Mother. Nature. Archetypes.
Introduction to Mother
Some historians believe that primitive cultures worshiped Nature as a Mother, a life-giving nurturer and sustainer.
They honored her as a destructive force too, one that redeemed through the ever-renewing cycles of death and rebirth. Those early civilizations understood the Mother’s character through myth. They related to her power with ritual.
Since the rise of philosophy, the western world has positioned intellectual thinking against ritual, logos against mythos, reason against emotion, and spirit against nature.
The Biblical account of creation posits God the Father as a singular creative energy. Nature falls prey to sin and is therefore corrupted, disgraced. As a result, the western world has metaphorically posed father against mother.
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As Joseph Campbell explains in The Power of Myth, “The mother gives birth to [one’s] nature, and the father gives birth to [one’s] social character” (182). With human nature viewed as sinful and social character considered paramount, the move toward salvation has been an exodus through the common era from the primal mythos of Mother, to the rational, social order of a Heavenly Father. Mythos parading as logos, this idea has championed the thinking of philosophers and theologians for centuries; inspiring art, influencing the attitudes and behaviors of nations, and propelling humanity toward ‘civilization.’
Perhaps in its fervent movement toward civilization, however, humanity has left something inescapable behind. As Carl Jung wrote: “The more civilized, the more unconscious and complicated a man is, the less he is able to follow his instincts. His complicated living conditions and the influence of his environment are so strong that they drown the quiet voice of nature” (117).
Today, the Earth is calling for a reconciliation between Spirit and Nature. She is heralding a return to the Mother.
Mother is an Archetype
Crumpled in a hospital chair, I'm looking at my mother in the strange soft light of a heart monitor. She is fast asleep as fluids drip, drip from plastic bag to tube and a respirator keeps time, ironically slow as I ponder how fast it all goes. I am recalling old times: childhood, holidays, summer at the lake. I am also thinking about recent conversations. This day has brought a pandemonium of talking faces—nurses, doctors, family, strangers—uttering a muddled cacophony of prayers, consultations and advice. Now quiet settles around us, just me and my mom. Here, in the dim stillness, I realize what has been missing all along.
At times like this, when insecurity, confusion, and tender emotions chase my inner child like ghosts, I always pick up the telephone and call my mom. When life bears down with the heart-breaking weight of human mortality, I yearn for her nurturing touch.
The greatest calm, the best relief, arrives out of her fierce grace and unconditional love—her support and sanity. She rocks me gently with her wisdom and sings lullabies of truth. Who do I call now? Who is the Mother when mother is ill: silent and tangled in tubes?
Mother is an archetype. Mother energy extends far beyond any one persona. She is a vital pulsation that gestures through Nature, from the subtlest phenomenon to the grandest expressions of life. She is the matrix from which all things manifest. The health and integrity of psyche, both individual and collective, is dependent upon its relationship to the Mother principle.
Myth Returns Soul to Nature
The hospital campus is surrounded by wooded trails. I step outside to get fresh air and find myself quickly shifting from a world of technological gadgetry and modern made machines; into a realm of soft, organic matter. I turn my emotional attention to the trees and earth and sky. Nature’s soul becomes tangible. She is breathing. Inhaling deeply, the nutrients of air revitalize my body and mind.
Inside the concrete walls, my mom is accepting vital sustenance through tanks and tubes. Monitors act like a surrogate mother, keeping track of her natural functions. But outside, Nature is breathing me. Her breath is effortless and natural. I am a human animal; and as such I encounter the natural realm as it speaks a language my heart knows well. I curl up into the Earth's lap and accept her warm and nurturing embrace. She rocks me gently with her wisdom and sings lullabies of truth. Here, in the grass, I realize what has been missing all along.
Nature is more than the scenery surrounding humanity. She is more than bio-chemical constructs and elemental forces. Nature is coursing with the dynamism of animation.
She is en-souled with living character, which is both intrinsic and relative to one’s relationship with her. That relationship is fortified by myth. Myth brings you into direct relationship with the mysterious universe and its myriad phenomena. It awakens you to the magic of being alive on the planet. Myth engages a dance of intrigue and imagination. It is also the living truth. The stories of your heart speak profound wisdom–the essential mysteries that underlie religion and science–the realities that transcend time and space.
