Mother of All Fears by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


This time of year, the general public tends to pay more attention than usual to witches. Much of it is lighthearted – halloween costumes and memes about where to park your broom. Some of it is spiritual – adherents of the modern religions of Wicca and neopaganism discussing symbolic and supernatural beliefs. And some of it is historical – analyzing the witch trials of past centuries and wondering how they apply, ethically, to modern day intolerance and violence.

Within all these discussions, usually unnamed and unexamined, is the framing metaquestion: what should we fear? And what should we do about that which we fear?

Historic witch trials (from a time when witches were believed to be evil agents of Satan) reveals how we humans always try to externalize badness and goodness, so we can exterminate badness and excuse ourselves for our lack of goodness. So we have heroes and villains, neither of them very human, but rather idols and symbols of our fears. I honestly think the patriarchy’s fear of females is as strong as it ever was. When the most popular videos on the most popular internet porn sites are of ****TRIGGER WARNING RAPE, INCEST**** raping a stepsister, or doctors raping a teenage girl in the hospital for cancer, or of border agents raping a pregnant young refugee, and these sites are visited by 98% of the men in our society, what does that say about us as a species? Or a culture? As Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee says, “Scary, scary vaginas!

The more I have studied conflict and peacebuilding, the more I have studied feminism, and the longer I have been a parent, the more I keep coming back to the importance of fear. A certain amount/kind of fear is a gift. Fear keeps us alive: fear points out to us when we are in danger so that we can try to avoid situations and people that would harm us.

But here’s the problem: chronic fear devours us and turns us into violent, frantic, desperate infants.

Here’s the other problem: we are all swimming in chronic fear.

Of course, trauma is an obvious cause of chronic fear. Children who experience abandonment, neglect, or abuse struggle to develop basic mental and emotional stability. Most girls and women experience misogynist violence of various forms #too, and most women I know seem somewhere between a little traumatized and severely traumatized. Boys and men are crippled by the way society beats vulnerability and authentic emotional expression out of them, and so most men seem more or less traumatized to me as well, despite having more privilege, as a class, than females. After all, the vast majority of violence is committed by males – against females, against other males, and as suicide. Then our culture normalizes this violence and prohibits us from responding to it in healthy ways or getting the treatment and support we need to heal, so… hey presto, traumatized, terrified society.

Add to that cultural trauma soup, our world floods us with fear, from the grindingly inescapable collapse of civilization in a #ClimateApocalypse, to the collapse of our (flawed, apparently frail) systems of governance under the weight of greedy oligarchs and corrupt politicians, to the media obsession with scaring us in order to get our attention in order to get sponsor dollars in order to feed the #oligarchy beast.

Religions and secular ideologies often make things worse. They set up a virtuous ingroup (the intelligent atheists or the godly faithful) against the threatening outgroup (those barbaric religious people or those sneaky fake-religious progressives), and they whip their communities into self-righteous, smug terror against those dangerous outsiders.

You know what I keep saying? Over and over. I keep saying:

People are afraid of all the wrong things.

I have been thinking a lot about fear this month because it is the ten year anniversary of the sudden, untimely death of my mother. She passed away unexpectedly on the day I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. I never got the chance to tell her. The past ten years without her have been full of great blessings, and overwhelming, agonizing grief.

For a multiple-trauma survivor like myself, it can backfire to “focus on gratitude!” the way the New Age positivity cult shame-pressures us to do. Gratitude feels so much like terror. The moment my mind formulates a feeling of thankfulness for something precious in my life — my kind husband, healthy children, stable home— is the very moment I am filled with dread lest it all be ripped suddenly away, as has happened so often in my life. Mindfulness meditation techniques, yoga, chiropractics, and non-trauma specific therapy strategies exacerbate this terror.

So I wonder sometimes – what if the root of all our fears is a need for The Mother? What if the thing we all truly need most, is the ability to be infants in the arms (or the womb) of a completely safe, infinitely loving, infinitely accepting and affirming, totally nurturing Love? What if all of our violent behaviors – and the fears that prompt them – are actually the frantic wails of the starving, terrified newborn inside us? How would our culture look, if we approached all violence as infantile terror, and prioritized communal and individual healing, nurture, and compassion?

My younger daughter taught me this lesson better than any scholar could. When she turned 4, her life was upended by numerous simultaneous huge changes. She responded by becoming explosively rageful on a daily basis. After all the advice of family, friends, and books had failed, I turned to my instincts: She was terrified. She needed comfort. I flooded her with calm, loving affirmation. “I love you so much. You are so wonderful. I am here for you.” It worked. It is the only thing that has ever worked. She calmed down and gradually became her old self again… peaceful and free.

So I started doing it to myself, whenever I felt myself flailing, reacting with defensiveness, anger, rage, irrational hurt, the urge to say something cutting: “I love you so much. You are so wonderful. I am here for you.” It worked. It still works. I need it pretty often. And… I think you do, too. I think we all do.

And when those words are hard to find, reconnecting to the Earth, to wild Green Life, can remind us who we are.

I believe we can learn to be Mother – to ourselves, to each other, and to our hurting planet. I believe we deserve that birthing, nourishing, safeguarding, healing Love. We can give our fears and griefs to that Love, and we can find our true selves again… peaceful and free.

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.



