Heavenly Mother

One of the most difficult things for me about being a woman in the LDS church is that after we die, we seem to disappear.  All of the angels we read about are men.  God and Jesus Christ are men.  The Priesthood is eternal.  The judgment bar is stocked with apostles from all dispensations of time. Where in the world do we go?!? I sometimes worry that really, we aren’t important.  Maybe the world has inflated us to think more of ourselves than we really are worth.  Help-meets, handmaidens, servants unto our husbands. . .  It terrifies me.  The only post-mortal role model I have is Heavenly Mother, and she is conspicuously absent from our canon.  But this is what we can safely say about her:

D&C 131:1 states that no man will be exalted without being ordained into the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage (sealed in the temple).  Eternal marriage is necessary for us because it is part of Godhood. We believe that Heavenly Father followed this same plan, so we may safely assume that ruling along side our Heavenly Father in worlds without end, is our Heavenly Mother.  And how could all of these Spirit Children come to populate this earth without a Mother to bear them? “Gender is an essential characteristic of our premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.” Our existence as spiritual beings is a proof of her existence.

She actually is in the Bible.  She’s just been translated out.  In Hebrew, the grammatical termination -eim in the word “Eloheim” makes the word plural.  When we read “God” in Genesis 1:1, it is mistranslated.  Joseph Smith made that point clear in the King Follett Discourse.  The way it should read is, “In the beginning the Gods organized the earth.” In Moses 2:27 in English, it reads “And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.”  The same verse, in Hebrew, would use “Eloheim” (plural): The Gods made man and woman in their own images.  This idea comes through more clearly in Abraham:

“And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of air and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.” (Abr. 4:26-27).

Eliza R. Snow alluded to this true relationship in the hymn “O, My Father”: “In the heav’ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare.  Truth is endless, truth eternal, tells me I’ve a mother there.”[i] President Spencer W. Kimball confirmed this in his 1978 General Conference address: “When we sing that doctrinal hymn. . . ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?”[ii]  This statement by President Kimball helps clarify the role of our Heavenly Mother.  The gender roles we have on earth closely mirror the roles of our Heavenly Parents.[iii]  I believe that our Heavenly Mother is very much in the details of our lives– comforting, blessing, listening and bearing us up in our trials.  Just like our earthly mothers do.  She nurtures us. As I have been engaged in Her work, I feel like I know Her more.

And yet, she is missing in our scripture.

Once upon a time, I wondered if the “Brethren” were keeping her out of our discourse.  If we weren’t supposed to talk about Her or pray to Her because it threatened the status quo of patriarchy.  But then I had a really powerful thought–it changed my whole paradigm of this issue.  Here it is: If she isn’t known to us, it is because she doesn’t want to be known to us right now.  She is a GODDESS.  She is much, much more powerful, wise and perfect than any human leader of the Church.  If we were meant to know her name, her face, her job–we would know it.  She is keeping herself from our overt religious practices for Her own very perfect reasons.  We just have to respect that and learn a little about what that means for us as women.  (The comments section has some interesting parallels to what kinds of things mothers do on earth that mirror her decision).

The world’s treatment of Eve and Mary, two righteous women who are universally known, may give us further insight into the reasons that our Heavenly Mother has decided to stay undefined.

Eve has been blamed for the total depravity of humanity.  In the middle ages, she was a symbol of everything that was bad and lustful.  This misinterpretation of Eve’s role illustrates one of the dangers of mentioning women in the scriptures: Satan has been able to use the world’s familiarity with Eve to degrade womanhood and motherhood throughout history.  He has used her story to distort the Plan of Salvation and to orchestrate the oppression of women over centuries. Imagine how much blame a Heavenly Mother would receive for the tragic state of our world.  Moms are supposed to fix things and care about problems.  She would be universally cursed and reviled.  And, for sure, the state of the world is NOT Her fault.  She raised us better than this. The intense sorrow for our sins and neglect may be another reason why she has kept one step away.  Mothers feel their children’s pain very, very deeply.

Another possibility to explain the absence of direct communication with our Heavenly Mother is seen in the cult of the Virgin Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus has been deified  due to the Catholic Church’s veneration of saints.  She is prayed to and seen as a mediator between people and God.  Satan has replaced Christ with Mary in the minds of masses of Catholics.  Their misapplied worship allows them to forget the Atonement of Christ and rely on the merits of His good mother.

