A Pilgrims' process into dreamtime and the Dark Mother

by Molly Scott, M.Ed.L.M.H.C.  

Ancient mother I hear you calling.
Ancient mother I hear your song...

Once upon a time in a land of war, there came together a small band of seven women to tune and dream together. Theirs were dreams of power, illumination, and moving forward, with themes of woman, earth, body , soul, connection and the chain of life. They dreamed images of  spirals, cathedrals, bridges, children, of synthesis,  cutting things into pieces, and reconstructing them again into a new wholeness....
communal dream-story from the pilgrimage to the  Black Madonna


 The small dark woman sits in a chapel carved from the sheer cliffs of the Dordogne river valley in  Southwestern France.  For centuries pilgrims have traveled here on their knees, their donkeys, in carts, now  mini-vans, and tour buses.  Improbably, they've come to see her – plain skinny little thing with a man-faced boy on her knee, perched at the top of an elaborate altar.  For seven hundred years they've gazed at this homely face, these half closed eyes looking straight ahead,the smallest of smiles softening the stern mouth. 
   All over the world her iconical black sisters sit in cloisters, caves, chapels and cathedrals. Sometimes hidden away, sometimes openly displayed, these Black Madonnas vibrate with a mystery that draws the attention, intrigues and engages the spirit. She has  many names besides Maria, most of them secret: Cybele, Diana, Isis, Kali, Hecate, Persephone, Inanna. She is both high queen of heaven and queen of shadow, mistress of the dark, holding court in the shadow realms of the psyche, the underbelly of the soul.

 Nine years ago I saw this ancient Madonna when I was in the region making a recording of songs to the Goddess. At midnight then, in a small chapel after a thunderstorm on a night of full moon, I sang her a song:

You cannot reach your destination without passing by me
And you cannot pass by me without looking  into my eyes
And you cannot look into my eyes unless you are totally truthful
So you must choose. 

 Hazrat Babijan * from "We All Come from the Goddess"

 Now I had come here again. My Danish colleague, Mette Feilberg, and I were guiding an international group of women in a workshop retreat called"Wise Woman and the Black Madonna". We wanted to encounter the Dark Mother, to look into her eyes and into our own souls. This visit to the Madonna of Rocamadour was to be the pinnacle of our week together, the core of our pilgrimage. Mette and I knew that  to go up, we had to go down; the path to the high queen would lead through the underworld. We had chosen to come to this ancient region of the  Dordogne because the river's twisting path had created both high cliffs and deep caverns – home to our ice-age ancestors as well as this strange, simple Madonna.

We also knew that to be touched and tuned by the energies of these extraordinary places, we had to first tune ourselves to receive them. It had been a hard trip for me.  I'd been on the road for two months leading trainings and workshop in Europe and I was heavy with stories, ghosts, public and private sorrows.  I knew that each of the women in our group also had her own ghosts and stories, her points of readiness and resistance. So we spent those first days in the Center at Merqeuy Haut, going inward through rituals and energy work: ChiGong, meditation, song,story, circle dance, and a special sounding practice I call the "bone hum" which set  the group vibrating like a singing bowl.  We also asked our dreams to teach and in-form us. Each night  we invited our dreamers to give us messages for the group and each morning, in the humming circle, we would share our dreams, and then harvest their metaphors to guide and enrich our process.


Their Dreamings led  the women to look at their shadow sides - what they did not want and could not accept in their lives - and to acknowledge their journey as spiritual practice. They were guided to see how limitations could birth creativity and lead to deeper levels of under-standing . So the women began to go down in their bodies, to explore the magic of their belly voices and their deep water wombs.

     We were following the path and the path went  down. At the dark of the moon on the second day , Mette and I created a ritual enactment of Inanna's descent into the underworld–  seven women for the seven gates of Inanna's journey. At each gate we relinquished a layer of our identity in the world  until, at the bottom, we met the Dark Mother in our own psyche. Returning, we took back only that which felt essential for our continuing. This deceptively simple ritual touched us deeply and when the bright hot days we had been having broke into lowering clouds and threatened storm, it seemed to us as though the underworld we had invoked was thundering in the sky.

    Mostly the women dreamed about water...Mountains and spirals appeared in their dreams like great snakes. They dreamed of their fear of the abyss and and of descending into the earth, spiraling down into essence,. They dreamed of the alchemical union of fire and water  on their  journey to become holy, whole and true.

