Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?—Revisited

 

Sarah Boxer originally asked this question in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic and I wondered right along with her in a previous post. She points out that not only do children’s filmmakers kill off the mothers with brutal regularity, but they are now replacing them with perfect fathers.

patriarchy

She saw this as a last, desperate chauvinistic power grab. An attempt to establish a kinder, gentler patriarchy.

Marlin, Nemo's eventually perfect father

Marlin, Nemo’s eventually perfect father

And I suggested that it was the film industry’s attempt to model good fathering to a nation of underachieving dads.

Disney Studios’, the most matricidal of all filmmakers, latest release follows Ms Boxer’s scenario with chilling exactitude. Into the Woods is a fairy tale composed of fairy tales; and since fairy tales are littered with dead mothers we should expect this.

Into_the_Woods_001

But Into the Woods exceeded even my most fevered imaginings.

The plotline is composed of four fairy tales smushed together.
• Rapunzel: In which a wicked witch steals a couple’s first-born child because the husband stole some salad greens from her garden. The witch imprisons the child in a tower where she is eventually saved by a handsome prince. Number of dead mothers? 0
• Little Red Ridinghood: A little girl stops to talk to a wolf on her way to her grandmother’s house. The wolf runs ahead and eats the grandmother and then Little Red Ridinghood. A woodsman comes and kills the wolf and frees the girl and her granny from the belly of the beast. Number of dead mothers? 0
• Cinderella: A young woman whose mother is dead is abused by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Her fairy godmother helps her attend a ball where she meets the prince who falls in love with her and they get married. Number of dead mothers? 1
• Jack and the Beanstalk: A young lad sells the family cow for a handful of magic beans that grow into a giant beanstalk which he climbs and brings back a fortune. He chops down the beanstalk and kills the giant whose fortune he stole. Number of dead mothers? 0

However, Into the Woods changes those fairy tales.
• Rapunzel: The man and his wife have another child, a son this time. But the witch laid a curse on the boy rendering him unable to father children. Into the Woods opens

The Childless Couple

The Childless Couple

with the now grown child and his wife running a bakery and wishing for a child. The witch appears and gives the couple a quest for four items and gives them a child when they procure them for her. The wife then dies trying to help find Jack. Number of dead mothers? 1

Into_the_Woods

• Little Red Ridinghood: Both her mother and grandmother are killed by the giantess who comes down another beanstalk to find Jack, who killed her husband. Number of dead mothers? 2

Into_the_Woods,_Cinderella

• Cinderella: No change here. Number of dead mothers? 1
• Jack and the Beanstalk: Jack’s mother dies trying to save Jack from the giantess. Number of dead mothers? 1

Final dead mother count:
The Brothers Grimm: 1
Disney Studios: 5
Yikes!

But wait. There’s more.

The Baker, who couldn’t even hold his own baby without making it cry, heeds the advice of his father’s ghost (the father who deserted him and his mother when he was a boy), and becomes a model dad.

But wait. There’s more.

The Baker takes in the now orphaned Jack and Little Red Ridinghood, and Cinderella becomes his wife–thus forming a model American mixed family.

I’m not quite willing to agree with Ms Boxer, although Into the Woods seems to prove her point in spades. I still believe that the film industry is simply telling us the story of our times and suggesting a way out—functional fathers.

But Into the Woods seems a bit heavy handed. Too many dead mothers—and not only mothers.

Witch,_Into_the_Woods

Wicked Witch or desperate, helicopter parent?

 

For good measure Disney kills off the wicked witch and the giantess, the two villains of the story, who of course are women. The giantess could be a metaphor for a powerful, angry woman; and the witch, who put her “adopted” daughter in a tower, is the quintessential over-achieving helicopter mom. The only grown up female characters that survive are the indecisive Cinderella, the wicked stepmother and stepsisters, and Rapunzel who rides into the sunset with her Prince Charming. Not a single man was killed or even harmed in this movie.

The way out for our culture is not just functional fathers. We desperately need functional mothers too. But with their role in society also morphing and changing, women are just as confused, stressed, and overworked as men. Unfortunately, the film industry has very few role models for them and even less advice. All it seems to be able to do is kill them off.*

Time for a new plot line, Disney.

 

*I totally enjoyed this film, but the witch and feminist parts of me needed to write this.

