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THE BLACK MADONNA.




<h1>The Black Madonna</h1>

THE BLACK MADONNA               5

THE BLACK MADONNA.

     The blood-red sunset turns the dark fringes of the
forest into a wave of flame. A hot river of light streams
through the aisles of the ancient trees, and, falling over the
shoulder of a vast, smooth slab of stone that rises solitary
in this wilderness of dark growth and sombre green, pours
in a flood across an open glade and upon the broken columns
and inchoate ruins of what in immemorial time had been
a mighty temple, the fane of a perished god, or of many
gods. As the sun rapidly descends, the stream of red
light narrows, till, quivering and palpitating, it rests like
a bloody sword upon a colossal statue of black marble,
facing due westward. The statue is that of a woman,
and is as of the Titans of old-time.

    A great majesty is upon the mighty face, with its
moveless yet seeing eyes, its faint inscrutable smile.
Upon the triple-ledged pedestal, worn at the edges like
swords ground again and again, lie masses of large white
flowers, whose heavy fragrances rise in a faint blue
vapour drawn forth with the sudden suspiration of the
earth by the first twilight-chill.

    In the great space betwixt the white slab of stone—
hurled thither, or raised, none knoweth when or how-is
gathered a dark multitude, silent, expectant. Many are
Arab tribesmen, the remnant of a strange sect driven
southward; but most are Nubians, or that unnamed
swarthy race to whom both Arab and Negro are as chil-
dren. All, save the priests, of whom the elder are clad in
white robes and the younger girt about by scarlet sashes,
are naked. Behind the men, at a short distance apart, are
the women; each virgin with an ivory circlet round the
neck, each mother or pregnant woman with a thin gold
band round the left arm. Between the long double-line
of the priests and the silent multitude stands a small
group of five youths and five maidens; each crowned with

6                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

heavy drooping white flowers; each motionless, morose;
all with eyes fixt on the trodden earth at their feet.

    The younger priests suddenly strike together square
brazen cymbals, deeply chased with signs and letters
of a perished tongue. A shrill screaming cry goes
up from the people, followed by a prolonged silence.
Not a man moves, not a woman sighs. Only a shiver
contracts the skin of the foremost girl in the small
central group. Then the elder priests advance slowly,
chanting monotonously,

                                 CHORUS OF THE PRIESTS:

We are thy children, O mighty Mother!
We are the slain of thy spoil, O Slayer!
We are thy thoughts that are fulfilled, O Thinker!
Have pity upon us!

    And from all the multitude cometh as with one shrill
screaming voice:

Have pity upon us! Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                  [upon us!

                                         THE PRIESTS:

Thou wast, before the first child came through the dark
                                                      [gate of the womb!
Thou wast, before ever woman knew man!
Thou wast, before the shadow of man moved athwart
                                                                 [the grass!
Thou wast, and thou art!

                                     THE MULTITUDE:

Have pity upon us! Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                 [upon us!

                                         THE PRIESTS:

Hail, thou who art more fair than the dawn, more dark
                                                                 [than night!

Hail thou, white as ivory or veiled in shadow!
Hail, thou of many names, and immortal!
Hail, Mother of God, Sister of the Christ, Bride of the
                                                                 [Prophet!

                                     THE MULTITUDE:

Have pity upon us? Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                 [upon us!

THE BLACK MADONNA               7

                                         THE PRIESTS:

O moon of night, O morning star! Consoler! Slayer!
Thou, who lovest shadow, and fear, and sudden death!
Who art the smile that looketh upon women and children!
Who hath the heart of man in thy grip as in a vice;
Who hath his pride and strength in thy sigh of yestereve;
Who hath his being in thy breath that goeth forth, and
                                                                 [is not!

                                     THE MULTITUDE:

Have pity upon us! Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                 [upon us!

                                         THE PRIESTS:

We knew thee not, nor the way of thee, O Queen!
But we bring thee what thou loved’st of old, and for ever!
The white flowers of our forests and the red flowers of
                                                                 [our bodies!

