Last week our family’s house guest was an Earth Mother. She actually lives in a wind-swept land of magic and music but says that she comes from nowhere in particular. Sometimes as invisible as an experienced couch surfer and sometimes larger than life, she appears to be completely self-contained, having the ability to find stillness wherever she finds herself, although she would probably say that the stillness finds her. Her power is not loud and brash but quiet and subtle. Place her in a room full of high-powered executives and she would be the one exerting a quiet, calming influence. Her dominant survival tool is not analytical intelligence but rather an exquisitely tuned faculty for sensing vibrations from her environment. We usually ask what someone does for a living, where they live, how they spend their time and what their dreams are, but with an Earth Mother it’s all about being in the moment, having no regrets about the past and no concerns for the future. What she does for a living is unimportant because it is her being that is her doing. Existence, she would argue, has to do with skillfully surfing the currents of life, whatever shape or form they take.
Our Earth Mother was refreshing because, at least in the Western world, we tend to think in terms of the dominant male view that the world has to be forcibly shaped according to our wishes. She, on the other hand, defines success and power in terms of process, developing close and intimate relationships with her friends, her body, her unconscious, and especially the cycles of life. On one occasion her tiredness alerted her to something in my behavior that she found irritating. On another occasion she sensed the need for an extended period of quiet and solitude and felt ‘called’ to commune with nature. She often spoke about the need to honor herself and others by maintaining strict boundaries and she walked the talk, refusing to participate in the white lies that lubricate so much social interaction today. Her heightened sense of awareness and ‘extremism’ did not lend itself to small talk and so we consumed a prodigious amount of caffeine while having deep conversations on the big questions of life.
The marks she leaves on the word are mostly invisible, as they are in the hearts and minds of the people she touches. For example, her lifestyle and her beliefs challenged our family to re-examine some of its core assumptions and while this was at times uncomfortable, we are all better off as a result. Her sensory savvy encouraged us to relax our obsession with busyness and attempting to control the direction of life, and to trust more in our ability to meet and adapt to the opportunities and challenges that life throws at us, independent of our wishes. The art and skill is to welcome these changes, not to fight them.
There has, of course, always been a dark side to the Earth Mother archetype. The Virgin Mary is not only the Lord’s mother, but also, according to medieval allegories, his cross. In India, the goddess Kali is loving, but also dark and violent. According to Jung there are three essential aspects of the Earth Mother archetype: her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths. Our Earth Mother appeared to lack the emotionality that Jung describes, preferring to talk about sensing rather than emoting, however there is no doubt that she too represents a disruptive and subversive force, challenging as she does the ruling paradigm of male oriented thinking in the West.
“The simplest and most basic meaning of the symbol of the Goddess is the acknowledgment of the legitimacy of female power as a beneficent and independent power.” Carol P. Christ