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Filed under Movie Review, Young Adult Fantasy

A Powerful Convergence

When we think of a convergence, we usually envision two or three shining planets coming together in the velvet black night sky and astrologers urgently discussing what such a striking event might mean. But that’s not the kind of convergence I’ll be musing about here. This post is about the convergence of choices/events; how one thing leads to another which leads to another which leads to a point in time where they all converge and, with lots of help from the gods, something amazing happens. These convergences occur all the time. They are the small and large miracles of our lives and most of them go unnoticed. But there was one recent convergence that the whole world noticed.

On January 17th Kaleb Whitby had a miraculous escape from certain death. In the dark, cold predawn his pickup was completely squashed between two big rigs during a freeway pile up on I-84 near Baker City, Oregon. He crawled out of the wreckage with only a few cuts and a black eye.
These were the seemingly insignificant choices that lead to this 27-year-old Mormon farmer/husband/father’s improbably good fortune:

• His brother, Brigham, hadn’t come with him this trip. If he had he would have died and there still would have been a tragedy.
• He was driving at a cautious 30mph because the road was icy.
• He was a competent driver and tapped the breaks, lessening the first impact.
• The air-bag decided not to inflate.
• His truck wasn’t a normal pickup, he’d bought one with an extended cab which protected him from the second semi.
But even so, how could he have possibly survived?

Kaleb_Whitby

At right, Kaleb Whitby in his squashed truck, just before he crawled out. Image by .listwns.com

As far as I’m concerned, this is another case of a god (in this case the Mormon’s god) rushing into the nearest phone booth, putting on his superman outfit,

Superman

 

swooping down, and saving a life. See previous posts.

There has also been powerful convergence in my life. It’s not even close in magnitude to what happened to Kaleb Whitby, but it’s still pretty significant to me. It happened, of course, because of my choices and hard work, but I’m beginning to suspect there was also divine intervention somewhere along the line. Not by a god this time, but a goddess.
Brigid_001
Brigid, to be exact.

Here are the choices, events, and synchronicities that led to this convergence:
• I began writing Forging the Blade, my Young Adult Fantasy novel way back in 2006.

Brigid as goddess of writers and inspiration

Brigid as goddess of writers and inspiration Image by tattereddreams on Deviant ART

Brigid

Brigid as goddess of the Forge

• I have totally rewritten it at least seven times.
• Just a few days ago my editor, Jessica Morrell, a woman who takes the word discrimination to a whole new level, finally said that my book was good. She liked it. Actually, she said this in her first two sentences. The rest of her four-page, single-spaced, Ariel ten-point commentary was devoted to things I needed to change. But I’ve learned to clutch her rare and dazzling compliments to my heart and realize that her criticism is the reason I pay her to read my work—not her praise.
• I have decided that I will rewrite the book one more time and start sending out query letters to agents yet again. The rewrite should only take a month or so as opposed to the year that the last one took.
• This will be the last rewrite until a publisher asks for changes.
• The book is about a six-teen-year-old girl who becomes a warrior mage and sells her soul to that world’s equivalent of the goddess Brigid. In return, the goddess forges her a magic sword.
• Brigid is the goddess of smith craft, fire, inspiration, writing, and healing.
• I am a writer and healer.
• Jessica, my editor, just gave me a very deep discount on a conference she organized. Besides her, there were four other amazing speakers. It was exactly what I needed. I came out of it inspired and ready to write. Thank you, Jessica.
• Jessica’s birthday is February 1st, Imbolc Eve.
• Today is Imbolc, Brigid’s Festival

And so, you see, it has all come together into a satisfying synchronicity. It would have been easy to miss, but I have learned to look carefully for these lovely dovetailings of events in my life. Some would say that I’m making to much of simple coincidences. I, however, prefer to see the above events as evidence that the gods are intimately involved in our lives and take every opportunity to show us how much they care.

Thank you thank you thank you, Brigid!

Imbolc
And a Blessed and Inspiring Imbolc to You All!

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Filed under Getting Published, Gifts from the Multiverse, Goddess, Synchronicity

The God as Superhero, Part III

Continued from previous post…

Ganesha is my copilot.

Ganesh as co-pilot
As you can see, I don’t drive anywhere without him.
.
And yet, I know very little about Hinduism and its pantheon. Decades ago, when I first came across Ganesha, he was, indeed, a very foreign critter to me. A close friend of mine got his PhD in Medieval Indian history, speaks fluent Hindi, and definitely knows his Vedas from his Upanishads. He convinced me that Ganesha would be a good god to pay attention to since he’s the remover of obstacles, the god of wisdom and knowledge, and facilitator of all new ventures–whether it’s a short trip to the store, the start of a new creative project, or a business agreement. OK fine, I thought. But I wasn’t what you’d call a devotee. Demeter and the rest of the Mt. Olympus gang were all the deities I figured I needed. But there was something totally sweet and engaging about the fat, elephant headed god. He appealed to my sense of whimsy. And so, when someone gave me a Ganesha decal, I stuck it on the rear passenger side window of my blue station wagon. I am a careful driver, but the roads are crazy and I need all the help I can get.

