Mothers have been on my mind lately. My friend just lost her mother last week to cancer. My own mother passed just a year ago now. Chipper, the mama squirrel who has been visiting me for peanuts for four years now has not come around for several months now, and I fear the worst. In my beehives, the queen mothers are working hard to keep their little universes afloat: Some are thriving, some have failed…
Meanwhile, with his eyes to the future, Blossom the Opossum has been busy courting, doing his part to ensure possum motherhood in my neighborhood. I know this because while I haven’t seen him in a long time, he makes his presence known in the garden shed each night by carrying around scraps of blankets, doing his own brand of inferior decorating. This is a gift possums offer to their intended: Not chocolate or flowers, but nesting material.
My ducks, Bella and Lucy, while not mothers in the literal sense, have been expressing the Mother in their ceaseless attempt to hatch their eggs. They are fierce in their protection of these little infertile orbs, and the cold weather and hard rains of fall have not dissuaded them from their Mother dreams.
In my yard, the Great Mother—Earth—influences every patch of dirt and flower from sidewalk strip to back fence. Under her profound and mysterious influence, lives thrive, lives collapse. She builds and tears down, over and over, with incredible and unapologetic power.
My bees started me down this path to reflections on Motherhood. This year, my beekeeping reached a place of new and deep awareness of the power of the queen bee in her hive.
I kept six hives this summer. They came from two family lines of bees: Three sister swarms from my friend Anna’s hive, and three sister swarms that issued from a tree hive a few miles from my place. So I have been observing two lines of queens in these hives.
Now, each virgin queen had to mate after I brought her home and settled her into her hive. From the drones in my area—whomever they are—my six young queens gathered up their live’s worth of sperm, mating with more than a dozen drones each in their short week of mating flights.
The drones offered up a rich composite of genetic diversity to each queen, which she then brought home to the hive.
As the queens set to laying eggs, the distinct personality of each hive became quickly evident. Some of my hives built up fast, fairly bursting at the seams with bees in short order. Some grew slow and steady. Certain hives were “touchy,” and would buzz, bump, or sting me if I hung around them too long. Others were gentle as spring sun. Each hive had a distinctly different hum, something I learned by placing my ear to each one, often, wishing for their language to pour into me and fill me.
With the coming of autumn, each hive prepared for winter in her own unique way. Two of the six hives continued to fill their colonies with more and more bees. Bee numbers in one of the hives dropped off and the hive condensed into a small but busy troop of girls.
Two hives dwindled quickly and perished within weeks. When I opened them, I found only a handful of bees still busy tending their beautiful queen mothers. One of the perishing colonies was gone in a matter of days when a huge wolf spider moved in and made a stack of silk-packaged meals out of all the remaining bees. The other tiny colony I moved into my bedroom in a small woven hive with a honey jar of food and a bamboo tube exit to the outdoors. My friend Debbie calls this my hospice for bees.
More than in all my previous beekeeping years combined, I came to understand viscerally the importance of the mother queens: They are, indeed, everything to the hive. They carry the colonies’ futures in their bellies, and the past in their ancestral lines. When queens stumble and fail, their hives go down with them unless the colony can create a new queen for themselves.
As I am always inclined to do, I carried this reflection forward to include all Mothers. Did the bees’ expression of the Mother and her profound influence and importance hold true across the entire realm of Motherhood? I believe it does.
Across the globe, mothers hold the legacy and promise of creation in their hands. In the nest of birds, the silken sacks of spiders, the tender arms of the great apes,
the dens of wolves, the womb of oceans, life is being diligently tended and everlastingly influenced by the power and spirit of the Mother.
And therein lies the two-fold challenge of each and every mother: To nurture new life into the fulfillment its highest potential—while averting the transfer of the unique wounds of the mother onto her children.
I don’t know why this second task of the Mother—to try and keep her wounds to herself—has struck my heart so deeply these days, but it has made me acutely aware of staggering responsibility of mothers everywhere, myself included.
