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The Mother Archetype

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  1. The Mother Archetype “These are three essential aspects of the mother: her cherishing and nourishing goodness, her orgiastic emotionality, and her Stygian depths” (Jung 82).

  2. Aspects of the Mother Archetype • “The qualities associated with it are maternal solitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility. The place of magic transformation and rebirth…are presided over by the mother” (Jung 82)

  3. Aspects of the Mother Archetype • “The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden…a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well…flowers like the rose or the lotus…the magic circle or mandala” (Jung 81).

  4. Mother Universe • “The world-generating spirit of the father passes into the manifold earthly experience through a transforming medium – the mother of the world. She is a personification of the primal element…In the Hindu myth, she is the female figure through whom the Self begot all creatures. More abstractly understood, she is the world-bounding frame…the shell of the cosmic egg. More abstractly still, she is the lure that moved the Self-brooding Absolute to the act of creation” (Campbell 255).

  5. Womb of Redemption • “The people yearn for some personality who, in a world of twisted bodies and souls, will represent again the lines of the incarnate image. We are familiar with the myth from our own tradition. It occurs everywhere, under a variety of guises. When the Herod figure…has brought mankind to the nadir of spiritual abasement, the occult forces of the cycle begin of themselves to move. In an inconspicuous village the maid is born who will maintain herself undefiled of the fashionable errors of her generation: a miniature in the midst of men of the cosmic woman who was the bride of the wind. Her womb, remaining fallow as the primordial abyss, summons to itself by its very readiness the original power that fertilized the void” (Campbell 264).

  6. Prehistoric and Neolithic Mother Goddess Figures • According to James Frazer, Robert Graves, and other notable critics of myth have continuously noted the recurrence of the Mother Goddess in various early cultures. One example is “the Venus of Willendorf…This small statuette is squat with exaggerated breasts and rump. It is this figure made in the Stone Age nearly 20,000 years ago that forms our impressions of the first primordial Mother Goddess. The sexual accent on the female breasts and the posterior are assumed by many to connote signs of fertility” (“From Venus Figures Through Time – The Mother Goddess”).

  7. Greek/Roman Mythology – Gaea/Rhea • Analogous to our modern day conception of Mother Nature, Gaea and Rhea are the Greek and Roman mythological representations of the All-Mother or Mother Earth (Hamilton 44, 79). Most Native American myths also feature Mother Earth figures or goddesses who echo Gaea and Rhea’s mythological role.

  8. Greek Mythology - Demeter & Persephone • “Demeter and Persephone are two aspects of the one mythic abduction. Something in us leans toward depth, toying with narcissistic lures, while something else tries to keep us on track, in a world of familiar, wholesome values…The story shows us how deep is the love demanded of any mother who protects her child whom she knows must be exposed to darkness” (Moore 42-43).

  9. Greek Mythology – The Phases of Motherhood “The Maiden, or Virgin, reflects independent women who are often unmarried. The Mother is the second stage heralded by fertility and growth. The last stage, Crone, is the archetypal expression of the ‘wise old woman’ who has come into her own. Perhaps the most popular Goddess Triad found in mythology is Persephone (Maiden), Demeter (Mother), and Hecate (Crone)” (Boyer).

  10. Greek Mythology – The Phases of Motherhood • Artemis is an interesting nurturing figure – chaste and fierce, she is also a protectress of the innocent and is often associated with the moon, “As Phoebus was the Sun, she was the Moon, called Phoebe and Selene (Luna in Latin)” (Hamilton 32). Like the triad of Maiden/Matron/Crone, Artemis is “’the goddess of three forms,’ Selene in the sky, Artemis on the earth, Hecate in the lower world” (Hamilton 32).

  11. Ancient Astrology – The Phases of Motherhood • “The Sumero-Babylonian astral mythology identified the aspects of the cosmic female with the phases of the planet Venus. As morning star she was the virgin, as evening star the harlot, as lady of the night sky the consort of the moon; and when extinguished under the blaze of the sun she was the hag of hell” (Campbell 259).

  12. Virgin Motherhood • “The Buddha descended from heaven to his mother’s womb in the shape of a milk-white elephant. The Aztec Coatlicue, ‘She of the Serpent-woven Skirt,’ was approached by a god in the form of a ball of feathers. The chapters of Ovid’s Metamorphoses swarm with nymphs beset by gods in sundry masquerades: Jove as a bull, a swan, a shower of gold. Any leaf accidentally swallowed, any nut, or even the breath of a breeze, may be enough to fertilize the ready womb. The procreating power is everywhere” (Campbell 267).

  13. Egyptian Mythology - Isis • “From the beginning of Egypt's history to the end, Isis was the greatest goddess of Egypt. She was the beneficial goddess and mother whose love encompassed every living creature. Isis was also the purest example of the loving wife and mother and it was in this capacity that the Egyptian people loved her the most…In fact, the early Christians deferred some of her attributes to the Virgin Mary…The images of Isis suckling the Horus child undoubtedly inspired the multitude of icons showing the Madonna and Child” (McDevitt).

  14. Religious Examples - Christianity • “Christianity gives us the great image of the Virgin Mary who is both the comforting madonna and the mater dolorosa, the sorrowful mother. In both emotions, the mother is close to the child, allowing the child, even as she feels her pain and anger, to become an individual through exposure to experience and fate” (Moore 43).

