Mary the Head-Crusher

The ancient prophesy of Genesis 3:15 (“she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”), has long been interpreted by Catholics to be a reference to the Virgin Mary. This goes back at least to the time of Saint Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373). (For those with an apologetical interest in this subject, Brother Thomas Mary admirably dealt with the controversy surrounding this interpretation.) The Ad Rem I am now preparing has brought to mind this notion of our Lady as the “Head Crusher,” and this, in turn, brings me to one of the great, if not-well-known, trinities of the Bible.

We take it as a fact that the first book of Holy Scripture prophecies that the Woman will crush Satan’s head. Our Lord called Mary by this title in John 19:26, and Saint John names her that way in Apocalypse 12:1. But besides this early prophesy, there are three types of Our Lady as “head-crusher” in the Old Testament. (If you would like to know what I mean by “types” here read The Ark of the New Covenant.) These types are all women who dealt deadly head strikes to evil men who represented the Devil, thus foreshadowing the Virgin Mary’s ultimate conquest over Satan.

The first type is Jahel, whose story is told in Judges three and four. The evil man is Sisara, the general of Chanaan. When he is overtaken by the Israelites and he flees, Sisara takes refuge in the “tent of Jahel the wife of Haber the Cinite.” Jahel pretends to give him refuge, but later…

“Jahel Haber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and taking also a hammer: and going in softly, and with silence, she put the nail upon the temples of his head, and striking it With the hammer, drove it through his brain fast into the ground: and so passing from deep sleep to death, he fainted away and died” (Judges 4:21).

The second heroine is also found in the book of Judges. She is an unnamed inhabitant of the city of Thebes. The villain was the tyrant Abimelech, the son of the great Judge Gideon. Abimelech had no just claim to rule after his father died, but killed seventy of his half-brothers to ensure that he had no challengers to his despotic reign over the people.

When Abimelech went to the city of Thebes to put down an uprising against him, he met his fate:

And Abimelech coming near the tower, fought stoutly: and approaching to the gate, endeavoured to set fire to it: And behold a certain woman casting a piece of a millstone from above, dashed it against the head of Abimelech, and broke his skull. And he called hastily to his armourbearer, and said to him: Draw thy sword, and kill me: lest it should be said that I was slain by a woman. He did as he was commanded, and slew him (Judges 9:52-54).

The last type is Judith, whose story is related in the book named after her. Hers is the longest of the three, and the most beautiful, though not, I should say, without its violent moments, given our overall theme here. The Satan type who finds himself undone is Holofernes, the general of the army of the Assyrians under King Nabuchodonosor.

Judith endangers herself by going into enemy territory — into the very tent of Holofernes, who welcomes her because of her great beauty. What the wicked general had hoped would be a romantic interlude was preempted by his own intemperance. “Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk.” This was a grave tactical mistake that allowed Judith to carry out her plan:

And Judith stood before the bed praying with tears, and the motion of her lips in silence, saying: Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, and in this hour look on the works of my hands, that as thou hast promised, thou mayst raise up Jerusalem thy city: and that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee. And when she had said this, she went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword that hung tied upon it. And when she had drawn it out, she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour. And she struck twice upon his neck, and cut off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body. (Judith 13:6-10)

When Judith presented the head of Holofernes to the leaders of Israel, the Israelite army was emboldened to go on the offensive. In the Assyrian camp, a certain eunuch named Vagao was instructed to awaken Holofernes. Seeing that all his noise making outside the tent did no good to awaken the general, the eunuch entered the tent to behold the gruesome sight of the headless Holofernes laying in his own gore. Vagao “cried out with a loud voice, with weeping, and rent his garments.” His shouts must have been unsettlingly eerie given the man’s physical state.

In that high-pitched voice, the eunuch exclaimed: “One Hebrew woman hath made confusion in the house of king Nabuchodonosor: for behold Holofernes lieth upon the ground, and his head is not upon him” (Judith 14:16).

There was a rout. The Israelites won, and Judith was praised for her deed. What Joachim the High Priest said of her on that occasion is applied to Our Lady in the Church’s Liturgy: “Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people” (Judith 15:10).

Calling Our Lady a “Head-Crusher” may sound a bit rough to soft modern ears. But let us not forget Genesis. We should also recall that one of the meanings assigned to the name Guadalupe (Coatlaxopeuhin in the Nahuatl language) is “she who crushes the serpent.” The Aztecs worshiped a feathered serpent god named Quetzalcoatl, and from his abominable worship, demanding human sacrifice, Our Lady of Guadalupe delivered the Mexicans. The Holy Virgin is also hailed as Saint Mary of Victory, and has delivered her faithful clients through stunning military victories.

Triumphalism is one of the things we need today in these demoralizing days. Yes, we need humility; we need charity; we need all the virtues. But, because we have been notably robbed of a healthy spirit of Catholic triumphalism in recent years, this is something of major import for us. As we strive to recover our chivalric spirit of Christian conquest, let our battle cry be: Ipsa conteret — She shall crush!