On Motherhood and its Ritual Power

Before starting on the Tarot section of this blog, I would like to share a small passage I came across while reading about tribal consciousness in the Americas.

Some of the last remaining matrifocal groups in the world include a number of the Native American tribes. In her book “The Sacred Hoop – Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions” the late Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Keres Indian on her mother’s side, beautifully describes many of the differences between the Western or Anglo way of thinking and that of the American Indians. Even after 500 years of contact with patriarchal European culture, the Native Americans have retained their cyclical and ritualistic tribal view of the world.

The following quote from Paula Gunn Allen’s book is so very relevant to the re-discovery of the Goddess and the sacred power of womanhood for it is written from within a matristic mindset. It is so enlightening!

Corn Dawn Mother by Marti Fenton

“The water of life, menstrual or postpartum blood, was held sacred [by pre-contact American Indians]. Sacred often means taboo; that is, what is empowered in a ritual sense is not to be touched or approached by any who are weaker than the power itself, lest they suffer negative consequences from contact. The blood of woman was in and of itself infused with the power of Supreme Mind, and so women were held in awe and respect. The term “sacred”, which is connected with power, is similar in meaning to the term “sacrifice”, which means “to make sacred”. What is made sacred is empowered. Thus, in the old way, sacrificing meant empowering, which is exactly what it still means to American Indians who adhere to traditional practice. Blood was and is used in sacrifice because it possesses the power to make something else powerful or, conversely, to weaken or kill it.

Pre-contact American Indian women valued their role as vitalizers because they understood that bearing, like bleeding, was a transformative ritual act. Through their own bodies they could bring vital beings into the world – a miraculous power unrivaled by mere shamanic displays. They were mothers, and that word implied the highest degree of status in ritual cultures. The status of mothers was so high, in fact, that in some cultures Mother or its analogue Matron, was the highest office to which a man or woman could aspire.

The old ones were empowered by their certain knowledge that the power to make life is the source and model for all ritual magic and that no other power can gainsay it. Nor is that power really biological at base; it is the power of ritual magic, the power of Thought, of Mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as it gives rise to social organizations, material culture, and transformations of all kinds – including hunting, war, healing, spirit communication, rain-making, and all the rest.

At Laguna, all entities, human and supernatural, who are functioning in a ritual manner at a high level are called Mother.


But its value [that of being a mother] signifies something other than the kind of sentimental respect for motherhood that is reflected in Americans’ Mother’s Day observances. It is ritually powerful, a condition of being that confers the highest adeptship on whoever bears the title. So central to ritual activities is it in Indian cultures that men are honored by the name mother, recognizing and paying respect to their spiritual and occult competence. That competence derives entirely from Mother Iyatiku, and, through her, from Thought Woman [Spider Grandmother] herself.

A strong attitude integrally connects the power of Original Thinking or Creation Thinking to the power of mothering. That power is not so much the power to give birth, as we have noted, but the power to make, to create, to transform. Ritual, as noted elsewhere, means transforming something from one state or condition to another, and that ability is inherent in the action of mothering. It is the ability that is sought and treasured by adepts, and it is the ability that male seekers devote years of study and discipline to acquire. Without it, no practice of the sacred is possible, at least not within the Great Mother societies.” [pg 28 / 29]


[1] Anyone who wants to submerge themselves into a tribal often matristic mindset that is ritual-based and has a cyclical rather than linear understanding of time should definitely read fiction and poetry by American Indian writers especially women writers. Two of my personal favourite novels of all times are Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms. They are both just beautiful and simply make sense.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Selina
    Feb 14, 2013 @ 09:11:14

    Ein wundervoller Text. Diese Bedeutung des Frau- und Mutterseins ist genau das, was unsere Welt wieder braucht. Da geht die Reise hin. Danke, Silvestra, dass du das ausgegraben hast.


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