Little did I know what a powerhouse that cute little deity actually was.

Ganesha is the son of Pravati, the mother goddess of love, fertility and devotion and Shiva, god of destruction and regeneration. His brother is Kartikeya, leader of the celestial armies. Outside of Quan Yin, Ganesha is probably the most popular pagan deity in the world. His devotees range from hundreds of thousands of traditional Hindus*, Jaines, and Bhudists to a vast number of garden variety American spiritual seekers. His image is everywhere.

Ganesha

And there are tons of stories about him. As with any deity of any pantheon, even the ones about the same event vary drastically from place to place; and India is a huge country and people everywhere love to make a good story even better. My favorite story is about how he got his elephant head. I have several friends who are yogis and they all tell a different one. This is the version I tell:

Once upon a time Shiva went on one of his a long retreats, leaving Parvati home alone. One day, before she took a bath, she rubbed her body with turmeric (some say sandalwood) paste. As she reGaneshlaxed and waited for it to dry, she scraped some of it from her body and formed it into the image of a small boy. The Goddess breathed life into him and told him to guard her bath from intruders. Unfortunately, Shiva arrived while Parvati was still bathing and demanded that the boy step aside so he could greet his wife. The boy, unwilling to go against his creator’s orders, bravely stood his ground against the mighty god of destruction. Shiva, of course, lost his temper and lopped off the boy’s head. When Parvati emerged from the bath she was furious. “That was our son!” she said. “Fix him.” A contrite Shiva ordered his gana (close followers) to go out and bring him the head of the first being they found that was asleep and facing north. They returned with an elephant head and Shiva, god of regeneration, attached it to the boy and named the elephant headed being Ganapati (leader of Shiva’s followers) or Ganesha. And everyone was happy.

 

Ganesha’s elephant head reminds us of his wisdom and strength. My favorite images of him show him dancing and he always has sweets—Ganesha loves sweets, especially chocolate. He has only one tusk and there are a variety of stories explaining why. If you look closely at my dashboard Ganesha you will see that he doesn’t have any tusks. This is because he got knocked onto the floor and his one remaining tusk broke off.

 

Ganesha_002

His vahana (mount or vehicle) is a rat or mouse. Some say this is because he originated as a rural deity and kept the rats from the grain. Others say it shows the humility of this great god. I have a different theory. Ganesha is the remover of obstacles and the basic obstacle that we all have is fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt was right on when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Everyone knows that elephants are deathly afraid of mice, But Ganesha has obviously conquered his fear and actually turned it into an asset. A perfect lesson for the remover of obstacles to convey.

His other prominent  feature is his belly. It is big because Ganesha is Lord of Everything. He contains all that is, was, or ever will be.

OmThere is a Upanishad verse which states, “All this world is of the form ‘OM’. The past, present and future are all ‘OM’. And whatever transcends the three divisions of time, is also ‘OM’. And so Ganesha is the embodiment of this most powerful and sacred of sounds. Even the glyph for ‘OM’ resembles his profile, especially if you turn it upside down.

Ganesh,_Om

But there are many powerful gods. Why is Ganesha so widely beloved?

Because Ganesha delivers—big time. As I am constantly discovering.

Years ago I was driving down Fremont Street in Portland, Oregon with my Ganesha decal in the back window. A woman began backing her car out of a driveway in front of me. She looked right at me, and continued backing out. I was going 30 mph and she was only a few car lengths away. “Oh shit,” was all I had time to think before the world went pitch black and became very, very busy. When I came to I was still continuing down Fremont, but the woman in the car was now behind me, petrified, her mouth wide with terror. I distinctly heard a huge sigh of relief from the back window.

From that day on I became a devotee. Genesha gets all the chocolate he wants as well as lots of love, admiration, and gratitude.