Mary

The same misapplied worship would definitely accompany universal knowledge of our Heavenly Mother.  It would fracture the Church even more, and have some people worshiping her (as has happened among ex-communicated members of the Church), praying to her, and generally confusing the beautifully simple doctrines of the church. No matter how much our Heavenly Mother loves us, our Savior is still Jesus Christ.  We can’t go around Him and still get to heaven. And a perfectly humble, all-powerful Mother knows that she can still love and nurture her children without them constantly acknowledging her.  She doesn’t need our praise to be involved.  If it helps us simple-minded mortals focus on the right path, a perfect mother would have the perspective to sacrifice a temporary memory of Her for an eternity together.

In fact, much of the difficulty in the ancient Jewish church (around the time of Josiah’s reforms) was due to their knowledge of a goddess named Asherah, also known as Wisdom, who was the Queen of Heaven.  Archeological findings have shown a link between her and Jehovah, most likely as His Mother–companion to El and mother of His children. [iv] Discontinuing worship of Asherah was one of the key reforms that Josiah initiated, and since that time, talking of goddesses and mother figures has seemed unorthodox.

The work of Margaret Barker has uncovered some interesting things about Josiah’s reforms though.  He might not have been the glorious Prophet King he made himself out to be.  After his reforms, the religion looked very different from how it had been in ancient times–Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have noticed a lot of important things missing.  The very, very ancient prophets knew about Her.  She was part of their worship, in their temple, symbolized by the tree and the menorah.  Her face was on figurines.  Maybe it’s the same Mother, maybe it isn’t.  But my hope is, as part of “the restoration of all things” that characterizes this period of the gospel on the earth, our understanding, worship and relationship with our Heavenly Mother will be restored.  With it will come a clear picture of the worth and role of women in the eternities.

asherah


[i] Hymn No. 292.

[ii] Spencer W. Kimball. “The True Way of Life and Salvation.” Ensign, May 1978, 4.

[iii] Proclamation on the Family.

[iv]Margaret Barker is my source on this.  I wish I knew more about it. . . actually I wish I knew everything Margaret Barker knows.  It is definitely worthwhile to read through what she has written on her website.

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14 responses to “Heavenly Mother

  1. Hi Jan. Just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying your thoughts. Just a couple thoughts of my own. This topic is one that has been of interest to me for a long time.

    First, I’ve heard often heard the suggestion that in order to protect Heavenly Mother’s good name we don’t know much about her. Heavenly Father loves her too much to let her be blamed or mocked. If I believe that she is God, perfected, and I do, then how can I accept that she is somehow frailer or weaker than her equal counterpart? It’s okay for Heavenly Father’s name to be slung through the mud but She might be offended or hurt and so in order to protect her God allows untold numbers of his daughters to struggle and suffer and be left without a role model for our divine potential? This theory just doesn’t resonate with me as I choose to believe She is a figure of unwavering strength. Certainly, I cannot imagine a Godly mother that would not want to be an active part of her children’s lives, regardless of the cost. Similarly, I cannot accept that God the Father would deny her that privilege in order to protect her. Shouldn’t she have the choice anyway? And if so, I would again assert that she would opt for being involved as opposed to protecting her good name.

    A couple of thoughts on the second theory. I don’t think that we can compare the deification of Mary to worshipping our Heavenly Mother as she actually is deity. I personally don’t believe that knowledge of Her would fracture the Church in any way or result in misapplied worship. We worship God the Father because He is our Father who loves us and sent us here according to plan. We praise Him for the blessings He grants us. We praise Him for sending us His son. We worship the Son because He is our Savior and Exemplar and the only source by which we can attain salvation. Then why not God the Mother? Did she not also confer with our Father in preparing a plan for Her children? I cannot imagine He didn’t consult her if this is an equal partnership. Did She not also send Her Son to die and suffer with the Father? I see no competing interest as we can lovingly worship our Father for His unique role as well as Jesus Christ for His role. In Mormonism worshipping Her is considered blasphemy and prophets (Hinckley) have spoken out against it. I hope this will not always be the case. In response to your comment, “And a perfectly humble, all-powerful Mother knows that she can still love and nurture her children without them constantly acknowledging her. She doesn’t need our praise to be amazing.” Why is it that we are COMMANDED to pray to our Father and recognize His hand in all things? Is not her hand in all things as well? I would love to acknowledge her loving tender mercies toward us as well. But for now, we wait…and wait…

    As you can see I take issue with the lack of knowledge concerning her. The only thing we “know” is that She is. I, like you, hope and pray that in time will come a restoration of our knowledge and relationship with her. Every girl needs her mother. Thank you for being bold enough to speak of Her.