With symbol and metaphor, the archetype becomes meaningful. Personifying Nature recovers her soul. The myth of Mother Earth honors her as more than a resource, more than a source of economical goods and gain. The aesthetic of her patterns, even her ravaging wrath, becomes a play of soul. When we hear the story of the Earth, we remember that her essence is entwined with the soul of humanity.
The Mother Nature Myth
Humanity subsists from the natural forces of the Earth, just as a child survives only with nurturance from the mother's womb. Like Gaia in Hesiod’s Theogony, she is identified as a great Mother, the primeval source of all. In the Greek Demeter, she is the goddess of the fields and grain—the cycles of the seasons. She may be as graciously protective as Changing Woman, the nurturing Sustainer of the Navajo.. She may be as fertile as the Hindu Lakshmi or as fierce as Kalī, who destroys all things to make way for something new.
Just as a plant appears above ground before withering away at the end of its season, the Source of life is both invisible and inescapable. We see the blossom which grows, then withers and decays. Through it all, the rhizome remains beneath the surface in the mysterious matrix of creative potential. The mythic Mother governs all three phases in a continuous cycle: birth, subsistence of life, and death.
It is springtime in the forest. New buds and shoots, in their vibrant green, are detectable everywhere, if one stops to look. Reaching to touch a golden twig, I notice the back of my hand. It is starting to show signs of age. Veins and wrinkles now mar the skin’s surface, where once plump pink stretched smoothly. My hand resembles my mother’s hand. Together, we are aging, vulnerable to the decay of nature. Yet underneath it all, a matrix—a breath taking, life sustaining, mystery—promises another spring. Nature is the Mother of this paradox. She is both the material matter and the mystery below. When I surrender to her ongoing cycles, I know a serenity beyond comprehension. She is the soil that nourishes my soul.
The Rape of the Mother
A long-standing patriarchal hierarchy has deprecated the value of nature. Social mythology overtook nature-oriented mythology until the soul of Mother became condemned. She has been blamed extensively, by both religion and society. The feminine principle has been viewed as the source of sin and shame since the fall of man. Whatever the mar on society–the syndrome or pathology–it may be traced back to the wicked blunder of Eve.
The hospital coffee shop is a liminal space between the inside and outside energies. There I sit, warming my bones with a cup of soup. At the next table sits an elderly gentleman, stooped and wrinkled. He is probably someone’s great grand-father. He gives a crooked, toothless smile. “I like your dress,” he says after a moment. His comment snaps me into a long-forgotten self awareness as I quickly gaze down to recall what I am wearing. It is a modest sundress, the skirt’s hem grazing the tops of my feet. “Thank you” I manage back, feebly.
“Girls these days,” he continues, “in their short, short skirts...It’s no wonder there is so much sexual violence when they insist on dressing like that.” I am stunned, speechless, as our eyes hold for a moment. He just smiles his approval of my modesty, as if what he has insinuated is the most obvious, natural truth. This Mother-blaming, feminine debasing story is his truth, his myth—an old, wrinkled, decrepit man of a myth. His attitude toward the feminine reflects a cultural manner of speaking about Nature that denies her of intelligence. Her wisdom cannot be seen for the blinding seduction of her commodity. Her accessibility is interpreted as an invitation to possess her assets. This story cannot serve society anymore. Nor can it serve nature, as she is slowly raped and depleted of her resources, simply because it is possible to do so.
Returning to Mother means reunion of masculine and feminine energy—within our individual psyches, our social communities and our relationship to the Earth. Returning to Mother means honoring the sacredness in Nature. It is a psycho-spiritual journey toward wholeness as together we seek to live in alignment with the planet's rhythms. The Mother presents healing for the rift that can still be seen in our modern culture between men and women, earth and spirit, psyche and nature. She is recognized as God/dess: the essence of God in all things.
My grandmother enters the hospital room with a look of serene inner knowing. My mother’s face lights up, then crumples into a sob. Hers is the familiar face that laughed at my childish antics, the same that sternly scolded my stubborn will. Now this face looks vulnerable and tired. My mom reaches for her mother. She needs, just as I need. No matter how much time passes, babies are always babies and mommies are always mommies. The two women, fleshy and grey, invite me into their generous embrace. It smells like home. Four generations rock gently as I slide my hand to my round abdomen. Here my unborn daughter rests nestled in the womb. Mother energy passes now from my mother’s wounded, weary body to my own fertile one.
