Great Mother

The Great Mother is the Unknown, Dangerous Yet Promising

We’ll start with the archetype of the Great Mother. The psychologist Eric Neumann wrote a book called The Great Mother which expanded on Jung’s ideas and examined influential goddesses like Mary mother of Jesus, the Egyptian Isis, the Hindu Kali, among others. His writing is referenced heavily by Dr. Peterson in this book Maps of Meaning.

The Great Mother is a mythical archetype representing both creation and destruction and above all she is the unpredictable, unexplored, chaotic, dangerous yet promising unknown. She is the source from where all new things are born and also where all things die. She is all the places we have not yet explored and all the sides of reality we have not yet encountered.

The unknown is unexplored territory, nature, the unconscious, dionysian force, the id, the Great Mother goddess, the queen, the matrix, the matriarch, the container, the object to be fertilized, the source of all things, the strange, the unconscious, the sensual, the foreigner, the place of return and rest, the maw of the earth, the belly of the beast, the dragon, the evil stepmother, the deep, the fecund, the pregnant, the valley, the cleft, the cave, hell, death and the grave, the moon (ruler of the night and the mysterious dark), uncontrollable emotion, matter, and the earth.

German Shrine of the Virgin Mary, ca. 1300

This archetype is intuitively felt to be feminine, perhaps because the human relationship to nature mimics that of an individual’s relationship to their mother, life giving and nurturing.

Fertile soil, water and sunlight turn a seed into a plant just as mysteriously as a new human grows inside their fertile mother. The female genitalia also seems to mirror the archetype of the unknown, because they are mostly hidden from view and serve as the mysterious portal to the world of creation.

Kali is one representation of The Great Mother, she is a striking Hindu Goddess. In art she is depicted as a fearsome figure, with blue skin and at least 4-10 arms. The arms hold a severed head, a bowl that catches blood from the head, a sword and a trident. She also wears a necklace made of severed heads and a skirt of severed arms. What could possibly inspire such a paradoxical goddess, both fear-inducing and life-giving?

Kali represent creativity and fertility, but also death and time. In mythical stories, the Great Mother is sometimes represented as the Good Mother, a life-giving and nurturing force, but she can also be the Terrible Mother, a force whose goal is to pulls all living things back into the ground to be re-digested into a different form. This is true of almost all archtypes, they have two sides, one seemingly more positive and one negative. There’s a very good reason for this.

The Great Mother goddess represents the unknown, the place beyond where we’ve already explored. The unknown can be a positive thing, but it can also be very negative, plunging us into a world of confusion, chaos and catastrophe. For example, if you step into a dark cave while hiking, you may find gold inside… or a bear waiting for you. As a more abstract example, when humans explored the unknown territory of nuclear physics, this led to both cleaner power plants and atom bombs. This is the unknown, positive and negative, creation and destruction.

KEY TAKEAWAYThe Great Mother is the mythical archetype that represents the unpredictable unknown and holds both great promise and terrible danger for us. This is the ground of being that both nurtures life and brings unpredictable destruction.