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?