Lady of heaven and earth, Lady of the beginning and end of all creation,
Goddesses, fairies, female demons, and nymphs.
Friendly and unfriendly, the Great Mother manifests the “Great Unknown”.
Ishtar, Goddess of the Moon, Isis, Mother of All, Spirit of the Valley that Never Dies
The mysterious female, the root of heaven and earth
The Mother archetype is found in an almost infinite variety of aspects, from the personal mother, grandmother, stepmother, and mother-in-law, The Mother of God, Sophia. Mythology offers other variations as well, such as Demeter and Kali. Some mother symbols that arouse devotion and awe such as the Church, city or country, heaven, earth, the sea, the moon, or the underworld.
The role of Mother as the most significant Feminine archetype, contains (among others) the qualities of soft, warm, loving, gentle, sensitive, receptive, nourishing, and supportive. She is all-accepting, and is there to respond to the needs of her children. She lives to give birth to her children. Giving birth is as much a spiritual or psychic function as it is a literal act. Giving birth to ideas, visions, or creative works may involve Mother archetypal energies.
In her book, Goddesses in Every Woman: A New Psychology of Women, Bolen (1985) provides a mythical perspective of Demeter, the mother archetype of Persephone, who is abducted into the underworld by Hades. Demeter represented maternal instinct fulfilled through pregnancy and through providing physical, psychological, or spiritual nourishment to others. When Demeter is the primary archetype within a woman’s psyche, being a mother is the primary function. It can also be expressed by the helping professions of teaching, nursing, or counseling.
The Good, the Terrible, and the Good-Bad Mother
The Good Mother, like the Terrible Mother, contains the positive and negative aspects. The third form, the good-bad Mother, makes possible a union of positive and negative attributes. Neumann described the transformative character that results from this polarity. When negative aspects of the Feminine support the growth and integration of the self into greater consciousness, they are inherently transformative and valuable as differentiated from the negative mysteries that reduce and disintegrate the personality.
There is a range of healthy and unhealthy aspects of the Mother archetype. The maternal instinct when the Mother archetype (Demeter) is present holds a strong influence. It may be a conscious instinct where a woman decides how and when she will fulfill this deep desire or it may be an unconsciously motivated act where she finds herself accidentally pregnant. If a woman is unable to fulfill the maternal instinct, she may suffer from depression or empty nest syndrome. She may respond to rage and betrayal with the refusal to function as the life giver, as found in the Demeter myth where she withholds her life-giving powers, which is represented by the barrenness of winter. In this state, a woman might withhold emotional needs, physical contact, or nutrition. A woman who holds herself as the bountiful, maternal archetype with an unlimited capacity to provide may not nurture independence within her children if it threatens her own needs as a mother. She may be unable to say no which may lead to feeling depleted and lead to burnout, fatigue, apathy, resentment, or anger. She may exhibit passive-aggressive behaviors as a result.
As long as we feel nourished, sustained and inseparable from the Great Mother, she is experienced as essentially benevolent, omnipotent, and all-embracing. Her benevolence continues for as long as it serves the psychological needs of the unfolding individual or group. However, when the time comes for experiencing freedom and individuality, awareness and understanding, and the potential for relationship and human love, the powerful embrace of the Great Mother’s unconscious wholeness can come to feel devouring, claustrophobic, and threatening.
When a woman is feeling out of balance in these ways, making the Mother archetype conscious can help women to look at their feelings and behavior toward others. Accepting the existence of cyclical changes and employing the mother archetype helps to come into more harmony when out of balance (Bolen).