On this day when Christians throughout the world are celebrating the birth of the Holy Infant, Jesus, I’d like to focus on the one Who gave Him birth, His mother Mary.

Of course, not all Christians venerate “the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, mother of God.” Those who do include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists.

Mary is not officially a Goddess—or perhaps I should say, Mary is officially NOT a Goddess—yet Divinity envelops Her like Her iconic blue veil. The Blessed Virgin Mary is a key intercessor for humankind with God. If you want something done, Mary’s the one you pray to. Cathedrals continue to be built in Her name. People regularly see visions of Her, whether in halos of holy light or stains on the side of a barn. From about the fourth century CE on, Mary has received some of the most fervent “veneration” (actual worship of Her not being allowed since that belongs only to Jesus and His daddy) in the Christian world.

I won’t tell the Lady’s whole story here. You can read it for yourself on Wikipedia or the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Yet with all this fervor behind Her, the official image of Mary that impresses itself on many of us is rather bland. She is wholly defined by Her motherhood, Her virginity, and often, Her silence. She is the “good woman,” never asking questions, just doing Her duty to God by bearing and rearing His son, then quietly fading into the background. My feminist soul recoils.

Yet this is not the reality of Mary. Mary IS a Goddess even if She cannot be officially named as one. For those who honor Her, She has fulfilled the role of Divine Mother, of Goddess, for thousands of years. It is not in official documents that we find the real Mary. It is in personal practice, folklore, and even magical texts where we discover Mary behaving like the Goddess She is.

Here are excerpts from two magical texts from the second century CE in which Mary speaks quite like a Goddess:

Reach out and listen to us today, Sabaoth. For I am Mary, who is hidden in the appearance of Mariam. I am the mother who has given birth to the true light.

I am Mary, I am Miriam, I am the mother of the life of the entire world, I am Mary. Let the stone break, let the darkness break before me. Let the earth break. Let the iron dissolve. Let the demons retreat before me. Let the [. . .] appear to me. Let the archangels and angels come and speak with me until the holy spirit clears my path. Let the doors that are shut and fastened open for me.

You can find more such fascinating texts involving Mary, Jesus, angels and archangels…and Isis…in Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power, edited by Marvin Meyer and Richard Smith (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

Egyptian Isis Lactans
Bronze statuette of Isis lactans from the 25th or 26th Dynasty. Image from rheagallery.com (ID:EG0957)

Ah, you knew we had to get to Isis sooner or later. And here She is.

Scholars have long recognized the influence that images of Isis with the baby Horus had on the development of the iconography of Mary with the baby Jesus. It may well be—indeed, it’s rather likely—that some of the Pagan statues of Isis eventually received veneration (okay, let’s say it: worship) as Christian statues of Mary. Further, it has been speculated, though not proven, that some of the famous Black Madonnas of Europe were originally images of the Madonna Isis.

Possibly, but not confirmed, the earliest picture of Mary so far discovered is a painting from the second century CE, found in a Christian catacomb tomb, that shows Mary about to nurse the baby Jesus. Many, many were the images of Isis Lactans (Nursing Isis) to be found during this same period.

These Isis statues and paintings were probably the most commonly seen mother-and-child images in the Roman world at that time. So it would have been strange indeed if that early painting of Mary wasn’t influenced by Isiac images.

This fresco, dated about 150 CE, is in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome; it is possibly the first image of a (probably nursing) Mary with Jesus

An internet acquaintance of mine, Glenn King, a monotheist and a devotee of both Isis and Mary, has some interesting things to say about Their connection here.

As for my own spiritual worldview, I can say that Isis is Mary and Mary is Isis in the sense that “all the Goddesses are one Goddess.” Many spiritual traditions posit the idea of the underlying unity of the Divine; traditions such as Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Hermetic Qabalah—all of which I subscribe to—can also help to explain how this unified Divine may nevertheless show us many different Divine faces and forms in the many Deities humankind worships.

That being said, each stream of this unitary Divine seems to me to have a bit of a different “flavor.” The taste I like best is Isis. But Mary, at Her most potent, is pretty tasty, too. As are all the Goddesses—and all the Gods.

So on this Christian holy-day, I wish us all a Very Mary Christmas, peace, and tolerance of each other’s favorite Divine flavor. All is well. All is One. Amma, Iset and Holy Mother Mary.