Frida Kahlo: The New Face of the Dark Sacred Feminine
What to say about Frida Kahlo? “The associations around Frida’s name have created the legend of her personality. She is viewed as a genius painter, one who expressed her emotions and life on canvas, who spoke from her heart and who has become remembered as a martyred saint. Scholars and the general public alike have latched onto Frida’s image, making her into more than a mere artist, rather into a remarkably insightful and brave individual. This popular myth has been supported by Frida’s own lifestyle, by her flamboyant attire, scandalous relationships, and internationally recognized friendships.” (Tate, T.N., 1997).
Frida Kahlo was a multiracial Mexican artist who was a walking piece of art, known more than just for her work, her husband, affairs, physical illnesses, political views, or physical appearance. She transformed into an icon that is representative of multicultural feminism today. In this paper, I will explore how she currently is the embodiment of the modern dark sacred feminine.
Frida: The Archetype
Strong eyebrows, bright colors, authentic clothing, strength in her beautiful sadness: Frida’s image is everywhere these days. Throughout the years there has been a dramatic increase in all things Frida Kahlo. This entails biographies of her life, touring collections of her art and belongings. There is Frida inspired clothing, graffiti, coloring books, and her face on the range of feminine attire from watches, bags, tee shirts, jackets, and even tattooed on people’s bodies. Women are pulled to the world of Frida, but why? In addition to her story of resilience and empowerment during a time of repression, I suggest there is something in the unconscious collective that we are drawn to in her. Frida Kahlo is the new face of the dark sacred feminine.
We are in a time of pop stars, influencers, and celebrities are worshipped, not deities. According to the Pew Research Center (2022) the number of Americans who defined themselves as Christian was 64%. Other religions accounted for 6%, and unaffiliated was 30%. Fifty years ago, the number of Christians was 90%. It is predicted that the number of Christians will continue to shrink, as the number of unaffiliated or “nones” will rise. People gravitate towards the term spiritual versus religious, but spirituality is elusive in regards to what this actually entails.
It is inherently calming to look at an image to get us through difficult times. Although some people have altars in their home for spiritual practice, a majority of people do not. Imagery is a vital form of focus to overcome adversity. Sometimes can be used as a means to meditation through a one pointed focus. In the yogic world this is called tratak. One can meditate and focus their energies on anything from a candle’s flame, a place on the floor, or an image of their guru. When one’s thoughts drift to other topics, one redirects wavering thoughts to that which is the one pointed focus. Having Frida Kahlo’s image in one’s home is for the secular, or those who do not want to limit their worship within the confines of a religion.
In the past, many women would find strength by honoring the dark sacred feminine. Prayers, mantras, or chants would be repeated. Rosaries or jewelry may have been worn which had images of the Divine feminine or crystals that were aligned with this goddess. Pilgrimages would be made to holy sites where her presence thrived. People would have altars in their home or perform rituals to invite the dark sacred feminine into their lives, at their particular difficult moments. Offerings would be made at these altars or on pilgrimage, particularly if they felt their prayers were heard and answered.
Belloni (2019) writes of pilgrimages to these holy Black Madonna sites. “For centuries, on the Madonnas’ feast days, pilgrims visited those sacred sites, honoring the Earth, touching th healing soil or stones, drinking the miraculous water, bringing branches from the trees and asking and receiving miracles. In numerous locales, part of the devotion was to chant for hours or to drum and dance the tarantella all night long in an altered state of mind, similar to a shamanic trance. “ This article will review what the dark sacred feminine represents, what deities have been linked to this concept, and the thread that links Frida Kahlo to this lineage. This article will review what the dark sacred feminine represents, what deities have been linked to this concept, and the thread that links Frida Kahlo to this lineage.
The Dark Sacred Feminine Defined
Goddess worship has been around since the beginning of time, but honoring the Dark Sacred Feminine is different than honoring other female deities. McGrath (2017) particularly clarifies what the Black Madonna represents “Archetypally speaking, the blackness of black Madonnas is symbolically linked to creativity and newness, to welcoming the darkness while seeking the light, to embracing mystery. Mary’s blackness reminds us of the rich, fertile soil in which we scatter the seeds of new dreams and possibilities. Hers is the cosmic blackness of the night sky and the ever-expanding universe.” There is debate if the darkness of the Black Madonna is a form of symbolism. Does she stem from goddesses that came before her, such as Egyptian Isis and Summerian Innana?
