MARY OF CANADA: THE VIRGIN MARY IN CANADIAN CULTURE, SPIRITUALITY, HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
by Joan Skogan
The Banff Centre Press, 305 pp.
It will probably come as a bit of a surprise to many people in this essentially secular age to learn that the Virgin Mary occupies a prominent place in the Canadian cultural ethos. I hadnt thought of it before, but you only have to look to films and music to find superficial examples of the phenomenon. Marian images are also found in poetry, depicted in art, alluded to in fiction and situated in geographical place names.
At times tenuous, at other times profound, this connection is as old as the initial European settlement by Icelanders. Older still if you delve into the pre-Christian traditions of the Vikings or First Nations peoples and the universal mythology of a beneficent earth mother-goddess figure.
Author Joan Skogans first real introduction to the idea of Marian culture came not, as one might expect, through organized religious rituals. Mary, despite her important role as the mother of God, is the focal point of attention only for a short period of time in the Christian calendar year. It came, instead, on a fishing trawler plying its trade in the unforgiving waters off the west coast. Mary, the ultimate intermediary renowned for qualities of mercy, and for offering hope and protection, is the object of particular reverence among sailors.
After leaving the sea, Skogan missed the camaraderie and solace associated with the Marian tradition and began a quasi-spiritual journey to seek her out on land and in everyday life. It was a journey that would take her to the furthest reaches of the country and into archives, artists studios and religious gatherings on the shore of Lac Ste. Anne. The result is Mary of Canada, a wonderful book that simultaneously manages to challenge, inform and delight.
It is rare to commend the designer and editor of a book, but appropriate to do so in this case. If you are the type of person who uses books as decorative objects, you should know that this is a beautifully crafted volume that would not look out of place on display. But it should be read as well as looked at. Dont be put off by the fact that, like the trail that the author took in her search, it can be a bit difficult to traverse. Skogans prose is complex and her thought wide-ranging and sometimes apparently disjointed, but if you stick with it, this book proves a satisfying read.