Beneath the apple tree:
There I took you for My own,
There I offered you My hand,
And restored you,
Where your mother was corrupted.
(St John of the Cross, ‘The Spiritual Canticle’)
She is thinking about visiting her mother, in the country she left long ago. She is considering this not because she misses her mother (she does not, to her acute shame) but because she has to – she is supposed to, isn’t she? But when she imagines herself embarking a plane she feels sick in her stomach. She sees herself walking in an Asian airport halfway there, waiting for the next, final plane to her destination. Her emotions are identical to those of someone who has been kidnapped or raped, “Why did not I chose another street, why did I not I run away when my intuition was screaming “run!”?” She is sitting, frozen, only her mind is rushing in circles “What is this, why this awful fear? – It is my mother, she is not a murderer – she loves me! And I have always loved her. I am mad.” Eventually she books the ticket.
Before her trip she has a dream: an all-powerful, enormous female deity kills her husband in order to devour her. The dreamscape is the dry land, cracks in the soil, orange smoky fires here and there against the totally black sky. On the dry ground, around the deity are small dry human skeletons. Black, yellow, bloody red colours dominate the apocalyptic landscape. The all-powerful deity is her mother.
Her mother is a little girl about five years old, emotionally abandoned almost seventy years ago, when she was born. All her life this girl has been longing for a mother – a warm, comforting, protective loving mother, one which picks up, holds, soothes, talks, smiles at her, whose eyes would reflect her as she herself wishes to be: a good, much loved, confident pretty girl with high aspirations. The mother of her dreams has never happened so she gave up her dreams until her own daughter was born. The daughter was to give her what her mother did not – unconditional and self-sacrificing maternal love. For this a child must be made into a parent.
The relationship: a role play
It is given that a child cannot fulfill a mother’s role and be a mother for her own mother even if she tries very hard. The most damaging demand placed on her is of complete self-sacrifice, complete adjustment to her mother’s needs. A child cannot sacrifice herself in a noble, adult meaning of these words (assuming that the Self grows through a consciously chosen sacrifice) because she has no developed Self yet; in fact she needs her mother to help her to develop her Self first. Therefore she instinctively conforms to her mother’s needs which are the unfulfilled needs of a child and are very similar to her own; she must give up her own needs to satisfy the child inside her mother. In such a situation there are two children, mother-child and daughter-child or more correctly mother-child-growing backwards and daughter-child-growing forwards.
The older grows the daughter the more infantile becomes the mother but the growth of the daughter is not normal. A daughter does not just simply become an adult unnaturally fast. First of all, her Self, being deprived of essential maternal support, grows not as a straight tree in free space but as a twisted bonsai filling in the gaps which her mother allows her to fill. Second, although she was given the responsibilities of a mother she was not given the power of a mother – her mother retains the power of control. This mother exercises absolute parental power when the daughter does not readily comply with her demands. Should disobedience or a mistake occur a mother punishes – and in an act of a punishment a seeming normality is established: the real mother punishes a real daughter. In this reality however the mother is punishing her own mother, that elusive mother who did not give her love and into whom the daughter, the third generation, was made. Her punishment is nothing more than the scream of a frustrated unattended baby. When her daughter repents and complies her crime is immediately forgotten and she is restored to her role as a surrogate “all-good” mother.
The behaviour of such mothers is extremely contradictory and often bizarre: they can be very loving and very cruel, very noble and very mean, very forgiving and very vindictive. It is impossible to understand them without keeping in mind that behind their formidable façade hides an abandoned baby: a prehistoric landscape, all members of the tribe have gone and the mother with them, a baby was left behind as a burden, a helpless victim-to-be of wild beasts. It is irrelevant that a real baby suffered “only” an emotional abandonment because the absence of a mother, whether emotional or physical, as deemed by her creates the all-consuming fear of abandonment that is the threat of death to be re-experienced during all her life. A baby was not eaten but she will always scan for beasts, even after she grows up; worse still, any significant emotional attachment will activate her prehistoric fear. It is understandable then why such people scan for possible abandonment by those to whom they are much attached. If they leave them – screams their severely damaged by the primary abandonment brain – they will die on the spot. They believe it and experience pangs of death every time they perceive the real or imaginary signs of abandonment, of theirs daughters having a date without them or their husbands staying at work later than usual.
The birth of the Bubble Deity
It is simple: any disobedience of a primary attachment figure, a daughter, must be crushed by any means to prevent her leaving me because if she does “I will die”. The mother, severely punishing her daughter for being late after school because she lost track of time playing with her mates does it not out of pointless cruelty – she is only saving her own life.
Her daughter must learn to deal with the most frightening, for a child, transformation.
