The Great Mother Calls Us to Action by Carolyn Lee Boyd

carolynlboydWhen Flint, Michigan’s water supply was poisoned by lead through a policy decision— as has been widely reported, especially by Rachel Maddow — LeeAnne Walters and Melissa Mays started an organization called Water You Fighting For in protest, emphasizing their roles as mothers of children suffering from lead poisoning. Despite continual ridicule from state and local officials, Walters, Mays and others, including Flint’s new mayor, a woman, refused to give up until their voices were heard.

According to Ms. Magazine, it is largely due to Walters and Mays’s efforts that the source of the water, which had been changed to save money from fresh lake water to river water that corroded the city’s pipes, was switched back. Unfortunately, it is too late for the 100,000 residents of Flint, including babies and small children, who have already been exposed to the lead that can cause permanent and irreversible brain damage and other health problems. Lead poisoning is continuing because the pipes have suffered irreparable damage.

“Mother’s movements” have proven to be extremely powerful agents of change for decades. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in the US and Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina are just some of the many movements organized by women who relate their activism to being mothers. While the instinct to protect children is deeply ingrained in the human soul, could it be that another important reason that these mother’s movements are so powerful is because they tap into a sense of the sacredness of the Great Mother, the Creatrix of the universe who has been envisioned as a mother since the beginning of human history?

Some movements quite consciously create a connection to the Great Mother through associations with children and birth, the wellbeing of her great creation, the Earth, and concern for the oppressed as expressed in the title “She Who Hears the Cries of the World” that Great Mother goddesses frequently bear. Perfect examples of past “Great Mother’s” movements are those calling for justice and political freedom that invoked Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico and Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. Other examples are Native movements around the world that connect their goals to their sacred responsibility to the Earth. One such movement is again taking place in Michigan to protest use of an aging oil pipeline under the Great Lakes that could rupture and poison the lakes.

Flint has many Great Mother connections beyond that of children’s wellbeing that are being emphasized in the current national outcry. Flint is a largely African-American with broad and deep poverty, an oppressed community just as Poland and Mexico were when they invoked Great Mothers. The Flint River, the problematic source of Flint’s water, has been heavily polluted by industry for decades. Finally, the Emergency Management system that created Flint’s water disaster is also responsible for trying to close the only school in Detroit for pregnant girls and teen mothers and deny water to poverty-stricken Detroit neighborhoods, prompting intervention by the UN. Most disasters, whether events or issues like domestic violence, similarly have roots in so many injustices that they, too, connect to the Great Mother in many ways.

What if we, as feminists, invoked the Great Mother’s spirit more consciously as we fight for equality for women and other essential issues? Those who benefit from the oppression of women and the destruction of the environment cite traditional religious authority and the cultural belief in the primacy of economic gain to justify their actions. Can we turn to the power of the Great Mother to deepen the effectiveness of our own activism by citing the connection of specific situations to Her overarching themes of protecting future generations, our sacred relationship to the land, and the need for us all to “hear the cries of the world” in order to be fully human? When we invoke the Great Mother in our day-to-day activism, we do on an immediate, hands-on level what we are all striving to achieve in the global realm — bring the influence of the Great Mother back into the most essential aspects of our lives and culture.

In addition, feminists and others who have been fighting the same battles seemingly over and over for decades can easily fall into despair. When we relate our activism to the powers beyond ourselves, to the Great Mother, the source of all life, even just amongst ourselves, we are renewed and re-energized.  We can more easily perceive the relationship of individual issues to the long history of feminism and to the matrix of attitude changes and progress that it has achieved.  We can see our individual place in the global, millennia-old community of all those who have envisioned a more peaceful, just world for future generations.

While only some people are biological mothers, everyone is a daughter or son of the Great Mother, however we perceive of the universe’s creator. We all have a sacred duty to future generations and to those who are oppressed, a stake in the fate of the earth, and many other connections to that well of power that is this force. As we do our difficult, yet essential, work to make our world a place we want those who come after us to live in, She is there for us, if we will only answer her call.


