Reversing Eve’s Curse. Mary Magdalene Pilgrims and the Creative Ritualization of Menstruation,Journal of Ritual Studies Fedele
This article is about the creative ritual practices of a group of Spanish and Catalan pilgrims who visit French shrines dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Raised and educated in Catholic families, these women describe themselves as being part of the worldwide Goddess movement and do not consider their theories and rituals to be in conflict with Christian values. During their pilgrimages they celebrate rituals in shrines that they feel were unjustly monopolized by the “Church”. The pilgrims see Mary Magdalene as the guardian of menstrual blood, and advocate a “feminist reading” of Jesus’ message. They perform creative rituals to commune with “Mother Earth” by offering Her their menstrual blood. The creative ritualization of menstruation allows the pilgrims to reinterpret Catholic rituals thereby transforming negative concepts related to body and gender they have received from their Catholic families. The pilgrims’ rituals of offering also foster an embodied relationship with the divine.
Analysing one particular menstrual ritual I will show how offering their blood to Mother Earth these women literally turn upside down the central ritual of Christianity, the Eucharist. Through this strategy they manage to ritually transform menstruation from a curse into a blessing and to elaborate new notions about their body and sexuality. I will analyse these womens’ conceptualization of menstrual blood drawing on historical studies about the meaning of menstruation in Christianity as well as anthropological studies about menstruation in traditional as well as in Western societies. I will argue that proclaiming the sacrality of menstrual blood these women try to repair a social order in which menstruation is still often associated with female subordination. With their rituals these women aim to provoke not only a healing process on a personal level but also a shift of perception on a social level.
(with Élisabeth Claverie) Introduction: Uncertainty in Vernacular Religions,
Special Issue: Uncertainty in Vernacular Religions, Social Compass
In this special issue we explore the ways in which the dogmas and rituals created by religious institutions are creatively used and transformed in the everyday lived religion of people. We encouraged the authors to produce ethnographically grounded papers that explore the role of uncertainty and doubt in religious practices, focusing on the way in which people put to test the efficacy of rituals as well as the healing power of sacred figures and sites. How do people establish that a certain religion works for them in a historical period in which they are increasingly aware of the existence of religious traditions that are different from the one they grew up with? How do they criticize with their own religious creativity the dogmas and rules of the religious tradition they belong to? Contrary to the assumption that religion works as a sort of magical remedy against uncertainty, providing people with a set of answers and solutions they totally embrace and rely upon, what emerges from the ethnographical examples of this special issue is that uncertainty and doubt are inherent in lived religion and play an important role in the ongoing process of construction of religious rituals and narratives.
Energy and transformation in alternative pilgrimages to Catholic shrines: deconstructing the tourist/ pilgrim divide, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change
In recent years an increasing number of travelers have visited sites considered ‘power
places’, with the intention of tapping into their energy and the experiential
transformation and healing associated with such sites. This article is based on
fieldwork among pilgrims influenced by the international Goddess movement, visiting
Catholic shrines in Southern Europe; the analysis reflects an ethnographic perspective
on how these pilgrims conceptualize their journeys. Their approach to sacred sites is
by no means unique but rather the expression of an engagement both with pilgrimage
and tourism, one in which both the notions and experiences of energy and
transformation play key roles. I will argue that in the context of these sacred
journeys, the use of an energy language to make sense of travel experiences and the
emphasis on personal transformation allow the pilgrims to deconstruct oppositions
implicitly associated with the tourism/pilgrimage dichotomy.
This paper is based on fieldwork among Portuguese, Italians, Catalans and Spaniards influenced by the transnational Goddess spirituality movement. Through an analysis of ritual narratives I will analyze the role of doubt and uncertainty in contemporary rituals created within Goddess spirituality. I will show that contemporary crafted rituals offer a privileged window upon the uncertainty intrinsic in ritual because participants feel less constrained by a long lasting religious tradition and talk more openly about their doubts and their strategies to neutralize them. Drawing on Simon Coleman’s analysis of pilgrimage and ritual (2002, 2009, 2013) I suggest that uncertainty may play an important role not only in rituals created in the context of contemporary spirituality but also in other contemporary rituals created in plural and increasingly secularized Western contexts.
