Coming Home to Gaia – Earth as Nurturing Mother
When I was a child I felt very close to the Earth-as-Mother – especially to animals. It seemed to me that animals were like Gaia’s messengers – bringing me her messages in a way I could understand. So when I began work on my dissertation research it made sense to reach out to the adolescent participants in this way. We were limited in time and space, able to meet with the Girls for a mere 2 hours after school over a 7-week period, and having to hold our meetings in the school’s Counseling Room. This made it necessary to find ways to create an experience that was as close to being in Nature as possible – and I chose a combination of working with Shamanic Journey and with the Sams & Carson Medicine Cards.
During our time together, the Girls (guided by the adult female Mentors who had volunteered for this project) journeyed to find their animal spirit guides, made masks to represent either those guides or some hidden aspect of themselves, chose ritual names (to protect their identity and also to help them redefine themselves as powerful young women), and finally, during their Rite of Passage, confronted their major challenges (which were both financial and academic). Each time we met we would form a circle and create a sacred safe space, and then we’d decorate a small altar that was placed in the center of our circle with feathers, shells, candles, and stones, plus whatever the Girls and Mentors may have brought to place on the altar. We also served snacks, partly because the Girls were hungry after a day of classes and partly because this served to reinforce the concept of Earth as Nurturing Mother.
There were many things I wanted to do (and plan to include in my next project). One very important one was to strengthen the Girls’ relationships with their own mothers as symbolic of their relationship to Mother Earth. It would have been wonderful to have some of their mothers as Mentors. However, almost all of these women were working and unable to participate. Another was to have more time to spend with the Girls, so that we could incorporate some of the wonderful stories from Native American and Goddess traditions to inspire the Girls.
However, by the end of the project, it was clear that the Girls had been deeply affected by our work together. Some wanted to continue beyond our allotted 7 weeks, and one Mentor/Mentee pair are still spending time together. All the Girls said that they felt more self-confident. They were getting along better at home and in school and their parents were proud of them. Two Girls received scholastic awards. One Girl, who is still working with her Mentor, was Class Valedictorian – quite a feat considering that three years earlier she had arrived with her family from Mexico and had been unable to speak any English. Another Girl was named “Most Improved Female Student” in her class.
It is impossible to say, without a longitudinal study, how our time together will affect these Girls as they move more fully into the role of women in their communities. But I hope that they will remember something of the warmth and laughter and sharing that we experienced together, and I especially hope they will retain a sense of how close they came, for awhile, to Gaia, the Mother of us all.
The following slide show is excerpted from my PhD dissertation, Coming Home to Gaia: Mentored Earth-based Rites of Passage for Adolescent Girls.
Shown here are photos of some of the Girls’ masks and final drawings, which they created with the help of their Mentors, and a brief profile of each Girl.