The Maternal Divine

Here in the United States, on the second Sunday in May, we celebrate Mothers Day.  In the days leading up to the holiday we will see touching stories of motherhood permeate the news cycle while the shareholders of Hallmark and FTD wait in breathless anticipation of the last big sales bump they will see before the long dull summer season takes hold.  And then, come next Monday, it will all be over.  We’ll go right back to hearing about “Welfare Mothers” and “Anchor Babies” and the “War on Women” as if nothing had ever happened.

It would seem that, as a culture, we love the idea of motherhood, but are ambivalent about the actual mothers.

Confused?

You shouldn’t be.

It’s right there in the dominant mythology of the culture.

You know, the one where the universe was created by a single male deity, who produced the first woman as an afterthought and then inflicted the “pain of childbirth” upon her as a punishment for her sin.  Seriously ladies, you never had a chance.

If it is any consolation, at least you find yourselves in good company.

For most of human history we have revered both gods and goddesses.  Among my own Celtic ancestors the goddesses were known to be healers, teachers, lovers and warriors.  Many were manifest in the land itself, among the rivers, fields and mountains.  Their names are still well remembered in those places.

…but Dana, that was called the Mother of the Gods, was beyond them all. – Lady Gregory

The gods of Ireland are called the Túatha Dé Danann, which roughly translates as “The People/Tribe of the Goddess Danu.”  Very little is remembered today of the Goddess Danu beyond her name and the knowledge that she was the wellspring of divinity within the Irish pantheon.  We who honor her and her children do so because it is obvious to us that the central creative principle of existence is contained within the balance of the maternal and the paternal (the interaction of Yin and Yang if looked at from an Eastern perspective).  Danu is but one god among many yet the life-giving fertility she embodies is the axis upon which the natural world turns.

Some would argue that today we live in a very different world from that of our ancestors and have grown beyond a belief in goddesses.  If so, then why have the goddesses not gone away?  They are everywhere!  Their statues adorn the tops of courthouses across this land.  We place their images on our state seals and in our courtrooms.  We have not forgotten that the goddesses are part of the land, or did you never wonder why our nation is referred to as a “Her” and not an “it”?

We have never truly forgotten the power of the maternal.  That knowledge has simply been misplaced and our modern society has spun wildly out of balance as a result.  We live in a time when the miracle of childbirth (divine and otherwise) has become a weapon in religious and political debates and an inconvenient distraction from the argument that men are superior to women.  Motherhood is trivialized because it steals attention and power away from the paternal ideal of a centralized authority.

My suggestion then, is that we do a better job of recognizing the power and importance of motherhood and the creative principle within our daily lives.  Let us find the balance in our society that we seem to have lost.  Why should we restrict to the second Sunday in May something we should be living daily?

In the meantime, send your mom a card anyway.  Until we get things back on track she’ll appreciate the thought.

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Filed under Culture, Mythology, Religion

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