"The death mother supports an inner and outer patriarchal system that haunts a woman with feelings of failure and worthlessness and oppresses men with feelings of depression and dissatisfaction with their lives (and themselves)." Massimilla Harris (parenthesis added by me)
In order for us to truly heal our relationship with the masculine energy that lives within us and find balance in the world, regardless of gender, we must tend to the death mother. The internalized death mother archetype we carry is a result of living in a patriarchal culture where she is transmitted through our conditioning. This complex is made more challenging if our own mother rejected, abandoned, feared, envied or disliked us because of her own wounding, not wanting to have a child or environmental circumstances. To a child, when s/he perceives the energetic rejection and dislike of mother, it feels like death and this archetype begins to weave its way into the cells of the body, emotions, consciousness and relationship with a higher power that is life.
Athena was the daughter of Zeus. Born out his head and a true daughter of the patriarch, she did not have a mother. She was revered and celebrated for her qualities associated with being successful in a patriarchal world. It's no accident that she is the Goddess of warfare and strategy, math, law and justice, civilization, courage and skill. She honed the qualities most celebrated in her society. But, not having a mother she was also deeply cut off from her deeply feminine nature. She, as Joseph Campbell points out, is also a symbol of the way the patriarchal culture has assimilated the Goddess.
Last night there were fireworks going off somewhere in the distance, noises that always send my fur friend into a deep terror. At first, it was subtle and I didn’t quite notice as she laid on my feet but then I felt this shaking and put my hand on her and she started panting hard. Getting more distressed, she was trying to get under the coffee table, the couch, or the bed. I did everything I could to soothe her. She eventually took up shelter deep in the closet, where I sat with her, holding her, singing to her and soothing her.
I noticed a subtle energy of soothing to try to get her to be okay again. But, she was in something and all I could do is just be there and love her. (Often that what we are trying to get to be “okay” again is our own feelings that arise when we are in a space with something intense or our meaning making of our pain). I laid next to her, kept my hands on her and just sang to her as she alternately cried and licked my face.
It hit something deep inside of me, a place of deep mirroring and recognition in my body of my own fear. Fear of being here, in a human body. A fear that many of us walk around with, mystics or not.
Emotional fear and hypervigiliance shows up in the body as a deep existential terror that we entered into such a long time ago it’s become like the water we are swimming in without realizing it. Our society is the giant sea we are swimming in.
A big barometer of self-love is how well we are able to parent ourselves through difficult times, mistakes, disappointments, grief and other challenging emotions.
All too often, this is where our wounds are triggered and we enact ways of being that perpetuate the cycle of wounding within our psyches. If we keep treating ourselves and our inner worlds the way we internalized, the way we learned to treat ourselves, then we continue the cycles of pain in our lives without realizing it.
This is the realm of the death mother and one I see most common in clients and my own soul life.
Grief is a very common reaction not only to loss but heartbreak or rejection or disappointment. We make mistakes. We are human. Life has its ups and downs. Things happen. We feel things in response to it.
Living in a world that values what image we project over who we really are, what we can produce over what we express, how we look over how we feel is a culture that is emotionally and spiritually neglectful. It is a culture that values the external to such a degree that we have become codependent this culture, a death mother, in an attempt to receive the nourishment our psyche is so deeply craving and getting ourselves lost in the process.
We have been split in two...our inner nature and our rational nature. Animal and divine has become animal OR divine. The splitting creates a deep chasm in the in-between, a place that rests in our hearts...where we are actually meant to embody the in-between...to be both instinctual and divine, logical and filled with the creative loving energy of eros; to hold a safe container, respect knowledge and wisdom equally and to navigate through the world fully alive in our cells with feeling, wisdom and grace. We should feel safe to be whole. Yet most of us do not.
This is the essence of the soul wound, the split between our two sides; logos and eros, masculine and feminine, animal or spirit, spiritual or science, dark or light, love or hate, good or bad...and on and on.
When I stopped drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, I had an intuition that a lot of my addiction was related to mothering. It was then I began to explore not only my relationship to my own personal mother but what it is to cultivate a conscious relationship with myself. This is when I first encountered the archetype of the death mother, a representation of the oppression/abuse of the healthy feminine. She is also the shadow side of the Great Mother archetype.
Archetypes are universal energy patterns that humans have experienced through out time. It is also expressed within cultures, as well as personally in each of our lives. This forms the foundation of our internal mother, a combination of universal energetics, cultural expressions and our personal lineage.
The death mother archetype appears in other cultures as an archetype of the soul stealer; the soul ultimately being the feminine, embodied expression of the divine.
The "patriarchy” doesn’t have to just do with men or the masculine principle. Everything is a part of the wholeness and the wholeness lives within all things. There is also very much a feminine counterpart to the patriarchy, a system designed to function through domination, control and power.
