“Lustrous among the cloudbanks,” the goddess Venus descended into the grove of oak trees, telling her son, Aeneas, that her gifts were of divine origin, forged by the fires of her husband, Vulcan. Venus embraced Aeneas as she offered him the weaponry and armor. He, amazed, looks each piece over, one by one, unsure whether to be more shocked that his mother was a goddess or that she had defied her own father to aid him.
He cannot get enough of them, filled with wonder,
turning them over, now with his hands, now his arms,
the terrible crested helmet plumed and shooting fire
the sword-blade honed to kill, the breastplate, solid bronze,
blood-red and immense, like a dark blue cloud enflamed
by the sun’s rays and gleaming through the heavens.
Then the burnished greaves of electrum, smelted gold,
The spear and the shield, the workmanship of the shield,
No words can tell its power.
For there, upon the shield, was the entire story of Rome, its past, its present, and its future, for Vulcan possessed the power of the seer, and directed by his wife, he had written it all.
Armed by his mother’s confidence and gifts, the half-god Aeneas of the destroyed city of Troy conquered his Latin foes, creating a new people that would rule the Mediterranean for over a millennium.
As Socrates awaited his execution by the hands and vote of the Athenian people in 399BC, a “woman in white” appeared to him in a dream, assuring him that in three days, he would spend eternity with his people and the gods in the land of Phthia. Socrates found more comfort in this dream, than in all of his own logic or the reassurances of his best friend, Crito.
When two Lakota warriors—the first representatives of their people—traveled onto the Great Plains of North America, they encountered a vision of the Great Buffalo Woman, a being shrouded in white light. One of the Lakota could not see passed her beauty and immediately felt lust in his heart. The other, though, saw her for what she really was, the lawgiver. The Great Buffalo Woman destroyed the lustful one, but she rewarded the other with the laws to govern his people, the laws by which all good Lakota would live.
At the moment a young Celtic man needed a tangible sign to unify his warring peoples, the Lady of the Lake emerged to offer him the sword, Excalibur, to unite and lead his people into virtuous victory. So armed, Arthur created a brotherhood the ushered in a Kingdom of Summer. . . for a while.
At Princeton, an eager and enthusiastic young student asked T.S. Eliot just why were there three leopards in his poem of conversion, Ash Wednesday, and who was the lady?
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness.
To which, Eliot replied, is it not enough that the lady honors the Virgin? Pagan or not, does she not point to the Blessed Mother of God, and, thus, to God? It is more than enough, Eliot assured his audience.
When another frustrated king, an Anglo-Saxon who would one day be known as Alfred the Great, begged of God aid in his battle against the heathen Danes, not God, but the Blessed Virgin appeared to him. As Chesterton recorded it:
“Out of the mouth of the Mother of God,
More than the doors of doom,
I call the muster of Wessex men
From grassy hamlet or ditch or den,
To break and be broken, God knows when,
But I have seen for whom.
“Out of the mouth of the Mother of God
Like a little word come I;
For I go gathering Christian men
From sunken paving and ford and fen,
To die in a battle, God knows when,
By God, but I know why.
And, yet, like most of us, Alfred craved sureity. If he put his faith in Mary and in God, would he be rewarded.
And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
No more of comfort shall yet get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Then silence sank.
Venus might promise victory, but Mary, rightly, only offers hope. Yet, it is a hope that breaks the bounds of the world, and shows us eternity.