Longing for Darkness:
Tara And the Black Madonna

by China Galland

Penguin, 1990. ISBN 0140121846.
Reviewed by Carolyn Blankenship
Posted on 03/15/2002

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Travel/Adventure

After two divorces and three children, China Galland found herself "lost in the wilderness of the single-parent family" and struggling with alcoholism. Having left the Catholic church in which she was raised, she turned to nature for solace, but eventually found that her time there simply made her need for a spiritual life more obvious.

In January 1977 she went to a monastery in New Mexico to try to reclaim Catholicism, only to find herself a stranger. The masculine terms of the mass&mdas;Our Father, His body, His blood, God the Father, God the Son—and the Virgin's remoteness, impossible goodness, and inhuman purity fills her with grief and despair. There is no place for her here.

China begins a spiritual quest for the feminine face of God. Her search takes her from the rapids of the Rio Grande River in Texas to Nepal, India, France, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, and Poland—places where the goddess is still venerated today. She explores many aspects of divine femininity, acquainting the reader with the Order of the Woman in the Wilderness, Hindu goddesses Durga and Kali, the Greek goddess Artemis and more. The goddess Tara of Buddhism and the Black Madonna of Poland are the images to which she is most deeply drawn. She leads a group on a pilgrimage in the mountains of Nepal and joins the annual pilgrimage to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland.

Following the thread of Christian mysticism, China finds people like Meister Eckhart, the abbess Hildegarde and Julian of Norwich, who spoke of God as Mother. She discovers images of the goddess as far away as Kathmandu and as close to home as the Rio Grande Valley. She says, "The darkness of these female gods comforted me. It felt like a balm on the wound of the unending white maleness that we had deified in the West. They were the other side of everything I had ever known about God."

Some of the most appealing aspects of this book were China's encounters with other women during her search. She weaves the stories of Auschwitz survivors, visionaries of Medjugorje, French gypsies, and Mexican peasants into her own. Her book is really an adventure story set in both inner and outer worlds—beautifully written, soulfully told, and wonderfully illustrated with a number of amazing photographs.

I was inspired by China's determination to forge a spiritual life that not only included, but celebrated, her womanhood. It parallels my own search, though mine was not so adventurous or far-flung! I suspect many women yearn for feminine images of the Divine. This book supplies a wonderful array of those, presented by a woman compelled to find a vision of God that worked for her. Since her story is so deeply personal, it is much more accessible and enjoyable than many of the didactic texts available. China was born in Texas and has been a university lecturer, wilderness guide, journalist, and long-time student of Buddhism and comparative religion. She now works as a research associate at the Center for Women and Religion in California and is married with three grown children. Another work by Galland is the non-fiction book, Women in the Wilderness.

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