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.
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.
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