Return to Mountain Mother[1] by Jeanne F. Neath

Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.
Mountain Mother, we hear your cry.
Mountain Mother, we have come back to you.
Mountain Mother, we hear your sigh.

Lyrics by Carol P. Christ [2]. Sung to the tune of “Ancient Mother.” (origin unknown)

What do a bunch of feminist women do while riding a tour bus around the Mediterranean island of Crete? If they are on the Goddess Pilgrimage started by Carol Christ and continued by Laura Shannon, they sing songs honoring the Goddess. The song that drew me most from the first time I heard it on the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage was “Mountain Mother.” Not surprising since the rocky, sparsely vegetated, yet hauntingly beautiful mountains of Crete surrounded us much of the time as our trusty bus wound its way up and down and around the island.

Our two and a half weeks on Crete were enlightening, at times awe-inspiring and, perhaps most of all, challenging for two 70+ year old women. My partner, Paula Mariedaughter, dislocated and broke her left shoulder on the first day of the pilgrimage. I became both personal attendant and pilgrim. I climbed up rough paths to sacred mountain peaks and caves. Near the top of Mt. Juktas, the pilgrims who were able braved a wild wind that was so powerful and so erratic I could barely control where my foot would land. The trail we were following was a little too close to the mountain’s edge for my comfort in these conditions.

Despite all this, I’ve encountered what is perhaps my biggest challenge now that I am home again, here in the Ozarks.

The mountains in the Ozarks are very different than the ones in Crete – not so high and ours are covered by an oak hickory forest. When we got home from Crete after over 24 hours of listening to jet engines and sitting in airports, I was immensely relieved to be back in ‘our’ verdant mountains, with all the familiar sights and sounds. I couldn’t help but hear and feel these Ozark mountains calling: “Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me.” I had in no way left the Goddess of the Minoans behind me.

Carol P. Christ, the author of the “Mountain Mother” lyrics and the founder of the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, wrote in the preface to her book, Rebirth of the Goddess:

“…the Goddess is the power of intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being. The earth is the body of the Goddess.” (p. xv)

If the earth is the body of the Goddess – and I like thinking of both the Goddess and the Earth this way – then what does it mean to promise, “Mountain Mother, we have come back to you.”? Is this just a spiritual commitment that entails embracing the Goddess? Or are we talking about material reality – coming back to the Earth herself – too?

The obvious answer to these questions from the perspective of any Earth-based spirituality is both. The very idea of a dichotomy (dualism) between spirit and nature originates in a Western patriarchal worldview. 

When I sing “Mountain Mother, we have come back to you” I am embracing a Goddess/Earth-centered spirituality, but at the same time I am reaching for a way of living that brings me back to the Earth, to “Mountain Mother”, in very real physical ways.

Here is that “biggest challenge” I mentioned earlier. I’ve spent most of a lifetime working to end the patriarchal society now dominating the Earth. Yet, can I truthfully say to Mountain Mother that I have come back to her? That I have already come back to her?

Recently Paula and I watched one of the Maternal Gift Economy salons. I was delighted when some of the speakers brought up the need to “exit the market” economy and live within the gift (and, I would say also, subsistence) economy.

A key part of the needed transformation of society is to end people’s dependency on the market by returning to a gift/subsistence relationship with the Earth. For me, and perhaps for you too, coming back to Mountain Mother means receiving sustenance directly from the gifts of the land and waters we live on and taking care of the land and waters that are our home. Our own roots to the land can become deep like the trees living with us on Mountain Mother. We can do this ourselves and in our women’s and other communities.

I hope you aren’t finding talk of the gift/subsistence economy intimidating. Everyone on earth already participates in that economy! We are born into it and rely on it every day. When our mothers give birth to us, they freely give us the gift of life. When we cook dinner for friends we are participating in the gift/subsistence economy.

Almost everyone on earth participates in a mixed economy, part gift/subsistence and part market economy. Most people living in the global North can choose to change the mix and shift further into the gift/subsistence economy (until the market economy is ended altogether).

I will keep singing to Mountain Mother and telling her that “we have come back to you,” because we must come back to her. The tension I feel from singing what is not yet fully true for me keeps me motivated. The challenge of creating a way of life that is good for us and good for the Earth is one that I choose.

What could be more satisfying (and fun) than getting to know Mountain Mother really well and dumping capitalist colonizing patriarchy at the same time we transform our lives and our communities!

