The Motherline: Remembering Our Origins
This week, I introduce the theory of the “motherline”, a path for accessing and honoring our feminine wisdom as mothers. I share personal and professional reflections on how the motherline has helped me and others feel connection, build resilience, and heal intergenerational trauma by remembering our origins.
I touch on:
- an introduction to Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s theory
- how cultural denigration of the feminine causes us to lose track of these stories
- the “looping” that bends time and space to aid us in our personal development
- the motherline’s healing power in mother-daughter relationships
- how to honor our “lost mothers” that are our feminine souls
- the importance of a grandmothers, and
- engaging Mother Earth as archetypal mother
Paula Gunn Allen’s book The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s book The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots
Smithsonian grandmother hypothesis article
Episode on epigenetics, or the science of how your family lives on within your DNA, with Johanna Lynn
Drafted by AI. Please excuse typos.
Hi there and welcome to Episode 104. Today, I’m talking to you about a way back to her origins or the mother line as it’s called.
In the sacred hoop Paula Gunn Allen describes how at Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, who your mother is as a really important question. She says your mother’s identity is the key to your own identity. Failure to know your mother, your position, and its attendant traditions, histories and place in the grand scheme of things. his failure to remember your significance, your reality, your right relationship to earth and society is the same as being lost, isolated, abandon, and alienated from your own life.
I’ve spoken about how postpartum was a difficult time for me. But it was so difficult that it’s hard almost to remember it now. The mother line was one of the things that brought me back to myself and who I was becoming inspired me. Within such a huge life transition, like becoming a mother.
Uncomfortable realities and feelings like grief or past trauma come back around to be held in new and deeper ways. This Motherland concept is one that I encourage people to explore because of its ability to heal things that might be within us that aren’t necessarily ours alone. And it can help us become who we envisioned as a mother because it connects us with who we actually are as a mother in the grand scheme of things.
The most influential book I’ve ever read on the mother line was Naomi Ruth lewinsky’s book, the mother line, every woman’s journey to find her female roots. She introduced me to the concept of the mother line, and I worked for it for almost a decade as a therapist before I became a mother myself. The mother line is essentially just the stories of mothers and daughters and grandmothers and great grandmother’s lived experiences.
So they’re shared everywhere, but they’re not often tracked, especially in lowinsky’s time as valuable. She describes the mother line as woman’s talk in a culture that devalues the passing of feminine lore and wisdom. And that devaluation is why we lose these stories to ourselves and our families. But the mother line recognizes the continuity of our families, and how mother and child and grandmother all affect one another’s development in nonlinear ways that stands apart from time.
Lowinsky also has this idea of looping when a mother is reliving a moment or her childhood from her new standpoint as mother. And so one’s childhood self and one’s mothering self is one all at once, which allows us to access these new levels of wisdom that only can be found within the mother line. With these looping moments, you realize that you’re a part of something much bigger, and you can get in touch with that new sense of wholeness that comes from living from the recognition that we’re never separate from our ancestors, that they’re one of the real unseen influences of our lives.
Before I shifted my work to focus more exclusively on Mother’s the center, the mother and the mother line, I had a client that was a teenage girl whose mother would come religiously to family therapy with her. And her mother would do any art or poetry, or sandtray activity I could think of to do with her daughter was such openness and vulnerability. This mother was so present for her daughter, who had been running away for many, many years and was involved with the juvenile justice system that I couldn’t quite reconcile the mother that I’d learned from the daughter in therapy with the woman that I saw coming to family therapy. But through their time together. The daughter learned the reasons behind the pain that the absences of mother caused. And she learned that mum had been heartbroken about the same things that she had but had coped in a different way that the daughter Had misread and sold their understanding of one another increase and so much changed for them that they were able to shift the path that they were on and stay together until she graduated high school. So she left the juvenile system and the facility that she had been in and went on to live a life more connected with one of the vital resources in her life, which was her mother’s love.
And this is what the mother line can do in therapy. And I cherish that I first got to live it and work with it in therapy from a daughter’s perspective. And then now I get to do that as a mother and with mothers.
So what does it mean for us modern women to speak the mother line? or What does it mean for us to honor the richness of our mother lines, to hear the voices of the Lost mothers that are our souls, as Lewinsky says, she directs us to sink down into the world outside Ordinary Time to feel in our bodies and our inner emotions, and to allow us to see with the inner eye as well as the outer while we delve into the forbidden areas of our experiences as mothers and daughters, and attend to those things that make us feel shame.
She says like a spring that’s running underground, we forget the healing source that we embody. And this relearning and remembering is continuous and always ongoing. So it’s our work to reclaim the motherland consciously on our journeys of healing and of becoming wise and well, ancestors. So when we’re grandmothers, we can stand at the crossings of the ongoing constant generational change and help our families to remember where we came from, remember our origins, remember the dead and to help us see ancestral connection as an embodied path.
