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Article ID: 9244
Age Group: Adult
Posted: May 8th. 2005
Beyond Mere Sentiment: Reclaiming Mother's Day
What are we Pagans to make of Mother’s Day? On the surface it looks like just another commercially inspired holiday composed of greeting cards, insipid sentiments and gifts. But it didn’t start out that way and it can mean a great deal more.
The Radical Origins of Mother’s Day:
In an article written for WorkingForChange.com, Gev Parish notes:
Julia Ward Howe called for the establishment of Mother's Day in 1870. Her gesture was intended not as a sentimental tribute to those who bear children, but as a call for women to wage a general strike to end war. (1)
Julia, a poet and suffragist, began her work to honor mothers as a radical act. We tend to forget that mothers are, and always have been, politically and socially active. Throughout history, they have used the wisdom they gained as mothers to think of future generations and work for the good of all. (2)
Real Life Moms:
Motherhood’s a tough gig.
To be a mother is to cry and rage and worry and work till you want to drop. And most women do this without any help from any darn village.
Motherhood is both mind numbing and inspiring, frustrating and fulfilling. It’s a job worth doing and it takes a great deal of strength, wisdom, and self esteem to do it well.
The many images of the Great Mother (http://www.mothergoddess.com/completelist.htm ) give us a sense of this. Her secret is contained within a paradox of seeming contradictions. She is both and equally, Kuan Yin and Kali, Isis and Morrigan, Aphrodite and Hecate, Lakshmi and Durga, Freya and Ha Hai-i Wuhti. In other, psychologically profound myths, she is portrayed as Medea, (http://www.pantheon.org/articles/m/medea.html ) who destroyed her children in a fit of rage, and Lysistrata, (http://www.theatredatabase.com/ancient/aristophanes_005.html) who organized other mothers, stopped a war and saved two cities in the process. To see only one, sweet side of a mother is to ignore the complex, empowering truth
of Her; a truth we can’t afford to miss.
Real mothers sometimes want to punch a wall. Instead they give hugs. They also teach, encourage, praise, and protect, and they do this creatively, day after day, no matter what. No wonder they simplified this holiday – it’s too hard to get all of that in one greeting card.
Mothers do this demanding, rewarding, and difficult work for their children.They also do it for our community as a whole, and our future. They do it without much (real, meaningful) support from either their culture or their government. Let’s honor that when we honor them.
Mother’s Day could be a good time to start reaching out and creating that village in our neighborhoods, in a way that works for us. We have to do that for ourselves, because no one is going to do it for us.
Then let’s do what we can to make the world a better, safer place for moms and children, everywhere.
A Note To Pagan Moms:
Please remember that if you do not take care of yourself, you are no good to anyone else. Your children look to you for an example of what it means to become a happy, healthy human being. No one wants a Martyr Mom. No adult wants the guilt engendered from extreme sacrifice on their behalf, and no child wants bitterness, victim hood, and regret as their heritage.
Empowering, Not Idealizing, Mothers:
This day can be empowering. It can remind our mothers to honor their spirit, their time, their bodies, their energy, and their minds. May they cherish their own dreams, as well as the dreams of their children. And may they ask for help, demand respect, model patience, good boundaries, and kindness, and expect the same in return. They deserve it.
The Red and the White:
Another woman, Anna Jarvis, is usually credited with creating the official Mother’s Day. The media paints her (when it mentions her at all) as some pious, Victorian snob. The truth is quite different. According to the Women’s History Project, (http://www.nwhp.org/events/moms-day/history-of-moms-day.html) she wanted to honor her mother, (also named Anna Jarvis) who “as a young Appalachian homemaker, organized "Mother's Work Days" to improve the sanitation and avert deaths from disease-bearing insects and seepage of polluted water.” This is powerful stuff, especially when you consider the role of water in the worship of the Mother Goddess. The Mystica website (http://www.themystica.org/) notes that:
Seas, fountains, ponds, and wells were always thought as feminine symbols….. Such passages….were often thought as leading to the underground womb…and water, like love, was (is) essential to the life forces of fertility and creativity,
without which the psychic world as well as the material world would become an arid desert, the waste land.
