Earth Mother, Part I
I believe that the earth is a spiritual heavenly body.
I am hungry for feminine divinity. I can’t stop looking for Her. Last summer, I went to Montana, with my mom and sister, to participate in the Sun Dance of the Assiniboine Nation. Respect and protocol requires that I reverence the sacredness of that specific ceremony- there are many parallels to Mormon temple rituals within it. Because of that, I won’t go into specific details here, though the history of the Sun Dance is completely fascinating, and testifies of the gospel profoundly. Photography and recording, even talking about the ceremonial events outside the ceremonial grounds is restricted (again, deeply parallel to Mormon temple practice). The ritual was illegal in the United States until the 1978, seen as a threat to American Christian religious culture. Frankly, participation in the rituals there made me believe in the universality of temple ceremony and endowment practice. It helped me to see the deep down American roots of our Mormon practice.
But I digress. I am constantly searching to see the gospel as bigger than Mormonism, and I learned there that God is much larger than Mormon theological practice. On the open face of the Montana prairie, I think I came closer to understanding God as a whole than I ever have in a chapel, or even in the temple. I learned that God speaks Nakoda (the language spoken by the Assiniboine) just as much as God speaks Western American, or Elizabethan Era, Early Modern English. I saw, for the first time, how deeply and fundamentally the heavens and the earth inform one another.
I can’t not think about the lessons that I learned (and continue to learn) through participation in Assiniboine ceremony in a grove of Cottonwood trees close to the Canada border. For the Assiniboine, the grove is the very center of the universe. When the tree that would be used in the Sun Dance ceremony the second week in June was finally felled by the brave men of the tribe, every person present rushed forward and touched the tree that had just given its life for our renewed prosperity. These are a people who have not forgotten that the Earth is our Mother and that she provides for us always. Most people wept, and the Spirit was palpable and almost had a taste. Old women fell onto the tree, weeping and praying in Nakoda. Cottonwood trees are heavy with water, and their wood is strong and straight because of the coursing of water through its xylem. Isn’t the water the thing that unites all life on the Earth?
The Catholic saint Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th Century mystic and theologian, wrote regularly of the life giving force that comes from the green things that grow in the earth, and because of the water that issues forth from them. She calls it viriditas. She writes that God breathed viriditas into Adam, and that the earth is composed of it. I see an intersection of Mother and Father in her writings. I carry their ideas with me because I like the use of a heavy, watery Cottonwood tree in the Assiniboine ceremony to symbolize that intersectionality. That a part of the new temple movie happens in a cottonwood grove is profound and, I like to think, intentional.
There is also a symbol on the face of every LDS temple I have been to (I always look for it). It shows a circle inscribed within a square. I think I learned what that means a little bit when I tried to meet God on the plains. That symbol is trying to teach us that the physical world, our mother Earth, is in commune with the heavens, and that God as a whole Mother and Father exist where they meet. They touch each other and create life. The symbol is the extension of the symbols on our temple garments, and we are to be reminded of it every hour of every day that we wear them. I wear mine as a reminder of Her and Him; they exist united in my own body.
I believe that we are embodied because of the blessings of the earth.
The earth teaches us about feminine time, about dying and about living. The earth’s time is cyclical and carries us through our hard parts. The earth knows when it’s time to let things die, and then they do. And the earth also knows how to bring things back to life and make them whole again. In that ceremony last year, a blessing was invoked from a Grandmother, who is believed to live in the East. She brings the following day, the future, and the rising of the sun every day. She is the pushing force of the globe. From her, I believe that the hand of heaven is evident in the freshness of life in the spring, and in the erosion and decay of the fall. The earth embodies the things that I understand to be feminine traits, and the things that I want to more fully develop in my own character: The earth is resilient, selfless, protective, powerful, strong, wise, forgiving, kind, gentle, relentless, cruel, and giving. So giving.
Alicia professes the history of Western art in Nebraska, but she would rather talk to you about Indigenous rights or how dirt smells after it’s been frozen. She is a member of the Assiniboine Tribe from Fort Peck, Montana, but she grew up in Southern California. She loves pizza and watching things grow.
She dedicates these thoughts to her mother and the mothers of her tribe.