The Gypsies and the Mother Goddess

By Paulo Coelho
For The Bali Times

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 the tradition, Sarah was a gypsy who lived in a small seaside town when Jesus’s aunt Mary Salome arrived with other refugees trying to escape from persecution by the Romans. Sarah helped them, and ended up converting to Christianity.

At the feast I attended, parts of the skeleton of two women buried underneath the altar are removed from a shrine and taken to bless the congregation with their colorful garments, their music and their instruments. Then the statue of Sarah, dressed in beautiful robes, is taken from somewhere near the church (since 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 their traditional clothes place the relics in a boat filled with flowers and repeat the arrival of the fugitives and their meeting with Sarah. From that moment on, everything is music, feasting, singing and showing one’s courage in front of a bull.

It is easy to identify Sarah as another of the many black Madonnas to be found in the world. Sara-la-Kali, says the tradition, came from noble lineage and knew the secrets of the world. In my mind, she is one of the many manifestations of what they call 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 that we know so well.

The phenomenon is no novelty: whenever religion makes its rules tougher, a significant group of people tends to seek for 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 on account 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. There exist many philosophical systems – such as Taoism and Buddhism – that do away with the distinction between creator and creature. People no longer try to decipher the mystery of life, but rather 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 are part of nature and cannot be considered the fruits of evil. If God is a mother, then all that is necessary is to join together and worship her through rites that try to satisfy her feminine soul, such as dancing, fire, water, air, earth, singing, music, flowers, beauty.

The tendency has grown enormously over the last few years. Perhaps we are witnessing a very important moment in the history of the world, when at last Spirit integrates with Matter, and they unify and change.

© Translated by James Mulholland

Filed under: Paulo Coelho

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