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Heavenly Mother: the Silent Goddess

Posted by nebula0 on August 28, 2008

One of the lesser known facts about Mormon theology is that there exists a heavenly mother, alongside the more traditionally known heavenly father (see the Mormon “Proclamation on the Family” an official proclamation given by the First Presidency, it reaffirms that we are sons and daughters of heavenly parents).  As heavenly father is the father of our spirits, and a god, heavenly mother is the mother of our spirits, and a goddess.  This fact is significant for a couple of reasons, one because it emphasizes the non-traditional nature of Mormon theology (it is quite radical, no matter how much ‘normative/historical/traditional’ Christian garb is thrown over it)- it does in fact posit the existence of at least four gods (heavenly father, the son, holy ghost and heavenly mother, and second because it reveals why the family is such an important part of Mormon rhetoric.

The ultimate possible destiny of every human person in Mormonism is exaltation, and that means becoming a god or a goddess, as heavenly father or heavenly mother is.  The heavenly parents that we have sets the pattern that we are to follow if we are to be what they are.  Since they are eternally married, we must be eternally married, if we are to be gods.  That means that ‘the family’ (traditional nuclear family) is actually a structure that is implemented and practiced by our deities, not just a human institution.  That’s why when ‘the traditional family’ is ‘under attack’ by propositions like gay marriage Mormons tend to react so quickly and vociferously- quite literally in Mormonism their conception of family is divine.  Any suggestion that the nuclear family with a man and woman (or women) as the married couple as an arbitrary societal construction also threatens the deepest structure of Mormon theology.

So, why haven’t we heard more about this goddess, after all, isn’t she our mother?  The answer you are likely to hear for this question is that she is so sacred we aren’t to talk about her.  That’s right.  She’s too sacred.  See, if we talk about her, some people might make fun of her or take her name in vain.  That’s why although we know the father’s name (Elohim) we don’t know the mother’s name.  Heavenly father has decided that he needs to protect his goddess wife.  Now, why does a goddess require protection?  Why wouldn’t a deity be able to stick up for herself?  And what does it mean that she’s too ‘sacred’ to talk about or talk to?  Don’t mothers want to hear from their children?

That’s what one BYU feminist professor thought, and, not surprisingly, got canned for sharing those thoughts.  Apparently the Mormon men at the head of the church decided that they’d better protect poor, fragile heavenly mother from those nasty women who might want to pray to her and thus expose her to being dragged in the mud.   Does this really make any sense?  If heavenly mother does exist, and she’s a goddess equally divine as heavenly father, she ought to be worshiped.  End of story.  That’s what you do to deity, you acknowledge and worship them, especially if she is your mother and helped you come into existence.

Furthermore, since the heavenly parents represent the ultimate destiny of good Mormons, what kind of great role model is a silent, passive goddess for young Mormon women anyway?


6 Responses to “Heavenly Mother: the Silent Goddess”

  1. Seth R. said

    One clarification:

    You wrote:

    “That means that ‘the family’ (traditional nuclear family) is actually a structure that is implemented and practiced by our deities, not just a human institution.”

    I see no evidence that family is synonymous with “nuclear family” in Mormon doctrine. In fact, the whole bit with temple work for the dead suggests that the heavenly model of family is probably much, much more expansive than husband, wife, thee kids, and a dog. It is an express part of our doctrine that we cannot be saved without our ancestors and they cannot without us. Salvation is a group thing in Mormonism.

    Now, that said…

    I’ll be up front. This bugs me.

    I think the “She’s too sacred to talk to Her kids” argument is a load of rubbish. It’s just a false tradition that has been handed down through the LDS Church. The real reason we don’t talk about Her is because we really don’t know much about Her. The scriptures are silent on Her.

    And guess who wrote the scriptures?

    Yeah, a bunch of highly patriarchal people. Ancient Israel wasn’t exactly a friendly place for the feminine and I think that Nephite culture was even worse.

    Think about it, once you have Sariah, Lehi’s wife, you never hear a woman mentioned specifically until the account of King Lamoni’s wife (who is unnamed) and the servant “Abish.” And both of them were Lamanite, not Nephite. Even in the super-sexist ancient Israelite culture, you still get stories of women by name. They’re all over the place in the book.

    But not the Book of Mormon. Apparently, Nephites didn’t find women worth mentioning AT ALL.

    Interesting side-note: Joseph Smith grew up in an intensely sentimental and romantic age. Just read some of the Civil War letters soldiers wrote to their women – positively gushy. Every story was about the love of a woman. Every story. The fact that Joseph – a product of his culture – would write a book so coldly unromantic as the Book of Mormon is… rather odd.

    But anyway. Our scriptures are not very accommodating. So I’d imagine that is why we never hear about our Mother.

    The genesis of Heavenly Mother in Mormon doctrine comes from Eliza Roxey Snow – plural wife of both Joseph Smith, and then Brigham Young. She was also a very progressive feminist character (it’s rather surprising just how powerful, accomplished, and politically active polygamous wives in 19th century Utah were). She wrote the verses “Truth is wisdom, truth eternal, tells me I’ve a Mother there” for one of our hymns (I think it’s “Oh My Father” ). Joseph Smith gave her idea an enthusiastic endorsement, and that’s how it got started I believe.

    So why did it end there?

    Beats me.

