My Best Friend, the Blessed Virgin Mary

Was Mary the original riot grrrl?


| November-December 1997


My fave goddess is pretty traditional: the Blessed Virgin Mary, the BVM for short. She gets a bad rap—spokesgirl for virginity, poster child for Catholic-boy Madonna/whore mind games—but I think of her as a mystical, pro-choice badass, and one of my best buddies. Even if you're not religious (or even if you're antireligious), her story can be seen as being about trusting yourself, and it's one of the best feisty girl stories of all time.

I first heard about the BVM in church—Baptist church—and to Baptists she is known more simply as the Virgin Mary, although they don't explain to little kids what virgin means.

I was immediately suspicious of her, because everybody knows Catholics worship Mary and thus have a good shot at going to hell. (Those Madonna and Child stamps at Christmas always drew little "hmphs" from my grandmother.) But there she was, right in Luke, chapter 2, so they had to talk about her in church.

My next contact with the BVM and Catholics (I didn't actually meet a Catholic until I was 10—welcome to the South) was in Little Women, where Amy stays with Aunt March and meets her French maid. Now, there are lots of things young Amy could have learned from a French maid, but what she learned about was Catholicism, devotion, and piety.

Thus began my secret preadolescent fantasies about prayers and beads and confession. It seemed to me that Catholics got to be assured over and over again that they were good, and if they weren't good they got to tell someone in secret and then it would be all better. This sounded all right to me, because my chief concern was whether or not I was good enough.

I didn't think too much more about the BVM until I met this awesome Catholic guy (no mind games here, thank you). One night I made him whip out the rosary and give me the lowdown, and when he got to the last two glorious mysteries—Mary is bodily assumed into heaven and Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven—I laughed out loud. "Those aren't in the Bible!" I hooted. "No," he said. "I guess not."