The Faces of the Dark Sacred Feminine
“So much has been projected on her – she is the dark pagan goddess, she is Isis, the Throne of Wisdom, she is the dark Demeter, Artemis of Ephesus, Cybele, she is Mary – mother of God, she is Mary Magdalene – a female apostle and consort of Jesus Christ, she is “the black but beautiful” Shulamite from the Songs of Songs, she is the Queen Sheba, she is The Holy Grail and the Ark of Covenant sought by the Knights Templar in the Holy Land, she is the primordial African mother of the whole human race. She is the dark meteorite and the black Kaaba Stone from Mecca. She is Kali and the Black Tara.” (Symbol Reader, 2021).
When we speak of the Dark Sacred Feminine, it is more than the Black Madonna. There are different variations in numerous regions throughout the world. Oftentimes, she is viewed as the symbol of creation and destruction. When we find worship of one, generally she is linked to another. I learned this while going on pilgrimage with Alessandra Beloni, author of Healing Journeys with the Black Madonna. In this image above of the Black Madonna in a cathedral in Moiano Italy, it stands close to old temples of Isis.
Beloni writes (2019) “most of the churches and sanctuaries devoted to Black Madonnas in Italy and around the word are actually built on the ruins of temples dedicated to different goddesses, including Isis (Egypt), Cybele (Anatolia, Turkey), Daina Efesina or Artemis (Ephesus, Turkey), Aphrodite Venus (Erice Sicily), Demeter or Ceres, Persephone (Enna Sicily), Hecate (Pompeii), Naples Tanit (Phoenicia, Carthage), and Gaia.” The honoring and reverence towards the Dark Sacred Feminine does not die, although her face may change due to who is ruling one’s land at the time. She has many names and faces, but there is one essence to her. Frida Kahlo seems to be the modern face for Her at this time when our churches are crumbling.
Looking at the story of Frida Kahlo one may see the theme of creation and destruction that evolves from the vicissitudes of her life. Her life was one of constant reinvention, through both the work she produced, the circumstances in her life, and her physical body.
The Story of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907, and was multiracial. Her father was born in Germany and was of Hungarian Jewish descent, while her mother was Mexican and Native American. At the age of 6 she contracted polio in her legs, and forever was left with a limp. At the age of 18, a vehicle accident occurred that redirected the course of her life. Frida was travelling on a bus in Mexico City, when the bus was involved in a severe accident with a streetcar. It seemed to be a scene from an archetypal nightmare. Frida’s body was impaled, which broke her spinal column, pelvis, collarbone, and ribs. The steel went through her abdomen, and exited her vagina. Her clothes were ripped off from the impact, and gold flecks from another passenger were sprinkled over her body. (Sebag-Montefiore, 2016).
“She was haemorrhaging, her body covered in blood and powdered gold, a pot of which a fellow passenger had been carrying. It exploded over her in the crash, a prophetic baptism for the glowing pain that was hers from that day forward. The actual accident, she later said, unfolded in silence. But when they pulled out the handrail, she screamed louder than the ambulance. The position of the handrail, the blood, the gold, the billiards, the drowning out of a siren, is all so Kahlo – the female body in torture,the eye for contrasts, the black humour, the indomitability – that you’re tempted to raise an ironic tequila to the queen of self-creation, nourishing the image of this Mexican woman who refused to be a victim. And yet, the image is a true story. ” (Burton, 2018)
Two Grave Accidents
That specific horrendous moment was a metaphor of the work she would produce. Frida could have died on that day of her tragic accident, or in the many surgeries that followed. But she redirected the course of her life, and turned to the world of art as she brought beauty, vulnerability, and strength to her tragedy. Several years later, Kahlo met renowned painter Diego Rivera and eventually married him. They had a tumultuous marriage, filled with affairs from both of them, one included an affair Diego had with Kahlo’s sister. She is known to have said, “I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down… the other accident is Diego.”
The tragedy that Frida Kahlo experience at the age of 18 dramatically shifted the trajectory of her life. At the time, Frida was attending college, in hopes to become a medical doctor. But things change. During her extended time healing, Kahlo was confined to her bed, and painted her first self-portrait. Her mother placed a mirror over her bed, so she would not feel alone. She was her own muse, and painted what she knew.