Being activated, the primary abandonment experienced a mother before and against which she is defending using her own daughter as a shield, turns her into a fearsome ruthless deity. Indeed she is a deity for her not yet grown up daughter who has now an impossible task of reconciling two mothers. One is “good” i.e. loving and agreeable as long as the daughter complies with her emotional needs. The daughter here plays the role of a perfect new mother: she must learn to predict her mother’s wishes and needs so the mother would remain “good”; to achieve it she must forget about herself. The daughter is only technically a daughter but truly a mother to her technically a mother but truly a needy infant who screams and cries if her heeds are frustrated even slightly. However, as soon as the daughter fails to satisfy “the infant-mother” quickly and fully enough she turns into the opposite of the infant, Mother the Terrible who possesses all the power over her now suddenly shrunk to the state of an infant, daughter. Here the primary human relationships are distorted as in a crooked mirror: a daughter-mother is demanded to be a true mother but is refused the very power which a real mother has – the power to decide and chose. Thus the daughter is completely powerless and the mother is all-powerful: she has the stolen from her daughter need of a baby to be comforted and still retains her power of a parent.
Such a mother lives in two segregated worlds: one is a deeply infantile – her private source of strength, the relationship with her daughter; another is a normal adult world of often successful work, cycle of friends and acquaintances, etc. A normal adult world is feeding on an infantile attachment. [This is a parody of normality when an adult is deriving her strength from what was given to her by her parents and what was successfully integrated into her psyche and became a part of herself.] In a sense the mother is sucking her daughter’s milk.
Confined to a womb
Naturally, the daughter does not want to see an all-powerful deity – a moody, mocking, vicious, somewhat sadistic parody of her good mother so she tries hard to prevent the transformation [for which she blames herself]. Worse of all, Mother the Terrible’s favourite punishment is complete withdrawal – no single word for hours, days, weeks and a daughter experiences it very much like that unfortunate prehistoric baby left to die to be devoured by the wild beast. To the daughter mother’s withdrawal means death; an overwhelming fear of abandonment is passed to the next generation.
Out of this fear [and a growing guilt] the daughter gives up herself entirely and becomes totally engulfed by her mother. Paradoxically, she now embodies her mother’s secret desire – to return to her own mother’s womb; at least she experiences the situation like this with the difference that it is not her who sits in her mother’s belly receives the food but her mother derives the vital juice from her while having complete command over the situation. The daughter’s will is paralyzed; at that point her Self successfully filled up the caverns of the space which her mother left to her. As a consequence she, just like her mother, is convinced that she cannot survive on her own.
Several years later the daughter, now in another country, is making her way out of her mother’s womb. Step by step, year by year she is digging out her Self. Eventually she is free – scarred but free, first time in her life. She recalls her last visit to her mother with a preceding apocalyptic dream not with the terror and anger like before but with the pain and resignation. She now has to live with the pain of knowledge of her mother’s abandonment of her but it is the past, it is finished. The fear of abandonment which poisoned most of her life is hugely over.
The return of the deity
She is praying. Going deeper in contemplation she reaches the point when she feels the presence of God. This is the point when she knows she must give up, let go, and she feels awful, paralyzing fear of death so she abruptly stops.
She tries again, with the same result. Ever since she began the process of un-digging her Self she frequently experiences a fear of impending death. “It is funny, I am now alive but have this awful fear of death; before I was dead but did not have this fear at all.
Perhaps it is so exactly because I was dead? No, I remember now – I did have this fear, before, when I thought I was about to be abandoned. Is this a fear of abandonment? – No, God cannot abandon and the fear is not exactly it. Then what?”
She decides to let go: to let go of reason and to continue her self-analysis – something she learnt to do a lot during her un-digging.
“I am praying, there is a… space, I am thinking about Jesus Christ but… a fear of death – she is here, the Bubble Deity! The Mother Goddess!”
Stunned, she continues and sees that the figure of Jesus Christ is somewhat diminished but the Bubble Deity is growing.
“I am afraid that the mother deity will kill Christ and then, before finishing me off, will laugh “See stupid girl, you thought He would protect you!” – she blurts out.
She understands that it is her prehistoric fear, a fear of engulfment which she experiences as suffocation and death, standing between her and God. The Bubble Deity is the Goddess of Engulfment, ever-pregnant and ever-eating her own children and their lovers.
To her astonishment, her major fear now is that God the Father will be swapped with the Bubble Deity and Christ will be murdered by her. This fear contradicts all her knowledge of theology and personal beliefs and yet she has it.
