Mothering tips from three fierce Mother Goddesses
The world looked very different when these goddesses were born from how it is today.
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Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother, goes a popular saying. You might just agree with another one, which is that mom knows best. So, where does the everyday mom get her mojo from and why is belief in it so ubiquitous? Think about it: what made Harry Potter become Harry Potter? It was the love of ordinary witch Lily Potter, and the parting blessing she gave her infant son, a protection so strong, that not even Voldemort could shake it off.
Motherhood has always been associated with divine power; to be a mother is to be part of something bigger than oneself. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung revealed that an archetypal mother is ingrained in our collective consciousness. Of course, the storytellers and artists had already celebrated this mother-goddess symbol a long time ago. A cross-cultural pantheon of mother-goddesses has been in place for as far back as civilisation memory extends, showing mothers the way.
What’s more, these goddesses and their associations with creation, destruction, fertility, and nature are relevant in a way that has nothing to do with that handy little book on managing colic, or that website about colour-theming the children’s’ bedrooms. Current concerns notwithstanding, to ignore them is to turn one’s back on millennia of maternal wisdom.
Take the Olympian goddess of the ancient Greeks, for example, as her story is told in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. What better model is there of a fierce motherhood and unconditional love? Demeter’s reaction to the god of the underworld stealing away her precious daughter Persephone was nothing short of a scorched earth policy. She cast off her divinity, and shunned her role as the goddess of fertility. Deprived of her harvesting blessings, the earth became a barren wasteland. Her reluctant god-husband Zeus had no choice but to accede to her demands.
Persephone was returned. Demeter not only welcomed her daughter back, she also accepted that Persephone had been changed by her brush with the underworld. Persephone would henceforth spend three months a year underground with Hades, god of death, but she remained her mother’s daughter. This powerful myth ties in the changing seasons with the force of a mother’s love. It also suggests that a goddess mother never washes her hands off her child, no matter what the circumstances.
Closer home is the goddess Durga, who rules in many incarnations as Kali, Bhagvati, Ambika, Gauri, and Rajeswari, just to name a few. Her left eye represents desire, her right represents action, and the third eye at the centre is the eye of knowledge. This is no watered-down version of a self-sacrificing mother-figure that popular culture endorses. Goddess Durga’s life doesn’t revolve around stain removers and achieving silky hair, like the mothers in advertisements today. Durga is the eliminator of suffering, the ultimate mother figure whose many arms have her multi-tasking on her children’s behalf before the term was invented. Durga can take on the difficulties her children bring her and vanquish them.
That heroic quality apart, Durga is also a reminder that a mother’ own abilities must be kept sharp. Let’s face it, a good proportion of child-raising today has to do with developing patience and tolerance, and the ability to bear pains and tedium. Yet, a mother must keep her three eyes open: she must remain in touch with her own desires, be open to new knowledge, and ready to act in the face of challenges. To do otherwise is to blunt the divine sword of influence.
A softer, more nurturing aspect accompanies the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis. The popular motif of Isis suckling her infant son Horus is believed to have been transformed around the fifth century and lives on in the image of Mary suckling baby Jesus. Isis saved her son Horus from a lethal scorpion sting, and protected him long enough to face his arch enemy Set.
Still widely worshipped by pagan communities today, Isis is the ideal mother and wife and patroness of nature, magic, and children. This mother goddess is a comfortable traditional background figure, associated with fertility. However, when opposed, she develops herself to be a skilled queen who saves her child with her own prowess. Her powers as sorceress are legendary, and her role was central in ancient Egyptian spells and rituals of protection and healing. Channelling the Isis archetype means unleashing intuitive wisdom and having the courage to face difficulties alone.
The world looked very different when these goddesses were born from how it is today. The challenges around raising kids have changed across the ages. Yet, one can do far worse than tapping into ones inner-goddess and bringing on a little divine magic when push comes to shove. For everything else, including handy tips on how to throw a first-rate birthday party, there are those How-to parenting books and websites that we all use.