Death Mother/Creation Mother

"The Creation Mother is always also the Death Mother and vice versa. Because of this dual nature or double-tasking, the great work before us is to learn to understand what is around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die. Our work is to apprehend the timing of both; to allow what must die to die, and what must live to live." - Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

This is what I love about studying the goddesses. I love seeing all that primal stuff just laid out there for us. For every young, beautiful maiden and light goddess there is an ugly, old one, a dark goddess, saying, "Don't get too caught up in all that loveliness, Sister, there's more to the story. Life ain't no bed of roses all the time. You better smell the flowers while you can, cuz there's some decay a comin'."

And at the same time, just when you think life is a big, steaming pile of shit, the goddess of love and life comes waltzin' in saying, "Hey, that ain't all there is, Sister. Get your head out of your ass and start living cuz there's beauty all around you. Life's too short. And what is it you want to be doing anyway? Get to it! You better be loving yourself. Look in the mirror, Sister. You got it going on!

For every Persephone, there's a Hecate. For every Bast, there's a Sekhmet. For every Athena, there's a Medusa. For every Kali, a Lakshmi; for Rhiannon, there's Cerridwyn; Cinderella/wicked stepmother; Snow White/Dark Queen, Vasilisa/Baba Yaga. You get it: Birth and Death. The endless cycle. Two sides of the same coin.

But, wait! The wisdom of the divine feminine is that it's not just black and white, either/or, crazy-ass, patriarchal dualistic thinking. There's a triple goddess to be found here. She is life, itself. She is the in-between. She is the one who travels the bridge to both worlds: the conscious and the unconscious, the upper and the lower, the internal and external, masculine and feminine, and understands that it's not one or the other, it's both/and. She knows the third way that moves betwixt the worlds and doesn't get stuck in the extremes. She is the wisdom that comes from living and knowing that birth follows death and death follows birth, but in between there is a life to be lived.

So don't be fooled by those old hags, or that stone cold evil eye of the Medusa. She contains the beautiful, wise goddess Athena. And don't be thinking that little girl don't know nothing. She's hiding the wise old hag within her very bones. Remember to live, Sisters, live it all. Remember to cherish the dark days as much as the glory days for they portend something else is coming. Nothing stays the same. And we can either wallow in the shit, complaining about the stink, or we can stand up and walk through it until we get to the other side, smelling like roses again.

And in case you forget, just walk outside and look up into the night sky. And there she is. Shining a little or a lot, for all to see. The Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother becomes the Death Mother becomes the Creation Mother and everything in between.

The Goddess Temple e-course on the Alchemical Goddesses starts in one month. We will be exploring the Death Mother when we meet Kali and the Creation Mother when we meet Yemaya and Aphrodite, that Great Mother Goddess of Love and Beauty, will be leading the way. What are you waiting for, Sister? Don't miss the boat. Life's too short.

Maiden, Mother, Crone

...three aspects of the triple goddess, which every female knows on a deep, soul level no matter what her age or stage of life. Sure, the maiden--or Kore--could be said to be the personification of innocence and couldn't possibly know what it means to be a mother and an old woman, but yet, every maiden shows glimpses of these future stages. She's the mother when she cuddles kittens and babysits and learns to nurture her bff through every drama and crisis they come to share. She's the crone, or wise woman within when she offers sage advise or surprises her own mother by offering words of wisdom that you think she couldn't possibly know. I remember when I was holding my baby girl, Chloe, and crying because I had just learned I had thyroid cancer and she put her hand on my face and looked into my eyes and said, "It's gonna be okay, Mommy." I remember blinking and looking at her and thinking, "Oh, my God, a wise woman just spoke to me," and I knew I was face to face with a deep soul who would have as much to teach me as I would her. Her words definitely brought me around and I felt like God had spoken through her and I relaxed, knowing she was right. It was going to be okay. I just had to trust. The maiden is not far from us even when we become mothers and crones. We can still recall the dreaminess, the giddiness, the je-ne-sais-quoi of that time of life, and we can even channel the maiden when dancing, dreaming, and playing. As mothers, we move into the active, nurturing stage of life, juggling schedules and kids, husbands, work, and projects; a time when our energy is truly at its peak and we can stand in the middle and look back at the maidens we once were and sigh (both sad and glad to be through it) and look ahead to the future of empty nests and the crowning of the crone--time to ourselves, time to Be More, Do Less. The crone years, usually sometime after 50, has the true gift of overview and begins to care less and less about outer world concerns and what people will think and how they will be perceived. She will often speak her mind because she knows and because she doesn't give a damn. She's been there, done that. She doesn't suffer fools gladly but at the same time she has all the patience in the world because she can leave grandbabies with their mothers after spoiling them rotten, turn inward and find solace in her own company, and she can go home (to herself and perhaps to the old man or woman she's shared her life with). She truly has the vision of past, present and future and standing at the crossroads like Hecate, can point the way if you just turn to her and ask for guidance. She knows the way.