    But my own theory is simply that the membership of the LDS Church, or the high-ranking leadership, or both are simply not ready to accept this doctrine. Therefore, God withholds it. I believe that God even allows important and central doctrines to be withheld from us and only opens the Heavens when we are willing to ask for it. “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

    So, I think we’re in a bit of a holding pattern. Until someone is willing to ask, I don’t think we’re going to see much action on this front. It might even require new scripture entirely. Absent existing scripture, Mormon authorities are very reluctant to go out on a limb and speculate. We’ve gotten ourselves in trouble by speculating before (see the Mark of Cain argument about blacks) and are reluctant to do it again. Do we really want to risk defining Mother in a way that limits the women of our Church?

    Look, I absolutely love the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. I’d love to see it expanded. But aside from obscure and questionable scriptural references such as Proverbs chapter 8, we really have nothing to go on.

    In the meantime, you might be interested in this website summarizing the Mormon idea of the Goddess:


    And this small blog documenting how a pagan witch investigated Mormonism and then made the odd choice that it was for here. Jury is still out on whether she’ll be able to put up with the highly patriarchal structure of the LDS Church (of which she is painfully aware):


  2. nebula0 said

    Hi Seth, thanks for sharing.

    As far as the nuclear family goes, you’re right to point out that connections are made beyond that, true. Let me clarify though, it is the husband-wife team that is exalted, not the individual, and children sealed to them directly, not to their grandparents (only to them indirectly, through the parents) so the nuclear family is used as the fundamental building block of temple work.

    As for the rest, your perspective adds a good balance to the original post. I added the bit about her being ‘too sacred’ because that is the answer I heard the most often including from people in various leadership positions and CES teachers and the like. Since the scriptures don’t speak of her and no revelations are given about her (seems like a rather huge gap if you ask me, since she does represent oh.. only half of humanity) as you say, I’m left to speculate. I can tell you have some sympathies for the spirit of the OP and I applaud your openmindedness about what can be a rather touchy subject.

  3. Seth R. said

    I should also point out that the very word “God” for Mormons probably needs to mean BOTH Father and Mother. This is just based on the idea of Mormon exaltation as man and wife and what we know of marriage from the beginning. Adam and Eve were called to be “one flesh.” Likewise, all married Mormons are also called to be one flesh with their spouse.

    What does that mean?

    Well, to me, it seems to speak of a profound unity of mind, heart and purpose between them. Ideally, to know the mind of the wife is to know the mind of the husband. And to know the will of the husband is to know the will of the wife. Absolute unity. This appears to be the marital ideal.

    This concept is actually somewhat supplemented by traditional Christian notions of the Trinity. How can you have three beings, and yet “One God?”

    A question for the ages. But one way traditional Christians have gotten around the idea, is with the notion of “perichoresis.” To yank a portion of the Wikipedia entry on the word:

    “the Father and the Son not only embrace each other, but they also enter into each other, permeate each other, and dwell in each other. One in being, they are also always one in the intimacy of their friendship. This intimacy is unique to family. As the Holy Family, the Father and the Son enter into each other and dwell, not only with, but also in each other.”

    Now, it seems only logical that if you are to honor the Old Testament insistence on “One God,” a Mormon must draw the conclusion that Father and Mother share the same bond of perichoresis that the Father and the Son do. You must also reach the conclusion that this perichoresis is the ultimate goal of all LDS marriages.

    So that sort of resolves the reason that Mother appears to be absent from scripture. She isn’t! Every time you hear the Father described, you hear Mother described as well – automatically.

    Of course that isn’t satisfying either. Why deny such a potent gender symbol by allowing Mother to be known only indirectly? Especially if, as the recent LDS “Proclamation on the Family” asserts, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose?” What more potent symbol of this essential idea of Mormonism than our Mother?

    So that won’t do.

    My wife and I were kind of speculating on the subject one evening and thought it would be really interesting if the Holy Spirit turned out to be female. A spirit daughter of God, if you will. The intuitive and intimately persuasive aspect of the Holy Ghost seems somewhat female to me anyway.

    What makes this really interesting is that we know the character of the Father through his Son – Jesus Christ. Christ was, if you will, the full revelation of the Father. Few traditional Christians dispute this, and Mormons don’t either.

    So, what if the Holy Spirit is a full revelation of the Mother?

    It would certainly have a nice symmetry to it. Father and Mother forming one part of the Trinity – then the male manifestation (Christ) and the female manifestation (the Holy Ghost).

    There are definitely scriptural and logical problems with this notion, but it’s an interesting speculation.

    Some have even speculated that the Holy Ghost IS Heavenly Mother. But I find this notion rather problematic to square with the Mormon notion of resurrection (for BOTH men and women). Unless you want to shoehorn it into some doctrine of Celestial polygamy… but now we’re getting waaay off the reservation.

  4. nebula0 said

    Seth, I appreciate that your conception of God includes father and mother, but I argue that you are a unique case. How many Mormons would answer that? After all, that’s not what the articles of faith say “we believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost”.

    Your thoughts on the matter tend to bolster my OP- which is, it’s awfully strange that there is so little about the mother after whom half of humankind has been created, isn’t it? It’s obviously something you’ve given a lot of thought to.

  5. Seth R. said

    Well, I wasn’t really disputing the gist of your OP. I happen to agree with you. It is strange.

    As to how many Mormons would share my views… Probably not a lot. But, to be fair, there isn’t a large percentage of people in any religion who really give a serious treatment to theological matters or controversies in their own religion.

  6. nebula0 said

    Seth, and that’s true enough, but considering that Mormon theology is built up on the notion of exalted families this is a particularly glaring omission (the pinnacle of ritual worship does culminate with the temple sealing)…. Well, depending on what examples you had in mind I’m not sure if I should be saying this is a more glaring problem or not 😉 you may have some real zingers up your sleeve.

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