And then there was the time I was driving up to Seattle for a work weekend. I had a client scheduled for 2:30. It was about 11am and I was just north of Olympia when I stopped for gas. I stuck the fuel nozzle into the tank opening and hurried back in the front seat. I had had electrical repairs done and nothing on the dashboard worked; so I got out the manual and figured out how to reset everything while the tank was filling. When I was done, I put the nozzle back, closed the tank, and headed toward Seattle. About a half hour later the engine died. I was in the left hand lane and so had to pull off the freeway to the left. The gas gauge read empty. I had been so preoccupied that I’d forgotten to actually start the pump. I looked at Ganesha in total panic. (By this time he was on the dashboard, as pictured above).Ganesha_001

His wise, patient eyes returned my manic stare. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I can’t help stupid.”

“Yeah, yeah, that was really stupid,” I said, “But can you help me out now?”

“No problem,” he replied.

I hit the flashers, jumped out of the car and started pacing frantically. I had gone back and forth maybe five times when a car pulled up behind me and a man got out, cell phone in hand. “What’s the problem?” he asked.

“I’m out of gas.”

“Ah. I have about two gallons in the trunk. That should get you to the nearest station.”

Who carries gas in their trunk? Isn’t that supposed to be dangerous? And what are the chances that that person would be close behind me and would actually pull over on the left-hand side of an insanely busy freeway to help some idiot woman? I paid him for the gas and gave him a huge hug. He and Ganesha are my heroes.

A few years after this incident I had a brainstorm. I usually buy a really good chocolate bar and leave it on the dash next to Ganesha for a few days. By then, he’s done with it and it becomes, what the Hindus and Sikhs call prasad—food for the worshipers. Unfortunately, in the summer the chocolate melts really fast and Ganesha’s treats didn’t last long. Elephants like peanuts, I thought. Why not give him m&ms chocolate covered peanuts? They would keep better, and if he didn’t like them, I had no doubt that he would tell me. I poured some into a small bowl and set them on the dash. A few days later, when I figured he was done with them, I snitched one. Before I even got it to my mouth I heard: “Those are mine!”

I put it back with profuse apologies.

Last September my husband’s leg suddenly got very red and swollen and his temperature shot sky high. The immediate care facility doc told me to drive him directly to the emergency room. On the way there I caught the distinctive scent of peanuts and chocolate. I looked over and saw my husband munching on an m&m with blissful smile on his face. The first one I’d seen that day.

“Those are Ganesha’s,” I said, remembering the rebuke I had received.

“We’re having a party,” Craig replied. I heard Ganesha’s rumbling chuckle.

It didn’t surprise me at all that the God would share his treats with someone who was very sick and very worried. It made us both laugh.

Thank you thank you thank you, Lord Ganesha.

And now you know why Ganesha is my co-pilot and why I won’t drive anywhere without him.

To be continued…

*”All Hindus worship Ganesha regardless of their sectarian belief,” says D N Singh in A Study of Hinduism. “He is both the beginning of the religion and the meeting ground for all Hindus.”

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The God as Superhero, Part II

Continued from previous post…

The first time the God swooped in and saved my butt happened years ago during my Junior year at Michigan State University…

Michigan State campus is huge. My dorm isn't even on this map. It's on Shaw Lane about a quarter mile past Bogue Street. Most students buy a bus pass or ride a bike if they want to get to class on time. image by: www.fashionmode.me

Michigan State campus is huge. My dorm isn’t even on this map. It’s on Shaw Lane about a quarter mile past Bogue Street. Most students buy a bus pass or ride a bike if they want to get to class on time.
image by: www.fashionmode.me

I had just gotten out of a Vertebrate Zoology lecture and was walking down Shaw Lane to my next class, totally oblivious, with visions of reptile anatomy swirling through my head. As I stepped off the curb to cross Bogue Street a hand grabbed the collar of my down jacket, lifted me up, and deposited me back on the curb right as a huge campus bus zoomed by, just inches from my nose.

“You didn’t want to do that,” said a man’s voice.

He was standing beside me. The only thing I remember about him was that he was a generic 1970’s university student dressed in a down jacket almost identical to mine.

“You’re right, I didn’t,” I remember saying. I was in total shock as I stared dumbly after the rapidly retreating bus. When I turned back to thank my savior, he was gone. The sidewalk was packed with students were hurrying by me, completely oblivious to the fact that I’d almost been flattened to a bloody pulp, but he was nowhere to be seen.

At the time, I figured he was just a shy, modest person who didn’t stick around for thanks; but looking back on the incident I honestly don’t think this was the case. I have had other encounters with the divine since then, and they all had the same surreal feeling—as if time had stopped and the world around me had been rearranged. I could swear that that bus was halfway past me by the time my feet hit the curb. There would have been no time for even superman to get me out of its way. And I wasn’t yanked back—I would have felt my jacket pressing on my neck and armpits. It felt like I was levitated. And why, after nearly squashing me, didn’t a professional driver stop or even slow down? And why hadn’t anyone on that busy sidewalk noticed my near death? And why can’t I remember anything about the young man who saved my life except that his down jacket looked just like mine?