The Mother is an archetype that crosses gender and expands boundaries. She is too abounding to fit inside one personality and too dynamic to be measured. The Mother remains steadfast in her nurturance and unconditional love. And she is so much more. As nature, she is in constant evolution, expansion, and cyclical generation. She changes as the moon changes, pulsing with the rhythms of the tides. And because she is energetic, dynamic and transformational, she remains accessible to every member of humanity, as we continue to evolve in our equality, expanding our awareness. The Mother beckons us to remember her.
Everyone needs the Mother.
mother. nature. archetypes.
Read more on these topics.
Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
Berry, Patricia. “What’s the Matter with Mother?” Fathers and Mothers. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1991.
Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth: with Bill Moyers. New York: Doubleday. 1988.
Cobb, Noel. “The Soul of the Sky.” Spring 75: Psyche & Nature, Part 1. New Orleans: Spring Journal, 2006.
Henderson, Joseph, and Dyane Sherwood. Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis. New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.
Jung, Carl Gustav. The Essential Jung: Selected Writings Introduced by Anthony Storr. Princeton UP, 1983.
---. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Trans. R.F. C. Hull. Vol 9. Princeton UP, 2012. web.
Linden, Stanton. The Alchemy Reader: From Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton. Cambridge UP, 2003.
Neumann, Erich. The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype. Trans. Ralph Manheim. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1963.
Rowland, Susan. “Nature Writing.” Spring 75: Psyche & Nature, Part 1. New Orleans: Spring Journal 2006.
Slater, Lauren. Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.
Spencer, Katherine. Anthology and Values: An Analysis of Navaho Chantway Myths. Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1957.
A memoria on substance abuse and clarity, written by R.R. Shakti, PhD.
This post is bound to be wildly unpopular.
...Because I have found that people, in general, don’t like to talk much about their addictions or substance abuse.
I know I didn’t.
Last year (November 2017) my husband decided to take a year off from drinking alcohol.
My first (internal) response was something like: “That’s great for you since you (obviously) have a problem; but don’t expect me to give up the "half a glass" (the reality was 2 glasses) of divine red nectar I imbibe most evenings...forget it! You’re on your own!”
My defensive retort was accompanied by a sudden stinging (and humbling) realization, like a spanking from the Universe.
I mean who was I fooling? My indignant loyalty to wine (over my husband) was a sure sign of delusion.
It was time for re-evaluation.
Allow me to take you deep into my past.
My sordid relationship with substances goes way back before, and much more interesting than, mom-wine at the end of the day.
I grew up in an upstanding, church-going (kinda hippyish) Christian household, where a subverted weed of addiction grew (quite literally) in the basement.
My dad liked to smoke. A lot.
I remember relighting the butts he left in the bathroom ashtray and relishing the strange—slightly queasy but super buzzy—sensation I got from just one puff.
In 1991, my homeschooled, bible-studying, “good choice” days came to a screeching halt when I descended upon the State University.
The very first weekend of my very first semester away from home, “The Doors” movie (remember the absolute wizardry of Val Kilmer!?) played on a huge outdoor screen in my campus quad and my eyes were widened.
It was Jim Morrison’s poetic depth that attracted me...and the mystical dance of the human experience, approached with new found inside-out and upside-down “clarity.”
From that time on, most of my boyfriends we’re (conveniently) holding.
To the tunes of Jane’s Addiction, Kate Bush, the Grateful Dead, et al., I experimented with uppers, downers, and hallucinogens. I was known to swallow something before asking what it was.
Life became a backdrop for out-of-mind experiences. Going to the city was a great time for cocaine. Camping was ideal for mushrooms. Most movies were complete with just a little bit of acid, and music always sounded better when I was high.
I tried it all, from ancient herbs to newfangled chemical cocktails. My favorite sensation: sinking into the oblivion of a purple opiate haze. There was an occasion, or maybe two, when I had to reach across the floor to make sure my friend was still breathing—or maybe that was my friend's hand touching me...
It's a little hazy: psychedelic memories.
