And now, on with our story from Part 1:
Our trusty Juan Diego, bearing his dual burdens of the bundled tilma and his role as messenger, returned to the presence of Bishop Juan de Zumarraga to try again. With lowered eyes, he spilled the roses out of his cape. We can only imagine the Most Excellent's surprise, seeing the floor at his feet flooded with roses in bloom. But imagine the effect of what next he saw as his eyes rose to Juan's tilma, for on the coarse fabric was imprinted the image that has become famous and revered throughout Mexico.
If all that's not interesting enough, here's my favorite part. There are accounts of this entire event, one of which is in the Nican Mopoah, a long document published in 1649 in Nahuatl, the pre-hispanic indigenous language still spoken by over a million people in Mexico. The document is clear about this: the woman who appeared spoke to Juan Diego in Nahuatl, his native language and the language of the area. She told him not to fear her with the words "Am I not your mother?"
She introduced herself using a number of Nahuatl phrases. Even the reports written after the fact by priests do not say "Mary Mother of God" although she claimed mothering someone(s) including "Creator of People". She gave a name, but what was it? Some accounts say it was Coatlaxopeuh which is pronounced kwaht-la-supay, and is one of the several personifications of a certain Aztec goddess.
Repeat that pronunciation aloud, if you would. Listen to it. Juan, speaking Nahuatl, spoke to the Bishop, a Spanish speaker from Spain where the word Guadalupe was already in use. So what did Juan Diego say, and what did Bishop Juan de Zurrumaga hear?
Because here's the best part. Tepeyac, the hillside upon which the lady appeared, had long been the worship spot for the goddess Tonantzin, she of the many names, in all her incarnations and aspects the most powerful of Aztec goddesses. Our Revered Mother. Mother of All Gods.
Her temple stood on the very same hill upon which the apparition appeared and upon which, thanks to the roses and the tilma's image, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe was built in its place.
What do I believe about all this? I'll go out on a limb and tell you.
Although my mother tried bravely to raise me as a Catholic, my consuming desire to know everything about everything long ago caused me to widen my horizons. In my youth, in avid studies of anthropology and archeology, and thanks to a hit of acid now and then, I saw clearly the threads of common belief that tie together humanity in a scribble of connected cords. For all of human history, people have created stories to interpret the absolute insecurity of the human condition.
In every culture I have researched, I've found a god (or several) who is the Creator, a goddess (or several) who is the Great Mother.
The Great Mother in human cultures is seldom seen as the humble and subordinate figure of much of Christianity. Certainly she is a loving mother, but she has other aspects. She will defend her charges without compunction, often wields a sword either literally or figuratively, is known to take serious revenge if the transgression displeases her enough. She is as much tiger as she is doe.
As for Tonantzin, besides Coatlaxopeuh one of her characterizations is as Coatlicue, Snake Woman, a ferocious earth mother goddess who gave birth to the moon and stars and to the god of the sun. Remarkably (but not unusually, in the pantheon of earth goddesses), she was said to have been miraculously impregnated by a ball of feathers, the pregnancy resulting in the birth of the Aztec patron deity. Let's not even go into the number of virgin births of gods in the human story: they are countless.
Oh, and by the way: say "kwat-leh-COO-ay" once or twice aloud. Ring a bell?
Now I will climb way out to the end of that limb and if I fall, I'll accept the consequences. It is my current belief that nature and the universe hold truths we have not begun to understand. We're getting closer, most evidently to me in physics and the study of the behavior and possibilities of energy. For are we all not mostly energy? With a little matter thrown in as binder?
In my travels, I have experienced a number of locations on this planet (Assisi most profoundly; Ortigia in Sicily; pre-gentrified Sedona; Jala the City of Witches and healing in Nayarit; Talpa de Allende in Jalisco, to name a few) where energy appears to have a powerful effect on the human psyche. All of these places bear evidence of humans having noticed and attempted to personify this energy for millenia. And I haven't even been to Tepeyac yet.
I still refuse to disbelieve that "miracles" happen, given that the word has always applied to marvelous things we don't understand -- yet. Personally (oh there's the end of that limb...) I believe that it's all about energy and how our still-evolving human brains interpret natural truths. I believe, non-Christian that I am, in the Golden Rule. What goes around comes around. What you give is what you receive. What you envision and embrace is what your life becomes. It's all energy, in my opinion, although in my constant wide-eyed marvelling over life and the universe and all that, I have been known to use the word "magic".
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Of course, another question is: did any of this really happen? Was the vision on Tepeyac a figment of an overwrought convert's imagination? Is the tilma, the only existing evidence of the miracle, a construct of the Spanish Catholic heirarchy to convince the native people to convert? Is it a painting made nearly a hundred years after the supposed miracle? What do scientists say?
Scientists say pretty much nothing, as the cloak has never been subjected to any real scientific examination. Believe me, I've looked. Google results by the hundreds purport to answer the question but none of them does, all being either defenses of the miracle by Catholic writers or non-Catholic conjectures regarding its being counterfeited by the conquering clergy.
But the authenticity of the miracle and the cloak don't really matter. What interests me is the continuation through the ages of human cultures settling upon the same basic explanations of how and why we are here at all.
"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr
The Virgin of Guadalupe, in all her aspects, continues the age-old belief in the Great Mother, Mother Earth, nurturer and life-giver. Guadalupe was made mild by the Spanish clergy who chose not to incorporate the ancient aspects of Earth Mother as warrior-when-necessary, but then that was how the patriarchal church always strove to prevent women from knowing their own power. Still does.
Yet here in Mexico, the practice of Catholicism that I've witnessed has roots that tap deep into the ancient mythologies, combining the myriad facets of the old goddesses into the one they call Guadalupe. In this land of machismo and apparent male dominance (as in so very many other lands) women are still the sex most connected to the essence of human existence, of birth and death and love and life itself, and Guadalupe is their sovereign.
And so I continue my own pilgrimage into the mysteries of life. Keep 'em coming, I say.
Happy Mother's Day, all you earth goddesses. Sending my love.
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This story is dedicated to Charlene Collora, one of the true earth mother goddesses I have had the joy of knowing and loving for over thirty years. Embrace the mystery, dear one, and let me know what you continue to discover. xo C