Take them and slay not, O Slayer!
For we are thy slaves, O Mother of Life,
We are the dust of thy tired feet, O Mother of God!

    As the white-robed priests advance slowly towards
the Black Madonna, the younger tear off their scarlet
sashes, and seizing the five maidens, bind them together,
left arm to right, and hand to hand. Therewith the
victims move slowly forward till they pass through the
ranks of the priests, and stand upon the lowest edge of the
pedestal of the great statue. Towards each steppeth, and
behind each standeth, a naked priest, each holding a
narrow irregular sword of antique fashion.

                                     THE ELDER PRIESTS:

O Mother of God!

                                  THE YOUNGER PRIESTS:

O Slayer, be pitiful!

                                          THE VICTIMS:

O Mother of God! O Slayer! be merciful!

            THE MULTITUDE (in a loud screaming voice):

Have pity upon us! Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                 [upon us!

    The last blood-red gleam fades from the Black Ma-
donna, and flashes this way and that for a moment from

8                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

the ten sword-knives that cut the air and plunge between
the shoulders and to the heart of each victim. A wide
spirt of blood rains upon the white flowers at the base of
the colossal figure; where also speedily lie, dark amidst
welling crimson, the swarthy bodies of the slain.

                                         THE PRIESTS:

Behold, O Mother of God,
The white flowers of our forests and the red flowers of
                                                                 [our bodies!
Have pity, O Compassionate,
Be merciful, O Queen!

                                     THE MULTITUDE:

Have pity upon us! Have pity upon us! Have pity
                                                                 [upon us!

    But at the swift coming of the darkness, the priests
hastily cover the dead with the masses of the white
flowers; and one by one, and group by group, the mul-
titude melteth away. When all are gone save the young
chief, Bihr, and a few of his following, the priests pros-
trate themselves before the Black Madonna, and pray to
her to vouchsafe a sign.

    From the mouth of the carven figure cometh a hollow
voice, sombre as the reverberation of thunder among
barren hills.

                                 THE BLACK MADONNA:

I hearken.

                                  THE PRIESTS (prostrate):

Wilt thou slay, O Slayer?

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Yea, verily.

                             THE PRIESTS (in a rising chant):

Wilt thou save, O Mother of God?

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I save.

                                         THE PRIESTS:

Can one see thee, and live?

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

At the Gate of Death.

    Whereafter, no sound cometh from the statue, already
dim in the darkness that seems to have crept from the

THE BLACK MADONNA               9

forest. The priests rise, and disappear in silent groups
under the trees.

    The thin crescent moon slowly rises. A phosphorescent
glow from orchids and parasitic growths shimmers inter-
mittently in the forest. A wavering beam of light falls
upon the right breast of the Black Madonna; then
slowly downward to her feet; then upon the motionless
figure of Bihr, the warrior-chief. None saw him steal
thither: none knoweth that he has braved the wrath of
the Slayer; for it is the sacred time, when it is death to
enter the glade.

                                    BIHR (in a low voice):

Speak, Spirit that dwelleth here from of old . . .
Speak, for I would have speech with thee. I fear thee
not, O Mother of God, for the priests of the Christ who
is thy son say that thou wert but a woman. . .
And it may be—it may be—what say the children of
the Prophet: that there is but one God, and he is Allah.

        (Deep silence. From the desert beyond the forest
        comes the hollow roaring of lions.)

                                    BIHR (in a loud chant):

To the north and to the east I have seen many figures
like unto thine, gods and goddesses: some mightier than
thee—vast sphinxes by the flood of Nilus, gigantic faces
rising out of the sands of the desert. And none spake,
for silence is come upon them; and none slays, for the
strength of the gods passes even as the strength of men.