Implications for a spiritual practice
It is indeed astonishing to pray to Jesus Christ and encounter the prehistoric fertility goddess from the times when parents would sacrifice their children to the Mother Goddess. I tend to think that in this case the experience of own mother formed the image of the prehistoric deity, not the “collective unconscious” of Jung. What is noteworthy here is that the features of the ancient Mother Goddess and of “Mother the Bubble Deity” are identical. This may sound strange to those who think of “the Mother Goddess” along the lines of the neo-pagan cults but their version of the goddess is simply very far from the original.
The real Mother Goddess has little to do with the benevolent motherly all-loving eco-type adored by hippies whose longing for her is very much an unconscious longing for a all-forgiving mother and a lover in one. The domain of a real Mother Goddess is nature, fertility, destruction, and underworld – all unconscious forces I would add. Broadly speaking, it is life and death, where life is understood not as victory over death but as the endless and pointless dichotomy of creation and destruction in which the creator is not actually a creator separated from his creation but a parent who physiologically produces various living things out of herself and then is destroying them at will, often feeding on their death. It is also fitting to define the deep waters of the ancient cult of the Goddess as a cult of Eros and Tanatos, with all possible combinations of those terms, completely devoid of any idea of transcendence of the dark eros into the ideal love in which erotic desire and spirituality are entwined. It is natural then that the ancient cult of Cybele (one of her many names) included animal and human sacrifices, and also orgies. Some of her cults are still practiced in its true ancient shape, for example the cult of Durga. The Mother Goddess is an embodiment of the unrestrained female power which produces abundantly and just as abundantly destroys. Her children are her property to be used, abused, or killed. She is violating any boundaries between herself and others or perhaps, being barely conscious, she is unable to see them. Such deity is very fit to be the deity of all engulfing and destroying mothers.
The Christian God has been considered to be a complete opposite of the Mother Goddess, by her adepts and by Christians likewise but for different reasons. The Christian God is indeed entirely different, but not as a symbol of an unrestrained patriarchal rigid power over the female principal as He is often depicted by non-Christians. He is oddly combining in Himself unconditional love (female stereotype) and rationality (male stereotype). He does not change or renounce His own words or promises, does not abandon, does not engulf and wants those who believe in Him to be independent and even to become… gods. He does not sacrifice humans but sacrificed Himself for them (the argument that He sacrificed His Son, not Himself comes from the ignorance of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity). He is God of the living, not the dead as the Goddess of underworld is. He is perfect parent, mother and father in one, but at the same time He is everything that is good, including Eros, about the supposed absence of which in Christianity much is said and written by the ignorant. Being Love, the Christian God is also madly in love with His creation and desires its response to Him, as the Scriptures explicitly state and the countless Christian mystics confirm. The bold expressions of the Eros of Christian God can be easily found in Christian mystical literature so I will refrain from quoting; it is sufficient to say here that it has been traditional for the Christian writers to express the relationship between God and a soul in quite straightforward spousal terms. All the colours of human love are present there – desire, longing, passion, fulfillment but they are purified from everything dark; a human soul is purified and set free from the pollution of cruelty, imprisonment, torture and death. Here lies one of the most important differences between the Eros of the Mother Goddess and the Eros of the Christian God: the former is feeding on dark primary instincts, fears, engulfment, and death and the latter expels them. Nothing of the original human nature including passionate love is dispelled in Christianity but purified and raised to God.
I deliberately made this brief comparison for the purpose of showing how difficult it is for those who were brought up by the Bubble Deity and turned to Christ to trust God. God is everything that the Bubble Deity is not. As soon as the escaped from the Bubble Deity daughters begin relating to God their fears will be activated by God’s very otherness (any personal relationship stirs their fears; the relationship with God is particularly potent in this respect because of it is the most primary of all relationships). The fear of death (which is the deceptive mask of the fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment), rising during encounters with God may be mistakenly taken for something produced by God but not by their psyche. Even if they intellectually understand the goodness of God their fears pull them away from Him. The fear of abandonment can be overcome relatively quickly by the experience of the constancy and steady love of God. The much more elusive fear of engulfment tends to prevent a person from moving into deeper waters of prayer and contemplation for much longer. It typically rises up in the moments when the longing of a believer is about to meet the loving response of God. The fear of engulfment creates its source swapping God with the Bubble Deity and that which could become an act of mutual love stays in the consciousness as a moment of horror barely escaped. A believer is left with a double-faced God, God the Father and a wrathful Mother Goddess, somewhat similar to the double-faced gods of the past and also to the symbolic representation of the endless fight of two equal forces, good and evil of Manichaeism and also to her “all-good” and “all-bad” mothers. The second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, Christ in her mind can be destroyed just as easily as her.
