When god is a mother

Celebrating the mystery of life with Saint Sarah.

Paulo Coelho | November 2009 issue
Once a year, gypsies from all over the world head for Saintes-Maries-_de-la-Mer in the south of France to pay homage to Saint Sarah. According to tradition, Sarah was a Gypsy who lived in a small seaside town when Jesus’ aunt, Mary Salome, arrived with other refugees trying to escape persecution by the Romans. Sarah helped them, and ended up converting to Christianity.
At the feast I attended, parts of the skeletons of two women buried under the altar of a shrine were removed and taken to bless the congregation, whose members gathered with their colorful garments, their music and their instruments. Then the statue of Sarah, dressed in beautiful robes, was taken from near the church (the Vatican has never canonized her) and carried in procession as far as the sea, through narrow streets strewn with roses. Four Gypsies dressed in traditional clothes placed the relics in a boat filled with flowers and re-enacted the arrival of the fugitives and their meeting with Sarah. From that moment on, everything was music, feasting, singing and showing one’s courage in front of a bull.
It’s easy to identify Sarah as another of the many black Madonnas to be found in the world. Sara-la-Kali, the story goes, came from a noble lineage and knew the secrets of the world. In my mind, she’s one of the many manifestations of the Mother Goddess, the Goddess of Creation.
Every year, the festival at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer attracts more and more people who have nothing to do with the Gypsy community. Why is that? Because God the Father is always associated with the rigor and discipline of religion. The Mother Goddess, on the contrary, shows the importance of love above all the prohibitions and taboos we know so well.
The phenomenon is no novelty. Whenever religion’s rules grow tougher, a significant number of people tend to seek more freedom in spiritual contact. This happened during the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church confined itself to imposing taxes and building luxury-filled convents. The reaction was the appearance of a phenomenon called “witchcraft,” which, despite being repressed because of its revolutionary character, left roots and traditions that have managed to survive across all these centuries.
In pagan traditions, the cult of nature is more important than reverence for the holy books. The Goddess is in everything, and everything is part of the Goddess. The world is just an expression of her goodness. Many philosophical systems, such as Taoism and Buddhism, do away with the distinction between creator and creature. People no longer try to decipher the mystery of life, but take part in it.
In the cult of the Great Mother, what we call “sin”—generally a transgression of arbitrary moral codes—is far more flexible. Customs are freer, because they’re part of nature and can’t be considered the fruits of evil. If God is a mother, then all that’s necessary is to join together and worship her through rites that try to satisfy her feminine soul, involving dancing, fire, water, air, earth, singing, music, flowers, beauty.
This tendency has grown enormously over the last few years. Perhaps we’re witnessing an important moment in world history, when at last Spirit integrates with Matter and they unify and change.
Paulo Coelho is the Brazilian author of international bestsellers, including The ­Alchemist. paulocoelhoblog.com.

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