She who changes
She who expands and contracts
She who stretches her limits
She who digs deep
She who triumphs and fails
Sometimes both within a single hour
She who tends her own hearth
She who comforts and connects and enfolds
She who opens wide
She whose heart cracks open at birth
She who tension bunches her shoulders
And lines her face
She who laughs
She who carries the world
She who sings with her sisters
And circles in ceremony
She who holds precious her daughters and her sons
She who defends and protects
She who opens her heart just a little wider
She who trusts
She who tries again
She who gathers to her breast
She who gathers women in ritual
She who hopes
She who loves so deeply
That it crosses all boundaries
The Motheredness of the World
Cynthia Eller in Living in the Lap of the Goddess notes that “some spiritual feminists say that having a divine mother is a way of compensating for the frailties of human mothers, giving women a more perfect mother…” This is not actually true for me; I’m fortunate enough to have an excellent human mother. I am more liable to see myself as a mother reflected in the empowering imagery of the Goddess as mother than I am to feel “mothered” by Her—I feel like she affirms my worth and value in my own maternal role. She gives me strength and inspiration to be a better mother to my children. In this way, I then agree with the hope of spiritual feminists that “this great mother goddess will have a transformative effect upon the social valuation of motherhood.” (Eller, p. 143)
I am also of the opinion that Mother Goddess imagery may well be less about women as mothers and more about the motheredness of the world. In this way, I do not find the image of the Mother Goddess is exclusive, rather I find it exceedingly appropriate. Every person and mammal on this planet—male, female, black, white, hetero/homosexual– since the dawn of humanity has had a mother. It is a truly unifying feature. And, it isn’t about the role, it is about the primal relationship. The root of life. As Naomi Wolf writes in Misconceptions while reflecting on an ordinary street scene and suddenly understanding the web of life and the universality of motherhood (even the squirrels!):
We were all held, touched, interrelated, in an invisible net of incarnation. I would scarcely think of it ordinarily; yet for each creature I saw, someone, a mother, had given birth….Motherhood was the gate. It was something that had always been invisible to me before, or so unvalued as to be beneath noticing: the motheredness of the world.
This understanding of the invisible net of incarnation is the foundation of my own thealogy and my ethics.
Relatedness and Connectedness
In his book Goddess as Nature: Towards a Philosophical Thealogy Paul Reid-Bowen stated that “…the model of the mother may prompt reflection on the idea that everything emerges from, exists in a relationship to, and is often dependent upon something existing prior to it (a mother, world, nature or Goddess)…For thealogians, the model of the Mother is a powerful means of drawing attention to the bodily realities, connections, dependencies, and relationships that shape not only human life but the whole of existence…” Reid-Bowen goes on to quote Naomi Goldenberg, “Since every human life begins in the body of a woman, the image of woman, whether thought of as mother or Goddess, always points to an early history of connectedness: Mother-mater-matter-matrix. ‘Woman’ is the stuff out of which all people are made…” (p. 66) Goddess as creatrix of the WORLD, to me, is of much deeper and more primary significance to me than Goddess as “fertility figure,” as so often described in non-thealogical discourse.
The sociocultural value of a divine presence that validates women’s bodies cannot be overestimated. Indeed, patriarchal religion in its most destructive way seems to have grown out of the devaluation and rejection of female bodies. A religion that rejects the female body, that places the male and its association with “the mind” and the soul rather than the earthy relational connection of body, is a religion that easily moves into domination and control of women. Reclaiming Goddess, reclaims women’s bodies—names them not only as “normal,” but as “divine,” and this is profoundly threatening to traditional Judeo-Christian belief systems. Thus, the primacy of relatedness and connectedness as the core feature of the Mother Goddess model has broad reaching implications for women’s spirituality, as a direct contrast to the dominator model of patriarchy.
In Carol Christ’s classic essay, Why Women Need the Goddess, she quotes feminist theologian Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father):
If God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling his people, then it is the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male dominated. Within this context, a mystification of roles takes place: The husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself.’ The images and values of a given society have been projected into the realm of dogmas and “Articles of Faith,” and these in turn justify the social structures which have given rise to them and which sustain their plausibility.
In the same essay, Christ explains: “The symbols associated with these important rituals cannot fail to affect the deep or unconscious structures of the mind of even a person who has rejected these symbolisms on a conscious level…Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected, they must be replaced. When there is not any replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures in times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”
I notice this among some friends and family members—while not identifying as Christian or religious, they may turn to Christian phrasing or symbolism to express ineffable concepts. They have no other language or framework for explaining their experiences or ideas–for example after a near miss in a car and someone says they were praying they’d be all right and they guess “the man upstairs” must have been listening).
I’ve noted before that it is very important to me that my children, particularly my sons, are being raised in a home in which female connection to divinity is very normal and that Goddess images are all around them. I hope that their default symbol and system of belief as adults will therefore include Goddess, regardless of how their individual spiritual paths develop. As an example, I have a book for children called Big Momma Makes the World in which a full figured, practical-looking woman holding a baby on her hips creates heaven and earth and everything in between and, “it was good, it was real good.” I love that my sons are growing up with this sort of imagery about creation. For me, Goddess religion and spirituality is as much about sociocultural valuation (or devaluation) of women and making a feminist political statement, as it is about lived experience. Both are very valuable to me.
Ariska Razak writing in her thoroughly amazing essay “Towards a Womanist Analysis of Birth” (Reweaving the World), speaks boldly about the significance of birth to the health of the planet
…for the health of our species, we better say yes. The real plague that threatens us is our attitude toward one another. Why is birth not considered a major psychic event? Where is our birth art? Where are our birth stories? Why don’t we celebrate birth instead of war? Why do we restrict fathers from participation in birth? If we begin with loving care for the young, and extend that to social caring for all people and personal concern for the planet, we would have a different world. If we understood, and celebrated birth, we’d seek more humane alternatives to painful medical processes—we’d reclaim the importance of love and warmth and human interaction…In a society that wishes us to see men as devoid of feelings, let us hold an image of men as nurturers. Women are birth-givers, but men can care with them. Let us change our institutions. Let us demand that men come with us. Let birth teach them surrender. Let pain teach them transcendence. Let the shared experience of childbirth reclaim the human soul. (p. 172, emphasis mine)
I have been creating birth art about my pregnancy, birth, and motherhood experiences since my first pregnancy in 2003. And following a significant miscarriage in 2009 and a subsequent pregnancy-after-loss journey in 2010, I began creating a series of polymer clay goddess sculptures. These sculptures became a 3-D journal of my life with my daughter. Each figure either had a message for me or was created to express a message or a lesson or to incorporate some aspect of my identity or to capture a memory. My most recent figures are a collection of what I call “mamapriestess” figures, encompassing the balance of priestessing my community and priestessing my own hearth.
In early February as I worked on a new sculpture, my six year old son worked at the table too and presented me with a special gift of his own design:
“This is the Goddess of Everything,” he told me. “See that pink jewel in her belly, that is the WHOLE UNIVERSE, Mom!!”
Molly is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. Last summer she was ordained as a Priestess with Global Goddess. Molly blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me, about thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com, and creates goddess art and jewelry at http://etsy.com/shop/BrigidsGrove.