    • Michelle, thanks for your thoughts. I’ve had the same thoughts about her not needing to be protected, and I agree with you that she is strong enough to handle whatever comes; she must have voluntarily allowed her name to fall away from mainstream belief. And I wonder if it isn’t because of my second point–yes, you and I could handle and even embrace adding a fourth to the Godhead. But I truly believe that most people couldn’t. The ancient Israelites had her name and her face and they started constructing groves just for her, worshiping her to the exclusion of the others. I wonder if she saw the people being led astray in her name and said–Okay, take the knowledge of me out of the world. I’d rather have them return through the path we have designed than have them know about me in the moment of mortality. But, like I said, she can still be doing her thing even if we don’t acknowledge her. Don’t all mothers do that?

  2. Oh interesting thought that she dropped out of her own accord, just like Sister Dalton said in her talk, mothers do what they do without fanfare or praise from the world.
    I always think that She must have helped organize the world. I believe in the gift of Organization and that women are especially good at it, because we practice it constantly: Jumbled basket of dirty laundry – piles of neatly folded, categorized clean laundry. Sink full of dirty dishes – clean dishes put away in their proper place. It’s all just practice for organizing greater things.

    • I agree, Toni. It would be really hard for men to come up the delicately beautiful and intricate things in nature. They are probably better at like, the Grand Canyon, or the Alps. Orchids, daffodils–these things are women’s creations, and no less grand than the geological wonders of the world.
      One more point that I have been considering about her:
      She is a mother. We are not her only children. There are billions or trillions of pre-mortal and post-mortal spirits with her in her celestial home. The division of roles for men and women is not only a good idea for us, but it is how they function. So the earth–that’s Heavenly Father’s day job. She stays home with the other kids. Alma 40:11 says “the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.” Which God gave us life? Our Heavenly Mother. We will see her as soon as we get back home. For now, we are in the very capable and loving hands of our Heavenly Father. And it might hurt his feelings if we are always whining for our Mom. I know it hurts Ben’s feelings.

  3. I love this post & I love this blog.
    I too have sought for answers to these questions, and I loved reading your thoughts and comments. It seems more and more women (and men) are feeling more comfortable publicly discussing & questioning our Heavenly Mother’s role, as well as our importance and feelings of worth in the church. With all that is going on in social media right now, it’s nice to read some well thought out points…without too much negativity. I struggle with the mormom feminist forums, as I do relate to the questions being asked, but the answers usually draw such counteractive and disturbing arguments. I find it hard to hear so often that we just need to (as you say) “keep praying and waiting (and not really talking about it).” When will it be appropriate to talk about it openly? And do you agree at all with the recent movements?

  4. As mothers we may not seek out attention from the world. But we sure appreciate it when it comes of its own accord. If this premise is accurate, I would add that she would appreciate some genuine discussion about her.

  5. Krista! First of all, thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, and I have some additional comments to make:
    I think we are all thinking about this backwardly. Heavenly Mother is a strong Goddess. She is all powerful. She is not being kept in the back room by a domineering husband “for her own good”. If she is not in our religious service, it is because SHE wants it that way. Maybe it is because she knows our mortal minds cannot handle a pantheon of gods without eventually choosing favorites–when the only way back to her presence is through Her Son. Maybe she just needs a break–the way we feel when our kids go off to school. “No, you are on earth. I have other kids to think about right now. Your dad can take care of you.” And maybe it is just way too disappointing to see us squander away our lives and make such horrible choices, after she had raised us for millenia.
    But the beef that feminists have with our silence about her is that they think she is being kept from us against her will. I’m just going to say it, Heavenly Mother is not a feminist in the same way that we are down here. She has her reasons for staying out of the scene, and they are surely HER reasons, not just her husband’s.
    But I agree with what Hosander said–she probably appreciates our appreciation and respectful dialogue about her. I’m not afraid to discuss Her, and I’m glad that others are willing to join in. I think the danger is when we start praying to her, or trying to find a way around the plan because we think WE know better. Acknowledging and loving her and wanting to see her again is probably just fine.

