Transformation of the Virgin Mary Tree in Utah Oct 1, 2007 9:51:12 GMT -5
Post by Brad-LaSpirits on Oct 1, 2007 9:51:12 GMT -5
In May 1997, in a downtown Salt Lake City neighborhood, a city worker discovered an image of the Virgin Mary in a tree stump that had been struck by lightning. News of the abberation spread quickly throughout the largely Hispanic area, and a platform and stairs were soon erected by the city to accommodate the steady stream of worshippers. Ten years later, the faithful still find their way to the tree, and the area is festooned with rows of candles, objections of devotion, and a kneeling altar.
In 1997, I was working at Barnes and Noble near downtown Salt Lake City. I was an evening manager of a section which included new age and paranormal books, and thereby had my fair share of interesting conversations with odd customers, and vice versa. After a while, nothing fazed me or got me very excited. But, one night, a woman and her son were looking for some books on healing, and asked me if I had yet seen the "Virgin Mary vision" downtown.
In rapturous frenzy, I pummeled the poor woman with questions, and after closing the store at midnight, my friend Kristi and I eagerly drove the few blocks to the site. There was a ladder up against a tree as the woman described. Kristi and I took turns climbing. The only light in this rundown, crack-house-infested neighborhood was a lone, flickering streetlamp. But, there did seem to be a darker, detailed oval figure in the smooth stump-which could pass even in the bad lighting for the traditional Virgin of Guadalupe. And it was wet-- 'crying', as the woman described.
In such a very Mormon city, the seeming irony of a very Catholic icon appearing in the heart of Salt Lake is obvious. But Marian apparition itself may be the bigger and most telling mystery. In his fabulous book, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld, Patrick Harpur suggests appearances of the Virgin Mary are essentially appearances of the divine feminine emerging poignantly from the collective unconscious, that may be shaped by expectation and mythologies emerging in progression from the original, indistinct appearance.
Harpur asserts most Marian appearances begin rather ambiguously; Mary never seems to name herself initially, rather, she seems to adapt into her specific role as questions are asked, and as the event and story grows. Of course, Harfur is referring to events of personal apparition, not an image on a window or tree, which is referred to as an 'abberation.' But interestingly, the abberation in Salt Lake City seems to still follow these ideas.
While not everyone would have instantly recognized the tree image as the Virgin Mary, it is difficult to find argument in the image's rather graphic feminine aesthetic. The dark, long oval shape is an obvious vulva-as is the traditionally depicted Virgin of Guadalupe image--only aesthetically speaking, of course.
Although there doesn't seem to be a documented case for the original discovery of the Salt Lake City Virgin Mary Tree image, the story goes like this: it was first noticed by an unnamed city worker, who was attending to or cutting the tree's broken limb, which had been damaged by lightning. Through the support and petitions of the Latino/Catholic community, the Salt Lake City leaders erected stairs and a platform-a formalized, city-sanctioned and maintained formal shrine. This is markedly similar-almost a retelling, albeit rather generic and austere-of the original apparition-story of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
In 1523, Juan Diego, a native Mexican farmer, heard music, saw a blinding light, and witnessed a lady dressed in clothes like those of an Aztec Princess. There were several encounters, and in one, she asked for a shrine to be built. Attempting to convince the Catholic leaders of the reality of the encounters and her wishes, Juan Diego gathered anachronistic, unlikely winter roses in his robes as instructed by the lady, and upon presenting them to the leaders, all were convinced of the veracity of Juan Diego's story of the apparition, when they found her miraculous image emblazoned upon his robes.
The Virgin Mary Tree image as it stands today is quite altered from its original appearance. There are vague references and stories that the image was vandalized at some point, but ten years of liquid oozing from and onto the surface of the stump probably has a lot to do with its transformation. I recently climbed the stairs of the shrine, and was amazed at what I found.
There is a framed photo affixed to the tree, right above the abberation-stump area. The photo has an early image, so one can easily navigate the stump visually, and make sense of the now 'vandalized' image. While the original Virgin of Guadalupe image is virtually gone, there is a new, larger image just to the right-a classic Madonna and Child icon. It's fairly unmistakable, and I believe, even more striking and clear than the original image. How this could go unnoticed is perplexing. But what could it all mean?
