Archives For Julia Howe Ward

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States. The widely celebrated secular holiday is one that honors mothers, mothers-to-be and any mother figures in our lives. For some, this may include grandmothers, aunts, teachers, guardians, Priestesses and anyone that has taken on that maternal role. Last May, Starhawk wrote:

On this Mother’s Day, let us also remember the many, many types of mothering: stepmothers, wicked and otherwise, adoptive mothers, birthmothers, mothers who have lost their children, mothers of projects, plans, movements and creative ideas, aunties and mentors and advisors, mothers of fluid and changing gender, and of course, that mother who sustains and nurtures us all, our Mother Earth! What will it take to create a world that truly honors mothering, nurturing, caring in all its forms?

In past years, The Wild Hunt has reported on the holiday’s fascinating birth story, which began in the late 1800s. Early in that history, the Mother’s Day celebration succumbed to excessive American commercialism, which drove one of its founders, Anna Jarvis, into isolation and depression. And, that commercial appeal has not waivered over the last century. Stores across the United States and online have been happily advertising sales on everything from jewelry and shoes to plane flights and alcohol. All in the name of mom!

Slide1 - bDespite this fact, the holiday does have roots that are far deeper and more soul stirring than the simple niceties of white carnations and overpriced orchids. Mother’s Day was originally born out of the early Feminist and Women’s Rights movements. It was fueled by American women’s need to stand against destructive political powers, while simultaneously uplifting the role and value of women in society. As written in The Wild Hunt 2013:

After seeing the horrors of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, a suffragist, abolitionist, writer and poet, began an aggressive campaign for a national Mother’s Day. On the second Sunday in June of 1870, Howe made a passionate plea for peace and proclaimed the day Mother’s Peace Day.

Howe was specifically pushing for a national peace day, asking women to take a stand against the patriarchy or what she termed “irrelevant agencies.” Mother’s Day was first born from the horrors of war and, then, propelled for ten years by women activists. In the original Mother’s Day protest letter, Howe wrote, “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience.” To modern ears, the phrase almost has undercurrents of Twisted Sister’s rock anthem “We’re not gonna take it.”

[Photo Credit: Grandma-S  / DeviantArt]

[Photo Credit: Grandma-S / DeviantArt]

This spirit and this voice can be heard today in the cries of many women living in both the Unites States and around the world. It is a primal defiance, living at the root of motherhood, in order to protect the future.

Mother’s Day’s radical beginnings have largely been lost in time and buried under pounds of tulle and floral bouquets. Despite the aggressive commercialism, some Americans do find ways to connect with a deeper meaning. For many families, it is simply a day to come together and honor the contributions and sacrifices of the mothers in their lives; to say, “Thanks.”

For others, it is also a day to take stock of how motherhood has changed their own lives. Just as the celebration itself was born of radical intent, motherhood is often accompanied by radical personal transformations.

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Blogger Niki Whiting, a student of the Anderson Faery tradition and Tantra, explained how giving birth and motherhood drastically altered her life. She said:

My first pregnancy grounded me in surprising ways. My theology was no longer abstract and mental gymnastics – it was rooted in my body and physical being. I grew a human being and the mystical understanding of the line “in you we live, move, and have our being” unfolded for me.

Birthing, even my uncomplicated, straightforward births, was a walk between the worlds, an edge-walking that opened my senses to the mystery of life and death that is ever present.

Whiting has as three children, a nearly 7 year old son, and two daughters, 4  and 1. She said that, since having the children, her priorities have been “refined.” She added:

My spiritual practices take new shape, but still exist. I stopped working with one deity, because she was not amenable to children; I have found that other deities that love children and some don’t care one way or the other. I also have to walk my talk in a new way. What I really believe about the world – about trees, spirits, ghosts, spiders, you name it – is reflected in how I teach my kids about those same things. They watch what I do, they hear what I say. 

Author Christine Hoff Kraemer is a practitioner of religious Witchcraft and mother to one nineteen-month-old. Like Whiting, pregnancy and motherhood have significantly shifted her priorities and daily focus. Kraemer said:

For me, mothering is all about the mysteries of flesh. I mean that literally — my days are all about dealing with a tiny person’s bodily fluids while making sure he eats, drinks, and gets enough exercise. But it’s profound, too, to be so close to a new consciousness that’s encountering the world for the first time — and no one shapes his environment as profoundly as I do. It’s a huge responsibility.

I find I’m not able to do much spirit or psychic work in this phase of my life, because I have to be so focused on the present moment and on what’s materially in front of me. And also, I can’t overstate how much becoming a mother has changed my priorities, even changed my interests. Parenting is the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, so everything else in my life has had to make room for that focus.