Over time, Frida would face numerous tragedies, including gangrene which led to one of her legs being amputated, miscarriages, thirty surgeries, affairs, and divorce.
Frida painted 150 works of art, and 65 were self portraits that expressed her emotions, tragedies, loves, affairs, pain, miscarriages, culture, and expressions of her femininity and masculinity. La heroina del dolor, the heroine of pain, is what Frida is known as in Mexico.
“ The surgeons had to put her back together like a collage, another pre-figuring truth for the artist who would cut her face or torso out of pictures, the woman who used the geometry of clothes and dazzle of jewellery to trick the eye from her deformities. Ninety-three years ago in a hospital medical theatre, Frida Kahlo was a puzzle. For me today, she remains equally difficult to piece together.”(Sebag-Montefiore, 2016). Frida took the material from the tragedies of her life and used them as part of the tapestry of her artwork. Her paintings were visual representations of the evolution of creation and destruction.
Creation and Destruction
Frida’s life and work serves an example that we can create from tragedies in our lives. Through being authentic and sharing our vulnerabilities, we can find strength. To live fully we must embrace all of who we are.
“Through artist representations Frida has transcended art into culture. No other artist has inspired so great a following among contemporary artists. She stands for feminism for Chicana and feminist artists and for strength for gay artists. Her ability to endure pain in her life has inspired artists who place her in the guise of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon her. Surpassing from mere representation into saint-like status her image is now used by artists as a means to be associated with her, it has become the popular thing to do.” (Tate, 1997).
Honoring Ourselves as Divine
Frida Kahlo is known to have once said “I am my own muse.” London’s Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition of her work and belongings in 2018. Several of the souvenirs sold at this shop contained this phrase “I am my own muse.” This is a phrase she once said in regards to the number of self portraits she completed because she was the subject she knew best. It served as a mantra for young women. We do not have to seek outside ourselves to be inspired, we can find that strength from within.
In the same manner, the symbol of the Black Madonna reminds us that we too are worthy. Dr Christena Cleveland (2022) shares in her book God is a Black Woman “Unlike fatherskygod who is out there, the Sacred Black Feminine is right here in the lavender aroma, the butterflies, the twinkle of fireflies, and within us. She abides in a magical world where dead forests spring to life when we choose to enter them because She dwells within us and our mere presence ushers in Her sacred and liberating life.” God doesn’t have to exist out there, God and the Goddess can exist within us. The Black Madonna is a reminder of this, particularly for BIPOC women today.
Frida was an earthly figure who endured unfathomable tragedies and her fiery spirit prevailed. This is why she has been transformed into the status of an archetype, particularly a human version of the Dark Sacred Feminine. She embodies the concept of creation, destruction, perseverance, authenticity, and power. We seek to see how she lived her life, despite the numerous operations, infidelity, miscarriages. She embraced aspects of her Mexican culture, while at the same time was not secretive of the affairs she had with men and women, her unibrow, and the masculine and feminine aspects of herself. She was a figure ahead of her time, which is why her popularity the past ten years have catapulted to the point her image is available for purchase on clothing, accessories, or home décor in every metropolitan city throughout the world.
Ways to Worship
Traditionally honoring the Dark Sacred Feminine included various forms of worship, such as prayer, altars, chanting, dance, sacrifice, offerings, pilgrimage. Due to the fact that many people in modern society have distanced themselves from religious practices, secular worship is undefined. In today’s world, people may opt to show forms of honoring another through posting images and videos on social media feeds, dressing up in the style of the admired entity, placing images of who they look up to in their homes or attire, getting tattoos, and attending events in honor of this person. This could be considered a form of pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage as a Way of Knowing
In the past, worshippers visited holy places by foot. They would walk for hours, days, weeks, or even months for this lifetime journey to the epicenter of the holy land they found meaning in. Travel is still made to these locations, but generally with the assistance of flights, buses, tour groups, and guides.
Phil Cousineau, in his book The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, states “For those of us fascinated with the spiritual quest, the deepening of our journeys begins the moment we begin to ask what is sacred to us: architecture, history, music, books, nature, food, religious heritage, family history, the lives of saints, scholars, heroes, artists?”
