Is it possible to think of your mother without also conjuring up notions of the Great Mother, that archetype so deeply embedded within our cultures and psyches? Richard Stromer doesn’t think so, as he says in his paper, The Good and the Terrible, Exploring the Two faces of the Great Mother : “In exploring the idea of ‘mother,’ it is useful to recognize the existence of both a personal and biographical dimension and a collective and mythic one.” That mythic mother appears all around us, especially in the stories we consume from an early age.
Fairytale and mythological mothers stay with us because they articulate the qualities that come to define the ideal mother and offer us a yardstick by which to judge our own. The Great Mother is too often uni-dimensional and uncomplicated, whether dead (Bambi, Cinderella, Snow White), neglectful (Hansel & Gretel), endlessly nurturing and forgiving (Mother Earth), an evil stepmother (Cinderella, Snow White), a good mother/witch (Glenda, of course), a bad mother/witch (Wicked Witch of the West, feminine dark forces in fairytales generally), and my personal fave, just a lil’ bit crazy (Medea). Occasionally, there is a deviant like Kali, who, according to Stromer, “is also seen by Hindus as taking on the role of terrible goddess whenever other, more gentle, goddesses need to express their destructive natures.”
Our 24 hour news cycle, building on this past-in-the-present, gives us so many more versions: [alleged] killer mothers , mega producing moms , mothers who breastfeed too long , mothers who don’t breastfeed enough , tiger moms , teen moms , teen moms pornography edition , and the list goes on…Can we find any mothers to love because they thwart easy valorizing or vilifying? Stromer says yes. To wit, “Discovering the archetypal character of the Great Mother who lives in the imagination of each of us also makes possible a different relation to our personal mother. We can forgive her for not being what she could not have been—the transhuman all-giving source… . As we are able to return our mother to her source, to see her in relation to but distinct from the archetype, as its necessarily frail and fallible carrier, we may at last be able to bless what is communicated through her… .”