        (Deep silence. From the obscure waste of the forest
         come snarling cries, 1ong-drawn howls, and the
        low moaning sigh of the wind.)
                                        BIHR (mockingly):

For I will not be thrall to a woman, and the priests shall
not bend me to their will as a slave unto the yoke. If
thou thyself art God, speak, and I shall be thy slave to
do thy will . . . . Thrice have I come hither at
the new moon, and thrice do I go hence uncomforted
. . . .What voice was that that spoke ere the
victims died? I know not; but it hath reached mine
ears never save when the priests are by. Nay (laughing
low), O Mother of God, I—

10                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

        (Suddenly he trembles all over and falls on his knees,
            for from the blackness above him cometh a voice:)

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

What would’st thou?

                                          BIHR (hoarsely):

Have mercy upon me, O Queen!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

What would’st thou?

                                                    BIHR

I worship thee, Mother of God! Slayer and Saver!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

What would’st thou?

                                      BIHR (tremulously):

Show me thyself, thyself, even for this one time, O
Strength and Wisdom!

    Deep silence.. The wind in the forest passes away
with a faint wailing sound. The dull roaring of lions
rises and falls in the distance. A soft yellow light
illumes the statue, as though another moon were rising
behind the temple.

    A great terror comes upon Bihr the Chief, and he
falls prostrate at the base of the Black Madonna.

    His eyes are open, but they see not, save the burnt
spikes of trodden grass, sere and stiff save where damp
with newly-shed blood; and deaf are his ears, though
he waits for he knoweth not what sound from above.

    Suddenly he starts, and the sweat mats the hair on
his forehead when he feels a touch on his right shoulder.
Looking slowly round he sees beside him a woman, tall,
and of a lithe and noble body. He seeth that her skin
is dark, yet not of the blackness of the south. Two
spheres of wrought gold cover her breasts, and from the
serpentine zone round her waist is looped a dusky veil
spangled with shining points. In her eyes, large as
those of the desert-antelope, is the loveliness and the
pathos and the pain of twilight.

                                       BIHR (trembling):

Art thou—Art thou—

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am she whom thou worshippest.

THE BLACK MADONNA               11

                                                    BIHR
    (looking at the colossal statue, irradiated by the
        strange light that cometh he knows not whence;
        and then at the beautiful apparition by his side.)

Thou art the Black Madonna, the Mother of God?

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Thou sayest it.

                                                    BIHR

Thou hast heard my prayer, O Queen!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Even so.

                                                    BIHR
    (Taking heart because of the sweet and thrilling
        humanity of the goddess.)

O Slayer and Saver, is the lightning thine and the fire
that is in the earth? Canst thou whirl the stars as
from a sling, and light the mountainous lands to the
south with falling meteors? O Queen, destroy me not,
for I am thy slave, and weaker than thy breath: but
canst thou stretch forth thine hand and say yea to the
lightning, and bid silence unto the thunder ere it breeds
the bolts that smite? For if—

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I make and I unmake. This cometh and that goeth,
and I am—

                                                    BIHR

And thou art—

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I was Ashtaroth of old. Men have called me many
names. All things change, but I change not. Know
me, O Slave! I am the Mother of God. I am the Sister
of the Christ. I am the Bride of the Prophet.

                                       BIHR (with awe):

And thou art the very Prophet, and the very Christ, and
the very God! Each speaketh in thee, who art older
than they—

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am the Prophet.

                                                    BIHR

Hail, O Lord of Deliverance!

12                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am the Christ, the Son of God.

                                                    BIHR

Hail, O most Patient, most Merciful!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am the Lord thy God.

                                                    BIHR

Hail, Giver of Life and Death!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Yet here none is; for each goeth or each cometh as I
will. I only am eternal.

                                                    BIHR
            (Crawling forward, and kissing her feet.)

Behold, I am thy slave to do thy will: thy sword to slay:
thy spear to follow: thy hound to track thine enemies.
I am dust beneath thy feet. Do with me as thou wilt.

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:
            (Slowly, and looking at him strangely.)

Thou shalt be my High Priest. . . . .Come back
to-morrow an hour after the setting of the sun.

    As Bihr the Chief rises and goeth away into the
shadow she stareth steadily after him; and a deep fear
dwells in the twilight of her eyes. Then, turning, she
standeth awhile by the slain bodies of the victims of the
sacrifice; and having lightly brushed away with her foot
the flowers above each face, looketh long on the mystery
of death. And when at last she glides by the great
statue and passes into the ruins beyond, there is no
longer any glow of light, and a deep darkness covereth
the glade. From the deeper darkness beyond comes the
howling of hyenas, the shrill screaming of a furious beast
of prey, and the sudden bursting roar of lion answering
lion.

    When the dawn breaks, and a pale, wavering light
glimmers athwart the great white slab of stone that,
on the farther verge of the forest, faces the Black
Madonna, there is nought upon the pedestal save a ruin
of bloodied trampled flowers, though the sere yellow
grass is stained in long trails across the open. The dawn
withdraws again, but ere long suddenly wells forth, and

THE BLACK MADONNA               13

it is as though the light wind were bearing over the
forest a multitude of soft grey feathers from the breasts
of doves. Then the dim concourse of feathers is as
though innumerable leaves of wild-roses were falling,
falling, petal by petal uncurling into a rosy flame that
wafts upward and onward. The stars have grown sud-
denly pale, and the fires of Phosphor burn wanly green in
the midst of a palpitating haze of pink. With a great
rush, the sun swings through the gates of the East, tossing
aside his golden, fiery mane as he fronts the new day.

    And the going of the day is from morning silence
unto noon silence, and from the silence of the afternoon
unto the silence of the eve. Once more, towards the
setting of the sun, the multitude cometh out of the
forest, from the east and from the west, and from the
north and from the south: once more the Priests sing the
sacred hymns: once more the people supplicate as with
one shrill screaming voice, Have pity upon us! Have
pity upon us! Have pity upon us!
Once more the
victims are slain of little children who might one day
shake the spear and slay, five; and of little children who
would one day bear and bring forth, five.

    Yet again an hour passeth after the setting of the
sun. There is no moon to lighten the darkness and the
silence; but a soft glow falleth from the temple, and
upon the mall who kneels before the Black Madonna.
But when Bihr, having no sign vouchsafed, and hearing
no sound, and seeing nought upon the carven face,
neither tremour of the lips nor life in the lifeless eyes,
suddenly seeth the goddess, glorious in her beauty that
is as of the night, coming towards him from out of the
ruins, his heart leapeth within him in strange joy and
dread. Scarce knowing what he doth, he springeth to
his feet, trembling as a reed that leaneth
against the flank of a lioness by the water-pool.

               BIHR (yearningly, with supplicating arms):

Hail, God! . . . .Goddess, Most Beautiful!

    She draws nigh to him, looking at him the while out
of the deep twilight of her eyes.

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

What would’st thou?

14                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

                                                    BIHR
    (Wildly, stepping close, but halting in dread.)

Thou art no Mother of God, O Goddess, Queen, Most
Beautiful!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

What would’st thou, O blind fool that is so in love with
death?

                                          BIHR (hoarsely):

Make me like unto thyself, for I love you!

    Deep silence. From afar, on the desert, comes the
dull roaring of lions by the water-courses; from the
forest a murmurous sound as of baffled winds snared
among the thick-branched ancient trees.

                                                    BIHR
    (Sobbing as one wounded in flight by an arrow.)

For I love thee: I—love-thee! I—

    Deep silence. A shrill screaming of a bird fascinated
by a snake comes from the forest. Beyond, from the
desert, a long, desolate moaning and howling, where the
hyenas prowl.

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

When . .did . . thy folly . .this madness
. . come upon thee . . O Fool?

                                     BIHR (passionately):

O Most Beautiful! Most Beautiful! Thou—Thou
will I worship!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Go hence, lest I slay thee!

