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.
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.
[i] Hymn No. 292.
[ii] Spencer W. Kimball. “The True Way of Life and Salvation.” Ensign, May 1978, 4.