I have to admit, I'm in a funny in-between place, like many of my friends who had babies late in life--half mother/half crone. One foot in the active Doing stage and one foot in the contemplative Being stage. It's kind of an interesting place to be, a little like a balancing act, a little schizophrenic at times, occasionally dizzying as you dig deep into the underworld of the unconscious where Hecate reigns and navigate the world above, sowing seeds and reaping harvests like Demeter, a personification of Mother Earth, herself. But wait, what of Persephone, Demeter's daughter, who was abducted from her mother and taken into the underworld where she became queen? With Hecate's help (she with the gift of overview), Demeter found Persephone and her daughter was returned to her for half the year and would spend the other half in the underworld with Hades, the dark god who presides there (with Hecate as her guardian). In that way, Persephone became the mediator between the upper and the lower, the darkness and the light. It is her mediation that brings an end to the dualistic way of seeing the world. The triple goddess reminds us of that oneness--that multi-facted jewel that we are.

I have been exploring the triple goddess and playing with the three aspects in my writing and art for some time now, and in March I will be leading two workshops at the wonderfully exciting 3-day spring retreat, Persephone Rising, at Buzzard's Bay on Cape Cod. The retreat will be held at a wonderful, old farmhouse near the water and a nature preserve, where we will celebrate the muses of art, nature and the goddess in each of us. In one of my workshops I will be taking participants on three guided journeys to meet their inner maiden, mother and crone and to receive gifts from them. This will conclude with a nature treasure hunt. Then, in the second workshop, we will be honoring one of the three goddesses by creating a shrine or altar and a goddess effigy or doll with found objects from nature, paint, and collage. There will be other workshops to choose from that will include writing and art and singing and dancing our wild selves--a true experience of mind, body and soul. Take a look at the wonderful classes planned and join us, as like Persephone, we celebrate the rites of spring in true goddess fashion--diving deep within and carrying our found wisdom out into the world in sacred ritual, celebration, and play!

Mother Musings II

by Meinrad Craighead

On Thursday, I am going to see a documentary about this artist, Meinrad Craighead, who was once a nun and then devoted the rest of her life to creating sacred images of nature and the feminine. I’m drawn to this painting called Mother and Daughter, which clearly was inspired by the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It is said that you can't know Persephone without an understanding of Demeter and you can't know Demeter without knowing Persephone. I think this is true of all mothers and daughters, even when we don't want it to be. As daughters, we can try to disown parts of the mother we don't like, but unless we do it consciously, healing the wounds rather than covering them or pushing them down out of sight, they become our shadow aspects. And you know that little poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that goes,

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see. [She] is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see [her] jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about [her] is the way [she] likes to grow-- Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;                                    img_18491 For [she] sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball, And [she] sometimes goes so little that there's none of [her] at all.

[She] hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play, And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way. [She] stays so close behind me, [she's] a coward you can see; I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

This is the problem with our shadow aspect—it never really goes away; it just dogs us until we do something about it, essentially face it, work with it, and integrate it. Otherwise, it keeps popping up when we least expect it and we end up making fools of ourselves, as in, “Oops, how did that slip out?” Or, “I always swore I’d never say that to my child. I sound just like my mother!” Of course, sometimes it’s this very trickster-like element that allows us to heal—kind of like looking in a funhouse mirror. We recognize our mother in the reflection of our own distorted image and we cringe. What to do?

Once we have dealt with the pain and the wounding through grief work (and I’ve done a lot of that), I think all we can do is just notice, laugh, and embrace it. For we can never really put the shadow to bed. It is our teacher, and so our mother is our teacher, and our grandmother, and all of our ancestors that speak down through the generations to remind us who we are. As well as being part of a particular family with all its foibles and flaws, we are also part of the human race, fallible and imperfect. We are not gods, but we are enough. It is enough to be a human being who stumbles, who doesn’t always get it right, who doesn’t need to prove anything-- even that I am not my mother. But I am my mother’s daughter.

