The Luminous Dark Mother
By Leslene della-Madre
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I am deeply interested in the true origins and beginnings of the spiritual life of humankind. This interest has, over time, become a passion as I have expanded my awareness and understanding about our human story — most of which is not told in history books. As a long-time student of Goddess thealogy and spirituality, I have woven into the fabric of my life the inspirations and insights that have come from teachers, elders, and sister travelers who also share this same passion. I have also made spiritual journeys in search of ancestral wisdom about how our ancestors revered the most ancient and primal deity — the Great Mother, also known by some as the Dark Mother. I have found myself propelled into finding answers to the questions: "Who is She?" and "What significance does She hold for all of humanity?" I realized that I have had a profound inquisitiveness about, and yearning for, the Dark Mother for a very long time while not really knowing it, because I had no language for this longing until the Goddess spirituality movement became a reality for many women. From vision quests on mountaintops, to using sacred hallucinogens, to studying numerous Goddess cultures from around the world and traveling to sacred sites, I have been on a long quest — one that has taken me to the heart of the Goddess.

In 1998, I went on pilgrimage to Malta, Egypt, and Crete on the trail of the African Dark Mother who was carried in the hearts and minds of very early peoples migrating from the African continent into other parts of the world. My longing for this communion with the Dark Mother was also further deepened when I attended a conference in San Francisco on the Goddess at the California Institute of Integral Studies, in the late 1990s, honoring the work of the late archaeomythologist and linguist Marija Gimbutas. There I met cultural historian Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, whose work has focused on the origins of Goddess culture and spirituality originating in Africa, and the subsequent diaspora. I was enthralled with her research and could deeply understand her passion for educating people about the Dark Mother. Her wisdom ignited something deep within me. Perhaps it was more of an awakening — a remembrance bubbling up from my very cells. When Lucia planned a pilgrimage to Sardegna in May/June of 2004 to explore African migration paths and the Dark Mother, I jumped at the chance to travel with, and learn, from her.

I had been fascinated by astronomer Vera Rubin's discovery of dark matter (the word "matter" comes from "mater" or "mother"). Dark matter comprises about ninety percent of the matter in the universe (which I like to refer to as the "yoni-verse," as "uni" is a cognate of "yoni") and yet, is invisible. It is thought by astronomers and physicists that the gravity of dark matter shapes galaxies and holds them together. I had begun to think of this as metaphor and to consider what sacred meaning this metaphor might hold for humanity as a reflection of macrocosm in the microcosm. In other words, what is the correspondence between the Dark Mother of space and the Dark Mother in our human experience?

Lucia's work sheds light on this mystery. Her work cites research by noted geneticists revealing that African DNA is found in all races of people, and that humans — our species homo sapiens sapiens — originated in Africa. Her research has revealed that the worship of the Dark Mother followed African migrations after 60,000 BCE, first moving west into Asia and then spreading out across the rest of the world. From this evidence, supported by archeologists and other cultural historians, she boldly asserts that we are one race of people, originally African, and that we are all people of color!

Evidence of early African migration can be seen at the site of the oldest religious sanctuary in the world, Har Karkom, created in 40,000 BCE in the Sinai Peninsula, later known as Mt. Sinai. In Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum's seminal work, dark mother: african origins and godmothers, she notes that this ancient site is known as the geographic origination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.1 Yet long before the emergence of these recent religions, in Paleolithic times, the site served as "an open air museum of a sacred place with altars, megaliths in alignment, and a cliff art record of peoples who have lived there."2 Their religion was centered on a female divinity, which would have been African and black, millennia before the rise of patriarchy.

My interest in learning about the Dark Mother has grown like a glowing ember, fanned by the wisdom of people like Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, who has inspired me to think of the implications of being originally African, and to find sacred meaning in the microcosmic experience of the Dark Mother. The first homo sapiens sapiens mother passed her mitochondrial DNA to her children and her daughters passed it to their children, and their daughters to their children. The mitochondria in DNA is the "powerhouse" of the cell —the organelle at the center of enzyme activity producing the storehouse of chemical energy, the power molecule ATP, or the vital power the cell needs to live. This mitochondrial DNA, shaped in the form of a double helix, is only passed by the mother. There is no corresponding genetic material which is passed from father to child. Therefore, the vital cellular energy of all people on the planet came from the first African homo sapiens sapiens mother — the original Dark Mother of our current human species. In dark mother, Lucia cites geneticist L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza who refers to the double helix as "the symbol of the evolution of the universe...the unlimited possibilities of becoming."3

