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By Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW
“I found god in myself and I loved her /I loved her fiercely.” – Ntozake Shange
We come into this world yearning to connect with the mother. Psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung conveyed that this innate need for mothering is archetypal, meaning that it reflects a universal symbolic pattern inherent in both the individual and collective unconscious. This universal need was collectively expressed in ancient matriarchal societies. These societies worshipped and revered the sacred feminine as the creative force of nature, responsible for the renewal of life. The Great Mother represented the birth of humanity and the fertility of the earth, the source of all life. She was, as Jung wrote in his hymn to the Mother Archetype, “that inborn image of the mater natura and mater spiritualis, of the totality of life of which we are a small and helpless part.”
It is no wonder that the archetypal image of the Great Mother Goddess offers a promise of power and vision to contemporary women. Attributes the Great Mother embodies, (pro)creation, nurturance, support, mercy, compassion, encouragement and patience, connect women to the instinctual energy and inner joy and strength of one’s feminine nature. Returning to the grandeur of the Mother Goddess assuages the psychological and spiritual wounds of oppression, sexism and disillusionment, which relegate women to an inferior place. The Great Mother also reminds us to heed the urgency of the ecological crisis occurring in the world. We turn to the Great Mother with the realization that our consciousness must radically change if necessary inner and outer transformation is to occur, and if our planet is to be saved.
In spite of the healing attributes of the Universal Great Mother Goddess the present day repression and rejection of her suggests the prevalence of a worldwide mother-complex. Jungian psychologist James Hillman conveyed that how one internalizes the personal mother impacts the way one perceives the archetypal mother and the feminine. Hillman wrote, “The mother complex is not my mother; it is my complex. It is the way in which my psyche has taken up my mother.” At the core of any mother complex is the mother archetype, which means that behind emotional associations with the personal mother, there is both an archetypal positive global image of nourishment and security on the one hand and an archetypal negative devouring possessiveness, darkness and deprivation on the other. If one is stuck developmentally in the stage of idealizing the personal mother, one is likely to negate the archetypal mother’s full being by viewing her solely as the embodiment of benign tenderness and transformation. This idealized fixation makes it impossible to tolerate the darker dimensions of the mother, and in turn, those feared parts of one self and in others.
The Great Mother also represents death, terror, horror, agony and natural disaster. She is both the Creator and the Destroyer. To embrace the inherent paradox of the Great Mother requires one to accept these polarities within oneself and others, and to understand that everything in life and within oneself is qualified by its opposite. Jung postulated that the merging of these opposites leads to transcendence and actualization, as it reflects the higher possibilities contained in the acceptance of things as they truly are. By allowing opposites to unite, the ego is challenged to let go of its infantile need to identify only with those polarized parts considered safe and uplifting. Only then can humility replace fear and power plays, so that the Great Mother with all her ambiguity may be honored for the many paradoxical truths she contains.
However, with the rise of patriarchy, and the belief that nature is a force to be intellectually comprehended and controlled, the Great Mother’s transformative wisdom, dark energies and cosmic power have been excluded from consciousness. What is perceived as threatening is denied. The feminine is relegated to a less intrusive place and is viewed as inferior and dangerous. This incomplete picture in which only ‘tolerable’ aspects of the “Good Mother” are permitted, results in a shadow projection of the “Terrible Mother” and accordingly, an unrealistic one-dimensional idealization of the Mother archetype.
This split results in the demonizing of the parts of the mother that are disowned, and the conceptualizing of these traits as sinister and forbidden. These disowned parts are a shadow projection, not only of the mother, but also those dark aspects of the self that are feared and denied. Accordingly, when the shadow projection is encountered in the outer world the impulse to violently destroy it is activated. Hence, to disown one’s shadow leads to the promulgation of scapegoating and a vehement thirst to conquer and punish. It is the Mother’s feared and envied power and our dependency on her, which ignites the primitive impulse to project threat onto the feminine along with the accompanying need to control and dominate. Sexism, violence towards women and the violation of the earth emanate from these unresolved psychological issues with the personal mother and accordingly, the mother archetype. Until the split can be united, and projections owned, we will continue to witness a global rejection of the Great Mother’s wisdom and contempt towards the feminine.
To be who we are here to be and who we are meant to be, we need to return to the beauty and the power of the Great Mother. Relating to the archetypal Great Mother, in her positive and negative dimensions, allows for an in-depth exploration of self. She challenges us to identify the creator and destroyer within ourselves, and to transcend internal splits, so as to actualize the potential for wholeness and balance. She challenges us to examine our relationship to mothering so as to differentiate balanced, reality-based perceptions from archetypal projections. She challenges us to discover the archetypal feminine character who lives in the imagination of each of us, making possible a different relation to our personal mother. Only then can we forgive her for not being what she could not have been—the omniscient all-giving source—and understand her unresolved wounds. When we are able to return our Mother to her source, to see her in relation to, but distinct from the archetype, as its necessarily frail and fallible carrier, we may at last be able to bless what is communicated through her and to forgive what she could not give, and have gratitude for what she can.
Unearthing wounds rooted in the mother-complex is a necessary step towards healing and connecting with the Great Mother from a place of renewal. Psychological resources and spiritual rituals can be instrumental in repairing deep core injuries related to the mother. The exploration of non-dualistic spiritual traditions, which integrate the masculine and feminine dimensions of existence, is a fundamental part of relating to and revering the Great Mother. Modern day spiritual gatherings revisit ancient Goddess traditions and rituals, to celebrate the Great Mothers divinity on solstices, equinoxes and full moons. By invoking the Divine Mother through prayer, ritual and meditation, the sacredness of nature and female power can be honored and, thus, a harmonizing of psyche and spirit can occur.
On a global scale, we need the cooperative nurturance and maternal sustenance of the Mother to transform the world’s suffering. We need to learn to trust feminine power. As we strive to become more empathically attuned to the presence of the various faces of the archetypal mother within ourselves, and within our relationship with our personal mothers, perhaps shadow projections will dissipate and a more holistic sense of self and others can prevail. To heal the mother-complex is to heal all mankind. When we finally discover her beauty and her fierceness within ourselves, perhaps then we can resurrect the splendor of the Great Mother in all her dimensions.