This is a system that rose from the transition of worshipping mother nature to seeking to domination not only over mother earth but over our own feminine nature deeply tied to the earth body itself.
The death mother is the counterpart to the death father. These are archetypal energies that exist in the collective psyche. If they did not, there wouldn’t be the kind of situations we are dealing with on the earth at this time.
These archetypal energies influence each of us and are confounded even more if they’ve also arrived into the blueprint of our nervous systems via our actual parents.
The death mother is the shadow part of the feminine who seeks to express herself through power, domination and control of the elemental feminine, of the soul of both men and women. She represents the "cultural subjugation of the wild and unruly feminine (Toko-pa)" and to survive she's become like the death father in order to thrive. Her soul was stolen and now she steals to feel like she has one.
There are so many patterns we learned to survive as children that are ways of being that are acceptable, almost cherished qualities, in our consumer driven, future focused society; one that idealizes perfection as a goal wildly unattainable by the nature of being human.
These internal patterns and habits of perfectionism and people pleasing are soul killers.
They further the split between our "ideal" self and our inner, tender, feeling and creative nature. It creates a deep divide between the wise animal of our body and the divine nature of our hearts.
Perfectionism and people pleasing are expressions of the soul wound, not who we really are individually or as a culture. But, these very pattens enforce us to not reveal the truth of our pain, the roots of our habits because it will wreak havoc to a system that relies on our pain remaining out of our awareness. This leads many to feel ashamed of the truth of their hearts, the wisdom of their bodies, true purpose or calling, or the particular ways genius wants to be expressed in the world.
When I was finishing my dissertation, I constantly faced a deep frozen paralysis; an inability to trust the unique vision arising within me. It was so hard to say what I wanted to say. I was worried my way of seeing the data was crazy (turns out to be far from it).
I’ve experienced that kind of frozen fear for many, many years when I’d move towards writing or creating or making life affirming leaps forward. That slow steady feeling of frozen paralysis was there. Something bad might happen. I might die. My mind would go blank. I’d “sabotage” myself.
I tried all the things. I came to the resignation that this fear is par for the course in the creative process and that I need to fight my way through it, no matter what it took.
This frozen fear was in fact the grips of the archetypal death mother. She’d pull me back into what was familiar. She’d pull me into my addictions. Into self-doubt and projecting my fear and anger onto others, into myself and destabilize the trust I had in the world.
Death mother often stands between us and reunification with our souls. She’s this great grief that lives inside our systems that we are trained to avoid, even if it means going into trances to ignore it. And, we are all in a trance, especially if we are spending most of our time scrolling, numbing out, checking out or avoiding our real soul work because of the the change and feeling that requires.
Addiction is the antithesis of creativity or life-affirming, soul based work and love.
The death mother is an archetypal energy coined first by Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz, then elaborated on by Marion Woodman. This energy is so, so very much alive today in this domination heavy culture, as well as in our own bodies.
This energy gets conflated with the darker aspects of the divine feminine and they are not the same thing. Not even in the slightest.
In order to begin to truly liberate the feminine archetypal energies and heal the masculine archetypal energies as well, we must understand the difference and how the death mother rules our unconscious realms.
The death mother is the dark side of the mother, the shadow side that no one talks about. The cold mother. The resentful mother. The mother that didn’t want to have children. The mother who was not mothered herself. The addicted mother. The depressed/anxious mother. The rejecting or abandoning mother. The intruding mother.
The one who did not nurture or nourish or celebrate or love the way we are trained to think mothers are supposed to be. So much so that we think it’s our fault if this was our mother or that we are not worthy of love because she didn’t know what love was.
This enters our hearts in such a deep way that when we have the impulse towards creativity, new endeavors, life transitions, more soul and life affirming expansion, she enters and pulls us back in.
This is addiction and food issues. A search for a nurturing, soothing energy and returning to what we know..the death mother.
There is a collective theme through the dreaming brought to me in sessions, shared with friends and in my own dream realms. It is the archetypal feminine via the wild cat that is circling, attempting to enter the psyche in order to merge with the soul. There is also resistance to this primal energy, a pushing away, building of fences, an attempt to control or destroy or run away from while watching the outside world try to kill her.
It’s Persephone returning from the underworld wild, raw, fresh and whole that threatens the parts of ourselves that truly long to embrace and restore this energy in our hearts but are terrified of it at the same time.
This is the pulse of where we are in our relationship to the feminine, longing her return and yet fearing all that comes with reigniting her flames within our hearts. A world we can only make safe by allowing her love to enter us, to blow our ideas out of the water of what swimming in her love really is.
There is something we must let go of in order to let the wild cat in and claim her in our hearts.