I have always considered myself a spiritual person. As a child, growing up in a very Catholic-leaning Church of Wales, surrounded by the beautiful iconography, incense and chanting had a huge impact on my beliefs and subconscious. When we were younger we would play with the ratty toys in the children's corner and go to the Sunday school to colour in Bible stories. The Church was full of interesting characters, gruff bearded men and sweet old ladies who bought us novelty bubble bath at Christmas. As an older child I would sit fidgeting in the front row and picking squabbles with my brother, resenting being sat on the freezing chairs every Sunday. As a young teenager the sombre rituals began to have an impact on me, in the form of guilt.
I could never reconcile myself to the role of women in the Church. Although our beliefs were heavily influenced by Mary, the songs my mother would sing as she put us to sleep were prayers to Mary and the beautiful sculptures in the Church featured her wise, calm face, she was always remote for me. Calm, beautiful Mary, accepting vessel for the Christchild. Her virtue was in her obedience and virginity and this was at odds with the raging hormonal conflict I felt inside as I began to grow to maturity.
As a teenager I discovered alternative routes of worshipping. Although it felt hugely treacherous to deny God the Father who demanded to be the only god, I felt a yearning and a calling for a more woman-centric belief system, for a Goddess who was both dark and lightness, both loving and formidable. Not an isolated image of unattainable perfection for which I would always fall short and beat myself up about.
My friends and I dabbled in work with herbs and crystals, chants and songs (I seem to recall it involved wearing a lot of gypsy skirts which were in fashion at the time). I would sit in Church, moonstone on a string around my neck, uncomfortable, feeling like I was now betraying the Goddess I was discovering through my reading and praying. I was still unconvinced I wouldn't be condemned to burn at the end of the world. The craft we were exploring still seemed prohibited and deviant.
Our family left the Church for reasons I am not permitted to share, but involving family break down and other betrayals of trust. I started working soon after and my experience soon became forgotten as I experimented then with boys and drinking and gaining financial independence. I still had a vague acceptance of Jesus as Saviour, I got married in Church, I generally believed.
Until I fell pregnant with my son. I still held in my head the image of the pure pregnant woman, the Virgin Mary, and it pleased my notions of the archetype to be pregnant and softening into womanhood. I was pleased to be married and have a home and was confident that I would soon settle into the bustling domesticity of childrearing and homekeeping. This was comfortable for me, this was what I knew, it was ingrained in my belief system, it seemed to me that this was my destiny.
Birth loomed on the horizon, I was eager for a natural birth, confident that my body was capable and I was doing what was best for my baby. Taking birth down to it's raw form and fulfilling it was on par with the image in my head of simple motherhood. A time before medicine, when women laboured and birthed their babies in love.
In keeping with the religious themes of this post, I will liken birthing to a baptism of fire. It took me to the brink of my capability and then back. It challenged all my notions of what it meant to be gentle and meek, to be a woman. It seemed unreal to me the amount of physical and mental work it took to bring my son into the world, the images that flashed through my mind as I delved into my deepest subconscious, my monkey brain. I time-travelled throughout my memories and made peace with all that had lain dormant. It was revealed to me then. Our role wasn't to be weak and passive, it was to be dirty and bloody and powerful. The Goddess had returned to me as I brought forth life.
When I refer to birth as 'dirty', I don't mean in the conventional sense, the way we use the word to cast shame on women's bodies and sexuality. I mean the purity of the soil and the lifegiving power of blood. Dirt as the fundamental, truthful part of our nature. Our connection with the soil and with the Mother. Just as I have always admired people who work with their hands, like my grandfather the builder, I see the honesty in dirty hands and dirty human bodies. My toddler covered in chocolate and grass stains fills me with joy as I see the results of his happy play. Dirt is not shameful, it is evidence that we are living well.
I emerged from the birthing room a warrior. exhilarated and confused. All the pent up emotion, resentment and guilt had been purged from my body and I was born anew. No longer able to reconcile myself with my old beliefs, I discarded them like a childhood book that no longer holds enchantment.
As I began to learn about birth, my newfound passion, I kept being brought back to the Goddess. How could I be for women, and propagate women's empowerment without a belief in Her? My longing for beauty and ritual was not assuaged, the meaning I found in symbolism was integral to how I interpreted the spiritual world. Birth unites the body, mind and spirit. I began to research the Goddess, and matriarchal culture, and my mind was blown at how much of our history women have no knowledge of.
Motherhood is a deeply spiritual act. We birth another human soul at great personal cost, and are tasked with providing for that baby and raising them to adulthood. The daily grind of being a mother, of constantly putting somebody's needs before your own is the most character-building exercise I have ever had to do. No spare time is squandered, no act of love too great. On those days where the house is a mess, everybody is crying and I've made five cups of tea all gone cold, taking the time to remember the sacredness of what I am doing, the beauty and the impact of my every decision on these little one's lives. I am the Mother. I am not the clean, clinical mother with the apron tied around her waist but I am infinitely more valuable than that.
Every mother, every woman, needs a space to call her own. Maybe a beautiful desktop, or a windowsill, where she can display her things that bring her joy. It is important to remember that you can be a mother in many ways; a stepmother, an auntie, an author or any other kind of creator. All involve sacrifice, dedication and hard work.
Acquainting yourself with your animal nature, with your deep capacity to love, with your ability to give and take away life, that is what the Goddess is for me. She is peace, she is wellness, she is illness and she is sacrifice. But unlike others, she has a wild spirit and embodies all the negative and positive aspects of life. Of dirt, of mysteries, of knowing. Not a silent Virgin but a Mother and a warrior. I still see Mary as the Divine Feminine, but only one aspect of Her.