Within the idea that such apparitions and abberations arise somehow from the collective unconscious, one can assume that there is some statement or need being addressed or filled. In Daimonic Reality, Harpur writes, " ...it is a psychological law-a law of the soul-that whatever is repressed returns in another form..." and then, in giving examples of such, he writes, "Over-masculine authoritarian Christianity is vexed by subversive visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary." In applying these ideas to the Virgin Mary Tree in Salt Lake City, it does seem to fit, and in several layers of ways. It may be pertinent to take a look at the possible meaning of the Guadalupe Virgin and the now-apparent Madonna and Child symbology, within a local context.
The Virgin of Guadalupe image itself is apparently ubiquitous within contemporary Latino communities. In an article reviewing Ana Castillo's book Goddess of the Americas: Writings on the Virgin of Guadalupe, Robert Orsi adds to Castillo's words about the presence of the image of the Virgin, "She appears today on bolo ties, playing cards, tattooed on the skins of cholos in East L.A. and South Phoenix, on belts, pillows, towels, cigar boxes, lamp-shades, 'among horns honking, ambulances running, children crying, all the people groaning and dancing and making love,' in the struggles of farm workers, in the places of the sick and dying, carved in soup bones, and in ravines on the border between Mexico and the United States, helping her people make the crossing north in the middle of the night by distracting the border patrols."
As I stated before, the area in which the Virgin Mary Tree is located is largely a minority and Hispanic, non-Mormon population. It has also been an area fairly steeped in poverty and crime. According to the above descriptions, it is fair to assume the Virgin of Guadalupe image represents hope. Certainly, in the decade since the appearance, the neighborhood area is almost completely transformed. The grassy vacant lot behind the tree is now a brand new, cheery children's park. Directly across the street is the amazing Koko's Kitchen-an award winning Asian restaurant with some of the city's best sushi, and legendary miso soup. There's now a trendy charter school down the street, full of brainy-cool emo middle school kids, Salt Lake Arts Academy. The image was a vehicle that broadcast the voice and image of the Latino community to the larger population, and also physically and psychically attracted the larger population to the area. In all, the image seems to have been a catalyst of inclusion.
Looking in a larger local and social framework, the idea of an emerging feminine divine is quite loaded. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is quite established and self-satisfied as a patriarchy. In the very recent past, there have been heated issues by larger groups of some members over women's earthly and heavenly roles within the dogma. There is the obvious, tired old misogyny: women are not able to partake in the Priesthood (the Mormon Church has lay clergy-all worthy male church members are expected to advance through all the levels of Priesthood.)
Perhaps more central though, there has been a moderate amount of strife over requests to know more about Heavenly Father's wife, Heavenly Mother. According to standard lore, all requests for information, both formal and informal, are answered with something like: "Heavenly Father respects Her so much and She is so sacred that He doesn't want to parade her around."
If that isn't repression of the feminine divine, I don't know what is. Here, we have the unusual instance in which the existence of a Divine Mother is not a source of debate or speculation-it's dogma. An actual acknowledged Goddess within Christianity, whose name, image, attributes, role, etc. are literally being hidden from her wanna-be worshippers.
Sound familiar? The enormous popularity and ripple-effect of the Da Vinci Code, in which the divinity of Mary Magdalene is proposed, indicates a conscious desire/need on a much larger Christian scale for a divine feminine personage. The Mother is a central archetype, and that has been reflected in religious worship and devotion since ancient times. It's not going to go away, regardless of its institutional status.
But what of the new image, the Madonna and Child? On its own religious terms, it represents salvation, and is one of the most recognizable and revered icons within Christianity. On a secular or literal level, it presents an image of safety, and familiarity; a maternal setting of undisputed cross-cultural, pan-socio-economic commonality: peace, love, and family. And, for hundreds of years, it has also been one of the most widely used icons for personal prayer and devotion --exactly what has been happening at the tree for ten years.
The Virgin Mary Tree has changed. I suggest it has not necessarily been vandalized, but has morphed naturally, through the effects of the still-oozing trunk, countless touches, and even super-naturally, through a decade of thousands and thousands of visiting believers, millions of prayers, and petitions for miracles. And transformed too, by the collective unconscious itself, which in its mysterious manners and wisdom, uses our landscapes and forms as a mirror, in which we may willfully gaze at our own visions, gleaning hints of understanding of our personal and joint state and place in the universe.