Though I am no mother in the literal sense, I carry her archetype in the configuration of my belly and the whispers of my soul. I cannot help myself from mothering everything in my path, from plants to possums to my intimate partners. I have bestowed my mother blessings and the taint of my own wounds upon each each.
My own mother, gone now for a year, passed on her abandonment wounds to my brother and I by the judicious application of guilt in great and small ways to keep us tied to her and suffering for all our adult years. In many ways, her good mothering was overshadowed by her fears and anxiety. Because of what I endured at the hands of my wounded mother, I never sought to have a child, myself.
Krisnamurti said that we only have to be good-enough mothers, and that it is part of the fabric of our humanity to bring to our mothering our foibles as well as our talents.
But in this day and age, I tremble to my bones pondering the terrifying wounds we mothers inflict on our children. So many of these wounds are not our personal failings, but rather come from the fabric of society and culture all around us. Somehow, we mothers have allowed the Earth and our human cultures to become poisoned, and allowed ourselves to become diminished Earth citizens, and these wounds we pass forward.
Within my beehives, queen bees are being fed pesticide-laden royal jelly by their helpless sisters. The tainted pollens and nectars influence the strength and health of the queen, thus casting a pall over the entire colony. This is not the fault of the queen, but of the world she was born into.The queen is helpless in her woundedness, helpless to keep her woundedness to her self.
I cruise the supermarket aisles, in full realization that any of the “cheaper” food items are toxic—steeped in pesticides, petroleum products, and FrankenFats. On weeks when my budget does not allow organic, I am literally afraid of the food I eat.
In oceans and dens and nests and hollows and hospitals, mothers are bearing young in calamitous, depleted, poisonous environments that we human mothers have not fought hard enough to keep pure and safe.
World over, women and motherhood are marginalized and demeaned. We have allowed ourselves to be burned at the stake, kept as property, demeaned as inferior genders, and sold off as sex toys. I remember my own mother defending the right of men to occasionally strike their wives. When men drink, she would say to me while my jaw dropped to the floor, sometimes they get nasty, and “that’s just the way it is.” I remember Sean Connery, in a 60 Minute interview years ago saying “Sometimes women need a good scmack now and then.”
We women—we mothers—with the power to birth life on Earth have allowed ourselves to be crippled, and to become a danger to the profound blessing and responsibility of Motherhood—of Womanhood— all over the globe.
Through the struggles of the queen bees, all mother challenges are made visible to me now. And it has been an overwhelming realization that on some days has left me breathless.
But just recently, I am seeing some reasons to be optimistic. I thrill to the news that in certain middle eastern countries, women and mothers are protesting—loudly and at the risk of their lives—their lack of freedoms. Mothers, slowly, are waking up to their power and beginning to use it. In the resurgence of Goddess spirituality, in the faces of women stepping into every role in government, in the backyard organic food movement, in local adult education offerings on herbs and medicinal plants (most always attended by women!) I see possibility.
By our birthright as women, we are the protectors and the birthers of the children, sisters in this way to the mothers of every creature in Creation. All of us have a duty to raise up our children in the most wholesome way. We have a duty to do our best to protect our children from our own psychic wounds, and from the wounds of a tainted Earth. It is a huge responsibility.
If we just begin in our own homes, with an honest evaluation of our own lacks, that is a good starting place. Krisnamurti advised that we only need be good enough, yet these days, with the cards stacked so heavily against us, just being good enough is a huge task.
For some, healing our inner wounds will be the work of a lifetime. For others, we may begin to reach out to heal the neighborhoods around us by creating networks of comfort and support, plots of organic ground, backyard and community gardens full of nourishing food, small apiaries of bees in our yards.
Inside my bee hives, the four remaining queens are hunkered down with their sisters for the winter. I won’t be seeing much of them for the next few months as they sink into winter torpor, but I will continue to hold them in my heart and in my continuing reflections on the profundity, the mystery, and the transformative power of good mothering.
May we each take account of our own inner witch mother, and do what we can to keep her influence contained. And may we bring our good mother energies to each and everything in need of comfort and healing.
Let’s love our way forward, starting now.