Rayna Templebee, a Witch and mother of two boys ages 17 and 19, commented on the powerful connections made when becoming a mother. She said:

I was a Witch before becoming a mom, but motherhood deepened my connection to spirit in so many ways. First, just the birth experience itself–knowing how many cultures around the world and through time have honored the creative force of the female body to bring forth life gave me extra determination to have my babies born naturally at home…I built altars to all the mothers in my ancestral lines and called on them to help me birth healthy, happy babies …

As the boys have grown up, it has been amazing fun to share the wonderment of nature together, and eventually to do ritual together as part of our Pagan community. Parenting is a deeply spiritual growth process …

Like Templebee, Jessica Mortimer, a Wiccan member of the Willow Dragonstone Community, was a Witch prior to having her two daughters ages 5 and 8. Mortimer said:

I always knew I wanted to raise my family with an open mind and heart to all paths. Once I had my first daughter it was clear to me what my purpose in life was – to be a mom and make a difference in the world by teaching them to have that open heart and mind.

In the last two years my practice has changed from just a personal practice to a family coven path … our life style has changed in a way that we live and breathe our path each day from having dinner together to our involvement in the Pagan community, to bedtime stories of the very different religious paths.

While the process of becoming a mother and the experiences of motherhood are deeply spiritual in many ways, only one of the women said that her Mother’s Day celebration includes any religious-specific observance. Mortimer explained that her family performs a small ritual to honor the Mother Goddess, during which everyone has to give thanks. Her young daughters typically express thanks for trees, animals, food and family.

In addition, Templebee did note that she observes a unique Mother’s Day tradition, albeit non-religious, “to drink a margarita with as many other mothers as [she] can, and toast [their] collective accomplishments.”

Motherhood is a journey shared across time and even species, which can radically alter one’s life many times over. And, at the same time, motherhood or mothers can influence and even radically change society through both subtle and overt methods. Howe wrote, “Arise, all women who have hearts … Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.” She adds, “Let [mothers] meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace…”

In recent years, there has been ample discussions about rewilding our lives, rediscovering the radical elements in our religions or the Craft and unleashing the unbound nature of humanity. This push is not limited to the collective Pagan, Polytheist and Heathen movements, and can be found in others sectors of today’s society. Mother’s Day and its radical history provide yet another opportunity to embrace this philosophy as it applies to an otherwise commonplace, secular, annual event. Along with the cards, flowers and even Motherhood Margaritas, this celebration offers the space needed to consider the radical nature of Motherhood, both at the personal and social level. Because within the essence of its history and near to its very core, Mother’s Day is as much about revolution as it is about roses.

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Today is the second Sunday in May which means its Mother’s Day for Americans as well as others around the world.  Writers often attribute this modern celebration to ancient festivals honoring the mother Goddess or Christian tributes to the Virgin Mary. While most religious cultures did or do recognize maternity in some way, the connections between any of these sacred celebrations and our modern secular holiday are tenuous at best.

Julia_Ward_HoweSome believe that the American holiday finds its earliest roots in an old English religious tradition called  “Mothering Sunday.”  On the fourth Sunday of Lent, Christians journeyed far and wide to a “mother” cathedral rather than worshiping in their local “daughter” parish. Over time the day evolved into a secular holiday during which children gave gifts to their mothers.

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that there was a call for a uniquely American Mother’s Day celebration. After seeing the horrors of the Civil War, Julia Ward Howe, a suffragist, abolitionist, writer and poet, began an aggressive campaign for a national Mother’s Day. On the second Sunday in June of 1870, Howe made a passionate plea for peace and proclaimed the day Mother’s Peace Day.

We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience….The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

Not only did Howe call for a national holiday, she also called for a women’s council that would “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, [in] the great and general interests of peace.”

Unfortunately, her dream never came into being. For ten years, Howe personally funded most of the Mother’s Peace Day celebrations.  When she died so did Mother’s Peace Day.

Around the same time, in a small town in West Virginia, a similar idea was being cultivatedAnn Maria Reeves Jarvis, a Civil War nurse, had actively organized a series of “Mother’s Day work clubs.” Their mission was to teach women proper childcare, provide war relief, curb infant mortality, and tend to the battle-wounded. Like Howe, Jarvis advocated for peace and neutrality. She insisted that her mothers’ clubs treat both the Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, Jarvis and other women created a “Mother Friendship Day” when mothers and former soldiers, from both sides of the war, came together in reconciliation.

After Ann died in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis decided to honor her mother’s work. In 1907, on the second Sunday of May, Jarvis held the first Mother’s Day celebration in her own home. Then, in 1908, Anna convinced two churches, one in Philadelphia and one in her hometown of Grafton, West Virginia, to celebrate the new holiday. Each mother was given a white carnation, her mother’s favorite flower.

