In the Womb of the Sacred Earth Mother -- Part 1

Sitting cross-legged on the ground, drenched in perspiration, I leaned back against one of the small willow saplings that formed the ribs of the sweat lodge. The steady hand of Muskogee Creek elder Bear Heart methodically poured water from a dipper onto blazing hot stones in the pit at the center of the lodge. Water hissed furiously as it hit the rocks and then transformed into wave after wave of searing steam that enveloped the entire structure.

The lodge was flooded with the pungent odors from the smoke of ritually burned sage, cedar and sweet grass in preparation for the ceremony. Bear Heart sang ancient prayer songs, punctuated by drum beats, to summon ancestors, helping spirits, the powers of the four cardinal directions as well as “Grandfather” (above) and “Grandmother -- our Sacred Earth Mother.” 

Then, sixteen of us sat shoulder to shoulder in the darkness, bathed in a soft faint cherry-colored glow emanating from the stones. “The lodge,” Bear Heart had told us, “is much more than a dome built with willows and covered with tarps. The lodge is a holy place. During the ceremony, a portal is opened to the unseen spiritual realms and a mystical transformation occurs. We encounter the healing presence of the Sacred Earth Mother as we experience ourselves in Her womb.”

We sat in silence, welcoming and savoring the cleansing, purifying vapors. And waiting to experience this sacred presence.

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 Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Earth Mother and Gaia are terms that are familiar to almost everyone. These terms are referred to as “personifications,” that is, ideas that have been assigned human characteristics.

In our culture, we typically think of nature and the earth in abstract ways even though they are often associated with the life-giving, nurturing qualities of human mothers. At best, we consider nature or the earth as being like our mothers, but certainly not our actual mothers.  It follows that we don’t relate to them or treat them the way we do our own biological mothers. I took this same view myself until my encounter during the sweat lodge brought me to a new realization that literally changed my life.

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I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them attempting to shield myself from the penetrating heat of the stones. As I reflected on Bear Heart’s comments about the lodge and the womb of the Sacred Earth Mother it occurred to me that this was an apt metaphor. The lodge did seem very womb-like: dome shaped, dark and warm. I could easily imagine myself in Her womb.  

Suddenly, I realized Bear Heart never said the lodge was like the womb of the Sacred Earth Mother, he said the lodge was Her womb.

Something about that realization disoriented me and the lodge seemed to transform around me. I felt the hard, pebble-pocked ground softening beneath me while the stiff canvas and rough willow bark above began radiating an organic aliveness.

For the next few moments, I felt surrounded and embraced by the Divine Feminine presence as I rested in Her actual womb.

I knew then, without a doubt, that the Sacred Earth Mother was not a personification or abstract concept but rather a living being -- a spiritual Mother, but one who was ever-present and available to us in the material world.

I suddenly realized the deep spiritual truth of the indigenous wisdom traditions -- the Earth isn’t ‘like’ our Mother, She ‘is’ our mother.

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If we could adopt this indigenous way of thinking about the earth, open ourselves up to experience Her presence, and even better, treat her with the respect, kindness and care we would our human mothers, we wouldn’t be facing the environmental crisis we are today.