This article has been published in French in the journal Social Compass
This article forms part of a debate section about the prophecies related to the year 2012 in the journal Religion and Society: Advances in Research.4 (2013): 167–195. debate apocalypse RSAS
Gendered Power Strategies in Alternative Pilgrimages to Marian Shrines
This chapter describes the theories and rituals of pilgrims influenced by the transnational Neopagan movement visiting Catholic shrines holding dark madonna statues and is based on observations of three organized pilgrimages. “Black Madonnas” represent, for these pilgrims, “the dark side of the Feminine” and serve as a counterbalance to the “White and Immaculate” Virgin Mary they know from their childhood in Christian, mostly Catholic, families. Non-Catholic devotion to Black Madonnas with its critique of “the Church” and “patriarchal” society represents a privileged window upon the supposed opposition between “religion” and “spirituality”. Through the analysis of fieldwork data and of the pilgrims’ comments, Fedele argues that these pilgrims’ spirituality has many things in common with vernacular Christian religion of the past and present. The author further situates the pilgrims’ theories in a wider historical context and shows how Black Madonnas allow these spiritual travelers to acknowledge and come to terms with the gendered disempowerment they experienced within Christianity and to find a different approach to their vulnerable, gendered bodies.
Based on fieldwork among non-practicing Catholics visiting the shrine of La Sainte-Baume in Southern France, this chapter explores the ways these pilgrims mobilize the figure of Mary Magdalene to criticize the Christian values and beliefs they received in childhood. I will look at the new meanings ascribed to pilgrimage in this context, centring on the pilgrims’ appropriation of the cave of La Sainte-Baume to empower women, and arguing that the pilgrimage and its rituals allow these pilgrims to formulate new ideas of female corporeality and sexuality. My analysis of this kind of pilgrimage is as a ‘critical journey’ centred on the critique of a ‘patriarchal’ belief system, which is perceived to be inherent to Christianity and to its perspectives on gender and sexuality.
Published as chapter 4 in:
Gender, Nation and Religion in European Pilgrimage, Willy Jansen and Catrien Notermans eds. Franham: Ashgate, 2012.
This article is based on fieldwork among Italians, Catalans and Spaniards influenced by Neopagan beliefs and practices arriving from the United States and the United Kingdom. Raised in Catholic families these people have come to embrace Neopagan beliefs and reject the beliefs and norms they received from their parents. They criticize monotheistic religions as patriarchal and worship female divinities such as “Mother Earth” and the “Goddess”. However they do not break completely with their past, and seek to create rituals that combine Pagan and Christian figures and to foster the return of a “Christian Goddess”. Trying to connect with the Celts, the Etruscans or other ancient civilizations they consider as their “matriarchal predecessors” in Europe, they find that many of the places they consider as “sacred” and “powerful” have been “monopolized” by the “Church” and turned into Catholic churches. They therefore try to create a sort of Southern-European Neopaganism that reunites both the Pagan and Christian heritage they perceive as their own.
Chapter in: Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe, Llera Blanes Ruy and Mapril José eds., Leiden: Brill, 2013.
of female pilgrims visiting places in France and Catalonia that they associate
with the figure of Mary Magdalene. It pays particular attention to the pilgrim’s process of learning ways to relate to her own body and to her menstrual cycle. Drawing elements from neo-paganism these women reinterpret
the meaning of Christian symbols and places. They consider Mary Magdalene both as a forerunner of feminism and as a model for independent
women. Performing a ritual of offering menstrual blood to the earth, they
establish an intimate relationship with what they identify as the “Mother
Earth”. Theories used to justify the beliefs in the sacrality of menstrual
blood are largely derived from anthropological texts.