As a tribute to her mother, Anna Jarvis offered flowers at rallies. She chose carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. She used white carnations to represent the sweetness, purity, and endurance of motherly love. Over time, red carnations came to signify that one's mother is living, while white carnations came to mean one's mother has died. Consider using these colors in your Mother Goddess rituals this season.
Both Howe and Jarvis wanted to honor mothers but that was not their only goal. Both women – and this is important – sought honor the voices and the power of mothers. As the old phrase says: “In an age when women were told to sit down and be quiet, they did neither.”
Older Versions of Mother’s Day:
It is thought that some of the earliest historical Mother's Day celebrations occurred in ancient Greece to honor Rhea, (http://www.goddessmyths.com/Paintings%201999-2000.html) who is both a moon and bird Goddess. Originally from ancient Crete, she was known and celebrated in both Rome and Greece as the mother of the ancient Gods. Her festival was celebrated in the spring.
In England, the annual celebration is known as Mothering Sunday. (http://englishculture.allinfoabout.com/features/mothering-sunday.html) As the English Culture website notes:
In the old days, servants would be given time-off and worshippers would present offerings to their Mother Church. It was an especially important day in the calendars of apprentices, farm labourers and girls in service, because it meant that they could return home and share a meal with their parents. (2)
This holiday was sometimes the only time that workers could return home and see
their families. No wonder it was so important.
Sadly, Mother's Day in America soon became an enormously commercial holiday. Disillusioned, Miss Jarvis spent the rest of her life trying to reverse what she played such a major role in creating.
Reclaiming Mother’s Day:
Consider also this question on Mother’s Day: What would the world be like if we treated children and families as if they really mattered?
Some people think it would look a lot like Sweden. (http://members.aol.com/JehanaS/c_basics/c_9dys.html) I can tell you one thing; it would look a lot different than it does now.
If you would like to honor your mother and all mothers, including the Mother Goddess, you might wish to wear a red or a white carnation to honor those women who inspire you.
At the same time, why not do something positive for your neighborhood or the World Family on this day? Mother’s Day can be a day of action. Whatever your cause, you’ll find events and marches on this day. After all, what better day could there be to fight City Hall than the day dedicated to the original Uppity Woman?
You might also choose to do something sacred-silly with your friends and family. Design your own rituals to honor this day in a way that is meaningful to you. If the day is about rest, then rest. You earned it. It can also be a day of simple fun instead of overspending - you decide.
Try something radical or different – it doesn’t matter what it is, just spread your wings. Speak out, act up, find healing, take a class, or go on a hike and say “hi” to Momma Gaia. She might have something to say to you.
Use this day to tell your truth and compose your life. Tell your family story (the real one) . Make plans beyond this year; think two years, five years, ten years in advance. It’s your life to create, after all. And then calendar some time for yourself, not just once a year, but on a regular basis.
Below is a list of books and websites that celebrate motherhood and tell the truth about it at the same time. Many contain essays by mothers themselves. May these inspire and support you on your path.
Telling the Truth:
Our mothers are asked to measure up to an impossible, ridiculous ideal. This “Mommy Myth” effectively keeps them locked in place, and unable to be themselves for fear of looking like a bad mother. It does not allow them to tell the truth about their lives, both the good and the bad, to each other. Instead it forces them to be isolated, guilt ridden and powerless and it keeps their partners, their children, and the culture from seeing them truly, as women and as people.
As a result of this myth, motherhood often comes as a great shock to many women, because they have never known what it really means to be a mom, how false the ideal is, or how little real help there is out there for them as mothers, once they begin this great work.
So, let’s allow our mothers to step down off that pedestal. Once they get their feet on firm ground, there’s no telling how far they can go.
Dysfunctional Family Feud:
Families, as John Bradshaw says, are a bloody business. For some of us, this holiday is an awful mix of obligations, expectations, resentments (spoken and unspoken) blame, disappointment and guilt.
It’s as if someone mixed the gunpowder of anger with the sugar of denial and served it disguised to us as wholesome food. It’s no wonder then, that any mention of family makes some people want to explode and others, ill.
