The Great Nurturer

SANDRA LEE, NEW ZEALAND MINISTER OF CONSERVATION, 1999-2002, and a Maori, once said, in reference to the earth: “It is Mother, Papatuanuku; we shouldn’t strive to have power over her, but rather acknowledge that she is the essence which nurtures us and enables us to be”.[i]

Intrinsic to the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape is nurturing. This is characteristic of old European and near Eastern spirituality as well as old Maori mythology, lore and proverbs. It is also true of Native American Indian spirituality and that of other primal peoples. Nurturing is a universal feeling and root metaphor inherent in the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape. Nurturing and mothering are components of the individual personality and the collective psyche.

THE OLD MAORI SAW THE EARTH as their Mother. Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is “someone who nurtures us and to whom we in turn owe important duties of care”.[ii] In Maori mythology the elemental gods of the natural world are children of Mother Earth and stay close to their nursing Mother.[iii] In Maori mythology it is the Earth Mother who is ultimately responsible for all the foods which sustain us – especially crops such as the kumera (sweet potato) which grow directly within her body. The seasons which relate to Papatuanuku and the growing and harvesting of her foods are found in many ancient Maori proverbs.[iv] Papatuanuku’s children live and function in a symbiotic relationship:

“From unicellular through to more complex multi-cellular organisms each species depends upon other species as well as its own, to provide the basic biological needs for existence. The different species contribute to the welfare of other species and together they help to sustain the biological functions of their primeval mother, herself a living organism. They also facilitate the processes of ingestion, digestion and waste disposal… they cover her and clothe her to protect her from the ravages of her fierce son, Tawhiri the storm-bringer. She nourishes them and they nourish her.”[v]

Nurturing by and of Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is not just a symbiotic physical relationship, it is also a spiritual nurturing. Maori Marsden points out that Papatuanuku belongs to an older primeval order. Her sustenance derives not only from the mauri – the life force immanent in all creation which generates, regenerates and upholds creation – active within her, but is supported by other members of that order.[vi] Marsden defines the mauri as “the bonding element that knits all the diverse elements within the Universal ‘Procession’ giving creation its unity in diversity. It is the bonding element that holds the fabric of the universe together”.[vii] Mauri is a force or energy mediated by Hauora – the Breath of the Spirit of Life. “Mauri-ora was the life-force (mauri) transformed into life-principle by the infusion of life itself”.[viii] This view was not unique to the New Zealand Maori.

In old European mythology, “Mother Earth was seen to be very active. She was thought to exhale the breath of life, which nourished living organisms on her surface”.[ix]

Anthony Stevens, on the Mother Archetype, notes that:

“It is necessary to repeat that when Jungians speak of a mother archetype, they are not referring to an innate image but to an inner dynamic in the phylogenetic psyche. The ‘artefacts’ of this dynamic – its symbolic residues – are to be found in the myths and artistic creations of mankind. The ‘symbolic canon’ of the mother archetype is very extensive… However some expressions are so universally encountered that they can be mentioned here: as Mother Nature and Earth Mother she is goddess of fertility and dispenser of nourishment; as water or sea she represents the origins of all life as well as a symbol of the unconscious, the fount of all psychic creativity; as Moon Goddess she exemplifies the essential periodicity of womanhood. She also takes the form of divine animals: the bear (jealous guardian of her children), the celestial cow, who nourishes the earth with milky rain.”[x]

Jung speaks of the qualities associated with the Mother Archetype as “maternal solicitude and sympathy…all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility”.[xi] The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while a component of the inner psyche, also extends to the outer world and is found in symbols:

“The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to vessel-shaped flowers like the rose or the lotus. Because of the protection it implies, the magic circle or mandala can be a form of mother archetype.”[xii]

The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while associated with particular cultures, is to be found in all cultures and mythologies.

Erich Neumann points out that Mother Goddess cultures and their mythologies are intrinsically connected with fertility, growth and agriculture in particular – hence with the sphere of food, the material and bodily sphere.[xiii] As the good mother:

“she is fullness and abundance; the dispenser of life and happiness; the nutrient earth, the cornucopia of the fruitful womb. She is mankind’s instinctive experience of the world’s depth and beauty, of the goodness and graciousness of Mother Nature who daily fulfills the promise of redemption and resurrection, of new life and new birth.”[xiv]

Rupert Sheldrake, biochemist, argues there “is something to be found ‘in nature’ which many of us feel we need… Nature is calm, kindly and nurturing, like an ideal wife”.[xv]

“Nature was traditionally idealized as benevolent Mother in images of the Golden Age. All was peaceful and fertile; nature gave freely of her bounty; animals grazed contentedly; birds sang pure melodies; flowers were everywhere, and trees bore fruit abundantly. Men and women lived in harmony.”[xvi]

In old Europe with the development of agriculture Mother Earth gave way to a more restricted notion of the Great Goddess of vegetation and harvesting. For example, in Greece Gaia was replaced by Demeter – but women were still closely associated with agriculture and soil fertility. Of course, metaphors connecting women with the ploughed earth and fertility exist all over the world. For example, in an ancient Hindu text it is written: “This woman is come as a living soil: sow seed in her, ye men!” and in the Koran: “your wives are to you as field”.[xvii] As Sheldrake points out, the “same metaphor is implicit in our word semen, the Latin word for seed”.[xviii] The Mother Earth Archetype invites feelings of a return to the protection of the maternal nourishing womb.

[i] Sandra Lee, ’Cherishing Papatuanuku’ – Interview with Powhiri Rika-Heke in: Nga Kaitiaki, no.21, August/September (1989), 9.

[ii] John Patterson, Exploring Maori Values ( New Zealand: Dunmore Press Ltd., 1992), 157.

[iii] Ibid, 158.

[iv] Ibid, 48.

[v] Marsden(1989) ‘The Natural World and Natural Resources: Maori Value Systems and Perspectives’, 22.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid, 20.

[viii] Ibid, 21.

[ix] Sheldrake(1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[x] Anthony Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 89.

[xi] C.G. Jung, ‘Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype’, The Collected Works, vol.9, Part 1, para.158 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1959), 82. See also C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1972), 15.

[xii] Ibid, para. 156, 81.

[xiii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 43.

[xiv] Ibid, 40.

[xv] Sheldrake (1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[xvi] Ibid, 8.

[xvii] Ibid, 13.

[xviii] Ibid, 8.

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