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Supplemental Essay: The Terrible Mother

This supplemental essay contains quotes and expanded explanations as background for the material in the main essay. You can skip this supplemental essay if you're not interested in the details.

In the main essay I said, "Awareness of the existence of the Great Mother leads to a growing sense that she sometimes represents nurture and at other times she represents pain and withholding. Thus, from the Great Mother arises a "bivalence" of sorts: the Good Mother versus the Terrible Mother."

In his book The Fear of the Feminine, Erich Neumann recaps the development of the Great Mother in pre-modern times. In the following passage Neumann refers to the Great Mother as "the Earth Mother." But he still divides her into the Good Mother and the Terrible Mother:


"As the Good and Terrible Mother, she shows what we call her elemental character, in which she appears positively as the child-bearing and protectively containing Mother, and negatively as the possessive, imprisoning, depriving, and devouring Mother. This phenomenology takes place in her as the earth and fertility goddess... [...] In her elemental character, the Great Earth Mother rules over the collective life of the species, and all individual life is adapted and subordinated to it.


"If we turn briefly to the group of symbols which characterizes this Earth Mother archetype in contrast to the archetype of Heaven, we observe with some surprise that in her manifestations the dark side clearly seems to predominate. [...] The purely mythological aspect of the Earth archetype seems at first to be simple and obvious. The earth is the Dark Mother, her womb brings forth all living things, plants, animals, and man, but in her capacity as the Terrible Mother, the Great Mother devours everything that is born, and swallows it back pitilessly into herself. Her womb of death is a devouring maw of darkness, and as the grave, the flesh-devouring sarcophagus, hell and the underworld, she is the inside of the earth, the dark abyss of everything living. That is why, as the Dark One, she is the Goddess of Night who is worshipped and satiated nightly, underground, in caves, with the blood of her victims. But she is not only, as an abyss, the devouring hole of death, she is also savage and greedy as child-bearer and slayer. The symbol of this greed is once again blood, which fertilizes her, with which she gives nourishment, and from which she feeds the life to be born. That is why the earth must be satiated with offerings of living blood. The earth demands blood, and as the drinker of blood, she is the mistress not only of death but of killing in her capacity as the goddess of war and the chase. The instincts of aggression and sexuality, love and the longing for death, are all bound up with one another in her in primordial proximity. The fruitfulness of the living is based not only on the dark instinctuality that drives living creatures to sex, but all life in the realm of the animal world is directed towards nourishment by the devouring and overpowering of prey; i.e., even here, it is again bound up with the shedding of blood and therefore with death."[1]

Link: Return to Intuition (N)

~Posted October 19, 2023


[1] Erich Neumann, The Fear of the Feminine, and Other Essays on Feminine Psychology (Essays of Erich Neumann, Vol 4), trans. Matthews, Doughty, Rolfe, and Cullingworth, Bollingen Series LXI, 4, (Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 188-9

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