The Camino

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela translated loosely into English means “the road of St. James along the path of the stars”. Camino is road, way or path, Santiago is an adaptation of the Hebrew name Jacob which later became the European name for James the Greater, who is the Christian Apostle buried in the great cathedral of Santiago. Compostela means way of the stars. The ancients who first paved this traditional pilgrimage route of initiation were recognizing the imprint of the starry heavens on the geography of the route. They felt the pathway resembled the Milky Way Galaxy, and established temples and shrines honoring various gods and goddesses along the way. With the arrival of the Roman Imperialist expansion, the pathway fell out of use as a pilgrimage, but became a major trade route. During this time, the Milky Way was seen as the compass, guiding travelers to their destination by pointing towards “the way.” The Camino was revived by Constantine the Great and his mother Helen as a path of initiation in the 4th Century CE. In the Eighth Century, Charlemagne had a vision of St. James which led him to the Camino. This event brought the pathway into the mainstream consciousness. It became a popular destination in the Middle Ages for those desiring a pilgrimage but for many reasons could not go to the Holy Land. Locals along the path constructed shrines, taverns and hostels to serve the pilgrim population. After the Reformation and Renaissance, the Camino fell into disuse. Starting in the 1980’s due to several books on the subject by famous authors such as Paulo Coelho and Shirley MacClain, the Camino has become more popular. In 1993, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the French and Spanish Camino a World Heritage site. The modern pilgrim on the Camino embarks for various reasons, from a desire to see beautiful landscapes to personal discovery. For the past 15 years, nearly 200,000 people travel the Camino de Santiago de Compostela each year, and every one of these pilgrims has a unique experience that transforms them in expected and unexpected ways.

The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna is the name given to the European artistic genre where the Virgin Mary and Christ Child are presented with dark brown to black skin pigment. In Europe, these Madonnas first started appearing on the continent with the migration of Coptic Monks from North Africa and Ethiopia. The next major influx of Black Madonnas occurred during the era of the Crusades, attributing the Knights Templar and Crusaders along with Crusading Nobles for bringing these works of art back with them after their adventures.

The people of Europe and the British Isles have long traditions of cults venerating dark virgins. Evidence of this veneration abounds from Paleolithic tribes to the time of the Druids. From Isis to Inana to Demeter and Persephone, wells, springs, underground caves and lakes have all been associated with dark goddesses. Various ancient mystery traditions had schools of initiation along the Camino pathway, fostering communication between the spirits of the land and the seers and healers of the day. When the Camino was being revived during the era of the Crusades as a pilgrimage route, historians note that the Knights Templar helped to establish numerous shrines and cathedrals along the path. It is thought that the Templars placed their Black Madonna artistic treasures in their shrines as messages to the pilgrims. The Templar ideal was to create a civilization based on equality, freedom, and community. They saw the arts as a method of inviting the masses into these ideals. Art and beauty were seen as the pathway into full consciousness of human potential. The Black Madonna is key to these ideals, and as part of the initiation experience on the Camino, influenced and encouraged pilgrims along the way.