Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 14, the day when we celebrate our mothers with brunches or breakfasts, flowers or a just a phone call for those of us who live too far away to travel.
The day also offers those who have lost their mother a chance to reflect on her influence on their lives.
The celebration of mothers and motherhood is one facet of humanity that unites our species despite all our linguistic and cultural differences.
A mother goddess is a key figure present in all ancient religions from the Egyptian Isis, Sumerian Ninsun, Hindu Durga and Norse Frigga to the Aztec Coatlicue and Celtic Danu.
The Greeks had three deities depending on the time period: The primordial deity Gaia, the Titan Rhea and more well-known Olympian Hera, while the Ephesians in modern-day Turkey worshipped the Greek huntress Artemis as a mother figure well into the early Byzantine era.
The early Chinese prayed to Bixia Yuanjin, who herself was assisted by a host of minor mother goddesses specialized to protect midwifery, breastfeeding or prevent childhood illnesses. The veneration of mothers predates the rise of civilization.
The Venus of Willendorf, discovered in Germany in 1908, is a four-inch tall limestone figurine with enlarged hips and breasts like those of a pregnant woman carved by a Paleolithic artisan between 28,000 and 25,000 B.C. The Venus of Hohle Fels, of similar design, is estimated to be about 40,000 years old. It would make sense that our earliest art would celebrate our mothers: Ancient people witnessing the changes a woman’s body underwent that culminates in the birth of a child, a new member of the tribe, must have been seen as magic, certainly worthy of veneration and reverence.
Mothers and grandmothers are often the matriarchs who hold families together as children grow up and move away to the far corners of the globe.
My maternal grandmother is still the focal point of our family, bringing together her seven children several times a year and even now in her 90s is still spry and full and life. She regularly writes to me through a journal, telling me about her life growing up in suburban Atlanta in the 1930s.
I am probably closer to my mother than any other member of my very large extended family, even though I only see her about once or twice a year. Our conversation this Mother’s Day will likely be about our upcoming trip to Scotland, for which she is doing most of the planning. She recently voiced concern that she hopes I have a good time with what she’s planned thus far while my thought is simply I’ll be visiting cathedrals, castles and Scotch whisky distilleries while touching the soil of our ancestral homeland with my mom, who is far cooler than she thinks she is — how could I possibly not have a good time?