As a child I adored my very distant mother and did everything I could to please her, including becoming a second mother to my baby brother at four years old. I remember tenderly holding him and giving him his bottles.
Is that why I became so devoted to the divine image of Mary, Queen of Heaven the moment I was exposed to her at the convent garden that I secretly visited each day on my way home from kindergarten?
Three years later my parents went to Europe for a year, leaving me in the care of my great aunts. “Baba Anna” allowed me to stay with my very devout Catholic grandmother for two days (the only time I was ever allowed to stay with my father’s mother – my mother disliked Italian Catholics, though she married one named Mario). My very devout grandmother told me stories about Mary…
When my parents returned from Europe my mother brought me a silver plated triptych of Mary holding Jesus.
Astonished, I decided my mother must have magical powers.
I adored Mary just as I adored my mother but Mary, unlike my mother, was always loving and kind…
I feared my mother’s wrath but it was her sphinx-like Silences that paralyzed me, turning me to stone. Medusa, she often called herself in jest.
When I first saw an image of the Greek goddess Medusa with writhing snakes in her hair and a demonic look on her face, I was terrified.
My mother introduced me to this frightening figure by naming her, by her fear of snakes, and through her actions.
As an adolescent I discovered Mary Magdalene and because my childhood image of Mary as “virgin”* was at odds with my passionate nature, I turned to the “fallen woman” to find an image of myself.
I chose the “dark goddess” and split away from light without understanding what I had done.
My mother judged me harshly but no more harshly than I judged myself. As soon as I could, I married and moved to an island off the coast of Maine.
My first son was born in December two years after I graduated from college. From the beginning he was a difficult baby that had tantrums and screamed for hours – unless I held and nursed him.
My brother killed himself.
Every time I looked at the Botticelli image of the Madonna and child that I had placed on the mantle I wept.
Guilt and Shame dominated my mothering years, isolating me and leaving little room for self-development.
I gave up the two Mary’s, god, and Christianity, shutting the last door on Hope.
My relationship with my mother remained one-sided, with me (desperately) trying to keep the door open between us because I needed her so.
After my brother’s suicide, she turned towards her grandchildren. And I was only too willing to give them to her whenever she asked, because I wanted to please her.
Some years she didn’t speak to me at all for reasons she never explained. In between her silences, I would discover that we planted the same flowers…
When my children left home, Mary came back into my life. I found comfort in her presence as the Mater Dolorosa and began going to church again.
I also began a quest to seek the Black Madonna and found the first image of her in Italy, my father’s country of origin.
Open conflict now characterized my relationship with my mother, who I began to see as a flawed human being.
I blamed my mother for my brother’s death and her abandonment of me. I judged her as harshly as she had judged me. I saw her through the eyes of the Greek Athena, the goddess that sprung from Zeus’s neck (such an unnatural birth). Now what I feared the most was becoming like her…
As Fate would have it, Medusa came to life in me as the raging unwanted daughter… I was forced to live through the same pattern that my mother did and to bear witness to the slaying.
I left the church to become a ritual artist. Nature became my Muse.
Years passed. When my mother died I felt relief before the night closed in.
Gradually, painfully, and with great resentment, I learned to hold my mother accountable for her betrayals, and to separate my experience of reality from hers. As I sorted the seeds, I learned to deal with my rage by containing it but not denying my feelings; I also discovered the power of humility. (My mother had not been a good mother to either of her children but neither had I, for opposite reasons.)
My mother’s greatest flaw as a parent and a person was that of entitlement. She lived her life as queen or goddess, “above” the fray, believing that she was better than others and that others should serve her. I lived mine below, believing I was inherently flawed and therefore not qualified to be much more than a servant. Together, my mother’s life and mine comprised one whole. After many years I realized that a sense of entitlement does not guarantee happiness any more than becoming a servant does.
A few years before my mother’s death I discovered Guadalupe, “the Goddess of the Americas.” It is said that Guadalupe appeared to an Indian peasant on a hill outside of Mexico city and asked that a church be built in the same place where Tonantzin, an ancient Indigenous earth goddess, first resided. The request was granted, and a clear spring appeared at the site. Many miracles continue to occur here.
I came to the realization that my mother and I both suffered deeply.
We were never able to see each other as two women who had lost access to their female roots, women who chose betrayal of one another out of pain or lack of awareness.
Recently, when I researched the Patriarchal Greek Medusa for an article I need to write, I discovered that she was one of three sisters – the only one that was mortal. In one version, this unfortunate Greek goddess born of Earth and Water was a priestess to the goddess of war, Athena. After Medusa was raped by Poseidon, she lost her “virgin” status and was forced to leave Athena’s temple. Athena cursed Medusa, turning her into a monster whose rage turned anyone that looked at her to stone. She also banished Medusa to a desolate island. Later, Perseus killed Medusa, severing her head from her body and her female “roots” of earth and water. Perseus then gave her head to Athena, who put Medusa’s face on her shield using it to turn others to stone. I was shocked to learn that Medusa was a victim of woman betrayal by a goddess that was commonly associated with wisdom in Patriarchal cultures…
Today I choose forgiveness, for the mother who birthed me, and for myself.
Today I choose Earth and Water as the elements that support me.
Today I see myself as a compassionate woman with integrity, one who continues to develop deeper insight as she ages, weaving darkness and light into one multicultural braid.
Today I honor my mother as a woman who was capable of loving her son, if not her daughter…
Today I give thanks for Guadalupe’s light, the light that shines during the darkest days of December, the month my mother was born.
* The word virgin requires explanation. Patriarchy associates the word virgin with sexual purity because of its need to control women through their sexuality. Feminists know that the word virgin means that a woman is self contained and whole – one unto herself.