As far as I’m concerned, it was The God. My number wasn’t up yet and he was making sure I stuck around to do whatever it is/was I needed to accomplish in this life. And for that, I am eternally grateful to Him.

Think back on your life and I wouldn’t be surprised if you remember an event similar to what happened to me. I believe that the Gods walk among us disguised as everyday people, and at some point or points, whether we’ve noticed or not, we have all been touched by The God.

image by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

image by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, Rome

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Filed under Gifts from the Multiverse

The God as Superhero

 

Zeus: Superhero or Male Chauvinist Pig? From "The Age of Myth"

Zeus: Superhero or Male Chauvinist Pig?
From “The Age of Myth”

Back in the 70’s, when I was a baby witch and just figuring out the difference between a pentagram and a pentacle, pagans generally ignored the God. After all, we had become pagans to get out from under the stern, patriarchal thumb of the Judeo-Christian God and weren’t about to make the same mistake again. We were drunk on the amazing “new” concept that, as Merlin Stone* assured us, God was a woman. The God, when we deigned to mention him, was described as Her consort.
Even as late as 2000, when I was going over my Wicca 101 syllabus with my students, one very young woman commented, “I see we have a class on The Goddess; why don’t we have one on The God?”
I was speechless.
This was a glaring omission. I was ignoring half the pagan pantheon and hadn’t even realized it.
Bad Witch.
Needless to say, from that time on, my course included a class on The God.

The God and The Goddess energies and concepts are quite different. The Goddess is associated with the Moon, which, in modern western paganism is regarded as the archetypal feminine. She waxes and wanes from maiden to mother to crone archetypes every 29 days. She forms the undulating backdrop to our lives, always there in the appropriate form, offering comfort, solace, inspiration, or a swift kick on the backside. She is constantly changing, but she never dies.**

Moon_Phases

But there are some Gods who actually die:
Osiris, the Egyptian lord of the underworld, was killed by his brother Set and cut into pieces, and scattered up and down the Nile. Isis found them all (except for his penis), reassembled them, and brought him back to life.
Dionysus was torn apart and eaten by the Titans. Only the heart remained, which Zeus, his father, inserted into his thigh and rebirthed him.
Adonis, beloved of Aphrodite, was killed by a wild boar sent by either Artemis or Ares, depending on who you talk to. He died in Aphrodite’s arms and she sprinkled his blood with nectar, rebirthing him as the short-lived anemone flower.
Quetzalcoatl, Aztec god of death and resurrection, was tricked by Tezcatlipoca into becoming drunk and sleeping with a celibate priestess (in some accounts, his sister Quetzalpetlatl) and then burned himself to death out of remorse. His heart became the morning star.
Jesus died on the cross to save his believers from their sins and was resurrected three days later. He has heavy solar connections , so The Catholic Church scheduled his birthday on December 25, just a few days after Winter Solstice.
Ra, the Egyptian sun god, travels each day in two boats. At sunset he dies and travels in his night boat through Duat, the underworld. At dawn, he is rebirthed by Nut, the sky goddess, and continues on in his day boat to sunset.
Attis, the son and lover of the goddess Cybele, went mad and castrated himself. He was reborn as the pine tree.

The God, the archetypal masculine principle in modern paganism, is associated with the Sun; and it comes as no surprise that several of the above Gods are solar deities. The Sun is born at Winter Solstice, reaches his peak of power at Summer Solstice, dies at Samhain, and is reborn at Winter Solstice. And so the God archetypes feel the vigor of childhood at Spring Equinox, the power of maturity at Summer Solstice, The wisdom and weakness of age at Fall Equinox, the fear and ecstasy of Death at Samhain, and the traumatic victory of rebirth at Winter Solstice.

God_Cycle

Because the God archetypes suffer and rejoice right along with humanity, I would like to think that this links them to us heart to heart. And they’re guys, right? And if they’re like the guys I know, when they see trouble they are quick to leap in and fix it.

And in my experience I find that this is indeed so. Over the years, when the shit has hit the fan, various Gods, have stepped in and literally saved my life. They are my superheroes, and I am eternally grateful to them. Those stories will follow in my next few posts.