                                                    BIHR

Slay, O Slayer, for thou art Life and Death!
. . . But I go not hence. I love thee! I love thee! I love
thee!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am the Mother of God.

                                                    BIHR

I love thee!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

God dwelleth in me.    I am thy God.

                                                    BIHR

I love thee!

THE BLACK MADONNA               15

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

Go hence, lest I slay thee!

                                                    BIHR

Thou tremblest, O Mother of God! Thy lips twitch,
thy breasts heave, O thou who callest thyself God!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:
                (raising her right arm menacingly.)

Go hence, thou dog, lest thou look upon my face no more.

    Then suddenly, with bowed head and shaking limbs,
Bihr the Chief turneth and passes into the forest. And
as he fades into the darkness, the Black Madonna stareth
a long while after him, and a deep fear broodeth in the
twilight of her eyes. But by the bodies of the slain
children she passes at last, and with a shudder looks
not upon their faces, but strews the heavy white flowers
more thickly upon them.

    The darkness cometh out of the darkness, billow
welling forth from spent billow on the tides of night.
On the obscure waste of the glade nought moves, save
the gaunt shadow of a hyena that crawls from column
to column. From the blackness beyond swells the long
thunderous howl of a lioness, echoing the hollow blasting
roar of a lion standing, with eyes of yellow flame, on the
summit of the great slab of smooth rock that faces the
carven Madonna.

    And when the dawn breaks, and long lines of pearl-
grey wavelets ripple in a flood athwart the black-green
sweep of the forest, there is nought upon the pedestal
but red flowers that once were white, rent and scattered
this way and that. The cool wind moving against the
east ruffles the opaline flood into a flying foam of pink,
wherefrom mists and vapours rise on wings like rosy
flames, and as they rise their crests shine as with
blazing gold, and they fare forth after the Morn that
leads towards the Sun.

    And the going of the day is from morning silence
unto noon silence, and from the silence of the afternoon
unto the silence of eve. Once more towards the setting
of the sun, the multitude cometh out of the forest, from
the east and from the west, and from the north and from
the south. Once more the priests sing the sacred

16                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

hymns: once more the people supplicate as with one
shrill screaming voice, Have pity upon us! Have pity
upon us! Have pity upon us!
Once more the vic-
tims are slain: five chiefs of captives taken in war, and
unto each chief two warriors in the glory of youth.

    Yet an hour after the setting of the sun. Moonless
the silence and the dark, save for the soft yellow light
that falleth from the temple, and upon the man who,
crested with an ostrich-plume bound by a heavy circlet
of gold, with a tiger-skin about his shoulders, and with
a great spear in his hand, standeth beyond the statue
and nigh unto the ruins, where no man hath ventured
and lived.

                        BIHR (with loud triumphant voice):

Come forth, my Bride!

    Deep silence, save for the sighing of the wind among
the upper branches of the trees, and the panting of the
flying deer beyond the glade.

                                                    BIHR
        (striking his spear against the marble steps.)

Come forth, Glory of my eyes! Come forth, Body of
my Body.

    Deep silence. Then there is a faint sound, and the
Black Madonna stands beside Bihr the Chief. And the
man is wrought to madness by her beauty, and lusteth
after her, and possesseth her with the passion of his eyes.

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:
                 (Trembling, and strangely troubled.)

What would’st thou?

                                                    BIHR

Thou!

                            THE BLACK MADONNA (slowly):

Young art thou, Bihr, in thy comeliness and strength
to be so in love with death.

                                                    BIHR

Who giveth life, and who death? It is not thou, nor I.

                          THE BLACK MADONNA (shuddering):

It cometh. None can stay it.

                                                    BIHR

Not thou? Thou can’st not stay it, even?

THE BLACK MADONNA               17

                         THE BLACK MADONNA (whisperingly):

Nay, Bihr; and this thing thou knowest in thy heart.