I think it’s important that Lowinsky says we can’t take our place in another line without a grandmotherly elder to help us bring harmony to life’s unfolding meaning we need that third to show us the archetypal symbolism of life. And I love this because it reminds me so much of the grandmother hypothesis, or the theory established by anthropologist Kristen Hawkes that recognizes the vital role grandmother’s played in human evolutionary development. She states that menopause is an evolutionary adaptation unique to humans, that allowed us to develop into who we are today. So grandmothers labored to bring families food, they labored to take care of children. And because of their work, mothers were able to have more children, and grandmothers were able to work with those children to develop a whole array of social capacities that Hawk says are the foundation for the traits that we have today, including bonding, bigger brains, and learning new skills and learning new skills through cooperation.
And I remember the role that my great grandmother played in my own teenage years, visiting this woman who was nearing 100, who rode an orphan train down from New York at the age of nine, I have to admit that I still sometimes complained about the fights that I had with my mom. And I cherished the wisdom of this wise woman still today who was removed from our mother daughter drama. So she could integrate this third view that transcends the simplistic mother daughter binary that we have in our culture, because she could honor our differences, and see the struggle as part of our development. And although I definitely didn’t know it, then I understand that she placed within me memories that I can look back on in my motherland, as a mother, and maybe later as a grandmother, to help me on my path towards my own personal development.
As a therapist, I hear so many stories, though, that focus on the painful experiences that we’ve had with mothers and grandmothers. And it’s true that mothers often limit our children by reteaching them harmful cultural norms and status quo stories that bind them in ways that do them real harm. But mothers who are in their postpartum period or perinatal period, don’t often want to go into those painful experiences to transform them to really delve deep into the shortcomings of a terrible mother. And these shortcomings can feel so huge when your models of feminine wisdom are all tied up in self betrayal from mothers in generations before us raised in cultures that denigrate the feminine. So this is one of the reasons that I am really adamant about the inclusion of the more than human world into our understandings of the mother line.
In addition to working with mothers that are empowered by wild goddess mythologies from their ancestral lines, which is something Lewinsky suggests and many people love and respond really Well, too, I also offer opportunities to engage with Mother Earth as archetype of mother to serve as a reparative experience and an aspirational model.
I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with a large willow tree in my backyard as a child. I remember sitting into that tree and observing ants and the play of light in the leaves. In this tree, whether it was climbing her sitting under her, pretending that she was my clubhouse, crying tears of a child into the ground around her. She helped me to hear myself and helps me to know from a really young age, the reality of my connection with Mother Earth, she gave me the awareness that human beings aren’t the only beings that I can have a conversation with. And even now, many decades later, I can picture her and feel completely nurtured and mothered and taken care of. That’s a part of my mother line developmental memory that I can draw now, in my very difficult mothering moments to shift some of my human limitations and shift some of the limitations in my mother line.
Mother Earth is a mother model, Wilder and grander than any human experience can encapsulate. And it can still help us excavate our natural selves under so much of our cultural conditioning around the feminine and otherwise, it can teach us the terribleness of a mother and her wildness. But it does so within a living ecosystem to show us a path towards integrating our shadow and becoming more whole. But there’s no one way to remember a mother line it’s tied to you and your meaning and what you make up with this concept. There’s so many more diverse experiences that we live with and recognize and acknowledge as valuable that Lewinsky didn’t have when she wrote the motherland from her own mothering experience. The mother line is a complicated web of relationship, any people can identify as mothers. And there are many mothers in the world that are not human. And we all have choices to identify with more supportive mothering models and mothering stories than the ones that we grew up with.
If you’ve been on this journey, or just beginning you’ll find the mother line is a relearning in our remembering back to who we are not by surface markers of identity and by by where we work, or what we were how we’re addressed, but by feeling our place in relation to the continuous infinite.
It is a rewilding of ourselves from these layers of domestication or taming. And in my case, it felt like a rebirth, a crackling of a brittle exterior that I no longer needed or desired. I began to picture myself as a part of a meadow stream, a picture I received while exploring my mother line through intuition and art, like a hardened sponge. I was dipped into the ancestral waters and began to unfold like a flower within their support and guidance. I now understand that it’s my sacred responsibility to do the work to make sure the love and wisdom of my line can keep throwing through me.
And the next two episodes, we’re talking with a friend of mine Liz Hummer, about exploring her mother line after becoming a mother. And I’ll be sharing this month’s bonus episode, which is a guided meditation to explore your mother line by diving into your wells of ancestral memory.