Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Great Mother Goddess: Motherhood, the Syncroblog

This is my contribution to the Paleothea - driven synchroblog


Any discussion of myth and motherhood, Paganism or women’s spirituality is one of blood and bone. It takes us back to the root source, the ancient Triple Goddess in her aspects of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. (1) Each aspect is powerful in Her own right, each has much to teach us. However image of the Great Mother can be problematic for those of us who have chosen to be child free or did not have loving mothers ourselves.

I use the term "child free" as opposed to the more common term “childless” because the latter implies that the woman in question has wished to have children, and been denied the blessing of same. (2) But there are many earthwise women (myself among them) who choose to celebrate the Goddess in all of her roles, including her maternal role, but have chosen not to have children ourselves. There are a variety of reasons for such a choice (3) and among the women in my circle of acquaintance, few if any regrets for having made it. But then how are we to identify with the idea of a Mother Goddess if we are not mothers ourselves?

Women who are mothers and those who are not, might share yet another challenge when confronted with this powerful archetype. How are we to understand the unconditional love of a Mother Goddess if we were not well mothered ourselves? To be frank, not all of us were raised by Demeter, some of us were mothered by Medea.

The mother/daughter bond is never an easy one to bear. Among my women friends, many of us have relationships with our mothers that are, to put it mildly, fraught. It is a challenging kinship at best. At worst (if, for example, our mother was frustrated, addicted, depressed, abused or abusive in some way) we might not relate to the image of a kind and loving mother. Even if we were raised by Demeter herself, we still came of age in a dysfunctional and patriarchal system. If our own need for rebellion and individuation took too dark a turn, then we, like young headstrong Persephone, might face the need for much healing, forgiveness and letting go on both sides. (4)

How then do we find our way to the Great Mother? I believe the answer lies in the very nature of motherhood itself. The role is, in it's most basic form, a trinity: A good mother nurtures, she guides, and she protects. When I think about my women friends who have chosen not to have children, I can think of hundreds of ways in which they nurture, guide and protect. Some are community activists, some care for elderly family members, support charity organizations or companion animal rescue groups. Some care for the land and protect wild creatures and places. Others teach or mentor or pass on a talent or skill. They may do this as professionals or as volunteers, but these essential threads are woven throughout their lives and they connect them to every other woman and to the Mother Goddess. It is what women do and always have done: We connect and we create. Since I am a Green Witch, I will put this another way: She is the root and we are the branches. Each of us will blossom and bear fruit, we simply do it in different ways.

The word "maternal" shares the same root - the Greek word "mater" (mother) - as the word "matriarchal". Woman as Matriarchs hold power in one hand and wisdom in the other (5) . In this role, the Matriarch does more than guide, she leads, and often in a direction that is new to us. Women who have children and those who do not, all share this role in some form or another. You may not think of yourself as a leader, I say that you are. We all have the Matriarch within us. It is that part of us that tells truth to power, the part that says "We can do this better", the part that says "Yes" when the world so often tells us "No". To be a Matriarch requires all the other skills I've mentioned, plus a bit of life wisdom that comes with age, experience and a great deal of laughter. At some point, all women become Matriarchs. We do so on the day we say "Enough!" and begin to work for change. The change may be in our own life or it may affect the lives of others, but it will be a powerful force because it's source is the Creatrix.

It's easy to find the Matriarchs these days. You will find us standing side by side - those with children and those without - as we address the issues of war and peace, health care, equal pay, education, climate change, sexism, ageism, racism, civil liberties, green living, violence, poverty, homelessness, and child care because women know something that this culture has forgotten: We are all connected. If you hurt or neglect any one of us, you harm us all.

The blessings of the Great Mother be with you and yours,


Related Articles:

Beyond Mere Sentiment: Reclaiming Mother's Day

Art: Gaia


(1) For a more complete discussion of the archetypal roles that occur in a women’s life, I recommend reading The Women’s Wheel of Life: 13 Archetypes of Woman At Her Fullest Power by Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard.

(2) The cultures take it as read that children are a blessing and I will gladly agree that they are insofar that of themselves they are precious beyond measure. Whether or not you feel “blessed” to have one greatly depends on your ability to feed, clothe and house them and how much real world support you have in the form of partner(s), extended family and knowledgeable, supportive friends. Based on my observations of mothers in this culture (in particular those who are trying to raise teenager girls with more of a sense of empowerment and more options and more intrinsic self worth then they themselves enjoyed) I would suggest that children are more in the nature of what the Buddhists call a Difficult Gift.

(3) Some of us simply do not feel the call to be mothers. Some of us took care of others at an early age, and did not wish to assume that role again as adults. Some of us choose to pursue careers and found these fullfilling and demanding enough in themselves. Some of us wanted, not so much a sperm donor, as a true partner, and in some cases, that search took us past our childbearing years. Other women, having survived dysfunctional systems, were concerned that they might repeat the same mistakes. In some cases, the reasons for being child free might be due to our health, life circumstances or simply a deep understanding of our heart's needs.

(4) In this sense, I speak of that version of the myth that has Persephone choosing to go down into Hades for her own reasons (love being among them) and not the later one where she is kidnapped and raped.

(5) No doubt cooking and cleaning and checking on a good friend at the same time. And this is why many of the earliest female dieties had more than two hands.

Updated 4/3 Since posting this I've gotten several (shall we say concerned?) emails from people who think I don't like children. Odd.

Whenever someone writes about being child free and happy in that choice, they often feel the need to rush about declaiming "Oh, but I love my friend's kids". I was trying to avoid that cliche, and besides, my friends already know this. For the record: you can't be a educator, a community activist and an events organizor for as long as I have and not like kids. OK, technically, you can, but you won't be very good at it. Sia


Anonymous said...

Definitely a good perspective on motherhood to have in the mix. A lot of people work with the goddesses as archetypes, and although I think I've studied too much to find that personally helpful, I think it's cool generally.

I encourage you to read Aquila ka Hecate's post, I think she says some stuff about divine mothering you might find useful, and it speaks to some of the different ways of understanding divine maternity, too.

Dj Connell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dj Connell said...

You'll notice that I write about Her as Goddess, energy and archetype.

I read her essay and I thought she did a very good job.

This is thinking that Pagans are very familiar with, and as a Green Witch, I know it well.

I wanted to approach my own essay from a point of view I had used in my writing before now. It does not reflect everything I read and understand about the Mother Goddess. Rather, it is one facet hidden in the heart of a very complex and beautiful subject

All good things,


Anonymous said...

Hey again,

Quick question: where can I go to get permission to use that image of Gaia in this post? I covet it ... :)

Dj Connell said...

I know the post you mentioned. She is a thoughtful writer.

I've been trying to find the author of that image for some time. I've seen it around since (I think) the 90's. If you find him/her let me know.

Sia V.