Photo courtesy of Flickr's play4smee

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s play4smee

Anna began a campaign for a national Mother’s Day celebration. By 1911, forty-seven states were celebrating Mother’s Day. Then in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson named the second Sunday in May “Mother’s Day,” a nationally recognized holiday.

Unfortunately, success brought way more than Jarvis ever wanted. Mother’s Day fell victim to commercialization. Themed Cards and other products were produced and sold en masse. The Post Office printed stamps depicting Anne Reeves Jarvis’ with a white carnation. Mother’s Day was big business. By 1940, the disillusioned Jarvis had turned her back on the holiday completely. She was even arrested for protesting a few Mother’s Day events. Jarvis reportedly died poor, blind and alone in a Philadelphia sanitarium.

While modern Mother’s Day contains only tenuous connections to spiritual practice, the holiday is not without its own profound importance. It is possible to extend a spiritual sense to a secular holiday by extrapolating upon its basic meaning.  Anna Jarvis conceived the holiday as an intimate day to thank one’s own mother for her sacrifice  For activist Julia Ward Howe and Anne Reeves Jarvis, Mother’s Day was a symbolic celebration of motherhood. They saw women, specifically mothers, as the healers and peace makers.

For many Pagan and Heathen women, Mother’s Day is a unique opportunity to connect a mainstream secular tradition to their own spiritual journeys as mothers. On this day, Pagan mothers can reflect on their maternal roles, examine their mundane responsibilities and witness their role and how it is mirrored within their theology.

Reflections on Motherhood from Pagan women:

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

I came to biological motherhood in my mid-30s–elderly prima grava–and was already known as a Pagan in my community. My daughter is a “cradle Pagan,” and because I knew there would be questions as she went through public school, we were always very open about our spirituality. It made me a somewhat reluctant ambassador for my religion and gave me the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people about Paganism… Being a mother has made me a better advocate, a better priestess. And being those things has also made me a better mother. – Byron Ballard, Pagan author, Advocate, Priestess.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

A mother is a child’s first experience with the Goddess in this incarnation. That makes the role of mothering more important than just a set of expectations, but it is a spiritual obligation that will support a growing child in connecting with the feminine aspect of divinity, and with the miracle of manifestation. The lineage of love and extension of the Goddess that is before you in the eyes of your child should be the most motivating factor for living a healthy life. We teach what we are to our children by what we show. Crystal Blanton, Author and Priestess

R. Watcher

R. Watcher

As Witches and Pagans who truly believe in the Earth as a sacred and living being we must do all that we can every day to live that belief. Nowhere can we better put that belief into practice than in the kitchen. From catching the running water from the tap while it’s heating, to using left-over food… Nowhere is there a more frequent and clear reminder of how close to and dependent upon the Earth and all it produces, than the kitchen and its proper management on a day to day basis. – R. Watcher, Mother, Aunt, Great Aunt, and kitchen manager both professionally and personally for over 40 years.

Raising my three children as a Pagan, rather than raising my kids as pagans, was critical to my concept of choice and personal freedom. For a time, I had an Atheist, a Buddhist and a Christian on my apron strings–today, only the latter claims Paganism as his faith, but all understand the universe as the inter-connective tissue of the magic of humanity. As a Pagan mom, I have experienced the heartbeat of the universe from within my own belly, have seen my heart walk away on tiny feet and have known the fear and thrill of knowing that my children echo a cosmos so sacred, not even I could contain its sound with my love.  My advice to them when they become parents will be simple:  don’t damage baby wings with labels, institutions or expectations. Let them explore and feel that sacred thump for themselves . . . and take lots of pictures.Seba O’Kiley, High Priestess of the Gangani Tribe of Alabama

Seba O'Kiley with her sons

Seba O’Kiley with her sons

My favorite quote is from my son Owl at age seven, [He said,] “If reincarnation is real, that means my dead body is out there!”  My advice [to new Mothers] is to always be honest with kids, even about complicated things. They’ll get it in their own way. – Sirona

Sirona

Sirona

Although the American Mother’s Day is in itself not historically religious, the job of motherhood is most certainly more than mundane drudgery. In fact, becoming a mother can be one of the most transformative initiatory experiences. The raising of a mother comes day-to-day with the raising of the children. The entire experience is shaped and colored by one’s own strengths, weaknesses, and of course, spiritual beliefs. In honoring our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and any other woman who has stepped into a maternal role, we also honor the many colors of motherhood, the many faces that it holds, the many forms that it takes and the very personal spiritual journey that it brings.

Happy Mother’s Day!