How old were you when you first learned about Heavenly Mother?

As a baby of the 80’s and a child of the 90’s, I was ten when The Family: A Proclamation to the World came out. So you might think I learned about Heavenly Mother rather early, because after all, it does have that one line about “heavenly parents.” But you would be wrong. Individuals around me gave little pause to that line, so I didn’t either.

Then there is Eliza’s famous hymn, about “truth” and “reason” and “a Mother there” (meaning in heaven). While this has become one of my favorite hymns, I cannot for the life of me remember how old I was when I first sung it, or heard it sung. I did however, learn when I was 28, that when I was 18, it was played at my grandfather’s funeral, because it was one of his favorite hymns. But, it was played on a violin by my master violin playing uncle, and words were not accompanied.

So when did I first realize that God is also a woman, like me? When I was 19, sitting by myself in the Marriot Center at Brigham Young University for a forum (read: not a devotional). The speaker was a poet, named Li-Young Lee.


He read his poems to us. Before one poem he paused to remark on our opening hymn and our opening prayer. He noticed that the pronoun we used for God was masculine: He. He. He. And then he introduced a poem he wrote about God, called “Living With Her.”

Lee read it two times. Once the way he originally wrote it, and once the way we might have, with the female pronouns replaced with male. The first:

She opens her eyes
and I see.
She counts the birds and I hear
the names of the months and days.
A girl, one of her names
is Change. And my childhood
lasted all of an evening.
Called light, she breathes, my living share
of every moment emerging.
Called life, she is a pomegranate
pecked clean by birds to entirely
become a part of their flying.
Do you love me? she asks.
I love you,
she answers, and the world keeps beginning.

The last three lines of his poem, with his words, made me cry. As they still do, on the nights I read them to myself when I can’t sleep. I remember that they marked the exact moment I began to consider God as female.


Please share how you learned about Heavenly Mother in the comments. Was it from a parent? A teacher at church? From a poem, like me? Etc.


Rachel is a PhD student in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate University. She co-edited _Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings_ with Joanna Brooks and Hannah Wheelwright. She is also a lover of all things books and bikes.

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40 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I said Young Adult, though I don’t really remember a moment. I liked the “O my father” hymn, but I didn’t think of it as my heavenly parents. I was more concerned about the fact that my parents weren’t sealed, and what would that mean for my eternal family. So the thought that “in the heavens are parents single no the thought makes reason stare” was comforting.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    I have no memory of not knowing about a Heavenly Mother. I am continually surprised at the things today’s young adult Mormons have never heard of (like this and Joseph Smith’s polygamy). I did have a particularly progressive feminist mother, but I also think that many things, which now are considered speculative, were discussed more openly among church members in previous generations (which made for some wild Sunday School lessons). Also, history was closer to us then.

    • Rachel says:

      I wish every single member could say as you did, “I have no memory of not knowing about a Heavenly Mother.” And I certainly wish that my own children will be able to say that.

      I would have liked to hear those lessons (as I would take a tad bit wild over a tad bit boring any day.) 🙂 The closeness of history is also an interesting point. Maybe the distance is why it is so so important for us to try to remember now.

  3. Naismith says:

    References to heavenly parents are in the Primary Valiant manuals. Not sure what is taught to younger children, but certainly by age 8, hopefully it should be introduced.

    • Rachel says:

      Hopefully indeed. And that actually makes me really happy. I know that mention of our Eternal Mother does show up in a few other church manuals and books as well, which means I could have learned about her earlier than I remember, without internalizing it for whatever reason.

  4. TopHat says:

    I was a child. I remember the year I turned 8 in Primary, our Primary teacher was teaching us from the Old Testament and I remember her telling us that there was a story about Heavenly Mother in the Bible. I was so excited to hear about that and she said she’d tell us the next week. I made sure to ask the next week and I don’t remember what she said. It was probably something like how in Abraham it says the the “gods” created the world. But I remember being very excited to hear there was a story about Heavenly Mother.

    • Rachel says:

      Good job, primary teacher! Honestly. And good job little 8 year old Tophat! I love imagining you as a little child, eagerly awaiting the next week’s lesson.

