As we say goodbye to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we also say goodbye to perhaps today’s most visible expression of an important archetypal image:
It could be said that the Queen represented the last thread of significant world power held by a woman today. The reality that her role was mainly symbolic makes that even more important to consider. Regardless of what you feel about the institution that is the Crown, the Queen’s departure will likely have a profound impact on the world. It seems that the world has fallen into a scarce supply of the Great Mother energy, perhaps even long before the Queen’s passing, but amplified now nonetheless.
Can you identify another mother figure whose life has been more public and power so broad than the Queen? I can’t.
Can you think of another world leader who leads with her feminine essence and dares to express herself with such vibrancy and colour, while also remaining proper in the context of her duties? I can’t.
Love her or despise her, the Queen knew who she was and what she represented and she did not attempt to be inauthentic, nor to please everyone. Inherent in the Queen seemed to be a dutiful commitment to getting done what she saw as needing to be done, in the face of the impossibility of getting it all “right”.
It’s an energy I recognise in my own late grandmother who raised 12 children while running a business herself.
Thrust into such a position of power and dominance as a young woman of just 27 years is almost unimaginable. And in the middle of her child-bearing years, two children already and another two to come after a 10 year gap to settle into her new and unexpected role.
The Queen represented not just a mother and grandmother to her own descendants, but to entire nations. She represented constancy, hope, and good faith. And important to mention, a dark side, too.
Let us take this opportunity to explore the archetype and the roles of the Mother and begin to imagine the many faces and expressions of the Queen.
To preface this discussion, the Mother speaks to an archetype that could be expressed in all of us, though most commonly a dominant archetype in women (whether that be nature or nurture). This article is not an attempt to consider or address the harms done and perpetuated by the British Empire.*
The Mother is a complex figure.
The Mother is both wonderful and terrible. In mythological reviews, this is referred to as bi-valence. Think of the blessed and virtuous life of the Virgin Mary, the Great Mother, and what she represented; manifestation, transformation, compassion, graciousness. Contrast this image with something easily observable in today’s world - a mother’s capability for wrath and destruction. Attempt to harm a young child while their mother looks on and you will see it! Archetypally, such destruction is often represented in feminine figures such as Lilith and the Hindu goddess Kali.
When looking through the archetypal lens, we can extrapolate this valence on a broader scale.
Perhaps on the more virtuous side we might consider diplomacy and the Queen’s commitment to managing international relations as well as giving proper attention to internal affairs and making charitable contributions. During the Queen’s reign, there was much decolonisation and many nation states finally recognised as independent, particularly through Africa (noting that sufficiency of reparations remains very questionable). Before her coronation, the Queen made personal contributions to the defence forces, role modelling this important aspect of royal duties for the heirs that were to come after her.
If we look to the darker side, in terms of capacity for destruction, the energy of the Mother does not just defend their family, but their entire empire against threats, whether they come from inside or outside the family lines. Here we teter on the edge of the drama triangle, tempted to cast different parties as victims and villains. But for a moment, let’s resist that urge as we stick with the symbolism and imagine that an entire empire might be considered as the Mother’s family. The Queen inherited this family, and as such, inherited all of its feuds, too. The Mother is a connector, she weaves the threads between family, friends, religion, politics, economics and beyond. Navigating such feuds and battles for independence, repent and recognition was an enormous task to have laid at one’s feet.
In many of the great myths and fairytales, the Mother has been portrayed as something to be overcome, which happens inside a family. In Robert Bly’s exploration of a man’s Rite of Passage in his famed book ‘Iron John: a Book About Men’, he discusses the need for a son to metaphorically “kill” his mother in order to become a man. “Kill” in the sense that he must be released from her nurturing grip and no longer care what she thinks of him any more than he might care about how a friend might judge him. That is described as the only way he can cultivate the strength and independence required to live a good and meaningful life, and to become capable of caring for her well when she reaches old age. Bly discusses that in some ancient cultures, mothers are painfully aware of the need for their sons to detach from them to become strong warriors. To that end, they may even exaggerate the grief of the separation when their young sons are taken into the wilderness by the tribal elders to complete the initiation process, legitimising the necessary grief that the sons must endure.
Perhaps, it is only now that King Charles III finally gets to complete his Rite of Passage?
The mother-daughter equivalent of this is observable in the tale of the Little Mermaid. Ursula, the mother-figure, takes away Ariel’s voice, and must then be overcome in order for Ariel to return to her wholeness and full expression as a woman. Perhaps reflective of the quintessential experience for teenage girls warring with their mothers as they confusingly transition into womanhood. There are countless other examples available in myth and fairytale, from the story of Prosephone and Demeter from the ancient Greeks to Snow White from the Brothers Grimm, coming a little later in 1812.
The opposite expression of this “overcoming” is often referred to in psychoanalysis as the “devouring mother”. Counter to the mother who stands intentionally in the way of her child’s comfort in order to strengthen them, she is overprotective and does everything for her children, including things they are very capable of doing themselves. She does this in an unconscious attempt to stay relevant in their lives so that they will not leave her. This pattern is very effective in keeping the child an infant, well into the age of adulthood.
We can see already how complex and multifaceted the archetype of the Mother is. An attempt to address all of its nuances here in a single article would be offensive to everyone who has ever played the role. There are many great works of literature talking about the Mother, from Jung and Freud to Neumann, none without their criticisms. To understand the role of the mother in its completeness, we must understand not just Mary, but Lilith and Kali as mentioned, and Isis and Sophia who also represent important aspects of the broader Mother archetype.
The Queen played many of these roles. And she played them differently for each of us, depending on our own roles as cast in this lifetime and the belief systems that have evolved from those in combination with our life experiences.
It’s a confusing time as we digest this changing power dynamic in the world. It’s a time where it feels even more important for us as individuals to reflect on who we are and what we represent in the world, and how this Mother archetype lives and expresses itself through us and around us.
We might ask ourselves such questions as who we are, and where in our lives we are denying our expression.
We might ask if we are able to remain compassionate, loving and caring of others despite the trials we face in our own lives.
We might ask how we can take a powerful stand against things we see as unjust, through grace and commitment to a bigger truth.
We might ask what it is that we need, and how we can best go about having those needs met in a healthy way.
We might ask what our lives would look like if we truly valued ourselves and believed that we mattered as individuals in the context of a bigger collective experience that we get to participate in.
We might also ask what kind of new beginnings or transformations we might like to represent in the world, and commit to being a living expression of those.
The world has lost a Mother.
Whether you see her as a kind and benevolent mother or a maleficent mother, the fact remains the same. As a collective, it seems like a healthy and constructive thing to do to consider how we can nurture and appreciate a healthy expression of the Mother archetype in our own lives. For in this time of crisis–in health, global power dynamics, food security, allocation of global resources, war, poverty and more–perhaps that is the very thing that will hold an uncertain world together.
I watch with anticipation as the British empire shifts into the energy of having a king, for the world seems to lack healthy father energy too. Maybe this shift will help. Maybe it won’t. Whichever way we judge it, we must remember that we are casting from the foundation of our own stories.
Such is a myth.
Let us move forward with as much curiosity and compassion as we can muster…
* This discussion is not an attempt to explore nor minimise any feelings experienced by those displaced by the British Empire. As an Australian of European descent growing up inside the walls of the Commonwealth, I lack the deep understanding of the historical facts and nuance in order to comment constructively from this perspective. This is an article about archetypes, symbols, our collective consciousness and an invitation into self-reflection.