Could you tell us how you became interested in researching the Black Madonna and how you came to write your book Healing Journeys with the Black Madonna?
When I started this research back in the early 1980s, I didn’t know much about the Black Madonna, but I would see her in all these churches in Southern Italy. The people played for her, especially the big frame drum. When I started asking about her importance and why she was black, the priests would say it was just the smoke from the candles or something like that, which is obviously not right. I felt the calling, though. Why were they drumming and dancing for her? Why were people making vows to her? The research I did went far back into history. It turns out the Black Madonna represents the ancient Earth Mother goddess in different forms. The ancient goddesses Diana or Artemis and Venus or Aphrodite, and the main one that captures the essence of the mother of Christ is Isis from Egypt. Most of these depictions are thought to come from Egypt, Ethiopia, and other parts of Africa. She represents the darkness we come from (the womb) and the African Mother we come from. That’s a very important part of my work today. We worship black sacred images, and they are everywhere. People in this country are not as aware of that, even though they are still recognized in the European Catholic tradition. She is not easy to explain, so that’s why I wrote such a big book.
It’s also part of our ancient creation myth that a black meteorite fell from the stars in Anatolia and Turkey and that black stone became a goddess who was later carved into a goddess in Rome. She also represents the darkness of the cosmos that we come from, so it’s a little complex, but it’s beautiful. I think right now, people are becoming more aware of her because of the time we are in. In the Middle Ages, people prayed to the Black Madonna to heal them from disease and to ward off the plague, and they pray to her now for deliverance from sickness. She’s also emerging because of the high level of tension with racism that we have seen in recent years. I’m hoping my book can help people to have a dialogue about where we all come from and how we have a shared past.
Can you tell us a little bit about the virtual Voyage of the Black Madonna?
I started to lead a pilgrimage to seven sacred sites of the Black Madonna back in 2013. The story goes that there were seven sisters, and one was the ugliest, so she ran away to hide on a sacred mountain. Then, when they found her, they saw that she was black and the most beautiful of all, so they called her Mamma Schiavona, the Nurturing Mother. There is a description there that says, “I am black, and I am beautiful”, which is very ancient and taken from the Song of Solomon. I thought the pilgrimage would eventually become a book and even possibly a film. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I took VHS footage from Southern Italy of all of this. I combined this footage with what I have from the last six or seven years to create something new. Obviously, because of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to lead the tour anymore, so I felt really compelled to create this film. I spent a year going through the footage with an editor and produced eight episodes, one for each Black Madonna going from Naples down through Calabria and Sicily. Each episode has the history through my narration and the live processions and rituals. Nowhere else in the world has these types of practices, so I thought it very important to preserve them in this way. It’s amazing because these musicians can play in the heat without stopping for twelve hours. What makes this ritual different is that it is done for devotional purposes, to the Black Madonna, and not just to induce a trance. It is so beautiful.