The second Sunday in May is Mother's Day and moms everywhere will go to brunch or receive bouquets and Mother's Day cards. While the holiday is celebrated in the United States and elsewhere, it didn't start out as a hat tip for mom.
In the 1850s when infant mortality was at a high, a West Virginia women's organizer named Ann Reeves Jarvis, held Mothers' Working Days. These social action clubs worked together to fight disease and milk contamination by improving the sanitary conditions in their cities and towns. After the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis saw a need to support every mother's son no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line they had been on. She organized Mother's Friendship Day for Union and Confederate soldiers.
After Ann Reeves Jarvis' passing in 1908, her daughter Anna organized the first Mother's Day. So impressed by moms and their continual good works, President Woodrow Wilson liked the idea of a day just for mom. In 1914, he officially set aside the second Sunday in May for a national holiday devoted to moms everywhere. It didn't take long before florists, card companies, confectioners, and other merchants cashed in on its popularity.
As wonderful an idea as a national Mother's Day was, Anna Jarvis didn't appreciate marketing on a national scale nor the fact Eleanor Roosevelt (and others) used Mother's Day to raise funds for charities. She actually worked against it by staging boycotts, threatening lawsuits, and deriding the First Lady. She even got herself arrested more than once over it. Seems rather extreme. Perhaps it was because Anna Jarvis had had an unresolved falling out with her own mother. Perhaps she just wanted to acknowledge the ideal mom and not her own. From the start, she only ever wanted a day when you wore a Mother's Day badge to church and thanked the best mom you knew for all she did. No flowers, no card, no candy, and certainly no monies to charities. It's interesting to note the changes to Anna Jarvis' initial idea, and her failed attempt to stop a national holiday, might have actually driven her insane. She died in a Philadelphia sanitarium in 1948 at age 84.
The American iteration of Mother’s Day has its particular origins as do Mother's Day celebrations around the world. Most celebrate this holiday in the spring. Why? Spring is when all of nature renews. It's mother nature's time of year. From egg laying to birthing, creatures large and small get in on the action. This renewal has always been an important part of our own survival whether on the farm or in our earliest times as hunter gatherers. Honoring mom is a very old tradition.
When I imagine a primordial mother, the first image that comes to mind is the Venus of
Willendorf. She's not one of those slender goddesses in repose in the idyll glades of Ancient Greece, nor is she a sleek-muscled warrior goddess of the old Nordic traditions. Plumped by plenty and filled with fecundity, her wide hips and bountiful breasts declare her fertility and suggest her sustenance. She's the middle aspect of womanhood. No longer maiden, not quite crone. She is the Magna Mater – The Great Mother.
To date, hundreds of similar Mother figures carved of stone and bone and fashioned of clay have been discovered all over the world. Large-breasted or not, most have those wide hips. You can almost imagine the toddler sitting comfortably astride.
Given their great age, it's unfortunate that we can only speculate on their exact purpose. The earliest Mothers are faceless. Such anonymity suggests she was beyond personification. Many wear the scars of motherhood on hips, belly, and breasts in acknowledgement of cycles – the cycles of life and birth – an undeniable symbol of the earth itself.
These Great Mothers, reverently called the Venus figures, span both Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. Some, like the Hohle Fels mammoth-ivory Venus, date back more 30,000 years. Older still are the chevrons –zigzags, M, or V patterns – in 40,000-year-old Neanderthal artworks. These too represent woman and are often depicted beside the wavy lines symbol for water – birth waters.
As a storyteller, I can see that The Great Mother never really left the scene. She became those goddesses worshiped across ancient civilizations. Donning the clothes of each region, she simply modernized. Moms are resourceful like that.
~ More information ~
This youtube video is more than an hour long but entertaining and very informative
Individual figures with descriptions
A terrific poster
Two more videos
Happy Mother's Day to all you moms, aunts, and grandmas, and to all
nurturing souls everywhere. Keep up the good work!
Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes across genres under the pen name Madeline Archer. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest.
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