    • Jan, the point you just made is exactly what I was thinking while reading earlier comments. I don’t think that Heavenly Mother is being held back at all by Heavenly Father or not being talked about. I think it is her choice. I think about the time I’ve been working at the temple and watched the Temple President and his wife work together. The temple president wife does just as much around the temple as the President and sometimes more! I wonder if the President would even be able to do his job without his wife.
      This is always my thought when it comes to feminism in the church, just because men and women are different, doesn’t mean that we’re not equal. It’s because we are different that we are able to be equal. It’s because men and women are different that we can work together so perfectly. I don’t think Heavenly Father would mind me saying that He couldn’t do what He does without his equal companion, Heavenly Mother.
      And honestly I think i respect Heavenly Mother more for deciding to not be recognized as part of the Godhead as of right now. To me, that shows me how strong She truly is. She is so selfless and unprideful that she doesn’t need that. She is a true mother! That’s the example of motherhood I am wanting to strive towards. I know there are many things that I will do for my children that I will never receive recognition for, but I don’t want to stop doing them because nobody sees it! Of course it’s nice to be recognized, and I think part of that is the Husband’s job, but outside from that, it doesn’t matter if my friends, or ward members see what I’m doing as a mother. Heavenly Mother is the perfect example of feminity, “President Faust observed that femininity “is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your … capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength. It is manifest differently in each girl or woman, but each … possesses it. Femininity is part of your inner beauty.” 2”
      Anyways,
      Thank you for posting this Jan! I love reading through your posts and getting my thoughts going!

  6. The image comes to mind of a soccer mom on the edge of her seat in the stands as her child struggles through the ups and downs of a very intense, yet very short game. Dad is coaching the game, and she trusts him completely to give all the guidance we need to succeed. With every fall she yearns to run to the field, pick us up and melt away the pain, but the lesson of tying our shoes tighter or looking forward instead of backward as we run just wouldn’t stick if she did. We know she is there, Dad confirmed that he is never without her, but he knows if he allows us too much focus on her, we will never be able to finish the game. Maybe we are only 2 years old and this is the first time we have been away from mom, so she’s hiding behind an umbrella so we don’t cry for her through the whole game 🙂

  7. I hadn’t thought about several of the thoughts you brought up. Maybe it stems from my missionary days and cringing every time someone in church mentioned Her when I had investigators present, but Her absence from canon didn’t bother me too much. Now I wish we had more of her–I think Her presence would be tempering. Maybe one of the reasons we don’t talk about Her more is because the church doesn’t want to turn off people who might be receptive to the gospel. I feel like that’s one reason the church still uses the King James version of the bible. In our day and age, the idea of Gods, plural, is a radical one in western civilization. Sometimes I think the church wants to preserve common ground with mainstream Christianity just because it’s easier to build on. Maybe that’s another reason we don’t get into “deep doctrine” frequently.

    My college roommate and I were talking about how, in the temple, Eve doesn’t speak after they leave the garden of Eden. My roommate said, “After they leave the garden, they truly become one–they’re “The Adams” now, and Adam speaks for both of them.” As you mentioned, Elohim is plural. “God” is a title. Maybe I’m over reaching, but I think when we pray, even though we’re addressing God, we’re talking to Her, too. Like how Christianity has gotten so confused with the Trinity because Jesus kept emphasizing His and God’s perfect unity, I think God and his Wife are so much a part of each other, it would be difficult to truly separate them.

  8. I think Lindsay’s thoughts on preserving common ground with other Christians has merit. It’s a strategy for working cooperatively with other religious cultures that I could see even God, the Parents adopting.

    Think of the parable of the leaven in the bread or the mustard seed. Doctrines need time to germinate inside our finite human brains before we’ll be ready to embrace them. Even more time to germinate within the collective global consciousness.

    Perhaps the fact that we are having this discussion is an indication of “the blade and then the ear” breaking through the increasingly-fertile soil.

  9. I appreciated your thoughts on our Heavenly Mother, I have quite a few thoughts of my own. I simply wanted to share with you that I once received a blessing of comfort and instruction from my single’s ward bishop many years ago (I’m not still single) and in it he told me how much my Heavenly MOTHER loves me and more I won’t share in this forum, but he informed me he had never had such an experience in giving a blessing in all his life (he was elderly) and I must tell you it was among the top spiritual experiences in my life. We all know she is there and I do believe wholeheartedly that as with many things I simply do not understand or have all the information on, one day, I will understand the purpose of her “absence”, and I will see her and know her again. 🙂 Keep fighting the good fight, my sister!

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