Shifting Perceptions of the Earth Mother

It seems that a lot of Druid groves take the Autumn Equinox as an opportunity to honor the Earth Mother.  Not that she isn’t honored every day, but that High Day is taken to elevate her and give her all the attention she deserves rather than sharing the event with another deity.  My group, Northern Rivers Protogrove, is also having a ritual for the Earth Mother later this month.  As the liturgy takes shape, I’ve grown very focused on the Earth Mother.  In addition to that, my understanding of her has changed since I’ve become a mother.  Everyone has a mother, and given the variety of life experiences one can have, there will naturally be a good collection of Mother archetypes – some positive and some less so.  Personally, I’m starting to find that my previous understanding was very one-sided.  Now that I am a mother myself, I can understand the “being” of motherhood.  I could spend a lot of time dwelling on the metamorphoses of my body, but motherhood isn’t just about that.  There are plenty of adoptive mothers out there, as well as very involved fathers who fulfill the same role.  The sacrifice of sleep, of autonomy, even comfort, to fulfill every need of a younger being is hugely transformative of a person’s universe.

When I think of the Earth Mother, so burdened with children, and yet giving continually, it is really very moving.

And yet, is the Earth Mother only a nurturer?

Just as the Earth can create bountiful fruit trees and fresh springs, she can also create devastating volcanos and deadly droughts.  Is that the Earth Mother’s version of a corrective spank?  Would it be better to think of the Earth as a giant dog we ride on, and it occasionally scratches out a few of us fleas?

I don’t know, to be honest, but I’m starting to think that it’s very easy to get caught up in the idea of the planet as the nurturing Earth Mother only to be disappointed when she acts otherwise.  While the anthropomorphism of Earth may encourage many to engage with her as a being worthy of reverence and respect, we may further distance ourselves from understanding who the Earth Mother really is through human-centric thinking.

The Earth Mother is a bit like me.  She feeds her young with her own body, carries us close to her with a wrap (although hers is made of gravity), and sings us to sleep with beautiful melodies.

However, the Earth Mother is also the parent who slaps her child then locks herself in the bathroom to cry, the sow who kills her piglet, the cat who neglects her runt, the dandelion who lets the wind carry her young away, and the bear who chases off her child who is of age.

(However, she is also the chimp who mourns for her dead infant, the octopus who dies protecting her eggs, and the dog who adopts tiger cubs as her own.)

There are many examples of what it means to be a mother in nature and even in humanity.  And while I don’t condone infanticide (and, in fact, find the concept incredibly disturbing even to discuss), I also know that it’s been practiced throughout human history too.  The concept of a primordial mother is an ancient one.  We can see many examples from around the world, and knowing that many cultures practiced infanticide…  Perhaps the idea of a nurturing and deadly Earth Mother wasn’t the huge conundrum it can be for some modern Pagans.  We all know people who fixate on the gentle, creative side of deity – a practice a growing number of Pagans find to be unbalanced and unrealistic.  And yet, when considering the Earth Mother’s destructive side, I can understand the motivation.  As a happy mother who wants nothing more than my daughter to outlive me and have a prosperous life, the thought of an Earth Mother who occasionally snuffs out life is not something I want to fixate on.

Yet Autumn is upon us.  It is the season of the harvest and, of course, the cull.  Even as a vegetarian, I feed on life and displace life for the crop to be planted upon.  To deny that is to deny life itself. Mythology around the world is full of what seem to be contradictions – contradictions that remind us that there is a time for life and a time for death.  And the Earth Mother, just like all of Nature (and when I say that, I mean the whole universe), is a creative and destructive force.  She just is.  She isn’t human and to conceive of her as such is to limit our ability to understand and respect her.

Since so many of you are preparing a feast in her honor this month, what are your musings on the Earth Mother?  Have you been spending some extra time meditating on her?  Have your perceptions shifted at all?

Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

9 thoughts on “Shifting Perceptions of the Earth Mother

  1. Love this! My awareness changed drastically after the birth of my first child and deepened my connection and understanding of the nature of the Goddess. Some of the changes were very hard and difficult that actually took me several years to come to terms with. I truly believe that Motherhood not only is a rite of passage, but is also a shamanic experience. It changes your whole world and consciousness and you are never again the same. You tap into something so much bigger than yourself, connect with your Dísir and Ancestors, and see the interconnectedness of everything; not to say that it can only be achieved by giving birth, but nonetheless – it’s a very special and sacred experience that definitely helps facilitates such a change.

    1. I fully agree! When I feel that I’m not tapped into the spiritual, I try to remember that this whole ordeal is spiritual. Changing diapers, burping baby, leaky nipples… It’s all part of some dramatic shift in consciousness. When I’m able to experience deeper meditation and trance again, I’m sure I’ll notice a difference in the way I interact with the spirit world. As it is, I’m incredibly focused on Brighid. I feel that any relationship I had with other deities has lessened and I’m entirely devoted to Brighid now.

    1. I appreciate that! I’m very interested in what others think, and I fully anticipate that there won’t be an easy answer. I’m certainly not finding one myself!

  2. This is partially why I really wanted to write the Earth Mother, Dark Mother poem for last Samhain. The Mother who nurtures also accepts all back to her in death, and that the processes of death and decay serves to nourish the next generation. I did a lot of looking for names and references to the Earth Mother in her darker aspects.

  3. A great post! I have also done much thinking on the Earth Mother and have been learning to come to terms with *all* her aspects. To truly connect with her I think you have to be able to understand all her parts and pieces. The Earth Mother doesn’t operate like humans, with our egos and emotions. She just *is*. She has cycles and consequences that are required to happen. We just get caught up in them – our egocentric belief make us see her actions as anger or cruelty or kindness to us. In a way, I don’t see the Earth Mother as a typical goddess visage but more as a divine force, something that I can’t place my human labels on. She can be nurturing – if we treat her right and take care of her. There is no revenge or anger when we don’t treat her right, simply consequences. I don’t really see ‘darker’ aspects or ‘lighter’ aspects….when I call out to her in ritual, I do honor her ‘lighter’ traits, but i do it more as reminder to me (and those in ritual) that I must do things to nurture that connection, because in turn I will be nurtured. My perception of her has changed very much over the past few years. Its a topic I have been running through my head countless times – hence the babbling I just did 😉

  4. I tend to spend a lot of time in “other realms” and at times I can forget about the manifest realm. This month I have been working to focus more on the element of Earth and the various aspects of her.

  5. I only just found your delightful blog and in answer to your question I feel something has changed again …I can’t pin point it any more than I can prove it but the Mother is shifting focus again …at least for me. It’s as if things are ‘in your face’, speeding up again as it were and yet at times (a dichotomy) it appears things are moving in slow motion. It’s hard to describe but my own personal connection has strengthened and continues to as I feel every nuance of Her movement and energy shifts. I am convinced it’s to help us stay in the moment until we realise that all our moments are really one and the same …everything we are, will be, have been all rolled into one vast now moment. Hope that makes sense and thanks for your beautiful blog.

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