                                         BIHR (mockingly):

O Mother of God! O Sister of Christ! O Bride of the Prophet!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:
                     (putting her hand to her heart.)

What would’st thou?

                                                    BIHR

Thou!

                                THE BLACK MADONNA:

I am the Slayer, the Terrible, the Black Madonna.

                                                    BIHR

And lo, thy God laugheth at thee, even as at me, and
mine. And lo, I have come for thee; for I am become
His Prophet, and thou art to be my Bride!

    As he finisheth he turns towards the great Statue of the
Black Madonna and, laughing, hurls his spear against its
breast, whence the weapon rebounds with a loud clang.
Then, ere the woman knows what he has done, he leaps
to her and seizes her in his grasp, and kisses her upon
the lips, and grips her with his hands till the veins sting
in her arms. And all the sovereignty of her lonely
godhood passeth from her like the dew before the hot
breath of the sun, and her heart throbs against his side
so that his ears ring as with the clang of the gongs
of battle. He sobs low, as a man amidst baffling waves;
and in the hunger of his desire she sinks as one who
drowns.

    Together they go up the long flat marble steps:
together they pass into the darkness of the ruins.
From the deeper darkness beyond cometh no sound, for
the forest is strangely still. Not a beast of prey comes
nigh unto the slain victims of the sacrifice, not a vulture
falleth like a cloud through the night. Only, from afar,
the dull roaring of the lions cometh up from the water-
courses on the desert.

    And the wind that bloweth in the night cometh with
rain and storm, so that when the dawn breaks it is as a
sea of sullen waves grey with sleet. But calm cometh
out of the blood red splendour of the east.

18                              THE PAGAN REVIEW

    And on this, the morning of the fourth and last day of
the Festival of the Black Madonna, the multitude of her
worshippers come forth from the forest, singing a glad
song. In front go the warriors, the young men brandish-
ing spears, and with their knives in their left hands slicing
the flesh upon their sides and upon their thighs: the men
of the north clad in white garb and heavy burnous, the
tribesmen of the south naked save for their loin-girths,
but plumed as for war.

    But as the priests defile beyond them upon the glade,
a strange new song goeth up from their lips; and the
people tremble, for they know that some dire thing hath
happened.

                                  THE PRIESTS (chanting):

Lo, when the law of the Queen is fulfilled, she passeth
from her people awhile. For the Mother of God loveth
the world, and would go in sacrifice. So loveth us the
Mother of God that she passeth in sacrifice. Behold,
she perisheth, who dieth not! Behold, she dieth, who
is immortal !

    Whereupon a great awe cometh on the multitude, as
they behold smoke, whirling and fulgurant, issuing from
the mouth and nostrils of the Black Madonna. But this
awe passeth into horror, and horror into wild fear, when
great tongues of flame shoot forth amidst the wreaths
of smoke, and when from forth of the Black Madonna
come strange and horrible cries, as though a mortal
woman were perishing by the torture of fire.

    With shrieks the women turn and fly; hurling their
spears from them, the men dash wildly to the forest,
heedless whither they flee.

    But those that leap to the westward, where the great
white rock standeth solitary, facing the Black Madonna,
see for a moment, in the glare of sunrise, a swarthy,
naked figure, with a tiger-skin about the shoulders,
crucified against the smooth white slope. Down from the
outspread hands of Bihr the Chief trickle two long
wavering streamlets of blood: two long streamlets of
blood drip, drip, down the white glaring face of the
rock, from the pierced feet.

                                                        W.S. FANSHAWE





MLA citation: Fanshawe, W. S. [William Sharp]. “The Black Madonna.” The Pagan Review, vol. 1, August 1892, pp. 5-18. The Pagan Review Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/tpr-fanshawe-blackmadonna/


MLA citation:

Fanshawe, W. S. [William Sharp]. “The Black Madonna.” The Pagan Review, vol. 1, August 1892, pp. 5-18. The Pagan Review Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2021, https://1890s.ca/tpr-fanshawe-blackmadonna/