Cigarettes burned almost constantly, and a tequila shot was best chased with whiskey.
I ate the cake and drank the drink and found myself time and again, in a magic bubble, dancing with a bunch of fantastical puppets and an elfin king who looked an awful lot like David Bowie.
Wait a minute, I might be getting things confused with one of my favorite childhood movies...
But anyway, it’s true. “Real life” had become an impossible labyrinth—sometimes fun, but mostly confusing, emotionally exhausting, kinda scary, and (looking back on it now) really dumb.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret those days one bit. I mean, “Drugs are bad M’KAY,” (and simply not worth the risk of addiction) but I learned so much from taking them...like how to truly sit in discomfort and where to find my abandoned mind.
It was as if I threw myself completely off-balance—in fact onto the very brink of insanity—on purpose; so that I would have to distinguish my center from the chaos...again and again.
Then I started practicing yoga.
Wait, that’s not right. Not quite yet.
...And I’m remembering now that it was Nature—Nature saved me first.
Because when we were out there, on our mushroom quest to reach the top of Pikes Peak by midnight, for instance...
...or when I wandered off into the woods drunk and alone.
I was never alone.
The winds, and trees, and moon were talking.
They were trying to remind me that I am one with All.
Within the hallucination was a sobering reckoning with Reality...a beckoning to come home to my innate wholeness.
So after I told that one guy I was leaving
...and after I threatened again
...and after I had no choice because I had no money, and I had no job, and he was in jail, and another friend had died (drunk and hit by a train)...
And I found my way home.
...Up on top of a mountain, hiking, rappelling, climbing, kayaking, ice climbing (hated that, btw), skiing, snowboarding, surfing, scuba...
At 10,200 feet—and sometimes in the Canyon lands—and sometimes in the Great Barrier Reef—I got an Associates Degree in Outdoor Recreation Leadership.
Me. A degree!
I went from climbing the walls to climbing rock-walls.
Me. Rock climbing!
And that’s when I started practicing yoga.
I had landed a job with the Colorado Outward Bound School and those cool Course Instructor cats were downward-dogging by the river. They hand-stood in the canyons. They were tree-posing at 14,000 feet. It was as if they were striking these yoga postures to throw themselves completely off-balance—on purpose; so that they would have to distinguish their center...again and again. They seemed to know how to peacefully sit in discomfort and where to find their befriended minds.
I succumbed to peer pressure (everybody was doing it).
I took a deep breath. And then another. And then another. And then I remembered:
One with All.
Little by little, breathing interfered with my smoking.
Drunk yoga was no fun. Believe me, I tried.
My lifestyle just changed. It had to, if I wanted to keep living in this beautiful Reality.
They say: "Yoga heals" and "Nature heals."
And it's true. Yoga in Nature was my medicine; but only because it reminded me that the healer is within. It showed me that there is nothing—at all—wrong with me. There is no emotion, behavior, or personality trait that needs to be "self-medicated" by any outside substance. Love never fails; and that means Love for my whole and complete Self...truly, madly, deeply.
Continued studies and practice fortified my experience of wholeness. But then I started graduate school. It was intense. I felt a little like Cinderella at the ball: in rapture for the moment, terrified that at midnight they would all find out that I didn't really belong.
I remember visiting the bar after class one day with a bunch of 3rd year students...already working on their doctoral dissertations.
They were 2 and "half a glass" in when I asked:
"How can you drink while you are writing?"
The most glamorous one replied:
"The real question, darling, is how could I write without drinking?"
Getting buzzed was like a creative right.
I bought it.
I started writing my own PhD work...enjoying the creative rite of a simple sip of wine.
Little by little, one glass here and there, turned into "half a glass" almost every night.
I made some stupid decisions while drinking...said some dumb things.
It wasn't debilitating, sure, but I certainly felt more tired than I needed to. Less free.
And then, that day, I faced that needling decision: to take a year off from the drink...
or to continue to pretend I was totally cool. But I already knew the answer—because I remembered—I am already home.
This evening I had a glass of wine—my first in over a year.
I might not drink another until next year. Then again, I might have one tomorrow...
But I truly don’t want a second drink right now (not even just “half a glass”)
...and that feels a lot like freedom. It feels like Love.
