Nov 30, 2009

The Cult of the Virgin Mary, by Michael Carroll

This is a very readable work of non-fiction that seeks to explain the delayed beginnings and strength of the Mary cult in certain geographical areas. Written by a socialogist, it presents a completely different perspective on a religious phenomenon. It is, however, extremely dated. Published in the mid-1980s, Carroll chooses to use Freudian psychoanalysis to explain the Mary cult, and in this day and age, that just doesn't fly.

Carroll takes the Oedipus complex for granted, and easily concludes that the Mary cult is particularly strong in geographical areas (Spain, Italy) where the father ineffective family is the predominant proletarian family structure, therefore leading to an especially strong sexual attachment to the mother, which leads to an even stronger repression of that feeling. If one takes such Freudian analysis at face value, yes, Carroll's argument is a strong one. But Freud's ideas have been viewed with increasing skepticism over the years, and is now nearly completely discounted. Without the Oedipus complex, Carroll's argument fails utterly.

Luckily for him, this does not affect much his argument about the beginnings of the Mary cult. He takes an in-depth look at various pagan goddesses and their devotional cults in order to suss out any one that might have been Mary's precursor. Much research lead him to just such a goddess: Cybele. She represents the same unique dichotomy that Mary does: Motherhood, and a complete disassociation from sexuality. Carroll points out that the Mary cult has always been associated with some form of masochistic behavior that is clearly meant to minimize sexual feelings (this part of Carroll's "sex" argument I can agree with), and in Cybele's cult, the male priests ritually castrated themselves.

All in all, Carroll makes a few good points, and his book is very readable, but one just can't look past all the Freudian analysis.

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