I firmly believe that the God has saved all of us at one time or another. Anytime someone “sees the light” and changes her life, the God in one or another of his archetypes may have been responsible. And many of us have had times when we nearly died. Perhaps we can’t say exactly which God saved us, but we know, deep in our hearts, that it was a divine intervention. The ancient Greeks believed that it was not at all unusual for a god/dess to temporarily possess a human and cause him to act as their agent. I would suggest that the person who inspired us to change our lives or saved our butts in those times of near death may have been The God in human disguise.

Think about it.

I’m sure everyone can remember at least one instance in their lives when this may have happened. And if you can think of one, I would suggest that there are other not-so-obvious instances.

I believe that these miracles are constantly happening to us and all around us. Unfortunately, we are too distracted by our mundane lives to even notice.

Every Winter Solstice The God, Our Superhero, is reborn. Take this time to offer him your heartfelt praise and gratitude.

waypastnormal.blogspot.com

waypastnormal.blogspot.com

For unto us a Sun is born…***

A Warm and Blessed Winter Solstice to All

To be continued…
*Merlin Stone wrote When God Was a Woman in 1976. It had been published earlier in the UK under the title of The Paradise Papers: The Suppression of Women’s Rites, and was one of the books that inspired the resurgence of paganism in the Western World.

**Yes, I know there are solar goddesses and lunar gods. The one who comes most readily to mind is Isis. But she is such an ancient and venerable Goddess that she’s the goddess of everything, so of course she’s a sun goddess and is the exception that proves the rule. But she is also seen as a lunar goddess. And yes, I know that the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, died and was reborn. But again, she is another ancient, venerable goddess of everything.

***Misquote of Isaiah 9:6

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Take an Ancestor Out to Dinner this Samhain!

Samhain_poem

Ah Samhain.
My favorite holiday.
It’s the time of “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.”* It’s also a bit easier to talk to our ancestors now. They are there, just on the other side of the veil. And they are eager to speak with us. Most just want to say hi and send their love, but others have messages, questions, and issues. I have found that communing with my ancestors is not only emotionally rewarding, but also helpful in a practical sense. And so every November first, after the excitement of Samhain, we throw a Dumb Supper for those who have gone before.

It’s actually quite simple.

• Fix a nice dinner.
• Set a festive, seasonal table with one extra place for your ghostly visitors.
• Light the candles.
• Cast a strong circle that will allow only friendly spirits in.
• Greet your ancestors and invite them to dinner.
• After the greeting no one speaks until the meal is finished.
• Serve up the feast. Fill your visitors’ plate and pour them a glass of wine.
• Sit down and eat and still your mind.
• Listen.
• When the meal is over, tell each other about your conversations.
• Close the circle.**

These are just a few of the conversations I’ve had:
• The Samhain after my Father passed he came to our dumb supper. I felt him appear behind my right shoulder. He said “Well, hello!” It sounded and felt just like him. I felt a warm wave of love.
• A few years later Daddy arrived with the message “Get your money out of the God-damned bank!” We later checked our investments and realized that the bank was charging exorbitant fees, so we did as we were told.
• My husband’s cousin committed suicide, and one Samhain he arrived at the Supper and begged me to find a part of his soul that he’d lost. I had just read The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner (Coincidence? I think not.) and attempted the retrieval while I sat and stared at my pot roast. He said it worked.
• A friend’s father showed up and asked me to tell her he needed to talk to her. I relayed the message.
Samhain_feastThe time of Samhain is potent and full of spirit. It offers us communion with those who have gone before. All we need to do is be still and listen and understand that what we hear is real. We’re not making it up.

A blessed Samhain to all.
*From a traditional Scottish prayer
**I bury the ancestor’s food and wine in the garden. Composting it would be OK too.

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Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

In the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic Sarah Boxer wonders “Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?”

And they are, you know. Bambi, Nemo, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, Aladdin, and almost any other cartoon main character you can think of is a motherless child. In fact, Ms Boxer challenges her readers to “show me an animated kids’ movie that has a named mother in it who lives until the credits roll.” There aren’t that many. The Lion King, Coraline, The Incredibles and a few others come to mind.

However, she doesn’t try very hard to answer her own evocative question. She gives a few lame answers like:

  • The unfolding of plot and personality depends on the dead mother.*
  • The dead mother is psychologically good for the child because it allows him/her to preserve an internal good mother (even if the natural mother hadn’t been all good) and allows him/her to direct all his anger at the step mother.**

I can think of better answers than that!