In the word mitochondria, "mitos" means "thread." My own view is that this thread relates to the "superstring" in modern astrophysics theory, which asserts that subatomic phenomena are actually manifestations of vibrations of fundamental, one-dimensional strings. As emanations of consciousness in form, humans are connected to a primary source through our cellular threads. Just as dark matter (mother) in space shapes galaxies, and holds them together, we are shaped and held by the African Dark Mother who has given us Her life force, and resides in the very depths of our being, where the macrocosm is literally reflected in the microcosm — creating an unbroken, ecstatic, (I prefer to think of the constant creation in the yoniverse to be of an ecstatic nature rather than a violent one, as is so often assumed in the patriarchal scientific rhetoric), luminous, cosmic weaving connecting mother and daughter, which is really more of a cosmic dance of continuous, whirling motion. This original "matriarche," as I am calling it, is completely inseparable from the greater body/yoniverse/source and beyond. In my view, and in this context, the term "matriarche" differs from the term "matriarchy," which most commonly defines a social system of culture (though is no doubt based on the macrocosmic reality). Some common definitions of matriarchy include: "a family, group, or state governed by a matriarch," and "a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line."4 There are also feminist definitions, which I think are much more accurate, one of which is offered by philosopher, scholar, and director of the Matriarchal Studies School, Heide Gottner-Abendroth. Her comprehensive work on the subject, spanning some thirty years, redefines the term matriarchies more inclusively: "they are all gender-egalitarian societies, and many of them are fully egalitarian. This means they have no hierarchies, classes nor domination of one gender by the other."5 While Gottner-Abendroth does include the spiritual in her redefined view of matriarchy, which is too extensive to fully discuss here, my use of the term "matriarche" is closer to the core meaning of the truest essence of what I am presenting as an expression of yoniversal spiritual Presence. "Matri" means "mother" 6 and "arche" means "the underlying source of the being of all things," so, taken together, "matriarche," for me, conveys "mother as the underlying source of the being of all things."7 She is the yoniversal primal reality from which all is birthed. Thus, She is everywhere.

I am also profoundly intrigued by the recent discoveries in astrophysics of dark energy and dark flow. With the discoveries of these dark phenomena in space, I see a reflection of the sacred trinity of the Goddess/Dark Mother of our ancestors — creation, preservation, dissolution — which was co-opted and twisted by the church, resulting in the patriarchal reversal known as the christian trinity. Dark energy is said to be responsible for accelerating the expansion of the yoniverse. Dark flow, the most recent discovery, is believed to be a kind of unseen force, pulling on us from perhaps another yoniverse outside of our own, over 14 billion light years away, which can be detected in a clear patterned direction displayed by certain galaxy formations. Here is the dark trinity — right there in astrophysics! From my perspective, dark matter, dark energy, and dark flow seem to be a part of something so great and truly mystical — a vast energy that gives birth to Herself. The "Mother Universe" theory of Princeton cosmologist J. Richard Gott suggests that we live in a multiverse that has always been here — a Mother universe that gives birth to daughter universes, eternally. This theory, as I see it, reflects the early parthenogenetic Goddess of Paleolithic ancestors—The Great Mother/Dark Mother. Dr. Gott says "The mother universe, which is sustained by energy from the quantum world, creates itself and makes the first matter in some way we will never be able to know."8 Maybe our ancestors did know.

I am also equally intrigued by the recent acknowledgement by astrophysicists and cosmologists of the possible functions of black holes. Though little is known about these mysterious beings, some theorists now consider them to be centrally responsible for the creation of galaxies, since most galaxies have one at their core — the Dark Mother is at the core of every galaxy giving birth from Her great womb/cauldron of stellar creation! And some theorists go so far to say that because of their enormous energies black holes could be responsible for creating "baby universes."9

The darkness clearly holds all possibilities. It is not something to be feared; rather, it is a mystery to be lived. Understanding the meaning of being held and shaped by the invisible Dark Mother can give us insight into the true nature of our being, and can help us remember what we have lost when we have strayed too far from Her embrace. I believe women are the original and primal species of our kind, giving birth, just as the yoniverse gives birth. We are held in this deep mystery, which I believe is intrinsically, unequivocally female at its core. She simultaneously rocks us in the cradle of chaos and order.

