All of us, without exception, had or have a mother. The miracle of birth is the miracle of motherhood, and we humans have been wrestling with that mystery for as long was we’ve had self-awareness.
The archeological evidence of our obsession with fertility, birth and motherhood is worldwide, and indicates its central role in human imagination. Until our scientific age, conception and fertility were mythological, and were variously associated with the phases of the moon, changing seasons, particular foods, prayerful incantations, or the will of women alone. In one way or another, motherhood became connected with the course of life itself, from conception to death, and representations of female life-giving became the legacy of The Goddess.
Mother Earth, or Ge, as the ancient Greeks called her, sits at the core meaning of motherhood for many. The earth is fertile and life-giving, so it’s no surprise that the earth is regarded as feminine. Yet this fact, and the mystery of motherhood altogether, also feeds an alternate narrative, and one not about giving life, but of death. The flip side of our reverence for motherhood appears to be male hatred and suspicion of it.
Around 10,000 years ago, the age of goddesses was replaced by the age of gods; as the active forming principle of society, the feminine was replaced by the masculine, priests replaced priestesses. Earth-based societies many tens of thousands of years old steadily became technology-based societies. The leadership and active role of women and mothers was forcibly replaced by the leadership and active role of men, what some today call the beginning of a 10,000-year war on women.
Across the globe, patriarchal society replaced matriarchal society, and women were reduced to the status of possessions owned by men. Motherhood, in particular, underwent a shift in social meaning as inheritance and family increasingly became male-centered. Despite the difficulty of precisely determining male parentage, blood lines were established based on fathers, not mothers. Women were, and in places continue to be, bought and sold, virtual slaves in a male-dominated hierarchy.
Here in America, despite a century of progress since women attained the right to vote, the war on women and motherhood continues. Men still want to control women’s bodies and tell them what to do. Violence against women is the most common form of household crime. One in five women will be sexually assaulted.
Perhaps men resent women because of the unique power women have to harbor life. Perhaps men love war in part because it bestows power to inflict death, and provides a strange symmetry between the sexes. We’ll leave that question to the psychologists, but it’s not hard to see that the violence we inflict upon Mother Earth is reflected in the violence we inflict upon women and mothers.
This Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to express gratitude, gratitude for life itself and with it the love and care motherhood provides. Motherhood expresses the values upon which a good human society is built – loving, caring, nurturing, and protecting – and we would do well to remember it. Mother’s Day is not simply about sending flowers or remembering to call. Mother’s Day is about honoring and devoting ourselves to the values of motherhood, its power, mystery, potential, and the blessings of life itself.