Stuck with the ridiculous image of the Bubble Deity, knowing that she does not exist but sensing her presence anyway she turns to Christ the Son of God of her intellectual knowledge. She is quite depersonalized at that point so she does not attempt to pray but looks at His icons instead. Before the threatening deity was all-real and Christ shrunk to the size of some unfortunate earthly man about to be expelled by her mother, now He is the only person who is present – the deity shrinks, fades, falls into separate tiny bubbles and disappears. The eternal reality of Christ is so evident that she cannot understand how she could think otherwise.
Christ and the Bubble Deity
Perhaps the lack of vulgar conventional sexuality (read misogyny) in Christ can explain why women of His time so readily followed Him and remained faithful to Him even on Golgotha when all but one his male disciples ran away. I suspect that the most shocking thing about Him in relation to women was His manner of dealing with them as equals. This not my speculation: one can just open the Gospels and read His words. Perhaps in Him women saw themselves as non-oppressed, un-crooked daughters of God. By no means am I implying here that simple egalitarian treatment was the major reason for women to follow Christ. However, since He is Salvation the equality he showed must be part of that Salvation. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28-29).
I am not going to expand here on how the role of women in the Church has often reverted back to the acceptable as dictated by a misogynistic society. It certainly happened and we still reap the fruits but this article is concerned only with the private relationship of a woman with God and with how her relationship with her mother influences her relationship with God. It is enough to establish that the Son of God (and, logically thinking, God the Father) does not exhibit the slightest hint of misogyny. Further more, Christianity calls all human beings (males and females) to grow up into deification which is effectively the state of Christ outlined above. Expanding on the words of the apostle Paul, there is neither male nor female in Christ but more than just a male and more than just a female.
As for the Bubble Deity or the Mother Goddess of ancient times, being a woman she is not benevolent to women. She does not help a woman to grow and transcend the limitations of her sex (I mean limitations set for her by her society as strict gender rules, expected behaviour and so on), in fact she does not help her in anything but makes her into her slave via the destruction of her psyche. Ultimately the Bubble Deity initiates her into the process of becoming Herself for the purpose of propagating the chain of mutually enslaved generations. This is very much like the so-called original sin which is of course not about eating an apple but introducing evil and corruption into one’s genetic make-up.
It is quite puzzling to see the current growing popularity of the neo-pagan cults of the Mother Goddess while our society is so concerned with the equality of women. One explanation for this phenomenon is that her officially propagated version is very far from the original; the original may also be attractive for those females who engulf or are engulfed, abuse or are abused. Another explanation is that the Orthodox Church (to which I belong), shamefully, fails to maintain the attitude of Jesus Christ towards women in many areas. Women are often treated as eternally guilty and somewhat deficient whose inherent sin of eating the apple first must be redeemed by their subordination to men (a very unsound doctrine which comes dangerously close to compromising the dogma of the Atonement and also the role of St Mary, Our Lady, in the salvation of the humankind). I will not try here to provide the necessary argument for the idea but I am convinced that the patriarchal rigid ideal with its extremes where females are despised and subdued is nothing more but the crooked male reflection of the Bubble Deity. Both are about gender power, both feed on prehistoric fears, both are completely instinctive and irrational, both are about renouncing the freedom given by God and, ultimately, inspired by evil.
What is so unique and difficult to accept about Christ is that he liberates but the liberation does not come for the price of other human beings, only for His own. Woman, you are a daughter of God but it does not mean that that man is worse than you; man, you are son of God but it does not mean that that woman must serve you. Children, respect your parents but it does not mean that you should be slaves to them and destroy yourselves for their satisfaction. The common logic of compensation “this or that”, “up – down” does not work here but everyone is liberated, lifted up and included in the divine reality providing that they want to, otherwise “let the dead bury their own dead”.
She is looking at the photo of the mosaic in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The lavish cloak of deep sky-blue, the red tunic – the red is almost overwritten by the energetic rays of gold, the streaming gold of the cross on the halo, the not so fluid slowing down gold of the Gospel, the mingling gold of the background. He is clothed in fire, Pantocrator, “He who keeps the whole world in His hand”, definitely Man but much more than a man. His eyes are too gentle and forgiving to belong to an earthly man; they are more of a womans eyes, not an earthly woman but of a transcendent female principal, God’s idea (logos) of a woman. Or perhaps they are female and male principal both. The same can be said about every aspect of His human nature: whether they are male or female they are much more than male and female. He is Son of God in whom the balance of male and female qualities is achieved not by their suppression but by their transcendence. And yet, despite all these complexities He is Man and this is why she is not frightened by Him. It also helps that the female qualities are so transcendent in Him that she cannot recognize them as the earthly ones she is used to, those which are much heavier. “…all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17) He is the One who sacrificed Himself for her and He can be everything to her; in fact He is Everything even if she does not feel it fully yet.