What Lucia and others are telling us is that, contrary to modern belief, human nature has not always been violent. No evidence of warfare or weaponry in the artifacts and iconography in these early civilizations has been found. The work of the late archaeomythologist Marija Gimbutas has shown the peaceful and creative nature of the early cultures of Neolithic Europe. In her monumental volumes, Language of the Goddess and Civilization of the Goddess, her discoveries about the peaceful and female-centered Goddess cultures are exquisitely detailed. Now, Lucia's work reveals the origins of European culture in a single source, the African Dark Mother, whose worship conveys peace, justice, and compassion. She inspired the creation of cultures of beauty and celebration on all continents. As the very early African rock carvings and paintings show, life was celebrated and enjoyed by our early ancestors.

Lucia's work demonstrates that at the heart of Goddess spirituality is the Dark Mother Herself — which is the living soil/soul of the Earth, the spinning matter/mother and mysterious unseen forces of the yoniverse, source of us all — peaceful and beautiful. It is my belief that, when we remember who we really are, and from whom we come, peace will once again reign as our birthright. When women are returned to our proper place of respect in the greater scheme of things, it will be very difficult to imagine a world full of violence, hatred, and war.

When women are loved, all life is loved, and from this organic flow, people will naturally revere life, as they did so many millennia ago. This lack of evidence of warfare and violence in the archeological evidence from many early cultures gives us new material to teach to our children. I think it is imperative that we teach them about the peaceful nature of early humans, as this will help change their entire orientation to life. In these very difficult times, we are witness to a collective desperate longing of our souls to come home. I see this desperation reflected in the violence our society perpetuates against women and children, and now, children against children — usually males against others. It is no wonder that our children, at this time, are experiencing a devastating despair and loneliness, fueled by an insatiable hunger for violence and destruction. The only culture they have known is founded on premises that promise equality for all — if you happen to be male and white.

This kind of arrogant exclusivity is taking a psychic toll on all of us, as well as the planet. Our so-called founding fathers modeled much of their constitution on the Iroquois Federation. However, I feel they left out the most important premise on which the Iroquois based their agreement — that the council of grandmothers and clan mothers was the governing body that determined who embodied the virtues of female wisdom enough to become chief — virtues of peace, compassion, and kindness! This council had the power to remove any chief who did not hold these values sacred. The Iroquois placed the highest authority into the hands of women — of wise grandmothers. To me, these grandmothers were the embodiment of the Dark Mother, and were respected as such. The Iroquois knew that human life comes through women, and so women must be revered in order for all life to thrive. We have forgotten this. And when people collectively forget this very basic truth, there is a high price to pay for their (our) amnesia. It is the wisdom of the grandmothers that needs to govern our lives once again. When the wisdom of the Dark Mother is denied, we spiral downward into a deep abyss of carelessness, confusion, violence, and a profound sense of separation from the living Earth as we witnessed with the 2010 oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. I feel it is imperative to bring to our children the truth about our real history —herstory — in order for them to find a positive life experience that allows them to look forward to growing into their wholeness.

In Malta and Gozo, I felt the presence of the African Mother in the fantastic megalithic temples — the first one constructed over 5000 years ago, and in the Hypogeum, a labrynthian-carved structure in the limestone earth some thirty feet deep, with curved and round, egg-shaped niches for burial. The Hypogeum felt to me like a large womb, once holding the remains of about 7000 people. There is evidence that a temple once stood on top of the ground, indicating that rituals of life and death, as well as perhaps healing, were all enacted in a sense of wholeness/holiness. The Maltese structures are the oldest free-standing structures in the world, pre-dating the pyramids by about 1000 years. The megalithic temples are built in the shape of a large-bodied woman, so that upon entrance, one enters the body of the Mother through her yoni/gate. They are "double temples," with two shapes of the female body, side-by-side, indicating perhaps, shared leadership, mother-daughter relationship, and/or lesbianism, and perhaps, even, the double helix.

The temple-builders were migrants out of Africa, apparently first arriving in Sicily. I was amazed at how some of the rock construction of these temples reminded me of the natural rock formations in Philae in southern Egypt surrounding the Temple of Isis, the black African Goddess. Was there a memory of these amazing rock formations in the minds and hearts of the Africans who migrated to Malta?