So when I take in this painting of Mother and Daughter I see the reflection and the opposites; one can’t exist without the other. It’s a little cosmological joke. It reminds me, once again, to accept, to embrace, to love life, and the one (and many) who gave it to me.

A look at the meaning of the myth of Persephone: Initiation

Persephone (SoulCollage card) You may know the myth of the maiden Persephone: While innocently picking flowers in a field the earth suddenly opens before her and Hades, god of the underworld, rides forth on his horse-drawn chariot, abducts and rapes her. The story of Persephone is also the story of her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvest. When she learns of Persephone’s disappearance, she does what any mother would do: search high and low for her, and when she cannot find any trace of her, is wracked with grief. She takes out her anger and resentment on the mortal world over which she presides and causes a severe drought and famine over the land. Eventually she learns that Persephone was the victim of a plot by Zeus, uber-Olympian, and his brother, Hades, who wanted to make her his wife. Persephone is eventually allowed to return to her mother but not before Hades tricks her by giving her a juicy pomegranate before she leaves. Upon taking a bite, she unknowingly binds herself to his realm, but is allowed to live half of the year on earth with her mother.

I recently read a feminist revision of the myth, which left out the rape and changed the story so that Persephone and Hades were equal partners and she made a choice to live part of the time with him and part of the time with her mother. While I can appreciate the desire to turn this into a fable of equality, in which Persephone is less of a victim, it misses the point of the myth. And as someone who loves understanding archetypes, fairy tales, and myths, with all their shadowy elements from a Jungian perspective, I see the story of Persephone differently.  At least one way of looking at it is as a tale of initiation: a young woman's coming of age and need to separate from her mother so that she can become her own person.

While the imagery of Persephone being kidnapped and raped by Hades is not one that on the surface any woman (let alone mother) would ever subscribe to or condone on any level, if we look at it metaphorically, its meaning becomes apparent. (We mortals shouldn’t mess with the gods and their myths. Their lessons are often severe and have teeth -- the better to eat you with, my dear.)

Perhaps because my own 12-year-old daughter is going through puberty and I have watched her in a sense be "snatched away" from me, it hits close to home. I am reminded that there is no easy way to go from girlhood to womanhood. It is in some ways a violent shift, involving the shedding of blood, the raging of hormones, and leaving the comfort of "home," or what is known and safe up till now – and venturing out into the world at large. I know how Demeter felt as she searched for the long, lost little girl she had known only a short time ago.

Hades represents on a masculine level what Persephone, the naïve, feminine, is required to face at some point in coming of age: the loss of innocence and the gaining of experience. This involves risk-taking and venturing out into the scary world without mommy to hold her hand as she has become used to. (And who amongst us has not been seduced or tempted by the bad boy, the dark haired charmer who drives up in his snazzy car to whisk us away on a daring first date?) Every one of us as Persephone must venture into the darkness, the unknown, and find ourselves as well as our inner masculine so that we can use our personal power in the world. While the consecration seems harsh and brutal, Persephone survives it and goes on to marry Hades and preside as Queen of the Underworld. She did what we must all do: consecrate the marriage between our inner masculine and inner feminine to achieve balance and wholeness – the ability to call upon the yin and yang of these energies when we need them.

From Demeter's point of view, which I can now thoroughly embrace as a mother of a daughter who is starting the leave-taking, it all seems harsh and scary out there for my tender young daughter, but I must let go.  I can relate to Demeter's grieving. Many times as my daughter has raged and pushed me away in the throes of her coming of age, I have had to remind myself that this is normal; this is what she needs to do; she needs to claim her own identity, separate from mine, and the ties that have bound us until now. We have had talks about these "battles," and she is always so relieved when I let her know I don't take them personally, that I see that she is going through the painful process of expressing and finding her authentic self. She must push away; and I must allow it. (And I remember my own struggles as a maiden in her position. How I longed for a mother who understood and could contain my feelings.)

And at various times, my daughter, Chloe, like Persephone, has come back to me (from her time in the shadowy underworld of negative feelings) and let me know she appreciates my tolerance and understanding; and at times she comes to me as the little girl again who needs to feel close to her mommy. I see the relief on her face. And she, too, tolerates my anger and perhaps a little bit of my pain in letting go. It is not of her choosing, as it is for any of us. At some point we are called to the journey, to become the heroine in our own lives. We will either answer that call with courage and meet our fate or we will stay undifferentiated from our family and afraid to take a bite of what life has to offer. It is a difficult but necessary reordering of the mother/daughter relationship and a drive towards wholeness that should not be thwarted.