As a writer, it’s obvious to me that children with living, loving parents are unlikely to be out in the cold having exciting adventures. They are at home learning how to be happy, productive members of society. And then there is the first commandment of fiction: “Torture thy Protagonist.” One of the cruelest things you can do to a child is take away his/her mother.

And as a pagan, it’s obvious to me that The Dead Mother is a metaphor for the state of modern Western Civilization. Judaism, then Christianity, and last but not least, Islam have all taken away our Mother. It was  easy for them because these dominant religions of Western Civilization are all monotheistic, and each of their gods is a man. And they are all manly men, stern fathers who expect single minded devotion from their followers. In a nutshell, that’s a simplistic explanation of what happened to the Goddesses of Western Civilization.*** This link on the Goddess in Christianity and Mary Magdelene gives some quick background information on a subject that that could fill a library.****

The_Virgin_Mary_and_Baby_Jesus Image from CGFAI can name only one still thriving, universally popular goddess; the exception to the Dead Mother syndrome that  proves my point by illustrating how much we need our Mothers. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the goddess that the Catholic Church hasn’t managed to do away with. Of course, the Church denies up one side and down the other that she is divine, (see previous post: “The Virgin Mary, Isis, The High Priestess, and the Empress”) but you’d never know it from the way Catholics and a fair number of non-Catholics the world over worship her, and the amount of fabulous art devoted to her. When we were in Italy it seemed like every other block had carefully tended, flower bedecked BVM shrine. The Lady is definitely satisfying a strong need that the stern patriarchs of monotheism and even sweet Jesus can’t.

And just what is the attraction of the Mother? Well, let’s put it this way: A come to Mama moment is much more comforting and nurturing than a come to Jesus moment. Both have their place, but our lives are difficult and painful and we need comfort and understanding more often than we need the hard facts of life shoved in our face. The Goddess nourishes our emotional, intuitive, creative, and magical sides, and in a primarily God based society this doesn’t happen nearly often enough. As a result we tend to ignore our children and elders, live in emotional isolation from each other, fight wars at the drop of a helmet, pollute the earth, and value money over spirit.

There, I’m done ranting. To me it’s a no brainer. The Cartoon Mothers are dead because our culture has killed its own mother. Kill a child’s Mother and you create pain and conflict in that child’s heart. Kill the Mother in a story and you have a plot that resonates strongly with our culture.

I would have set the article aside at this point if Ms Boxer hadn’t asked a second even more intriguing question: Why have children’s movie makers not only continued to kill off the Mother, but have also replaced the wicked step mother with—ta da!—the perfect Father? To quote M

Marlin, Nemo's eventually perfect father

Marlin, Nemo’s eventually perfect father

s Boxer: “He may start out hypercritical (Chicken Little) or reluctant (Ice Age). He may be a tyrant (The Little Mermaid) or a ne’er-do-well (Despicable Me). He may be of the wrong species (Kung Fu Panda). He may even be the killer of the child’s mother (Brother Bear). No matter how bad he starts out, though, he always ends up good…

Quite simply, mothers are killed in today’s kids’ movies so the fathers can take over…The old fairy-tale, family-romance movies that pitted poor motherless children against horrible vengeful stepmothers are a thing of the past. Now plucky children and their plucky fathers join forces to make their way in a motherless world. The orphan plot of yore seems to have morphed, over the past decade, into the buddy plot of today. Roll over, Freud: in a neat reversal of the Oedipus complex, the mother is killed so that the children can have the father to themselves. Sure, women and girls may come and go, even participate in the adventure, but mothers? Not allowed. And you know what? It looks like fun!”

Barnyard Ms Boxer goes on to suggest that this trend is a last, desperate, chauvinistic attempt to reestablish a kinder, gentler patriarchy. She is chillingly convincing. As a disturbing exhibit A she directs our attention to the movie Barnyard (Paramount/Nickelodeon, 2006), in which Ben, a father bull teaches his ne’er-do-well, motherless son, Otis, how to be a man. In this movie, when a bull stands up on his hind legs like a human, instead of the expected very Full Monty, he flashes a prominent, pink, full udder. Yes you read that right; I’ve even included a picture for your further elucidation. The message of this flick seems blatantly obvious. Who needs a mother? Men have it all.