Philae in southern Egypt, home of the Temple of Isis, was, itself, a very popular pilgrimage site in the millennium preceding Jesus and continuing several centuries beyond his death. Isis was a female deity with origins in central Africa, or Nubia, and was known as a compassionate mother. In dark mother, Lucia cites the work of leading nubiologist and archeologist, William Y. Adams, who considers Isis worship to be "one of history's most important ideological transformations."10 Adams further writes that Isis worship became "the first truly international and supra-national religion" because pilgrims of all classes and nationalities, including Meriotes, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and desert nomads alike flocked to Her temple for healing and spiritual guidance.11 Isis veneration spread as far east as Afghanistan, to the Black Sea, as well as to what is now western Europe in Portugal and as far north as England. It is Her legacy that has been inherited by christianity as revealed in the icons of the Black Madonnas found all over Europe; Isis and Her son Horus suckling at Her breast are most likely the prototypes for Mary and Jesus.

The Dark Goddess of Africa is the same Dark Goddess of India and the Far East — all with different names, but with the same power. Kali is a well-known Goddess from India, though we often hear Her name associated with the aspect of destruction. She was actually the Dark Goddess of India in all Her aspects — creation, preservation and dissolution. Why is it that her destructive aspect seems to be more visible in literature and in many myths than the others? It seems to me that associating the Goddess or Dark Mother only with destruction instills fear in people, and yet this is common. We have learned to fear Her power, the dark and death, with men in particular fueling this fear because of their own separation from the Dark Mother.

This separation is a result of the fear of the power of the Goddess that, for some reason, grew in men over time. The vast creative power of the Goddess, the Sacred Female, began to be taken as a threat by the male mind some 5000 years ago, and because of this fear, the need to "conquer" became the chosen acceptable heroic behavior for men in order for them to become "real men." To me, however, these men suffer from "PMS," or the Patriarchal Mind Set, which has only served to cause further separation and alienation of men from their source — the vast watery womb of the Dark Mother, who cannot be controlled.

The obsession to control and dominate has created a deep psychic split between mother and son, which is the only reason why rape exists. At the core of rape is a monstrously distorted compulsion to control, which comes from deep-seated feelings of being out of control, alone, and isolated from life and beauty. The projection of this fear of the Sacred Female onto women has created devastating destruction of the Earth and all her living children. The Dark Mother's message to us is that we must address this destruction—face the huge shadow that humans have created by denying Her. The shadow is all that has been split off and denied in our psyche, all that longs for attention and is, often, rarely seen. People act out what is in their shadow; often it is our children who carry the heavy burden of the unhealed collective wounding, with no idea of what it is that pains them so deeply in their tender psyches. Every day in the news, we see violent acts carried out by younger and younger people — mostly despairing boys and young men (though not all are young) whose souls ache from separation from the Mother.

In 1999, in Littleton, Colorado two desperate boys opened fire on students and teachers at Columbine High School, killing twelve students and one teacher before ending their own lives. Prior to that, in the Montreal Massacre in 1989, a twenty-five year old man, who claimed to be "fighting feminism," killed fourteen women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec before taking his own life. And more recently, in China, there have been several horrific attacks by middle-aged men using meat cleavers and knives on beautiful little school children, killing sixteen children and one teacher before killing themselves. These heinous, unspeakably brutal crimes, which have become a cross-cultural, global phenomenon, would never happen in a culture where the Mother is revered. Never.

When a society idealizes and romanticizes war and violence, how do we expect our children will behave? We don't need scientists, sociologists, and psychologists to hypothesize about whether or not violent media affects our kids. How could it not affect the open bright minds of our children? Imagery is a powerful force — the root of "magic" is contained within it. We must be responsible for the magic we give to our children. If we give them glitzy Hollywood movies like "Star Wars," then they will grow up thinking violence is a neat adventure — full of excitement and power. Most of these kinds of movies are imagined in the minds of men, from Walt Disney to George Lucas. The visions in the minds of women are very different indeed, as is evidenced by early woman-centered cultures, which were notably characterized by the organization of community around the mother-child bond, egalitarianism, peacefulness, and an absence of weaponry. As Lucia notes, "The harmony of ancient mother-centered civilization is shown in that in Paleolithic Africa there was no division between sacred and profane and no division of self and other — the mother and her nurture of all life were one." 12

We often refer to the negative experiences in our life as "dark." As a sweat-lodge facilitator for women, I have learned that the dark is not a fearful place. In a sweat lodge, it is so dark inside that one cannot see one's hand in front of one's face. What I have come to experience sitting in this dark womb space is the incredible light that emerges from the deep dark — at times so bright, so luminous, that I couldn't tell that I was even sitting in the dark. I would like to offer that the dark is actually a nurturing place — just like the dark earth surrounding the tender seed, encouraging it, in full darkness, to sprout. If the seed is exposed to the light too soon, it will die. If the seed is not rooted in the dark, damp, rich soil, it will die. The darkness is necessary for life to take root! In that context, I would like to reclaim the dark, and refer to our negative experiences as something else — perhaps just "negative" — and let the dark emerge for us as the Dark Mother who holds us together and shapes us, just as a potter shapes her clay. The dark place of growth, Her womb, holds us and keeps us safe while providing us with nourishment.