Categories: Ancestors, Belief, Family, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Foremothers, General

Tags: , , , , ,

15 replies

  1. Wonderful article. I have shared on the Divine Feminine App as well. And yes, I agree. I see this with my daughters who although incredible wonderful precocious little human beings, I constantly have to remind them ‘You are loved. You are wonderful. All is well and as it should be. (even if it is sometimes sad and scary.)” I never had this in my life, but have learned to replace it on my own and in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen. I am so glad you were able to find the wisdom and courage to give your precious daughters what you deserved but were denied. Blessings on your journey. <3

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  2. What an insightful post! And thought-provoking too. As a hands-on nanny-granny, I assure my grandchildren over and over that I love them more than anything, that I’m here for them, that they are the shining stars of my life.

    But I never thought of doing it for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s so much scarier to say these things to ourselves, isn’t it? When we’ve been carefully taught self-shame. One of the hardest exercises I do is to say these things to myself in the mirror. Why should that be hard? Thank you for sharing this journey with me. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for this. Over the last year or so…I have finally realized the inner, covert, chronic trauma I have endured in the form of fear. Dream work has really helped in this discovery. I think we all need to delve deeply into this…and I’m glad you did.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I’m so glad you were able to find the source of your pain… I hope and pray your journey brings you continued healing and liberation. Taking these deep dives requires a lot of courage. I’m glad to be sharing this journey with other brave spirits. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fear has/is used by (some) religious groups and politicians. It’s effective and cheap. Emotions are more powerful than reason in unexamined minds. Social media is a platform of contagion. We can speak reason and hope our lights shine bright enough to catch attention. This morning, your light made mine shine brighter. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Edith. I agree with you… whipping people into fearful hindbrain reactions makes people easier to steer. I’m so glad our lights are shining together. Bless your journey, and your light. <3

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  5. Beautiful, Trelawney. Birth is such a powerful symbol of what happens when we are cradled in a safe, warm, dark womb – only then, after ‘enough’ time, can we burst forth into new life, more independence, more power. Why do we try to force ourselves toward birth, when what we need is a womb? <3

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Tallessyn. Great question… I think it is because the traits of nurturing and tenderness were defined as feminine, and so therefore devalued, and the need for them became shameful. I think it is a radically feminist act to claim and honor our need for nurturing and tenderness. <3

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  6. I love this essay. I love what you say about focusing on gratitude the way the New Age positivity cult shame-pressures us to do. Gratitude feels so much like terror.

    Oh, do I agree. Forcing gratitude is also a force of denial and I am so sick of listening to people say “go with the flow'” “practice gratitude” etc etc. Exposure of what’s behind these phrases is what we need. Genuine gratitude is wondrous feeling and I refuse to manipulate it artifically.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sara. “exposure of what is behind these phrases”… what a fantastic idea to explore. Thank you for naming it. And “I refuse to manipulate it artificially” — another fantastic statement. I agree completely… true gratitude is wondrous, and forced gratitude is toxic and destructive. Thanks for your thoughtful insights. <3

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  7. I feel like I’ll always remember that anecdote about raising your daughter… I certainly hope I do! Feels like a deep insight that may underpin my other strategies for working with people of all ages… especially in light of all the implicit fear you’ve pointed out in our society.
    I also TOTALLY get what you mean about the “new-age positivity cult” even while I am very much a member. The couple points you make regarding how you feel about it will really help me adjust my own expression of that culture.

    As soon as I read your post preview I wanted to share a GR8 post-colonial feminist text.
    we.riseup.net made it available for free online, just Google: PDF The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth.

    Particularly your points about the rampant way male sexuality has been molded & perverted remind me of a recurring theme in that book…. While the authors have plenty of uplifting, inspiring chapters, they also re-seed (“hammer-home”, as our culture says) a particular point, again-and-again throughout the book:

    that war-centric cultures have a habit of reducing sexuality to something secular instead of sacred, for patriarchal property reasons, coupled with belief systems that have a lot of discomfort towards straightforward, healthy expressions of sexuality. War cultures condition young men to share their dominating view of an un-sacred world, then confine their budding sexuality to go into unsavory backwater channels of culture to see sexuality, where maladjusted/wounded individuals set the norms.

    The authors even posited somewhere that if young men were initiated into sexuality by women in a joyful soulful context, like the priestesses of certain temples, that this could crumble the power structure in a society that needed its “male cannonfodder” to grow up isolated from a life-affirming feminine paradigm ^_^

    Oops, so hard to write briefly about this subject! Anyways, peace sista, thanks for YOUR writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh I am so sorry the idea of gratitude is so scary for you. I do not believe it is a new age feel-good idea. I have experienced generosity which I believe is rooted in gratitude for the gifts of life over and over in traditional Crete and my studies tell me that gratitude for the gifts of life was deeply rooted in ancient Cretan culture from its beginnings in the Neolithic. Indeed it seems to me that offering the first fruits of every harvest to the Mother of All and sharing food with the living and the dead is the fundamental religious gesture and spiritual insight of ancient Cretan cultures: I was given and so I give.

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  9. As for primal fear of loss being at the root of violence, I think this is probably true but also more complicated in patriarchal societies. I think a great deal of violence against women is rooted in the patriarchal idea that women exist to gratify male desires and needs. So while fear of abandonment may underlie it, the right to take what you need or want at the expense of others may be primary, and we should not discount the “created” “need” to dominate.

    Liked by 1 person

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