  5. Caroline says:

    I said child, though I don’t remember exactly when I learned. It seems like I’ve known it my whole life, though I doubt that’s the case.

    Rachel, that poem was so beautiful. God as woman is such a powerful concept to me.

    • Rachel says:

      I would love it if every person could say, as you, “It seems like I’ve known it my whole life.” I think that is exactly how it should be.

      Thank you. I think so too. 🙂 It really, really resonated with me, and has stayed with me sense.

  6. MissRissa says:

    I’m thinking it was around the young women years, although I don’t remember a specific moment. I do remember it being wrapped in “She’s too sacred to talk about”. We sang O my father today in RS and it brought tears to my eyes. I would like to know Eliza Snows thoughts on writing it 🙂

    • Rachel says:

      I’m so happy that you learned about our Heavenly Mother earlier than I, but so sad that it was only under the non-true guise of “too sacred.” I was privileged to work on the BYU Studies article that came out a few years ago, called “A Mother There,” that demonstrated the historical falsity of that idea/that no General Authority ever taught it.

      ‘O My Father’ has a very special place in my heart, and I often tear up when I get to sing it with my sisters (and/or brothers) at church too. I always hope that they are hearing it, and wonder if something is stirring within them as it is me. I would also like to know the same thing as you. One great gem we do have, is that when Eliza’s poem was originally published, it was under a different title. She called it, “Invocation: Or to the Eternal Father and Mother,” telling us that she viewed it as a prayer, to both of them.

      One other interesting fact that you may or may not know, is that hers was actually not the first hymn written about Heavenly Mother. W.W. Phelps published one 10 months before, suggesting to many that it was common doctrine at that time, that was likely revealed to Brother Joseph.

  7. MDearest says:

    I was a child; I can’t remember when I first learned about Her. I also remember, as a little girl about 7, thinking I could be the bishop someday too. I didn’t understand why my dad chuckled at that. I was never bothered that we had no more revelation about Her beyond the fact of Her existence, until there began to be pushback against second-wave feminism, and gender role stuff became more of a Thing at church. Now I wonder if it makes such a difference, why wouldn’t we be given more light and knowledge about this?

    We have to live with more questions and speculation than there are answers and revelation. It’s messy, but that’s the nature of the church in this era.

    Today in RS we had a lesson about Lorenzo Snow’s famous couplet. If the teacher knew about the problematic history of this, she didn’t mention it. She actually mis-quoted it slightly, but no one said anything. She taught the concept that we are made in the image of God, and that we can become like Him without correcting the mismatched genders at all, and we all sat there like ewes. Perhaps there were other silent women like me, who didn’t want to disrupt her lesson with a question that might be politically troublesome. I find it interesting that we won’t pursue further knowledge that is so blatantly obvious. I can only speculate why, and I’ve had enough speculation for today. Now I must go cook and serve a meal.

    • Rachel says:

      I accidentally slept in with the time change, and didn’t make it to my own ward’s Relief Society, but now wish that I had. I have sat in other meetings, in other Relief Society’s where I may have felt similar feelings though. One began with the hymn “O My Father,” and the explanation that it was chosen specifically for that day, and that lesson. I was so glad in my heart, but the gladness didn’t last long. The lesson was about “How to draw near to Heavenly Father,” without a word about how to draw near to Heavenly Mother (which is actually much harder when a former prophet has said we are not to pray to her), nor even an acknowledgment that some might want to. I sat there quietly too, wondering if I was the only one who wanted or needed to know my Mother. I was upset that no one said anything. Only later did I realize that I didn’t say anything either, so since that time I have tried to be the one who does.

      With the “created in the image of” stuff, I take comfort that at least three prophets have specifically said that women were created in the image of Heavenly Mother, and that they at least seemed to get that pronouns matter.

      One was Harold B. Lee, as quoted in “Teachings of Harold B. Lee, Chapter 2: Plan of Salvation.”

