To be a daughter seems a most naturally good thing to be on a planet conceptualized and symbolized as Mother Earth since time immemorial by ancient peoples on most continents. And yet, to be a Daughter has become something most complicated and daring, simultaneously burdened and exalted, depending on one’s culture and the remembered stories that tell us who we are as females. All relationships can be complicated, but the Daughter principle became exponentially more difficult once being female was cast as something troubled and threatening, a force that needed subdued in the long-ago burgeoning age of the solar gods that would eventually be globally promulgated. Once femaleness was problematized, something in the fabric of human relationship was warped and disrupted. Something life-giving was damaged. This damage especially shows up in families (and in our treatment of Earth) where cultural rules are transmitted and enforced. Today, many daughters (and sons and people of any gender identity) are estranged from their families because of these breaches.
The Goddess Sedna understands. Her ancient story tells us her parents threw her into the Arctic Sea to save themselves, then chopped off her fingers as Sedna the Disobedient Daughter clung to their kayak to save herself. Sinking into the frigid ocean, she is transformed to Divine Creatrix, the animals of the sea springing from her severed fingers. Known as Arnakuagsak in parts of Greenland, Takánakpsâluk by the Igloolik in Northern Canada, and as Old-Woman-Who-Lives-in-the-Sea in Labrador, to all nations who revere her, Sedna is Daughter-Who-Transformed. Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland all have their stories of Sedna.
This is why I chose Sedna and Her story to represent my global community to help daughters heal from Family Mobbing. Though conflict with individual family members is openly discussed nowadays and widely understood as a common problem, whole-family gang-ups and violent aggression is still difficult for most to imagine. Families killing their daughters is still legal in some countries today, and so is families signing for their girl children to wed much older men in the United States. But these are the shocking stories that make news headlines, not the secret agony of daughters and people who endure whole-family emotional terror. Strategic, calculated emotional violence occurs in families who understand themselves to be, and in many spaces are, good people. These families that mob may be formally educated, of any social class, hold prominent social standing, be leaders in their religious organizations, and professionals of all types, including psychotherapists.
In my many years as a volunteer victim’s advocate in women’s safehouses, a college-level educator in women’s studies, and founder of a social media platform for women mobbed by their families, I have learned how vast the problem of mobbing is. Families that mob come in innumerable configurations: there is no “type” though there are culture-specific expressions of mobbing. Americans tend to look overseas for abuses against girls and women or understand those abuses to be religiously motivated, but this is inaccurate. Family Mobbing is a problem in America, but we tend not to see expressions of it as family-endorsed practices. Pervasive secondhand treatment and gender-based double standards in the family are so common that they are considered organic to humanity and normal.
I came to this work in 2007 when I was mobbed by my biological kin. The mobbing was initiated and set into place by the women in my family: feminist, educated women. Within weeks, most of the family (young and old) followed in lock-step behind the initiators. Within a few years, every single member of the maternal side of my kin (but for one second-cousin) shunned me, even my most cherished relationships. Achieving a total cut-off was a fait accompli for the initiators who worked tirelessly to ensure that outcome. The reason for the mobbing amounted to simple disobedience to my role in the family. Nothing dramatic. No religious basis. Saying ‘no’ and asking questions about events from my upbringing were my crimes. Trying to understand how such a thing could happen required a lot of unraveling, so I combed out the intellectual tangles as I gasped for air under the trauma. As I created a worldwide platform on the Internet, I researched intergenerational trauma and group identity fusion. I talked to people who were shunned: gay men, lesbian daughters, women calling a domestic violence helpline, Mennonite mothers with many children they could no longer see unsupervised, college-grads labeled demons, Pakistani and Indian wives beaten by brothers, Nigerian and West Virginian teenagers hoping for an education. Then I started writing a book and building a new family.
Like the Goddess Sedna, I transformed family betrayal into something useful for myself and others. Sedna is also the name of a dwarf planet discovered on November 14, 2003 at the farthest reaches of our solar system. Astrologer Nick Fiorenza writes that the planet Sedna’s message “is that humanity must recognize the truth about the suppression, persecution, abduction, and exploitation of the feminine force in the world.” Another star-philosopher, Sue Kientz, writes that from the Sedna story of betrayal and pain, something “magical” happens: “as she descends into the sea she is lifted to divine status.”
According to NASA, the planet Sedna is heading towards Earth and will be nearest to our planet in her orbit in about 72 years. Sedna has an orbit of 10,500 years. Since the last time she was near Earth, the rise of patriarchy and its worldwide promulgation occurred. Simultaneously, people around the globe and across generations preserved in secret and in cloaked plain-sight the evidence, stories, practices, and reality of female sanctity. As we expand our conversation on Family Mobbing and bring family aggression out of the frigid shadows, much like child abuse and spousal battering were exposed and made illegal, we can better intervene on those patterns. The first step is the return of the sanctity of femaleness to the center of the sacred hoop so the whole of life on Mother Earth can heal.
BIO: Stephanie A. Sellers holds a doctorate in Native American Studies specializing in women’s issues. She co-edited the volume Weaving the Legacy: Remembering Paula Gunn Allen: https://unmpress.com/books/weaving-legacy/9780997035315 and writes poetry for the annual We’Moon Datebook: https://wemoon.ws/. Her book Daughters Surviving Family Mobbing: Stories and Approaches to Heal Family Aggression will be out in spring 2023 from North Atlantic Books, distributed by Penguin/ Random House. Stephanie grows parrot tulips (Dream Touch, a fave) and heirloom jonquils (fragrant Golden Echo, a must), and lives with two Welshmen (husband and corgi). Her girl-crush is still Jaime, the Bionic Woman.