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  • Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna; A Ten-year Journey
  • Corinne Dempsey
Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna; A Ten-year Journey. By China Galland. New York: Penguin, 1990. xx + 392 pp.

As someone accustomed to reading religion through ethnography—a genre that approaches deities and saints in a largely contextualized manner, purportedly “grounded” in indigenous perspectives—writings that aim to link devotional figures from opposite sides of the globe make me decidedly skittish. So near the beginning of Longing for Darkness, when Galland states that “intuition told me” that the Black Madonna at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, and the goddess Kali from a Varanasi temple in India are somehow “connected” (p. 57), I felt the urge to discredit the entire book. Yet as it happened, it was too late; by then I was irretrievably captivated by a vividly and passionately told tale, related by an intensely courageous and honest author. Rather than expecting—wrongly and perhaps unfairly—the writing to conform to my academic framework, I thus gladly tended to what seemed to be my own “genre problem.” Wanting to maintain the author’s credibility in my eyes—to take her leaps of faith for what they were—I let go of the inclination to frame the book as ethnography, or even history of religions, and construed it as something else, something no less valuable.

Because of its deeply personal tone, Galland’s detailed portrayal of her visits to a half dozen countries reads somewhat like a travelogue, yet much of the account takes place at home as well—in only slightly exotic places such as Marin County, California, and southern Texas. Furthermore, Galland chronicles a journey that is as much an interior one as it is global, invoking a personal and spiritual process that she connects to her search for feminine models for God and human holiness. In many ways a pilgrim’s account, Longing for Darkness is perhaps most aptly described as spiritual autobiography, or in any case, it is from this angle that I find immense value in the work. This does not mean, however, that Galland’s account relies entirely on faith, “intuition,” or personal interpretation; she has most certainly done her scholarly homework. Peppered throughout by footnotes and capped by an extensive selected bibliography, the book gives good reason for some of us to be genre-confused.

The point of entry Galland chooses for leading us on her spiritual journey is a high mountain trek in Nepal. The trip, meant to culminate in a moon ceremony at a mountaintop monastery, ends instead in disaster, a metaphor for the disastrous direction that her life is presently taking. Subsequently, while back at home, Galland reassesses and readjusts the course of her internal world, meanwhile taking herself and her reader back across the globe four and a half years later. She travels to Nepal and India two more times, aiming to learn more about the goddess Tara, women in Tibetan Buddhism, and furthering her own established commitment to the Buddhist tradition. Galland relates in striking visual and conceptual detail experiences and observations at various shrines and conversations with a vast array of people—including a meeting with the Dalai Lama. After her second trip to South Asia, the [End Page 224] author takes a detour to Einsiedeln, Switzerland, before returning home, thus beginning her exploration into the phenomenon of European Black Madonnas. Galland continues her investigation of Mary by embarking on two more European journeys that take her to Switzerland, France, the former Yugoslavia, and twice through Poland. A side trip to the Rio Grande Valley to visit a North American Madonna shrine further rounds out her quest.

The book’s final scene brings us to the author’s northern California home atop Mount Tamalpais, where the Dalai Lama performs the Lahsang ceremony for the purification of the earth and for world peace. Longing for Darkness thus ends where it began: in mountains, sites where one might expect to find spiritual riches. Furthermore, while start and finish are located on opposite sides of the globe, Galland refers to her journey as taking her full circle; her travels confirm what she already knows, gained primarily through...

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pp. 224-227
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