The dark side of the Goddess has been known by many names in countless cultures and our frail species has fashioned many masks by which our ancestor's hoped to personalize the abstractions that incarnated themselves in their wounded hearts. The writer Thomas de Quincey christened them 'The Three Mothers' or 'Our Ladies of Sorrow'.
To see the faces of these three sisters too clearly is to court madness and annihilation but I have known them thoroughly and have walked in all their kingdoms.
The eldest of the Three is named Mater Lachrymarum, Our Lady of Tears. Her eyes are sweet and subtle, wild and sleepy by turns, oftentimes rising to the clouds, oftentimes challenging the heavens. She goes abroad upon the winds when she hears the sobbing of litanies or the thundering of organs and beholds the mustering of the summer clouds. This sister, the eldest, carries a key which is more than papal at her girdle, which opens the doors of every cottage and every palace, stealing into the hearts of sleepless men, sleepless women, sleepless children from Ganges to Nile, from Nile to Mississippi. Because she is the first born of her house and has the widest empire let us honour her with the title of 'Madonna'!
In the following account I shall endeavour as truthfully as possible to set before the casual reader how I first became aware of this infernal trinity through my fanboy devotion to all things 'gothic', in particular the work of Italian horror movie maestro Dario Argento and was lead seemingly by chance to the basilica of the Black Madonna, La Moreneta, the Virgin of Montserrat. I say 'as truthfully as possible', because there are some threads of the story I cannot share with you in order to safeguard the privacy of those involved. Were I to say more without proof of my claims you would doubtless dismiss me as a madman....
Chapter 1: The Rain Queen
Once upon a time, some 1600 years after the alleged death of Christ, a beautiful princess was seduced by her jealous brother and bore a child out of wedlock. Fearing her father's wrath she stole the source of his power while he slept, the rainmaking magic that kept the land fertile and gathering her bravest retainers about her, fled the city state of Karanga to seek refuge in the trackless wastelands south of the Zambezi.
Her name was Dzugudini and at length her wandering tribe settled in the forest of Daja, where for a good two centuries they lived undisturbed amidst the giant ferns and cycads, their ceremonies continuing unbroken from one generation to the next. Their last chieftain ascended the throne in the early 18th century. He was named Mugado and had three sons and a daughter, by all accounts a great beauty.
Although his tribe prospered this Mugado was a troubled man, assailed by spirits and invisible presences. The shades of his forefathers appeared before him by night and the secret rulers of the rainforest whispered in his ears even as he slept, sending clear instruction in his dreams so that he might govern in accordance to their will.
Whether Mugado was driven by vocation, demonic possession, paranoid schizophrenia with megalomaniacal tendencies or sheer force of inbreeding is hard to say but, in short, he was 'inspired'...
Acting under direct decree from the forest Mugado ordered the immediate execution of his sons, proclaiming that as his line was descended from an incestuous union he would in turn marry his own daughter and secure the succession for another thousand years by founding the pure, matriarchal dynasty the spirits had shown to him in his dreams.
The princess was sequestered in a palace hidden deep in the rainforest where the powers of Mugado's masters were at their strongest and in the fullness of time she bore him two children. The first was a boy who was strangled at birth by the midwives but the second was a daughter her father named Modjadji, the 'Ruler of the Day', and into her hands he entrusted the rainmaking medicine of his ancestors.
Modjadji remained all her life in seclusion, weaving her spells and practising her craft and when her unhappy parents were no more she ruled in her father's place and became renowned as the greatest of rainmakers. Supplicants came from all over Africa to make obeisance in front of her kraal in the hope of enlisting her aid and her kingdom became known as LoBedu, the 'land of offerings', and her people the baLoBedu.
She was never seen and this very secrecy, the impenetrable wall of spells and fearful incantations that encircled her court lead to the rise of all kinds of myths and fantastical beliefs. The Zulu believed she had four breasts and revered her as 'Mabelamane'.
Others believed she never aged nor lost her beauty but lived untouched by time.
Time however has no respect for folklore, even the most dearly cherished beliefs and Modjadji was duly scythed down somewhere in the 1860's when the name and mantle passed to her daughter. As for the boy children, well...
Modjadji II maintained her power over the subcontinent as skilfully as her mother, preserving the line down to this very day. When Mandela was released from Robben Island he sought the immortal monarch's council before assuming the trappings of state and so too his successor, Thabo Mbeki.
From one lifetime to the next she ruled unchallenged, monarch of all she surveyed yet still essentially a prisoner, a martyr caught in the vast web of ritual fashioned by the cunning of her ancestors. When the 'Rain Queen' showed the first signs of old age it is believed she was obliged to sip a cup of poison derived from the brain and spinal cord of a crocodile and later her skin and body parts would become the essential ingredients of the rainmaking medicine. After being left to lie a few days until the skin loosened she would be washed slowly away, layer by layer by her retainers who stored the water in clay pots. Other ingredients are said to include the fat of a scaly anteater, parts of a kudu, seawater, feathers from a 'lightning bird', black and white seashells and various roots and barks.
Nowadays a black sheep or goat is sacrificed but its fur is still carefully washed first and the water stored in the rain pots for future use. This ritual is rumoured to be a modern substitute for the ritual slaughter of a small child, a baby boy whose brain was once used as an offering...