Carolyn Lee Boyd grew up in Michigan about an hour’s drive from both Flint and Detroit, one of her favorite cities. When she heard what was going on in those cities, she, like so many others, was heartbroken and enraged. She is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog,


Categories: Activism, Ecofeminism, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Women's Agency, Women's Power

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13 replies

  1. thanks Carolyn, my feelings on the matter too. In my opinion, these crimes are rooted in Maternally and Cosmically alienated minds, so to call upon Her is to get to the root of the issue.


  2. I agree with you too, Carolyn, but as I am sure you know, your ideas will be dismissed by many as essentialist. No all mothers are not good mothers, especially not in patriarchal nuclear family societies, but to invoke the Great Mother and mothering is not essentialist. It does not mean that women can only be mothers or that men cannot also be nurturing. What it does mean is that none of us would be here without mothers and none of us would be well if we had not been mothered well by someone.


  3. Thank you so much for your comments, Glenys and Carol. Yes, I almost didn’t post this realizing that some might see it as essentialist, but decided to because I’m not proposing that we look at catastrophes like that in Flint in relationship to mothers, either human mothers or the creator of the universe envisioned in the form of a mother, but observing that, throughout history, people already do (if I could bold words in the comments section I would bold “proposing” and “already do” but I can’t!) and considering what that means and its implications. I grew up in Michigan and found that when I heard about this situation I not only felt the outrage that I would have had it happened anywhere, but a spiritual woundedness that I could only relate to the strong connection I feel to the creator of the universe through the land of Michigan in particular and the power of that connection to act in a way that leads to positive change.


  4. Here’s what a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, named Thich Nhat Hanh, has to say…I love this quote and am fascinated by it — I can’t say I agree or disagree, but it moves me — and it reminds me of the art of Georgia O’Keeffe:

    “You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. And in that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.”


    • This is beautiful. Thank you! That’s a fascinating connection you make to Georgia O’Keefe’s work. I do believe we communicate with the Earth, though perhaps not in the forms we usually think of as communication, and that it is indeed a kind of prayer. I think we all probably communicate with the Earth frequently, we perhaps just don’t perceive of it as such.


  5. This remnds me of Starhawk’s work: healing the earth as The Great Mother.


  6. I love the emphasis on interconnection. Now, what do we do, in a practical sense, to connect with the “inter-being” of “she who calms the raging waters” (my favorite image of Kuan Yin) that Thich Nhat Hahn talks about, and to each other, to act both internally and externally?


    • I too stopped, thanks Onoosh, and thought for some time as regards Thich Nhat Hahn’s use of “inter-being,” and I had to learn this the hard way, but you are so right to balance that with both the internal as well as external. There’s a webpage on Thick Nhat Hahn’s quotes on compassion, and there’s this teaching where he says that we should put much work into understanding and listening to our loved ones, and the last line here seems to reflect those sometimes raging waters you mention, and thus he says:

      “Training is needed in order to love properly; and to be able to give happiness and joy, you must practice DEEP LOOKING directed toward the other person you love. Because if you do not understand this person, you cannot love properly. Understanding is the essence of love. If you cannot understand, you cannot love. So if we love someone, we should train in being able to listen. By listening with calm and understanding, we can ease the suffering of another person.”


    • An important question, Onoosh! Thanks for asking it! I wonder if we really need to do anything to connect – I think we are connected but perhaps we don’t always see it. But knowing how to act on it is harder and what we can spend a lifetime learning to do. I also think that she doesn’t only calm the raging waters, but many times IS the raging waters – this connection can cause us to rage in a positive way when change is needed, when outrageous and catastrophic situations occur.


      • Thank you for that quote Sarah. It is so true. So often what people want and need most is to be heard. I’ve seen so often in women’s circles amazing transformations in women just because they feel deeply listened to, something that may not have ever happened to them in their lives.



  1. La Gran Madre nos llama a la acción de Carolyn Lee Boyd | Evangelizadoras de los apóstoles

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