The Mother & Her Son


“Virgin and Child” by William Adolphe Bouguereau

In Neo-Pagan myth, the Goddess and the God represent two dimen­sions of life. The Goddess represents the whole, while the God, her Son, represents the part. The Goddess is the eternal cy­cle of the whole, the unity of life and death as a single process. Her Son is manifest life, subject to the cyclical process of birth, flowering, decay, death, and rebirth. This distinction resembles the Indian concepts of Brahman and atman and the philosophical concepts of natura naturans (nature naturing) and natura naturata (nature natured).

“The Great Goddess … was the arch personification of the power of Space, Time, and Matter, within whose bound all beings arise and die: the substance of their bod­ies, configurator of their lives and thoughts, and re­ceiver of their dead. And everything having form or name—including God personified as good or evil, merci­ful or wrathful—was her child, within her womb.”

According to Karl Kerenyi, in ancient Greek, the words zoe (ζωή) and bios (βίος), both meant “life,” but two different dimensions of life. Zoe signifies infinite and universal life, while bios refers to finite and individual life. Zoe is Life itself, while bios is the living and dying manifestation of Zoe in time and space. Bios is the imma­nent form of Zoe, which is transcendent. Together, these two words express the two dimensions of existence: the eternal and the transitory, the unmanifest and the manifest, the universal and the particular. In the Neo-Pagan Mythos, the Goddess is Zoe, and her Son is bios.

In The Moon: Myth and Image (2002), Jungian, Jules Cashford, explains how the Moon is a symbol of this relationship. The Moon is always changing, yet is always the same. The visible, manifest Moon is always changing, a constant interplay of light and dark. What remains the same is the enduring cycle. Its unmani­fest totality can never be seen in any single moment. (Even during the full moon, only half of the orb is visible.) The cycle does not change; it is change. The same analogy could be drawn to any natural cycle, like the cycle of the seasons or the life cycle of plant and animal life.

The Neo-Pagan Goddess is called “Mother,” because she is the eternal Source, the continuous principle of Life who gives rise to life in its myriad forms. The Goddess does not die; she is death—and life. The Goddess gives birth to her Son, who is mani­fest life, and then receives him back into the tomb that is her womb. He is born, lives, dies, and is born again. He must accept death, falling back into the Source, like a seed returning to the Earth, while the Goddess endures to bring forth new forms of life from the inexhaustible source that is her Being. Bios is born from Zoe, dies back into Zoe, and is reborn from Zoe. In this view, death is not an end, but a transformation. What, at the level of bios, appears as disintegration, is revealed, at the level of Zoe, as rebirth.

In the Neo-Pagan Mythos, the sacred marriage (hieros gamos) of the Goddess and her Consort symbolically connects Zoe and bios, bringing together eternity and time, the infinite and the indi­vidual. Through ritual, Neo-Pagans participate in this union, effecting a change of consciousness toward our individual deaths. When this happens, then death is seen as no less sacred than life. Rather than an end, death becomes metamorphosis. The ego-centric perspective of death is transcended through identification with the eternal cy­cle of birth, life, and death. The individual can then look forward to the death that somewhere awaits them, knowing that no one and no thing dies in vain. No virtue or energy is lost. There is only change and transformation. Time and death are only tragic from the limited perspective of the ego, which must be sacrificed in order to find meaning. We not only come to terms with our annihilation, but develop the will to welcome it when its time has come.

Updated 2019

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