilated in the figure of Horus, just as Jesus has been called the son of Sophia. It should be no surprise then, that some of these Black Virgins have been found to retain beneath their surface layer of paint, the name of Isis. Readers should also remember other similarities between Mary with the Goddesses, Cybele and Isis, namely, they were all called ‚ÄúQueen of Heaven,‚Äù and conceived their sons by other than natural means.
When Church officials are asked about the dark skin of these Madonnas, images seemingly considered a thorn in the side of the Church, they sometimes make the absurd reference to the statues being dark due to the soot from candle smoke, never admitting association with Goddess. No feasible explanation is given as to why only the skin is dark and not the clothing on the images. This author can attest to being at the Vatican and asking about Black Madonna imagery only to have the Church representative roll her eyes in disgust and me away as if the inquiries were certainly a nuisance.
Other aspects of Black Madonnas that seem to be common are similar elements of their history. Some of these statues just miraculously ‚Äúappeared‚Äù to fishermen and farmers. Others say these dark skinned statues came back with soldiers who had been on the Crusades. Theories proliferate regarding the darkness of her skin, with some scholars citing the Black and Brown Madonnas as originating from Africa, or with the darker skinned Isis and Artemis.
Practitioners of Goddess Spirituality often identify her darkness as a metaphor for the identity of the Goddess being ‚Äúveiled‚Äù behind the guise of Mary. Some cite her darkness as representative of the Gnosticism and alchemy she embodied, or the ‚Äúdark unfathomable depths of knowing‚Äù which is Wisdom or Sophia. Scholar Margaret Starbird, when speaking of Chartres, notes it became a ‚Äúcenter of enlightenment, the seat of a cult of Maria-Sophia, a goddess of wisdom.‚Äù The darkness of these madonnas might even be synonymous with her chthonic powers of regeneration. Her darkness is also related to Mary Magdalene and the Grail lore which has taken hold in popular culture.
Whatever the specific source of her darkness, and there were no doubt many, there was a resurgence of interest and devotion in the Feminine which accounts for all the madonnas and cathedrals established during the Medieval period. Humankind simply would not be denied their mother. Pilgrimages to these images of the Divine Feminine became all the rage, and cathedrals built in her name became the focus of master craftsmen such as the Templars and Freemasons who employed the aforementioned elements of sacred geometry within the architecture of these sacred structures.
Another of these architectural elements is the spire which has been associated with the sun and moon which is seen by some to combine the masculine and feminine in balance. This cosmological connection was often positioned within sacred geometry, ascribing to a delicate balance and harmony, not to mention an order of heavenly bodies. Starbird believes the Knights of the Temple, or Knights Templar, were behind the design and construction of Chartres as they attempted to restore the feminine principle in Medieval society. She states the Templars, ‚Äúhad access to the exoteric wisdom of the classical world, perhaps preserved in Islamic sources that members of the order encountered in the Middle East. Their knowledge of mathematics and engineering gave birth to the Gothic style of architecture, which spread almost overnight, as if by prior plan, across the face of Europe during the period from 1130 to 1250.‚Äù She states the guild who built Chartres were named the Children of Solomon, a direct reference to the King of Jerusalem, thought to have written the Song of Solomon, a metaphor for the ‚Äúsacred marriage.‚Äù Interestingly, she tells of medieval gypsies who believed the Notre Dame cathedrals of northern France were situated to form a mirror image of the constellation Virgo. It should be noted, that until the time of the Inquisition, the ancient arts and sciences of astrology, alchemy, mysticism, and psychology flourished within cathedral architecture and popular culture.
More imagery in which the Sacred Feminine lives within Chartres are the depictions of the Virgin in stained glass, including the rose windows associated with Mary Magdalene and the Grail myths. The lancet windows of Chartres are sometimes believed to be representative of the female vulva as the womb of birth and regeneration. The tunic and girdle, thought to be that of the Virgin Mary, have long been kept here as objects of veneration for thousands of medieval pilgrims. According to Elinor Gadon, Mary was wearing the tunic when Gabriel told her she would bear God‚Äôs child, and the girdle was believed to have dropped to Earth from her body as she ascended to heaven at the Assumption.
While sculptures around the cathedral are replete with imagery related to Mary and Mary Magdalene, the final aspect of Chartres to be covered herein is the 11-circuit labyrinth inlaid on the floor of the church. It measures 42 feet (13 m) wide and is said to be the same dimension as the aforementioned rose window. While labyrinths were a common element of medieval churches, this particular one is unique to herstory, having at the center a brass plaque depicting a rose with figures of Theseus, the Minotaur and Ariadne, all associated with Goddess and/or mythology of Minoan Crete. The word labyrinth, which means ‚ÄúHouse of the Double Ax,‚Äù comes directly from the word labrys, which is the sacred double-sided ax of the Minoans in Crete.
According to the traditional Church dogma, a labyrinth either represented a pilgrim‚Äôs journey to Jerusalem and back again, or the Way of the Cross. It was used by Christians as a tool of penance with pilgrims expected to follow the path on their knees. It should be noted that labyrinths, which are similar in form to swastikas, have pre-Christian roots which may have symbolized an inner journey, or a return to rebirth. It is no surprise then this labyrinth in Chartres cathedral shows Ariadne leading Theseus from the labyrinth, an act which Goddess advocates believe in itself is a metaphor for rebirth.
Other thoughts on labyrinths: They might be likened to the symbolic meaning of the kiva of the Native Americans, also a place of rebirth. Further, unlike a maze, one cannot get lost in a labyrinth as there is only one way in and out. It might also symbolizes one‚Äôs journey into the otherworld where one might commune with the Divine. It is a meditative tool, helping one to become centered. The symbol of the labyrinth is spiral-like and as such is reminiscent of the spirals on the Neolithic sites of Newgrange and Malta, indicative of the concepts of death and rebirth. The ‚Äúin-and-out‚Äù movement one experiences while walking a labyrinth have been adopted into spiral dances which practitioners of Goddess Spirituality often incorporate into rituals and celebrations. Interestingly, the labyrinth is said to have marked the gate of the Sybil of Cumae, an oracle similar to those of Delphi and Didyma. In pagan tradition this was an entry to the underworld, but in Christian context, it became the door to Hell.
It might certainly be said that Chartres, for so long a repository of the many faces of the sacred feminine, is like the deep well of birth and rebirth that reflects the spirituality of Goddess herself.