But this conclusion doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not ready to label Disney Studios and the rest of the children’s movie industry as male chauvinist pigs. The early Disney Movies were mostly fairy tales and fairy tales are essentially folk tales that have been told and retold. In other words they are old and probably predate Christianity. In other words, they are pagan with Christian overtones. The goddess appears in these movies in three forms, the triple goddess of modern witches. She is the maiden (usually the heroine), the mother (usually dead because the Christians killed the mother goddess) and the crone (usually the wicked witch or evil sorceress—the goddess is hard to kill completely, but easy to demonize). So the first successful children’s movies began with this formula, and Hollywood is loathe to part with a successful formula. It gets used over and over and over again. Thus we have all the dead mothers and hapless heroines and wicked female villains in children’s literature and movies. And you gotta admit, Disney had some knock-your-socks-off female villains. Definitely strong feminine role models. They are my favorite Disney characters.

Maleficent, in "Sleeping Beauty"

Maleficent, in “Sleeping Beauty”

Margaret Starbird pushes this idea a bit further. (see link) She claims that Ariel, Disney’s Little Mermaid, “is much more than a fairytale for little girls. Rather, she is a powerful metaphore for the plight of the “Sacred Feminine” over the last several thousand years of western civilization.” Ariel is Mary Magdelene, the lost bride of Christianity, who has risen up from the watery depths of our subconscious and onto dry, logical land. “It is interesting toLittle_Mermaid_Georges_de_la_Tour_called__Magdalen_with_the_Smoking_Flame._ note,” says Ms Starbird, “that in the Disney film, it is not Ariel who needs to be saved, but rather it is the “handsome Prince” who is in deep trouble, shipwrecked and dying (the condition of the partriarchy at the dawn of Aquarius??)” Interesting, I thought, but she seems to be stretching it a bit. But then I came upon what for me was the clincher in her argument. Ariel collects many human artifacts and one of her special treasures is a painting. Now of all the possible works of western art Disney studios could have chosen to portray, they chose a painting by Georges de la Tour called “Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.” Perhaps there is an underlying message in The Little Mermaid after all; if so, it is distinctly feminist and definitely not patriarchal.

If we begin with my premise that the Mother is dead in children’s movies (and also quite a bit of Western Literature) because the Goddess was eliminated from our culture with the advent  of the patriarchal monotheistic religions, we can reframe the issue of the perfect father and come to a different conclusion.

In the United States, the Goddess is alive and becoming stronger every day. According to the US Census Bureau the number of witches willing to come out of the broom closet and actually admit to being witches has increased astronomically. They estimate that in 1990 one in every 22,000 Americans was a witch, but in 2008 one in every 667 Americans was a witch, and I have no doubt that the number is even higher today. And this is only witches, not neopagans, Asatru, Hindu, Unitarian/Universalist, or other Goddess worshipping religions. Christianity still dominates our culture, but the numbers are decreasing slightly. In 1990 one in every 1.16 people said they were Christian and in 2008, the number dropped to one in every 1.32 people. This number, of course, includes Catholics who, as I have shown, actually do worship the goddess in the form of the BVM, and all the other Christians who include the Goddess in their worship in some way or other.

AnimaAnd with the popularization of Jungian psychology, the the anima, or feminine part of the male psyche, and the animus, the masculine part of the female psyche, have become household words, and the idea that men have emotions and feelings and that women have no problem being tough and logical pervades our culture.

The film industry has been well aware of these two trends for at least the past few decades, and, I would suggest, has helped to fuel them. So why would it suddenly go all patriarchal on us? I’m not saying it hasn’t, Ms Boxer is most convincing, I’m just sayin’ that maybe, by presenting us with all these perfect fathers, the children’s film industry is encouraging men to get in touch with their inner woman, their emotional, nurturing, intuitive side and for women to get in touch with their inner man, their logical, assertive, powerful side (Yes, there are many flicks about amazingly strong women). This way our children will have not only powerful female role models, but also emotionally intact, nurturing, intuitive male role models.

The Goddess never died, she is present in each and every one of us, male and female, as is the God. What better way to bring her back into our hearts and consciousness than by presenting grieving fathers learning to be both a mother and a father to their bereft children?

What do you think? Is our film industry controlled by patriarchal misogynists or new age feminists?

 

*Carolyn Dever, Death and the Mother From Dickens to Freud: Victorian Fiction and the Anxiety of Origins, 1998.

**Bruno Tettleheim, The Uses of Enchantment, 1976.

***Actually, we can’t blame it all on monotheism. Paganism was turning patriarchal long before Abraham was even a gleam in his father’s eye. But at least pagans had goddesses.

****Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman, Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, Marija Gimbutas, The Civilization of the Goddess, Monica Sjoo, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess, and many more.

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