Notes

1. A longer, related blog, “Coming Back to Mountain Mother,” appears on my ecofeminism blog.

2. Carol Christ adapted her lyrics from “Ancient Mother.” I combined Christ’s lyrics from two different versions of “Mountain Mother”, one on page 128 of her book, The Serpentine Path, and the other the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage song sheet.

Bio: Jeanne F. Neath I am currently writing and speaking about what is needed to “come back to Mountain Mother.” In order to create the earth and woman-centered communities called for, there are many threads to be twisted together into a single cord including power-with relations, Goddess/Earth focused spiritualities, gift/subsistence economies, matriarchal studies and re-indigenization. “The Earth is the body of the Goddess” and so the feminist spiritual practice informing my writing is one of sitting and walking in awareness of nature. I edited and published the feminist journal, At the Crossroads: Feminism, Spirituality and New Paradigm Science. I have published many scholarly articles on disability and employment. I’ve been a radical Lesbian feminist organizer and activist since the 1970s, working on many grassroots projects from Spinsters Books and Webbery to Radical Lesbian Feminist Uprisings. See more of my ecofeminist writings at ecofeminismblog.org

8 thoughts on “Return to Mountain Mother[1] by Jeanne F. Neath”

  1. There is a Maternal Gift Economy zoom meeting coming up on March 5th and I hope to participate. Sharing and cooperating are what the world needs now. I am encouraged by groups like Freecycle, Buy Nothing, and Rooster, which are available in my area. They encourage us to share freely with our neighbors.

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  2. Thanks for the great resources, Katharine! It is time – past time – to end the “taking” paradigm of patriarchy and capitalism and move to a world of sharing and cooperation, as you say. Mountain Mother is depending on us to transform this society! The beauty of this option for creating social change is that we can move into the gift/subsistence economy both through our individual actions and by working together.

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  3. What a wonderful post, and very thought-provoking about what it means to “come back” to our Mother Earth. I do think it’s an ongoing process and we are probably always “coming back” to the Earth in some new and exciting way, no matter how long we have been coming back to Her. Our connection with the Earth is a wonderful place to start bringing a practice of bringing the gift economy into our lives, I think. I know that for decades I have had sharing relationships with other people who have gardens – we share seeds, extra seedlings, divided bulbs, etc. Many of the gardeners I know take pride that they rarely buy plants from a nursery because we all share so many plants we don’t have room for them all. This was the first “gift economy” I participated in and now I continually find other ways to be part of that economy.

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    1. Carolyn, I really agree that “coming back” is an ongoing process. Every step we take takes us deeper into the process and strengthens our relationship with Mountain Mother. Even the smallest steps help to restore the natural world and may even lead to giant steps later. I love your comments about sharing seeds, seedlings, divided bulbs. Years ago I heard Bailey White read one of her delightful essays on NPR about the giving of “passalong” plants in her southern community. In her world often the ONLY way to get a plant you really wanted was from neighbors, but plants were not necessarily passed along to just anyone. Relationships had to be developed both with neighbors and plants! One of the things I really love about the gift economy is the ways gifts help to restore broken communities.

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  4. Returning to the Mountain Mother was what I did when moving to the mountains 40 years ago…. I can still hear her calling in every tree creature and plant – a gift economy seems so far away with our present practices though my guess is that just about everyone on FAR participates.….

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    1. Sara, forty years of listening to all the creatures in your mountains sounds heavenly. Well, I mean Earthly! Mountain Mother is calling continuously here too – provided I remember to listen. Listening is so important. Sometimes you can’t help it. For example, last night we heard the first spring peeper calling behind our house. There was just one and he called loudly and nearly continuously for hours. The calling of other creatures on our land can require much more careful attention to hear – and silencing of my thoughts. I think almost everyone, and certainly those on FAR, participate in the the gift/subsistence economy. Like listening or not listening to nature, we may not even notice all the gifts we are giving and receiving every day. It can be hard, while surrounded by capitalist patriarchy, to feel there is a way out, but, like the natural world, the gift/subsistence economy is all around us too.

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      1. Agreed about listening and for me the quieting of NOISE generated by this miserable machine based system – my biggest complaint. I love it that you heard a spring peeper – good listening is an art form and we need to create the space for it… I do this most effectively here at home by rising early so I am present for the dawning and before…. During the day especially in summer I retreat in the afternoon or else am off to a very special forest….if I am overstimulated I cannot turn my brain down unless I enter the peace of the forest….

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