|Art by Arna Baartz|
Maintaining sovereignty as a mother seems to be an impossible task for many women in capitalist patriarchal societies. I saw a quote on Facebook recently from Mamá Kaur that said, “It's not motherhood that's exhausting. What's exhausting is to nurture in a world that doesn't care for and support its mothers.” That rang true for me.
When I was a single mother especially, the last thing I felt was sovereign. As I wrote in Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy, “It’s hard to feel like a Goddess when you’re worried sick about how you are going to feed your kids. You can do all the affirmations and self-help work you want, but it is a rare woman who feels empowered living in poverty.”1
Under patriarchy, there is no value in raising children and we are expected to martyr ourselves going at it alone. Glennon Doyle recently wrote, “I burned the memo presenting responsible motherhood as martyrdom. I decided that the call of motherhood is to become a model, not a martyr. I unbecame a mother slowly dying in her children’s name and became a responsible mother: one who shows her children how to be fully alive. A broken family is a family in which any member must break herself into pieces to fit in. A whole family is one in which each member can bring her full self to the table knowing that she will always be both held and free.”2 Like many women, I must continue to break the mold that has been handed down for generations in my family. No more broken women. No more broken families.
I wonder what going further back can teach us.
Leslene della-Madre reminds us that, “Isis veneration spread as far east as Afghanistan, to the Black Sea, as well as to what is now western Europe in Portugal and as far north as England. It is Her legacy that has been inherited by christianity as revealed in the icons of the Black Madonnas found all over Europe; Isis and Her son Horus suckling at Her breast are most likely the prototypes for Mary and Jesus.”6
So what is the psychological impact over the last 2,000 years of changing the once-sovereign images of Isis suckling Horus to passive images of Mary with Jesus? As someone who breastfed my children for over four years, I can attest that this is a holy and sacred act. I still look in reverence when I see a woman breastfeeding her baby. But it also takes a lot out of you. I have never been so thin (or exhausted) as in my post-breastfeeding years. And we don't live in a world that helps mothers rest and recover.
Mary Condren wrote, “We now have enough evidence to suggest that there have been radical consequences for women when the dominant cultural symbol systems are exclusively male, or feature women whose identity is entirely derivative or serving a patriarchal status quo, i.e., many representations of the Virgin Mary. The absence of empowering female images both reflects and affects the subordination of women. This very lack shapes and deforms the way our drives are constructed so that both body and soul are put in the service of the patriarchal social order.”7
Growing up in the church, I learned that my role in life was to be subservient to men. I saw my mother abide by all the rules. (Until she didn't.) What would my mother's experience have been if Isis/Auset were her archetype instead of the Catholic Mary she grew up with? Could she have attained sovereignty earlier in her life?
In contrast, Isis is said to have appeared at the sanctuary of Isis at Philae and said, “I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are.”8
In a paper by Marianna Delray discussing Isis and Mary, she explains, “Isis was worshipped as the saviour goddess, and it was believed that her divine milk gave protection and reviving power... Isis was accredited with numerous powers and even in later times she continued to be the goddess of immense importance in Egypt and beyond. Indeed, following Hellenisation, the cult of Isis spread throughout the Mediterranean, assimilating into the cults of other Mediterranean nursing deities... Lucius describes Isis as ‘holy and eternal saviouress of the human race, ever beneficent in cherishing mortals, who indeed bestowed the sweet affection of a mother upon the tribulations of the unfortunate.’ In the Metamorphoses, Isis speaks about herself as the ‘mother of the entire universe, mistress of all the elements and remarks that while she is one ‘divinity,’ she is worshipped by ‘ten thousand names’ throughout the world.”9
This sounds very different from what we know about Mother Mary. For those of us who grew up in the church, the idea of a savior GODDESS is quite a remarkable thealogy to behold.
Rev. Dr. Karen Tate wrote, “We’re allowed to have the Great Mother in our spiritual paradigm if she is docile and tame like Mary, or as the Goddess that saves women in childbirth or men from bombs and typhoons. But would patriarchy have us reclaim the full meaning of the Queen Mother of Compassion, or any Goddess, if it meant that embodying her might bring our world into balance and emulating her caused women to no longer serve the status quo?”10
Modern motherhood really needs to move beyond the status quo. There are very few places on earth that really provide a foundation where it works well—for women and children. In the interim, building our own 'villages' with like-minded sister-friends may provide better support.11
My children are teenagers now, so my mothering is much less time-consuming. It mostly consists of being present for them and guiding them to make good choices for their futures. I have tried to raise my children as sovereign beings since they were very small. While this was challenging at times, I am reaping the benefits now via a trusting and open relationship with my kids and their friends. My hope is that in reclaiming my own sovereignty, I will teach them to do the same.
An excerpt from a longer paper in On the Wings of Isis: Reclaiming the Sovereignty of Auset
Trista Hendren is the creator of Girl God Books. She lives in Bergen, Norway with her family. You can learn more about her projects at www.thegirlgod.com
1 For further exploration of single motherhood, see Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy; Girl God Books, 2016.
2 Doyle, Glennon. Untamed. Penguin Random House USA, March 2020.
3 I have written more extensively about this in Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy (2016) and How to Live Well Despite Capitalist Patriarchy (2019).
6 Della-Madre, Leslene. “The Luminous Dark Mother”
7 Condren, Mary. “On Forgetting Our Divine Origins: The Warning of Dervogilla.” Irish Journal of Feminist Studies vol. 2 no. 1 (1997): 117-132.
8 Birnbaum, Lucia Chiavola Ph.D. “African Dark Mother - Oldest Divinity We Know.” Authors Choice Press, 2001.
9 Delray, Marianna. “Legacy of the Egyptian Goddess? A Retrospective Look at the Two Divine Mothers, Isis and Mary.” Macquarie University; 2017. Accessed on Academia.com
10 Tate, Karen Rev. Dr. Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages & Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy. Changemakers Books; March 2014.
11 Further discussions of this can be found in How to Live Well Despite Capitalist Patriarchy and Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy.