This essay was originally published at The Mirror Book.
When you’re a woman of a certain age, you suddenly find all your friends are having children and you can no longer put off thinking about that old biological clock ticking. Even in modern society, I think there is still a great social pressure (even if it’s simply a form of passive peer pressure) to have children if you are a married woman. So what does Paganism have to say about becoming a mother?
Paganism places a particular significance on Motherhood – more so than most other religions I would say. Perhaps this is natural considering the importance placed on women in Paganism. The Great Goddess is often referred to as the “Mother Goddess,” “Mother Earth” or “Mother Nature,” or she is seen (especially in Celtic Paganism and Wicca) as a Triple Goddess consisting of Maiden, Mother and Crone. The three aspects of the Triple Goddess are seen as the three stages of a woman’s life. One could say that this means that motherhood is not only considered positive in Paganism – it’s pretty much treated as the natural order of things, an inevitable stage in a woman’s life.
This is somewhat problematic. Not only because there are many women who are physically incapable of becoming a biological mother no matter how much they want to; there are also of women who are quite happy to remain child-free. This doesn’t seem to be particularly compatible with the “Mother Goddess” ideal of the Pagan woman. So is a woman of child-bearing age somehow not living the true Pagan lifestyle if she chooses to remain childless?
My reaction is, of course not! As with all things, it’s important never to over-simplify. Yes, mothers are revered and Paganism, and this is a good thing – the ability to create and care for a living being is indeed magical and should be celebrated. But I don’t think Pagan women should feel any lesser for deciding that children aren’t for them.
Luckily, Paganism has largely grown up in a liberal and tolerant society among open-minded people, and I think Pagans as a whole don’t look down on women who don’t attain the “Mother” status. “Rosemary,” posting in Wonderful Wiccan Adventures, suggests a re-working of the Triple Goddess motifs, substituting “Mistress” for “Mother” for those women who are married and no longer Maidens, but do not have children (like myself). Some Pagans could also argue that, while there is no longer any social obligation to have children (unlike back in the day when more children = more people to work on the land), there are some strong environmental reasons not to have children. This does not mean that mothers are eco-unfriendly – we need more young people raised with an ecological mindset, after all – but it does mean that in this day and age, the decision to have children should really be a deeply personal one, rather than one influenced by a perceived obligation to society. A woman, and of course her partner, must weigh up all the pros and cons themselves as to whether or not children are for them and decide without fear of how others, including others within their spiritual community, may perceive them as a result.
Finally, let’s not forget that although there are many “mother goddesses” in Pagan religion, there are a ton of goddesses who never had children. In the Greek pantheon alone, these include such significant Goddesses as Artemis, Athena and Hestia, let alone all the minor female deities without offspring who are too numerous to list here. Yes, there are a huge number of considerations to factor in when deciding to have a child, but in my opinion, religion should not be one of them, even for Pagans.
The Author: Trellia
Although I’ve been interested in Paganism for many, many years, I have only recently started practising Paganism on a regular basis. As suggested in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, I’ve decided to start a “Mirror Book;” a journal of my progress and thoughts in discovering my own spiritual path. You can read this progress online at The Mirror Book.
I would definitely describe myself as an Eclectic Pagan, borrowing from many different traditions, but I have a particular fascination with Shinto, the “indigenous” Japanese religion. This is partly because of my own background – I studied Japanese at university, lived in Japan for several years and currently work for a Japanese non-profit. It’s also partly because, as there is a thriving family of foxes living very near my house, I venerate Inari, a Japanese deity closely associated with foxes, as a patron deity; I have a shrine to Inari in my courtyard.
I’m also more than a little interested in the Gothic subculture; you can view my “Gothic Stereotypes” art here.
I agree! What really needs to happen – in society generally, but also within Paganism – is that we must honor girls and women in every stage of life. Young women who have been honored and supported as children will comfortably choose their own time to step out of maidenhood whether or not they choose to become mothers. There is so much good all women can do, that it’s nearly useless to put a tag on their stage of life.
We have a long way to go before women are truly honored in society. Pagans need to make a special effort to show how this can be done. Unfortunately, as a natural childbirth teacher, I’ve observed even pagan women participating in the “mommy wars,” on either side. That’s an important place to start, I think.
Also I think the role of mother can have deep metaphorical meaning — when we engage in creative action, we “give birth” so to speak. This sort of “mothering” is available to us all.
This article was really helpful for me. I have had a rocky relationship with female deities in paganism because of their association with fertility/motherhood. I am Childfree (by choice) and have had a nagging background feeling of not being pagan enough because of it. Although my rational side tries to remind me that the emphasis placed on motherhood is/was a result of the times (childbearing was a necessity in the past), it still bothered me that modern paganism hasn’t addressed this change in cultural priorities.
I’m so glad it’s helped you 🙂 It helped me to write it!
Reblogged this on Trellia's Mirror Book and commented:
Another older post on Humanistic Paganism!
I see aunts, mentors, older sisters, teachers etc. as filling the “mother” role and likewise for uncles, brothers, for the “father” role. Actually it seems Paganism has a lot more space for people who do not fall into the man/woman/kids model than many churches do.
I am a married woman and by choice we are not having children. But I in no way like the idea of changing the term “mother” to “mistress”. Mistress had extremely bad connotations to it. I am a mother to my earth. I love and take care of it in many ways that I can.
Although I do want to have children one day and my biological clock still has a long way to go, I feel that this topic is indeed relevant. The mistress/mother comparison seems amazing to me! I agree with everything you said. I just wanted to say that I feel there is much more to motherhood and the Mother archetype than just physically giving birth. Motherhood means so much more, and women (and yes, even men) can show all these other aspects of it in other ways such as care-giving, love-giving, showing support but also reprimanding when necessary.