There are many, many factors that lead a person into addictive behaviors.
There are many healing tools that can bring a person back home to their wholeness.
If you struggle with addictions or substance abuse, please know you are not alone.
YOUR POWER IS WITHIN.
...but if there is a lot going on in there and you have forgotten where to find your center, help is on the way.
In Infinite Love,
R.R. Shakti, PhD.
Quotes from my teacher, by R.R. Shakti, PhD.
August 15, 1928—July 9, 2018
On July 9 the soul of my beloved guide, Marion Woodman, set.
She was an incredible inspiration to so many. Her life an example of love in real-world service to humanity.
In moments like this, I honor words for their healing power and their ability to unify. Without words we might not share the exact insight that wrote: “To me, real love, the move from power to love, involves immense suffering. Any creative work comes from that level, where we share our sufferings, just the sheer suffering of being human. And that's where the real love is.” (Woodman, Conscious Femininity).
Marion taught that true compassion requires courage. We must embrace the entire package of this human experience. She taught that true freedom comes from loving your Self—that to heal the soul, we must attend to the wounds of our culture and of the earth. We must nurture the inner child, honor the feminine principle, and remember the sacredness within nature. I am beyond grateful that she shared her heart's wisdom with us through her beautiful words.
Below are some of my favorite words from Marion.
To learn more about her, visit https://mwoodmanfoundation.org/
R.R. Shakti, Ph.D.
“This is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear, grief you thought was forgotten, and joy you have never known.”
“Only by discovering and loving the goddess lost within our rejected body can we hear our own authentic voice.” ― Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body and Soul
"Dismissing poetry is dismissing the glory of the imagination." ― Bone: Dying into Life
“Healing depends on listening with the inner ear – stopping the incessant blather, and listening. Fear keeps us chattering – fear that wells up from the past, fear of blurting out what we really fear, fear of future repercussions. It is our very fear of the future that distorts the now that could lead to a different future if we dared to be whole in the present."
“Having a body that is like a musical instrument, open enough to be able to resonate, literally resonate with what is coming both from the inside and from the outside, so that one is able to surrender to powers greater than oneself.”
“I can tell you that it takes great strength to surrender. You have to know that you are not going to collapse. Instead, you are going to open to a power that you don’t even know, and it is going to come to meet you. In the process of healing, this is one of the huge things that I have discovered. People recognized the energy coming to meet them. When they opened to another energy, a love, a divine love, came through to meet them. That is what is known as grace. We all sing about amazing grace. It is a gift. I think that it comes through the work that we do. For some people, it can come out of the blue, but I know that in my own situation, the grace came through incredible vigilance.”
“Without an understanding of myth or religion, without an understanding of the relationship between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, the individual suffers the mysteries of life as meaningless mayhem alone.”
“A flower won’t open if I yell at it and say “Bloom!”
“This is the point where love becomes possible. We see the other with the eye of the heart, an eye not clouded by fear manifesting as need, jealousy, possessiveness, or manipulation. With the unclouded eye of the heart, we can see the other as other. We can rejoice in the other, challenge the other, and embrace the other without losing our own center or taking anything away from the other. We are always other to each other — soul meeting soul, the body awakened with joy. To love unconditionally requires no contracts, bargains, or agreements. Love exists in the moment-to-moment flux of life.”
“The feminine takes time for spontaneity and slow time, honors inner reality, and gives values to feelings without brutally repressing them as “sissy” or meaningless.”
“Once we get used to listening to our dreams, our whole body responds like a musical instrument.”
“When I say the feminine, I don’t mean gender. I mean the feminine principle that is living—or suppressed—in both men and women.”
"Storytelling is at the heart of life... In finding our own story, we assemble all the parts of ourselves. Whatever kind of mess we have made of it, we can somehow see the totality of who we are and recognize how our blunderings are related. We can own what we did and value who we are, not because of the outcome but because of the soul story that propelled us."
About The Author
R.R. Shakti, PhD
Founding teacher of Inner Power Yoga®, Shakti is a Contemplative Mythologist, ritual facilitator, and writer who presents a Tantrik approach to personal empowerment and social action. Through contemplative story-telling and mind/body practices, she offers a vision of deep peace and radical freedom.
PSYCHE + SOUL