Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Spiritual Consorts & Miraculous Births -- 'Tis the Season

Marjatta rannalla, by Akseli Gallén-Kallela, 1895-1896. Image courtesy Universitetet i Tromsø (UiT) (University of Tromsø).
Marjatta rannalla, by Akseli Gallén-Kallela, 1895-1896.
Image courtesy Universitetet i Tromsø (UiT) (University of Tromsø).

With much effort, I have been attempting to find time to read. My energies have been focused on the works of Ida Craddock (1857-1952), a powerhouse of spiritualism & sexual liberation. In her book, Heavenly Bridegrooms: An Unintentional Contribution to the Erotogenic Interpretation of Religion, she puts forth the discussion of nupital (& extra-nupital) relations between mortal women & spirits of the Borderlands. The preliminary portion her discussion has focused on illustrating the abundance of such relationships in mythologies around the world. I was struck the the quantity, variety & antiquity of such cases. I have to marvel at how the story of the Virgin Mary was framed as a unique happening, particularly in light of all these other spirit/angel/demon/god-attached women:

  • Danaë, an imprisoned virgin & daughter of King Acrisius of Agros was impregnated by Zeus when he appeared to her as a shower of golden rain. In this way, she became mother to Perseus.
  • Queen Māyā, married to King Suddhodhana, (to whom she did not bear children for twenty years), dreamt on the night of a full Moon of a white elephant holding a lotus. This elephant circled her three times & entered her womb through her right side, an event which made her birth mother of Gautama Buddha. 
  • Devaki, often referred to as a "chaste matron," yet also a wife to Vasudeva & mother to seven children, was impregnated by the god Vishnu when he descended into her womb. Thusly, she became mother to Krishna.
  • Atia Balba Caesonia, niece to Julius Caesar made regulars devotional visits to the temple of Apollo. There, during her sleep she was visited by a serpent & woke with his mark on her person. In this manner she became mother to Emperor Augustus.
  • Jiang Yuan, considered the first consort of the Emperor Ku, was impregnated when she stepped into a footprint (or alternately, a toeprint) left by the supreme god Shangdi, becoming mother of Qi (Houji).
  • Wiininwaa ("Nourishment"), a human mother who bore four sons to a spirit father by the name of E-bangishimog ("In the West"). Of her four children, Nanabozho (nɐˌnɐbʊˈʒʊ), also known as Michabou -- a trickster spirit often taking the form of a rabbit -- is the best known from Anishinaabe mythology.
  • An unnamed Hindu widow, also a virgin, is said to be the mother of the Sufi poet Kabir. The widow, after receiving the blessing of Ramanand (we assume divine intervention) birthed a child through the palm of her hand, or alternately, from a blister on her arm. 

Danaë, by Gustav Klimt, 1907.
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favourites (for it is beautifully told & scratches an animist itch) among these stories found "the world over, in all ages" is that of Marjatta (or Mariatta) from the Finnish epic of the Kalevala. Being folklore collected in the 19th century, Marjatta may simply be a Finnish/Karelian retelling of the story of the Virgin Mary. At the very least, Marjatta's search for shelter is allegorical, although I suppose the seed of the tale could be of uniquely Finnish origin. At some level, I am not sure this is a point that matters much. In the tale, a young virgin shepherdess, Marjatta, becomes pregnant when she eats a lingonberry (oooh!). She seeks assistance from family & neighbors but is cast away until she entreats the kindness of a horse (ahhh!):

She addressed the steed as follows:
"Breathe, O sympathizing fire-horse,
Breathe on me, the virgin-mother,
Let thy heated breath give moisture,
Let thy pleasant warmth surround me,
Like the vapor of the morning;
Let this pure and helpless maiden
Find a refuge in thy manger!"

Thereupon the horse, in pity,
Breathed the moisture of his nostrils
On the body of the virgin,
Wrapped her in a cloud of vapor,
Gave her warmth and needed comforts,
Gave his aid to the afflicted,
To the virgin, Mariatta.


Marjatta goes on to give birth to a son who ultimately becomes King... If nothing else, having a spiritual consort seems to guarantee your offspring's station in life (but not yours!). 

The Dream of Queen Māyā. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.
The Dream of Queen Māyā.
Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.
I could continue ad nauseam with the innumerable stories of virgin, or not-so-virgin mothers, ghostly & ghastly fathers, births which appear to be the result of parthenogenesis, etc. (not the least among them that of "Pythais," mother of Pythagoras & Perictione, mother of Plato, both whom have been indicated as women beloved [& impregnated] by Apollo), but I won't. I mention them because I cannot help but wonder at the general absence of recognition of these stories. In light of Mary's very popular, well-recieved story on one hand, & their more-or-less veiled existence on the other, it seems to me that what this great collection of spiritual consort & miraculous birth stories represents is the human capacity to very casually & hypocritically dismiss the beliefs & experiences of the "Other." 

My statement should not be confused as a critique of any particular system of belief. I don't feel that the responsibility for being dismissive lies in any single camp. Indeed, I suspect that if anyone is honest with themselves they will see their own personal failings in this regard, as well as failings within their own community, regardless of their affiliations. Craddock, herself a singularly devout Christian, has this to say about these stories in light of popular religious opinion:  

We thus see that the heathen gods and heroes whose father was Jupiter, the Christian Messiah whose father was the holy spirit and the traditional "giants" whose fathers were angels were, in the eyes of at least one Church Father, but different aspects of the same underlying principle: the possibility of marital union between dwellers in the unseen world and dwellers upon the earth, for the purpose of begetting children. Today, however, we look upon the story of the virgin-born Perseus as fabulous. But the ancient heathen opponents of Justin seem to have accorded as scant respect to the story of the virgin-born Jesus as we do to the story of virgin-born Perseus. Now, to laugh to scorn the birth of Perseus from the occult union of God with one virgin, and then to accept without question the birth of Jesus from the occult union of God with another virgin, is somewhat inconsistent. On strictly logical grounds, if one story be false, so may the other be false; if one be true, so may the other be true. But Perseus is only one of many virgin-born heroes or gods. We find these children of a visible earthly mother and an invisible, celestial mysterious father the world over, in all ages. (emphasis mine) -- Heavenly Bridegrooms

Devaki with Krishna.
Devaki with Krishna.
Image found HERE.
As I prattle on about births of a fantastical nature (or not) on the very eve which marks such a birth, I find myself conjuring a wish for "the world over." Perhaps, just perhaps, for a few moments, minutes, months, millennia, we can cease to dismiss & instead, begin to consider. Consider the concurrences, counterparts, correspondences & correlations. May we adjudge our alignments, analogies & allegories, akin. We exhaust ourselves with the process of distinguishing, delineating, differentiating. Let us rest & for once, be more than human. Let us celebrate these miraculous children -- real or imagined -- by giving the gift of consideration. Let us live with respect & tolerance. That is my wish this night.

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