It is the season of newness and beginnings!
The moon is new and it is officially Imbolc, the ancient celebration of the first signs of Spring and the feast of Brigit, the goddess of inspiration, as well as the dynamic saint and abbess who knew a few things about multi-tasking and perseverance. I love this season where my odd upbringing of paganism and Christianity converge into one great, harmonious celebration of the beauty and excitement of life. The daffodils, the first harbingers of Spring, are peeking out and showing their color, and it is time to shed the heaviness of winter and awaken to the light that grows greater each day.
What better time to re-launch my blog? The energy and the timing feels perfect, and I am excited to be back online regularly. Those of you who have stuck with me through the thick and thin of the last few years know that I have had some challenges, including a website meltdown which I am still recovering from as I rebuild the content that was once there. My original blog was a casualty of that technical implosion, and rather than restore it immediately, I began posting regularly on Facebook. Thousands of Facebook friends later, it has been a great way to communicate my latest research findings and publishing adventures, but it is time to expand. There is so much happening in the world of histories, mysteries and writing that I need a broader forum to keep you all up to date. So beginning today, I will be blogging right here, as often as possible (and then sharing these blogs to Facebook as well so that everyone remains in the loop). I have so much to say in this exciting, tumultuous time that I plan on blogging daily, or as close to daily as is humanly possible. So I hope you will check back regularly, or if you are so inclined, to subscribe to the blog so that you can be notified when there is a new post.
One of the things I wanted to do here is expand on some of the inspiring guests and fascinating topics we have had on our radio show, The Spirit Revolution. This month we celebrated our first anniversary of Spirit Revolution broadcasts and looking over our archives, I am really proud of the information we have presented and the conversations we have participated in and instigated. If you have never heard our radio show, you can find the archives from the last year at www.TheSpiritRevolution.com. Our shows can all be downloaded on iTunes for FREE!
This week we featured a friend of ours who is a brilliant researcher and a pioneer in the field of alternative history, although his work is not yet well known in English speaking circles: Flemish author Patrick Bernauw. Patrick is an expert on the Ghent Altarpiece, sometimes called the Mystic Lamb, one of the great masterpieces of art history – and one of the most mysterious. It is filled with mystical, alchemical and even heretical symbolism. I was fortunate enough to see the painting in person when I visited Belgium last year, with Patrick as my guide to St Bavo’s Cathedral and the priceless work of art that resides there. You can listen to Patrick talk to us about the mysteries of the Mystic Lamb here.
When I went to see this artwork in person, we spent the better part of an hour viewing it – it takes that long to see all of the details of the exquisitely intricate 21 panels. I was astounded to discover two elements of the Mystic Lamb which were highly applicable to my research. The first is the presence of Mary Magdalene. The stunner is not that she appears, but where she appears and who she appears with. Although there is a gorgeous panel devoted to “female martyrs” you will not find our Magdalena depicted with those women – and as she was not martyred, this makes sense. Where you will find her is on the panel identified as “hermits.” She is visible at the back of the procession coming out from behind a large, rocky outcropping, as if emerging from hiding- and easily identifiable as she carries the alabaster jar that is her symbol. And because the legends in Provence indicate that Mary Magdalene lived as a hermit, her inclusion in this group is logical. But who is the young woman positioned behind her? She has never been identified, and indeed there has been little attempt to do identify her from what I can ascertain. The speculation I have encountered is that this other woman may be “Mary Magdalene’s sister, Martha.” And yet, Martha was not ever considered a hermit and would therefore not belong in this grouping based on category. Quite the contrary, Martha’s life as a dynamic leader is well documented and celebrated in Provence (specifically in Tarascon). Further this girl appears younger and innocent, whereas Martha is traditionally depicted as the older and wiser of the women. I find the younger girl’s pose interesting – she is behind Mary Magdalene and not looking directly at us, as if she is shy about coming forward. And yet she also resembles the Magdalene. It is my theory that this panel represents one of the great mysteries of this painting and of art in general – that this is a depiction of Mary Magdalene and her daughter, both of whom were forced into hiding as hermits, both of whom are ready now to emerge from the shadows and be seen.
It is also possible that the girl is more metaphorical than specific, and represents generations of bloodline women, descendants of Mary Magdalene who followed in her footsteps spiritually if not also genetically. Generations of women were silenced for carrying the true teachings, and for “following” Magdalene, as this young woman does literally and perhaps figuratively. So either it is Magdalene with her daughter, Sarah Tamar, or it is Magdalene with a representation of the many women who came after her – women who were equally forced “into the wilderness” so that we would never hear their stories. Remember that the focal point of this masterwork is the lamb’s blood, which other observers, like Patrick Bernauw, have already speculated is our point of reference for understanding that there is a bloodline story being told here.
My second discovery was more personal, and one of utter delight which those who are very familiar with my books will grasp entirely. I make a habit of searching for men in art who are depicted with a significant scar on their face – and all the better if the scar is on the left side. So when I saw that the figure who is identified in the “pilgrims” panel as St James of Compostela, imagine the gasp that escaped from me when I saw that he has a significant scar across the left side of his face! It can be seen here in distance and in close up, but it is even more definitive as a scar when viewed in person;
Readers of The Poet Prince may find it interesting that some (myself included) believe that this painting had a profound impact on Cosimo de Medici, and that it is the reason he imported Flemish artists into Florence. The technique of “infusion” as described within my novel was perhaps invented – or at least perfected – by the Flemish, who taught it to the Florentines. I will say that standing in the same room with the Mystic Lamb, despite the fact that it is behind walls of protective glass, is a powerful emotional experience. The painting cries out to be “heard” as well as seen. It is easy to believe that an alchemical process was used to create such beauty and power through artistic expression. The Virgin Mary as Van Eyck paints her, for example, just may be the single most beautiful madonna I have ever seen – and I have spent much of the last 15 years viewing madonnas around the world.
This is a painting that I will likely be studying until the day I die, and I still won’t know a fraction of what Jan Van Eyck was trying to reveal here in his masterwork. But that is the beauty of art – the perpetual mystery of interpretation!
To read more of Patrick Bernauw’s theories on the Mystic Lamb in English, visit Patrick’s website.
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