Stellar Iconography of the Black Madonna



Our Lady of Częstochowa Silver Plated Icon #3 (Matka Boska Częstochowa, “Black Madonna”) Handcrafted by Polish metal smith

I’ve been  drawn to all things Polish of late and any fascination with Poland will soon lead you to the Black Madonna. The word icon has been disrespectfully assigned to graphic links in computer technology or we use the wo5d iconic to refer to a famous building and even to the owner of Virgin Airlines. I wonder if it’s possible to miss the irony.

The astrological relevance is in part how the Feminine might better be approached. The Greco-Roman mindset is notoriously biased towards the masculine.

However, the word had a very different meaning until comparatively recently. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as “A devotional painting of Christ or another holy figure, typically executed on wood and used ceremonially in the Byzantine and other Eastern Churches.” It is this particular icon above that I want to to explore here, to see to what extent the symbolism conveys the meaning of the Queen of Heaven.

Right at Christmas, at the celebrated birth of Christ, there are many constellations of interest, including the Norther Cross sitting on the horizon (or close to it) at 8:15 pm local time, assuming a flat horizon. The Three Kings that paid homage to the Christ child are associated with the stars in Orion’s belt. Nevertheless, although the icon is of Mary and Jesus, there isn’t anything that would imply that this is actually the Nativity.

You will be familiar with other “Madonnas” such as Isis who gave birth to a divine child.This icon and probably all others, do not describe a historical event, but an eternal mystical truth. In that sense, the icon becomes a window to the divine.

There have been ridiculous obsessions in recent years that have attempted to reduce Christian imagery to different versions of Baal worship as if the advent of the Christ was no more than a forgery to fool the masses into obedience. Such vicious cynicism in most unseemly coming, as it always seems to do, from those who have little more than the faintest idea of what they profess.

Isis & Horus. (Ptolemaic period?)

Isis & Horus. (Ptolemaic period?)

The painting is in the style of a Byzantine icon of the Hodegetria type – which is a Greek word that means, “She who shows the Way.” The description refers to an iconographic depiction of the Virgin Mary in which she holds the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to Him as the source of salvation for mankind. In the painting of the Black Madonna, the Child Jesus holds a book in His left hand, “extending His right hand like a teacher, ruler or in a gesture of blessing.” Tomziński and Golonka, Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra Guide, 77.

Mary is called Queen of Heaven, as were Ishtar, Inanna, Isis, Astarte and others. There is an evening blue background and a frame of twelve six-pointed stars. I think the six-pointed star might refer to Solomon’s Seal, now on the flag of Israel, but it surely refers to the signs of the zodiac and the twelve apostles.

We discussed the Eternal Feminine in relation to Inanna. Taking the Madonna as the Queen of Heaven, she may also be associated with Prima Materia,

The eternal feminine has been defined as “a psychological archetype or philosophical principle that idealizes an immutable concept of “woman”. It is one component of gender essentialism, the belief that men and women have different core “essences” that cannot be altered by time or environment.” See Susan Abraham’s “Justice as the Mark of Catholic Feminist Ecclesiology” in Frontiers in Catholic Feminist Theology (Fortress Press, 2009), p. 207.

I think that’s fair as far as it goes, but with respect the writer has fallen short of the element of the Divine.  The eternal essence from which all is born.

Both Mary and Christ have halos that look lunisolar and they are identical, except for the stars. Christ is born, as we all are, of the Divine Feminine and she holds and sustains him. She is not Mary so much as the Queen of Heaven at this point. As I mentioned elsewhere, this is not primarily an historic event. In fact I believe the event is outside of time. This coming into being is perennial.

I have no real expertise in the iconography of the Orthodox Church, so I’m coming to these images as if I were doing so for the very first time. That is of course impossible, but the fewer preconceptions the better. The icon demands to be meditated upon and will slowly offer up its secrets.

I invite you to spend some time with some of the icons. I think you find, as did I, that they can speak more words ever could.The icon below is from another related iconic tradition, that of the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

Notice the four Evangelists, represented by the human (Aquarius) the Lion (Leo) and the Bull (for Taurus) However, the Eagle for Scorpio has been replace with a dove. The twelve apostles , the directions and all else produces a cosmic map, but I don’t feel it yields the same kind of mystical presence.

Ethiopian Icon Christ in Glory with Symbols of the Four EvangelistsCopticEvangelists



3 thoughts on “Stellar Iconography of the Black Madonna

  1. It’s my belief that The Eagle is Aquarius, and that The Man is Sagittarius. This would also make the image a bit more symbolic in terms of the actual zodiac as Leo is opposite Aquarius, and Taurus squares it, although Sagittarius does not square Aquarius it is somewhat in a proper alignment given the relative orientation of the zodiac. The Eagle is symbolizing “Air King,” and Aquarius is an air sign, the arcs of Uranian lightning are also symbolic with the King of the Gods Zeus’s thunderbolts.

  2. Relative to astrology, I agree that Scorpio is represented by an eagle… seems odd a dove was substituted. Perhaps artistic license? Referring to the Holy Spirit? Who knows? Anyway, relative to Christian iconography, the 4 creatures are mentioned in Revelation 4:7 and they represent the 4 Evangelists: Mark (Lion), Luke (winged Ox — note the green wings above), Matthew (Man or Angel), and John (Eagle).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.