      “We have heavenly parents. Putting these two revelations [Job 38:4, 7; Abraham 3:22-23] together then, we are to understand that spirits are organized intelligences that were so prepared before the foundations of the earth were laid, and that they were organized by our Heavenly Father and dwelt with Him while the earth was being formed. But now may I ask you a simple question: Could there have been a Father in Heaven without a Mother? With a similar question in her mind the poetess penned [the] verse of a well-known hymn (Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father”)…While still keeping that question in mind, think of the significant statement contained in the scriptures describing the creation of man. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:26-27.) If you consider carefully those in whose image and likeness male and female were created, I wonder if you will not also discover the organizers of intelligences in the world of spirits” (pp. 124-25).

      Another was Joseph Fielding Smith in “Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3.”

      “The fact that there is no reference to a mother in heaven either in the Bible, Book of Mormon or D&C, is not sufficient proof that no such thing as a mother did exist there. If we had a Father, which we did, for all of these records speak of him, then does not good common sense tell us that we must have had a mother there also? When we stop to think of it, there are passages which strongly imply that we did have a mother there…In Genesis we read: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: . . .So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26-27) Is it not feasible to believe that female spirits were created in the image of a ‘Mother in Heaven’?” (p.144).

      The last that I know of was Spencer W. Kimball, quoted by Brent L. Top in “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball.”

      “God made man in his own image and certainly he made woman in the image of his wife-partner…. You [women] are daughters of God. You are precious. You are made in the image of our heavenly Mother” (pp. 24-25).

      • jks says:

        I taught that lesson in RS yesterday. For part of the lesson, I intentionally said “Heavenly Parents” and several of the commenters uses “they” in their replies.
        I totally wish I had had that last quote to share. It would have been perfect for the lesson. Thanks for sharing it!

  8. Emily U says:

    Thank you for that lovely poem.

    I had the same RS lesson as Mdearest today, and the instructor spoke about godly attributes of Heavenly Father and Jesus. I can only assume she meant those attributes to be ungendered, so as to apply to the women in the room as well as to our brothers. I wonder, in thinking of Godly attributes, do we think there are some that are limited to females, while others are limited to males?

    If the answer is “no,” that calls into question why eternal gender exists. If a perfected state requires acquiring genderless attributes, why is gender so important?

    If on the other hand there are godly attributes that are gender-specific, then it becomes imperative to know our Mother God. How can we learn of the godly attributes we should seek to acquire if we know only of the ones that are either genderless or male? We live in a modern world that is increasingly ungendered, and if gender is really so eternally important, shouldn’t we urgently seek the female divine?

    • Melody says:

      And amen.

    • Rachel says:

      You are welcome, Emily U.

      I have wondered (and written about) some of the same things you wonder. While I don’t have answers, I’ll share a bit of what I wrote here, so at least you can know that you aren’t alone in the questions:

      LDS authority, Vaughn J. Featherstone, taught that women receive qualities from their Eternal Mother. “Women are endowed with special traits and attributes that come trailing down through eternity from a divine mother. Young women have special God-given feelings about charity, love, and obedience. Coarseness and vulgarity are contrary to their natures…theirs is a sacred, God-given role, and the traits they receive from heavenly mother are equally as important as those given to the young men.”
      While there are some positive aspects accompanying this idea, it may ultimately raise more problems than it resolves. For instance, do women only receive traits from Heavenly Mother, or may they receive traits from Heavenly Father as well? In turn, do men only receive traits from the Father, or may they receive traits from the Mother? It is possible to imagine a child with her mother’s eye color and father’s hair color, with a mixture of both parents’ temperaments. Is it not possible to imagine a child inheriting spiritual traits from each of her Heavenly Parents?
      Furthermore, do Latter-day Saints truly want to posit such victorian notions to their incarnation of the Divine Feminine? And, are such attributes really representative of Heavenly Mother’s nature? If so, does she share them with Heavenly Father, or are they unique to her? These questions may be resolved somewhat (or at least softened), when we remember that women and men in the LDS faith are asked to develop charity, love, and obedience, as they are perceived to be attributes of Christ.
      They are also some of the very attributes Janice Merrill Allred called upon, when as a young mother, her friend asked her if she was bothered that “Jesus was a man instead of a woman.” At the time, Allred found the question surprising. She answered that “there are certain attributes like love, forgiveness, and service that both men and women should possess,” and that “Jesus exemplified these for all of us.”