Women carry the dark womb space within our bodies. To be in touch with our womb-wisdom is to know the wisdom of the Dark Mother. In my previously-mentioned journey to Egypt, I was led off-the-beaten path to the temple of Sekhmet, the fierce lion-headed goddess considered to be an aspect of Isis or the Goddess Hathor. Though Sekhmet's temple is not easily found, nor seems to be considered that important for tourists, for me, She was an awesome treasure. I was not interested in the grandiose pharaonic temples. I found them imposing and suffocating. Carved in black granite, Sekhmet was a regal and daunting presence. She was truly a magnificent embodiment of the Dark Mother. A solar disc rested on top of Her head and She held in Her hands a staff topped by a lotus, which perhaps was symbolic of the sacred yoni and/or the psychotropic blue lotus. After quieting my mind, I sat quietly on the temple floor and simply allowed myself to feel Her energy. She felt strong, protective, fierce, and peaceful. I felt that if I embodied the energies She was representing, I would be in touch with my own deep female strength and power. The fact that She was black made me feel even more in touch with the dark womb of the Earth and cosmos.

Several weeks after I returned from my journey to Egypt, Malta, and Crete, I participated in a teaching-transmission of the Tibetan Black Dakini, who is seen as a black lion-headed goddess, Simhamukha. Although She is Tibetan, Her energy and Her attributes felt the same to me as those of Sekhmet — fierce and powerful. It was the same archetype. I was truly awestruck by the similarities between these two goddesses, and felt Lucia's work resonating in my heart. I could see the arms of the original African Dark Mother reaching out across the planet, embracing Her children and encouraging them to come close to Her — to come back home.

In these desperate times, we need the healing power of the Dark Mother who is not afraid to cut through the egoic structures/strictures of dualistic thinking with ruthless compassion. Women especially need Her image to help us shed the heavily imposed patriarchal layers of definition by a mind that does not really see us — a mind that is only interested in controlling us and making us "behave." This healing power is a primal transformative force emerging from the depths of women's wisdom, which is, as we now know, genetically passed on to all of us. Men need this image in order to face their fear of the feminine, which they have learned to hate and which they have internalized as the hatred of women and of themselves. With the Dark Mother by their side, men can allow themselves to go into their deep feelings and not be ashamed to bring forth those frozen tears that often turn to bullets or violent attack. They can once again reclaim their heritage of being the loving sons of the Mother who has shared Her womb and breast with them to give them life. No longer will they need to conquer and dominate. With the Dark Mother's embrace, all people will be able to once again live in Her bountiful peace, beauty and celebration. Without Her, we will perish.

With a deep and profound reverence for our ancestors, and to the foremothers that have literally given birth to all of us, I offer a prayer in closing:

In the spirit of peace, beauty, compassion, kindness and love, let Her wisdom once again guide us out of our own mind-made prisons of distortion so that we may once again feel Her exquisite embrace and gracefully move our feet in dance to the rhythm of Her beating heart and come to know within the blessing of Her ecstatic joy. BLESSED BE.
1 Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, dark mother: african origins and godmothers (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 45.

2 Ibid.

3 L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, History and Geography of Human Genes (Princeton University Press, 1994), quoted in Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum dark mother: african origins and godmothers, (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), xxxvii.

4 Merriam Webster, "Matriarchy,"

5 International Academy HAGIA, "Matriarchal Studies,"

6 The Free Dictionary, "Matri-,"

7 Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1994, 1996), 23. Reference/dp/0192831348#reader_0192831348

8 Roy Abraham Varghese, The Wonder of the World,

9 Ibid.

10 William Y. Adams, Nubia, 338, quoted in Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, dark mother: african origins and godmothers (San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 2001), 14.

11 Ibid.

12 Birnbaum, dark mother, 6.

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