  15. Religious Examples - Hinduism • In Hinduism, Durga is “virginal and sublime, contain[s] within her the power of all the gods combined…she is the invincible power of Nature who triumphs over those who seek to subjugate her” ("The Hindu Goddess Durga the Unconquerable Form of Devi”). • Another manifestation of Durga is Kali, “In India, ‘the loving and terrible mother’ is the paradoxical Kali” (Jung 82). Even in this horrifying aspect, Kali is still a nurturing mother figure in certain Hindu tales.

  16. The Darker Side of the Mother • “[The Mother archetype] can have a positive, favourable meaning or a negative, evil meaning. An ambivalent aspect is seen in the [Greek] goddesses of fate…Evil symbols are the witch, the dragon…the grave, the sarcophagus, deep water, death, nightmares, and bogies…On the negative side the mother archetype may connote anything secret, hidden, dark; the abyss, the world of the dead, anything that devours, seduces, and poisons, that is terrifying and inescapable like fate…This is especially true where definitely mythological products are concerned…where the mother may appear as a wild beast, a witch, a spectre, an ogre” (Jung 81 – 83).

  17. Literary Application – The Mother • In John Steinbeck’s classic text The Grapes of Wrath, the Mother archetype is fully invoked. Though the Joad family has barely survived their rough journey West during the Depression on route 66 (“the mother road”), straining to stay intact, this togetherness does not endure. During the falling action of the plot, the family breaks apart and several of the lead characters have to embrace their new role in the broader human family. Before departing, Tom Joad explains his secondhand vision of something larger than himself, “He talked a lot…Says one time he went out in the wilderness to find his own soul, an’ he found he jus’ got a little piece of a great big soul” (Steinbeck 570). During the text’s dénouement both Ma Joad and her daughter experience a silent understanding concerning how to aid a dying man, “Ma’s eyes passed Rose of Sharon’s eyes, and then came back to them. And the two women looked deep into each other” (Steinbeck 618). Facing starvation, the stranger is in need of immediate sustenance and Rose is able to provide nurturance – having recently lost her baby during harsh childbirth. As Ma departs, Rose of Sharon rises to the full status of the Mother by nurturing the ailing man back to health, “Her hand moved gently in his hair. She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously” (Steinbeck 619).

  18. Modern Examples • The lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Mother” attest to the power of the Mother figure (even in her absence). In the song’s opening, Lennon sings “Mother, you had me but I never had you /I wanted you but you didn't want me / So I got to tell you /Goodbye” ("MOTHER Lyrics - JOHN LENNON" ). But at the end of the song, the singer calls out ”Momma don’t go” suggesting the idea of the Mother is not easily left behind ("MOTHER Lyrics - JOHN LENNON" ).

  19. Modern Examples • In Don Bluth’s animated classic The Secret of Nimh, Mrs. Brisby sets out on a mission to provide a mother’s protection to her sick son Timmy. Unable to leave the family home due to illness, her son will soon be devoured by the farmer’s plow without a quick solution. But along her journey, Mrs. Brisby comes into contact with the mysterious Rats of Nimh and unlocks her own hidden power (the unyielding force of a mother’s sacrifice).

  20. Modern Examples • The grim film Sophie’s Choice outlines in flashback format a mother’s impossible decision during the Jewish Holocaust. Upon her arrival as an inmate in Auschwitz, Sophie must decide which of her children will spared from the flames of the crematorium. Though she herself survives the ordeal, she can never escape from her own guilt. Her failure as a protective mother destroys her life.

  21. Modern Examples • Lars von Trier’s gripping dramatic musical Dancer in the Dark, tells the tragic tale of Selma (played by musical artist Bjork) – a Czech immigrant who is slowly going blind due to a degenerative hereditary disease. Working feverishly to earn enough money before she completely loses her sight, Selma plans to provide her son Gene with an early operation to spare him the same blinding fate. But when her money is stolen by a neighbor, Selma proves that she is willing to commit murder and face death herself to extend a better existence to her offspring.

  22. Modern Examples • Based upon true events, The Blind Side is the story of an unusual surrogate mother/son pairing. Orphaned Michael is a struggling African American high school student who becomes an integral part of the white and well-to-do Tuohy family. The mother figure, Leigh Anne, quickly becomes an advocate for her new “son” as he finds his strength on the football field. Despite several obstacles, both Michael and Leigh Anne learn to depend on, trust, and love one another. Though not directly connected through bloodlines, Sandra Bullock’s character stands up for her charge – providing a mother’s protection and guidance.

  23. Major Resources • Ambrose, Adrienne, Richard Effland, and Michael Mayer. "The Primordial Goddess.“ From Venus Figures Through Time - The Mother Goddess. Mesa Community College, n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. <>. • Boyer, Janet. "The Mother Archetype." N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2010. <>. • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Novato, California: New World Library, 1949. Print.

  24. Major Resources • Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1942. Print. • "The Hindu Goddess Durga the Unconquerable Form of Devi." Lotus Sculpture. Lotus Sculpture, n.d. Web. 28 Apr 2010. <>. • Jung, C. G.. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd ed. New York: Princeton University Press, 1959. Print.

  25. Major Resources • McDevitt, April. "Isis." Ancient Egypt: The Mythology. N.p., 08 Apr 2010. Web. 28 Apr 2010. <>. • Moore, Thomas. Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. Harper Collins, 1992. Print. • "MOTHER Lyrics - JOHN LENNON." Song Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. < lyrics/mother-lyrics.html>. • Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath . New York: A Penguin Book, 1939. Print.