      Regardless of any of these things, I think it is Still imperative for us to know our Mother, because it is a matter both of identity and salvation. The first because of Joseph Smith’s emphasis that the way we know ourselves is to know God. The second because of John 17:3, that to know God is how we get eternal life. That tells me that it is a matter of salvation itself for me to know God as female.

  9. kel says:

    The title of this post made me smile. Only three nights ago, I sang “I Am a Child of God” with my 22-month-old, and shockingly found that he knew most of the words. We pray before bed every night, and I thought I would explain that “Heavenly Father” and “God” are the same person. I reminded him that, just as his daddy loves him, so did Heavenly Father, because He was his daddy in heaven.

    But then I felt an emptiness: what about his mommy? Then, with a sweet prompting, I remembered the truth, and that I could talk about Heavenly Mother as much as I wanted, even if She seems neglected in our Church teachings. So I told him about Heavenly Mother, who loves him like mommy loves him.

    He won’t remember. But I will.

    • Rachel says:

      Kel, I cannot even begin to describe how much I love your comment. Especially the parts, “Then, with a sweet prompting, I remembered the truth,” and, “He won’t remember. But I will.”

      Thank you for teaching him while he is young.

  10. katie says:

    I have no recollection of when exactly it was that I learned of HM; but I definitely remember knowing about Her long before “The Proclamation…” was introduced. (31yrs old) So maybe it was primary but I have strong feeling it was home education. I do remember having questions, like why then do we not hear about Her. I also remember discussions in church about why we do not talk of Her …Usual answers were that we don’t know much about Her. And those whom seemed threatened by not knowing usually gave some kind of shaming of why we shouldn’t ask, kind of sort of we shouldn’t ask because She is too sacred to discuss… blah blah blah type of answer. But mostly it was we don’t know anything about Her. My thoughts are then, why shouldn’t we discuss Her more? If She is our Heavenly Mother and we are to know God so that we may recognize Him and Her someday; shouldn’t we be striving to know our Heavenly Mother as well. Shouldn’t we be inquiring and asking? Shouldn’t we be discussing what Her attributes are? If we are created in their images would it not be safe to draw on conclusions of things we might already know? And how come in a church that is known for asking a sincere simple question and received an answer shuns the idea of this very thought of wanting to learn more knowledge of our heavenly parents. Parents being Mother and Father not just mother being absorbed in to one being. While yes, they may be one in purpose, much like earthly parents may be one but we are definitely separate beings with separate attributes and opinions which make a beautiful union of marriage work. I think there there is so much to learn and inquire on this matter if one assumes She and He exist.

  11. Melody says:

    The poem is a masterpiece. Thank you for sharing it. Yes. Those last lines. . . wonderful.

    Like many others in the church I credit Eliza R. Snow with introducing me to Heavenly Mother. What a gift. Because of “Oh My Father” I first felt the sweet comfort of believing Mother in Heaven existed. That was in my early childhood.

    But because the lyrics of that song were the only place I ever heard Her referenced, She didn’t really become concrete for me until I was in my late teens in the 1980s. That’s when I started feeling uncomfortable with gender inequality in the church. I began to wonder why, if this was part of true doctrine, the true form of God and the Godhead, it wasn’t routinely taught.

    I credit Caroly Lynn Pearson with making Heavenly Mother a part of my daily thoughts and worship. Mother Wove the Morning – both the poem and the play – were profoundly influential in my life. That’s when I fully embraced the truth and felt the pain of Her systematic removal from worship. I was in my thirties then. Twenty years later I still miss Her. I miss hearing about Her in church, in people’s expressions of Godly intervention, in general conference or general women’s meetings. . . but I’m pleased as punch that conversations like this are happening more frequently.

    And I’m unspeakably grateful for poets – who seem to find Her and bring Her to our consciousness from that place where she dwells and from whence I believe “She will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

    • Rachel says:

      I think poets reveal a lot of truths, and once heard Teryl Givens say pretty much the same thing, but specifically about how many poets over the years wrote about pre-mortal existence.

      I really need to read Carol Lynn’s play. And I’m pleased as punch by the same thing. I see them happening more and more. There is hope. There is spring.