      Then, like true pilgrims, shriven from our inner travels, we knew it was time to move on, to leave the work-womb of Merquey Haut and go out to the world to the places we had come so far to see–the deep caves and high cliffs of the Dordogne. Again,we first went down. Leaving the upper world rumbling with the thunder of an approaching storm, we descended into the earth, following a narrow track deep into the Grotte de Cougnac. Squeezing between bulging shoulders of rock, past landscapes of inverted candles dripping water instead of fire, we stood awestruck and silent before the art of our past. Twenty thousand years before us, here in the fearsome dark  lit only by fragile fires of bunched branches, our ancestors had painted these creatures living in line and color on the limestone walls – this prancing horse, that heavy chested bison. Their beauty engulfed us. Silence seemed the only response.

       The following day, we went deeper still, down into the Geoffre de Padirac floating in flat skiffs on an underground river through what felt like the earth's intestines – land-scapes so fantastic and varied they were beyond imagining.  I thought of Coleridge's lines In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn, a stately pleasure dome decree / where Alph ,the sacred river ran/ through caverns measureless to man/ down to a sunless sea..

       We  hummed then, in the belly of the Mother, our sounds spiraling up through the  arched shadows  like the hum at the heart of  the world. We sang too– wordless songs that seemed to rise from the water into our voices. It was as though these sounds were reaching into the heart of the rock, opening a current that would return to us and transform our lives.  

      Now these wondrous water women were flowing with the streams of energy. Their sounds and feelings were carrying them down the river, and they moved in the current swaying like sea serpents and sea plants. ..they plummeted to the bottom, searching , lapping, loving the water, and they brought forth life, birthing into these waters, secure nd peacful in their depths . For it was here that they got their power. ..

       It was the night of the new moon when we returned to our nest at Merquey Haut.  We made a ritual with the water we brought back from the underground, anointing each other and praying to the moon of new beginnings for our own healing  and the healing of the earth.

      These women returned then to the land with renewed strength and life-giving forces. They knew how to light the fire in their bellies and weave the magic pattern that can hold the water. And together they danced the water fire dance

       At last, it was time to go the mountain.We had made obeisance to Inanna and her dark sister, Eriskagel and met ourselves in their faces,we had witnessed the art of our  ancestors in the caves and listened to our own deep dreams. Now  we stood outside the door to the Madonna chapel at mid-day, sweating in the hot southern sun. This was to be the culmination of our journey. What would it be  like?

      When Mette and I had been here a few days before, the small sanctuary cupped in the cliff side had been empty of people and filled with a reverential silence. On that visit we had noted a bell hung high on the arched ceiling which was said to ring when a ship was in trouble on the sea, or when the Black Madonna had worked a miracle. It had not rung in recent memory.  

       Now the moment for the group had come. We pushed open the worn wooden doors and stepped inside–into the pandamonium of a bus tour. The place was crammed with people. Several tour guides talked at once, loud  voices competing in different languages.  Shocked and jangled, we pushed our way through chattering tourists to the front of the little chapel and sat down in the second pew. The little Madonna sat in her gilded niche, high above it all. The guides jabbered on.

        Directly in front of me, a woman in a flowered print dress was hunched over in the pew. I saw her shoulders shaking and knew that she was crying. Almost at the moment that I noticed, a sound arose. I could not tell where it came from,from me or from someone else, so effortlessly did my voice began to join it. It was the bone hum. It flowered up from us like a bloom in the shattered dark.  As we had responded with the hum all week, holding and supporting each other in the sound, now it arose spontaneously to hold and support this unknown woman. The sound gained in resonance and something  else began to happen. One by one the chattering voices fell still, until the little chapel, crowded with people, was totally silent, save for the pulsing resonance of our hum.

       In front of me, the woman in the flowered dress suddenly raised her arms, and as she did so, almost as if her body were my own, my voice opened and I began to sing. I don't know what I sang. Only that it flowed out of me like the river from the rock, and that I was caught, outside of time, in the breathing ecstasy of her uplifted arms and my uplifted voice. I was aware of the hum, supporting me as  the rock foundation supports the flying arch. And I was aware, towards the end, that I was singing  " Mater Maria" . And then it ended. The woman's arms folded back to her sides and my voice folded back into my body.  The hum too, gradually faded, and then we sat for a time in silence. 

       When we rose to leave, we saw that the chapel, except for us, was empty. All those people had folded back into their tour buses and gone on their way. And the little Madonna sat on her simple chair, with her long faced boy in her lap, the smallest of smiles playing at the edge of her ancient wooden mouth.

      Outside, the group sat in the sun on stone benches, still  silent. Finally Mette turned to me. " I kept expecting the bell to ring" she said. "It did ," I said. " It rang in us."

      And now these wise, wild, water women  were reminded of their power to radiate and resonate together, and how to mold the clay of the ordinary life into what can be sacred, magical, and meaningful.  They  had learned through their dreaming to honor and celebrate the dark as well as the light, to shine,to sound, and to sing out from the energy of the life around and within them, the humming force that weaves it all together in the resonant web of life..      

               © M.Scott l995