For many women, the life and work of Frida has moved them, and they feel compelled to know this artist deeper. Therefore, if we can redefine the concept of what a pilgrimage truly is we can note the ways that people are pilgrimaging in honor of Frida. There has been an increase in visitors to Frida Kahlo’s home in the past decade, known as Casa Azul. An article cited that groups of women are taking this trip together as a form of bonding. This intentional trip is a form of pilgrimage.
In addition, there has been an abundance of travelling art exhibitions throughout the world which display Frida’s artwork, but also everything from her clothing, make-up, perfume, back braces, shoes, and even part of the leg she wore. If people cannot make the trip to Mexico City, they may be able to visit this exhibit in a nearby state or country to get close to Frida’s artwork or precious items that once belonged to her.
The Way Forward
The Dark Sacred Feminine continues to be honored, through the various forms she has taken. This may be in the form of Kali, Black Madonna, Isis, Pele, Malac/Noctiluca, Yumanja, Innana, and others not discussed in this article. All are aspects of the Divine Mother, the Dark Sacred Feminine.
This summer, I had visited the Black Madonna of Montserrat. When speaking to a tour guide about this particular Black Madonna and her origins, she alluded to the fact that she was linked to the Divine Mother and Earth Goddess. She said she was an amalgamation of numerous other goddess combined, just like the other Black Madonnas in the world. When I asked who this Earth Goddess was she said she was “the goddess before patriarchy.” Our conversation ended, and she didn’t need to say more.
It seems to be that the Dark Sacred Feminine is alive and respected in other beings today, which serve as relatable role models for us to aspire towards, as we navigate our lives. Her form has shifted dependent on who is in power, controls the land, and who we are “allowed” to worship. There is a longing for this Dark Sacred Feminine entity. Frida Kahlo exists as an aspect of this dark sacred feminine, who the secular can lean on in times of adversity.
The Gravitational Pull
Less people are calling themselves religious and are aligning with the term spiritual. There are no particular gods or goddesses or practices that falls into this elusive genre of being and seeing the world. Yet, there is a longing for more. There is a gravitational pull to follow the path of an individual who one aspires to be like, whether if they have walked on this earth or not. We seek their images as a reminder that the strength they represent is attainable within ourselves at times of struggle. This is the case with Frida Kahlo, who is representative of the modern dark sacred feminine.
Elyane Youssef (2017) listed five reasons why Frida is an icon of freedom and feminism. These included such topics as her public bisexuality, defying gender stereotypes, politically active, defying female beauty standards. These topics are still currently mainstream issues, that have only further been highlighted and explored deeply by the general public the last several years. We seek guidance from Frida as we navigate this way of being in the world. Frida once said “Feet, what do I need you for if I have wings to fly?” If she could do it, so could we.
Beloni, A. (2019). Healing Journeys with the Black Madonna. Bear and Company
Burton, J (2018, June 13). Frida Kahlo: The agony and the ecstasy. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/culture/a21341120/frida-kahlo-the-agony-and-the-ecstacy/
Cleveland, C. (2022). God is a Black Woman. Dovetail Publishing.
Cousineau, P (1998). The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred.
Kramer, S. (2022, September 13). Modeling the Future of Religion in America. https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2022/09/13/modeling-the-future-of-religion-in- america/
McGrath, M (2017, M.). We need images of the Black Madonna now more than ever. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/11/10/we-need-images-black-madonna-now-more-ever
Sebag-montefiore, C. (2016, June 28). Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera review- romance, heartbreak and must see exhibition. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jun/28/frida-kahlo-and-diego-rivera-review-exhibition-art-gallery-of-nsw?page=with%3Aimg-3
Symbol Reader (2021). Black Madonna: An Icon of Mystery. https://symbolreader.net/2021/12/30/black-madonna-an-icon-of-mystery/
Tate, T. N. (1997). The Emergence of an Icon: The Frida Kahlo Cult. Doctoral Dissertation,
Portland State University. https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3795&context=open_access_etds
Youssef, E. (2017, February 10). Frida Kahlo: an icon of feminism and freedom.
Check out my previous blog that discusses a Frida Kahlo exhibit https://amodernpilgrimage.com/frida-kahlo-exhibit/