  12. Nona says:

    I had the same lesson in RS yesterday that has already been mentioned a couple of times in previous comments. I was likewise distracted by the incongruity of sitting in a room full of women discussing our Divine attributes in entirely male pronouns. I found this paragraph from the manual especially confounding:

    In our spiritual birth our FATHER transmitted to us…? Did Heavenly Father give birth to our spirits? How did Heavenly Mother not make it into this analogy at ALL?

    • Nona says:

      Hmmm. OK apparently I totally messed up the block quote thing. This was supposed to be the quoted part:
      We were born in the image of God our Father; he begat us like unto himself. There is the nature of deity in the composition of our spiritual organization; in our spiritual birth our Father transmitted to us the capabilities, powers and faculties which he himself possessed, as much so as the child on its mother’s bosom possesses, although in an undeveloped state, the faculties, powers and susceptibilities of its parent.
      And the “quote” above was my post-quote commentary.

      • Melody says:

        “. . .as much so as the child on its mother’s bosom possesses . . .”

        Yeah. God is like that. Only a male doesn’t breastfeed. So, let’s see. . . hmm.

      • Nona says:

        It’s really such a beautiful analogy, but the insistence on God as Heavenly Father was incredibly distracting for me, especially in this passage where he is basically describing God giving birth and suckling his children. And still insists on depicting God as exclusively Male.

      • Rachel says:

        Don’t feel too bad about the block quote thing. 🙂 I didn’t even know they were possible to do in comments.

        That really is such a beautiful description, and as you noted makes significantly more sense applied to the Mother.

  13. canadacole says:

    I chose teenager. I think I was 11 when I started investigating the church and one of the selling points for me was a recognition of Heavenly Mother. I felt like I’d always known she was there but the other Christian churches I investigated denied her. At least this one admitted she was real, even if no one wanted to talk about her. I was baptized when I was 13 after a long investigation, so that’s why I went with teenager.

    • Rachel says:

      “At least this one admitted she was real, even if no one wanted to talk about her.” That is a very concise way to put it, for she is both here and not here, in LDS theology. I take comfort in the “here,” and have hope for the currently “not here.”

      I love hearing stories such as yours, and that truth of Heavenly Mother was one of the resonating principles. It reminds me that doctrine concerning Her is not “deep” or “dark,” but among the most simple, the most light, and the most satisfying.

  14. Vinniecat says:

    I remember listening to my mom practice the music to “The Circle of a Woman’s Reach” for a Relief Society event. This was probably mid-to-late ’70s and I hear the line, “…we’ll go hand in hand, to our Father and Mother where circles began.” It seemed the right and natural order of things for me as a 7 or 8 year old kid.

  15. jg says:

    I learned about Heavenly Mother sometime before I was ten. Unfortunately, I was told that She was too sacred to talk about, that we didn’t have any information on her, that Heavenly Father wanted to protect her, etc.

    Grateful to know that isn’t founded in doctrine.

  16. jenna says:

    FMH! ok so I think I had heard about her before, but the way she was explained, weak and possibly chained polygamy, didn’t really make her sound like a part of the godhead. When I was in my 20’s I was introduced to the idea that she could be a GODDESS, and that was a real awakening.

  17. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I was a child. And it came from that same hymn. It was one of my father’s favorite hymns. It didnot come as an aha! moment becaue it just fit in with everything els. We have a Heavenly Father. A Heavenly Mother was just a natural thought. It still is.


  18. EmilyCC says:

    I don’t remember when I first heard about Heavenly Mother, but I do remember laying in my bed as a four-year-old for a few nights trying to wrap my head around the fact that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother had parents, which must mean that their parents had parents, and so on. Trying to grapple with the concepts of eternity hurt my poor little four-year-old brain (and actually still boggles my mind 30+ years later).

  19. Cumorah says:

    I was 13. It speaks of Heavenly Mother in my patriarchal blessing. I didn’t realize until recently how awesome, and most likely rare, that is. But at 13, it didn’t feel amazing or unique…it felt standard. But now, at 34, it feels anything but standard, and I cherish it.

    • Rachel says:

      You and I know another beautiful woman with initials beginning C.D. whose patriarchal blessing speaks of Heavenly Mother. You should ask her about it.

      I would cherish that too. xo

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