So let’s be honest. Some of us came from horribly dysfunctional families. Some have suffered neglect and others have survived sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. Some have spent years trying to work out what went wrong, and wondered if it was something they did. (It wasn’t) .
Many of those harmed have found healing and forgiveness over time, often through the use of ritual, private therapy and support groups. Others are still struggling with this burden. Sadly, many Pagans carry this dysfunctional family energy into their groups and circles and cause destruction there. (http://members.aol.com/JehanaS/c_basics/c_9dys.html
). But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can come to terms with our childhood and stop the cycle of pain. It begins with facing the facts and telling the truth. It takes courage and commitment and support. But it’s possible.
Some of us went on to become parents and passed these problems on to our own children. Some of us overcame our traumas and become wonderful, nurturing parents.
Healthy and unhealthy families exist in the Pagan community. It’s time we told the truth about that.
Below is a list of books and websites that tell the truth about families and healing. May these help you along the road as you find your own way, both as parent and child.
The Creatrix: An Archetype for All of Us:
Some of us don’t have children (either by choice or by chance) so we honor the Creatrix.
The Creatrix is connected to Gaia. She creates her own life as well as great friendships, arts and crafts, loving homes, beauty, peace, prosperity, and opportunities. She empowers friends and family and is, herself, empowered. She cares for other and she protects those who cannot protect themselves. She is a mistress of learning, knowledge, and culture. She has many forms including that of Artemis, Hestia, Athena, and Bridget. She can stand alone or with a partner. It’s her choice. We know her by the blessings that flow from her hand and the ideas that come from her mind and heart. This form of creation is worth knowing and honoring, as well.
Let us now honor the full power of the Mother Goddess and the Creatrix on Mother’s
Day and make it our own.
(1) In The Name of Womanhood and Humanity by Gev Parish ( http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=14930)
(2) Women of Achievement website – ( http://www.undelete.org/woa/woa.html) This site contains 25, 000 women’s stories throughout history. Don’t let anyone tell you that women (and mothers) didn’t make a difference.
(3) The site goes on to say: "Another popular ceremony on this day was church-clipping…..worship by forming a circle and walking round the building holding hands. It has been suggested that this custom was pagan in origin but it seems more likely it was a symbolic act of friendship and love." (Writer’s note: I think it was both)
"In a revival of a ceremony dating from Tudor times, young people still receive flowers and Simnel cakes at a service in the Chapel Royal at the Tower of London. These cakes were once baked by daughters throughout England - the name coming from the Latin simila, meaning 'fine flour' - who would also decorate their mother's homes with violets, primroses, daffodils and other spring flowers. They would often prepare egg custard, comfits, lambs' tails, white sugar sweets, fig pies and wafers, and give their mothers nosegays of wild flowers that had been blessed in church."
Recommended Reading for Mothers:
Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves edited by Camile Peri and Kate Moses
Hip Momma’s Survival Guide by Ariel Gore and Ellen Forney
Mother Leads Best: 50 Women Who Are Changing the Way Organizations Define Leadership by Moe Grzelakowski
Mothers Who Think: Tales of Reallife Parenthood edited by Camile Peri and Kate Moses. Taken from the Salon.com column of the same name.
Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner
The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Use Smarter by Katherine Ellison
The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Hurt Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels
The Price of Motherhood: Why The Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued by Ann Crittenden
The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes A Good Mother by Miriam Peskowitz
The Second Shift by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Recommended Reading for Adults Recovering from Dysfunctional Families
Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Woititz
Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself by Melody Beatie
Bradshaw on The Family by John Bradshaw
(This book explains a dysfunctional family is, how it works, how each person is awarded a “role” in the family, and how these roles effect us in later life)
Family Secrets: The Path to Self-Acceptance and Reunion by John Bradshaw
Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw
Life and How to Survive It by Robin Skinner and John Cleese
Revolution from Within by Gloria Steinem
The Family and How To Survive It by Robin Skinner and John Cleese
Why People Don’t Heal, and How They Can by Carolyn Myss
The Circle of Life: 13 Archetypes for Every Woman by Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard ( http://www.birth-sex.com/matriarch)
Spiral Steps Website – Support Groups for Pagans. ( http://www.spiralsteps.org/)
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